We started by the disused railway line near St Peter and St Paul Honing, early on a misty Sunday morning, and ended up back there in glorious sunshine seven hours later after notching up the giant at North Walsham with its semi-tower (second picture above). But when I say we covered 12 churches and 12 miles - less than usual - on the latest annual walk to raise funds for the Norfolk Churches Trust, I have to confess some disorder. Before I explain, I'm passing round the begging bowl - there's an easy way to donate on J's JustGiving page. And a warning - this is a VERY LONG entry, but you can just look at the photos. Since, however, previous chronicles have proved popular, I'm trying to be as comprehensive with the most eye-catching scenes and church details as I can.
The forecast for the usual Saturday was of torrential downpours for at least half of it. Of course we could have walked in good waterproofs, but where would be the fun in that - least of all since Sunday was supposed to be the radiant best of September?
That meant some curious topsy-turvydom. On Saturday we had a superb crab and lobster lunch at the relatively new Rocky Bottoms near Cromer, nicely decorated with original old drawings of crabs on the brick kiln walls,
then set off in the car to visit the churches, meet the signer-inners and examine all the interiors in case some were shut on Sunday (as it turned out, only one was, and we could have hung around for the monthly service there).
The walk proper had to be rather curtailed in order to accommodate one of our number, who had to get the 1pm train back to London from North Walsham; our brilliant cicerone and Southrepps hostess Jill worked it out so that we could leave her there, have our lunch and walk back to Honing. It all worked out well to everyone's satisfaction, not least mine, because walking our usual 18 miles rather than this year's 12 would have been had on a chap only two weeks out of a Turkish hospital, with a stent inside him still giving some gyp*.
I'm going to start with the walk itself, squeezing in two riches that we could have extended ourselves to see en route if we hadn't had a lunchtime deadline in North Walsham, and then deal with the bookends, two splendid churches only reachable by car on this occasion. The advantage of the early start was the magical mist, and above all the spider's webs which glittered along the hedges by the disused railway track - now part of the Weavers' Way - at that time in the morning.
I could bore you with quite a few spider's web shots, but let's stick to two until we get to the church - the below may not be one of the arachnids' most splendid or elaborate pieces of artistry, but it does show up best.
Honing's tall Perpendicular west tower looks impressive on its eminence from many angles, though of course that morning it only became apparent when we were nearly into the village.
Swifts were still hanging around on the telegraph wires above the old forge; they knew that our warm weather isn't over yet.
Then we walked up the slope to St Peter and St Paul's, approaching it from a more interesting angle than on the previous day when we'd parked the car.
Pevsner thinks there's been a lot of late 18th century interference which may account for the way the arches - only part Perpendicular - 'make the aisles absurdly narrow'.
A kind old gentleman was there on the Saturday, and since refreshments didn't seem to be for the walkers, I can only assume that 'the tea things' were laid out for Sunday worshippers.
The font, at least, is very authentic, Perpendicular with a panelled stem
and heads on the underside of the bowl, which is 'the typical Purbeck marble bowl of the 13th century' (Pevsner).
Harvest festivalesque hints were rife in the vegetables for sale in the porch
and in the generous flower displays taking the edge off a certain exposed graveyard bleakness beyond the windows.
Our route took us to the east, where the cobwebs were most obliging - see up top and this shot which focuses on the dewy beads rather than the building beyond.
Passing haystacks looking as mysterious as anything else in the slowly lifting mist
we walked a magical wooded way through the tiny parish of Crostwight - less than 100 inhabitants, says the church guide - with oak trees to the right and pinewoods with bracken on the left
and an early rider to add to the scene.
All Saints Crostwight of about 1280 could hardly be more remote
or more surprising within. Its ivy-weakened tower became dangerous in the early 20th century, so the belfry was taken down and the remaining part of the tower capped by a pyramidal red roof. We all agreed this added to the attractiveness.
A vertical crack in the porch wall has been stitched up with red bricks, very apparent against the white flints.
Inside, we were amazed to see the 14th century paintings on the north wall. And the educated warden who greeted us on the Saturday was amazed that we were the first people that day to pay any attention to them. St Christopher with the Christ Child is a common sight, and so we had no trouble in spotting that immediately.
But what was the scene to the left? An odd one, I think, with the Seven Deadly Sins hanging from the Tree of Life, Adam and Eve identifiable beneath it and below a devil with a cauldron full of sinners.
Revised Pevsner seems to find the Passion scenes further east more unusual, though I can't agree. They read, as the little guide observes, 'like a strip cartoon in three layers,
'extending to the window reveal.
'They include the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, the Last Supper, Christ washing the disciples' feet, Gethsemane, Pilate, the Entombment and the Ascension'.
The screen is early medieval, though someone else who had visited the church (he was as taken aback by its interior as we were) doubts the age of the panel details. Well, they're perfectly quirky: emblems of death in bony men with wings (I thought bees to start with, then possibly bats),
green men on the left side
and on the right, a pair of hearts,
more bony men
and a pair of hares.
The church was locked when we returned on Sunday, but as we walked down the lane, we met the same gentleman in his car heading for the 10 o'clock service. He lived in the gatehouse of ruined 16th century Crostwight Hall, with characteristic Norfolk Dutch gabling.
The sun was beginning to break through, lighting up some wonderfully contrasting scenes such as more woodland,
these water meadows
and the heather on Crostwight Heath.
Here we saw webs of all sorts
including more of the most artistic variety, now lit up by the sun.
Signs of more regular habitation steered us towards St Peter's Ridlington, its east chancel wall of brick after air-raid destruction.
The stretch from lych-gate to porch was lined with Cyclamen.
On Saturday, St Peter's was one of two churches with the friendliest welcome. This couple with their greyhound could not have been friendlier
and, I kid you not, it's the first church we've visited in all these years where home baking was part of the deal (Jill hit one that's famous for its fare, but we missed out that year). As it seems to be all year round, not just on Ride and Stride day. St Peter's is plain but all the more pleasing for that.
J immediately noted the juxtaposition of life and death in the proximity of the octagonal 13th century Purbeck marble font with a coffin-carrier.
This was the only church we saw with anything like old glass, a 17th century biblical scene nicely worked in to a chancel window
and one of several, Honing included, to have boards either side of the east window, in this case with the Ten Commandments. (By the way, I like the Two Commandments of Nabokov's poet in Pale Fire: 'thou shalt not do harm to others' and 'thou shalt not kill', which I suppose comes under the aegis of the first).
Another lovely, contrasting stretch of walking saw the landscape open out as it slopes down to the sea (not very flat, this part of Norfolk), revealing two church towers and a lighthouse in between just visible here
as we walked up another slope past sugar-beet fields
to the church in the loveliest situation of all, tree-girt St Margaret's Witton,
one of two familiar-looking round-tower Norfolk churches on our walk.
The south-west wall of the nave is Anglo-Saxon, and so are the two remarkable round windows.
One other unusual feature is the lovely sedilia, oddly enough not mentioned in Pevsner.
The pair we met here on Saturday were busy with church activity, the wife polishing while their soppy old labrador stretched out.
The husband sang in Norwich Chamber Choir, and had heard good things about the Southrepps Festival; I encouraged him to come along next year. He pointed out the church books covered with polythene to keep the bats off, and the box pews in the south aisle right for the local farming families; the lord of the manor and his family sat in plainer benches beneath the pulpit.
We walked out of St Margaret's churchyard the way we had entered it the previous day, with a large ship high in the distance.
Though there are few buildings in the proximity, this Arts and Crafts thatched cottage serving as a kind of lodge is rather lovely.
Were we to have extended the loop, we'd have reached on foot two churches we saw on both days. First, and least, St Andrew's Bacton, which despite a fine Perpendicular west tower
and another fine graveyard with views out to sea
is a bit of a horror within. As if prompted by the ghastly Victorian east window - and the epithet doesn't usually go with 'Victorian' in my eyes - this is hassock hell, and I bet there's happy-clappiness going on.
Again, though, the font is rich in animals, angels and signs of the Evangelists.
If you walk round the churchyard to the newer graves on the north side, you see what Bacton's now all too famous for - the Gas Terminal plonked here against local resistance in 1968. Actually it wasn't as much of a blot on the landscape as I was expecting, though you can see it from both St Andrew's and lovely All Saints Edingthorpe up the hill.
Here, too, you have to walk to the furthest end of the churchyard to look down on the gas works. Edingthorpe was an unexpected gem, not just for its round tower and another isolated position
but for a return to the simplicity we'd enjoyed in all the other churches bar Bacton, with comparable treasures. The eye is drawn to the 14th century rood screen.
I initially thought the traceried wheels which make it unique in my experience would be later additions, but apparently not. First and most modest of the typically Norfolk painted screens we're going to see has Saints Bartholomew with flaying knife, Andrew with saltire cross and Peter with his key to the north
and Paul with sword, John the Evangelist with book and palm branch (occasionally labelled a female saint!) and James the Great with shell and staff.
In front of the north set is a wooden lectern dated 1587 on the front.
There's also a medieval piscina with ogee arch and traces of colour
and opposite it a tall niche above the rood stairs, also coloured, with flower design.
Which leads us westwards along the north wall to more wall paintings. A tree with scenes on its branches illustrates - not easy to make out - the Seven Acts of Mercy
while further west is another St Christopher with Christ Child and flowering staff
and fish in the patch of water below.
Also at the west end is a font, simpler than the rest but still attractive, with panelled stem and quatrefoiled bowl. Behind it are the remains of a weathered north door, probably 14th century.
It speaks much for how well loved this church is that a very convincing replica was made and placed in the doorway in 2000.
Our Sunday return was a complete delight - parishioner were preparing a village picnic with tables inside the church, to be followed by a recital from 'Norfolk's Katherine Jenkins' (let's hope she was better).
The festive air was preluded by a very plump border terrier who turned out to be called Misty rushing across the churchyard to meet us. She settled quite happily within after the initial fuss.
I can't remember a walk where we've met friendlier people in more churches. And this continued in North Walsham, approached via another beautiful stretch along the edge of beech-rich Bacton Wood.
The vicar of St Nicholas' North Walsham, a gentleman with intelligent blue eyes whose name (Cubitt) indicates he's of the local clan of worthies, saw me examining the font cover there, and gave me a treatise on its nature and its probable earlier mode of operation. I learnt, as I suspected, that the lower part of the rather gaudy restoration is a recent addition
whereas clearly the top, surmounted by the pelican in its piety, is original 1450s work.
Font and cover have been moved from their central position, endangered by the tower (which did indeed fall down - more anon), to the south aisle.
Rev Cubitt thinks the whole cover was operated by rope, as at Salle, which of course is the great example. Another, quite different, is the glory of Trunch, our last port of call in 2015.
He's also deduced that the general makeover would have been Georgian, not Victorian, and is writing a guide to supplant the present one.
The table in the north chapel he also dates as Georgian, from a local house; odd that the guide doesn't mention it.
Among other wonders too numerous to cover in their entirety are the 20 lower panels of the dado which is all that remains of the 15th century screen - an appropriate number for so grand a church. 10 featured here (forgive me if this time I don't list the saints).
There's a fine old lion (and eagle) poppyhead bench end in the choir
and two misericords removed to the south aisle where they had a chance to shine in the glass-reflected sun (I nearly always have to use flash on misericords in their customary dark recesses).
I showed the 'Woodwose' at the head of my time-buying preface to the walk; here he is from the perspective of a de-faced angel
and here's the king's head next to him.
One of the grandest monuments, to Sir William Paston, is in the sanctuary, and not easy to see, probably best viewed through the large arch above piscina and sedilia on the south side.
The tall porch is one of the best in Norfolk, later 15th century than the rest, with the arch brace roof still boasting its original colouring (says the guide, but I assume that means repainted in original colouring)
and with fine carved bosses
while on the west wall of the porch are the arms of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, a strong local presence since oddly North Walsham was part of that duchy.
Let's head outside to see the 'knapped and squared flints in flushwork panels' of the porch's splendid exterior.
More on the bizarre tower. The whole, 147 feet high with a spire taking the total to 170 feet (don't blame me if the guide isn't Eurometric), the second tallest in Norfolk if we include Norwich Cathedral, partially collapsed in 1724. Rev Cubitt thinks the money for rebuilding actually went on the interior works instead. A conclusive slump in 1836 meant the removal of 50 feet as a safety precaution, leaving the tower in the peculiar condition we now see it.
Here in the churchyard we had a leisurely picnic lunch, Jill having guided Cally to the station, and then started the last leg back to Honing. At the end of bungalowville open fields looked down towards the church tower
and the lane we took, now back on the Weavers' Way route, was amazingly pleasant. At Meeting House Hill we ticked off our last religious building, the 1829 Methodist Chapel
with nearby almshouses presumably part of the package; odd that neither is in my edition of Pevsner.
Joining another pleasant, shady stretch of the disused railway line brought us back to the car. Which we then used for a splendid coda. I'm afraid I'm not finished yet, because I need to photodocument the two 'bookenders'.
St Mary's Worstead, which we visited first on that wet Saturday afternoon, could - I now see - have been accommodated by a slightly bigger circuit on our way back from North Walsham. But as the stent problem was giving some trouble to the waterworks by the time we returned to our starting point, maybe it's better that it wasn't. Such a grand, grand church for so small a village.
The clue to the prosperity which gave rise to this edifice - 'begun in 1379 and apparently built in one campaign' (Pevsner) - lies in the name of the village (just remove the 'a'). Weaving from wool became a major trade after the Black Death wiped out so many of the farming population that sheep-rearing replaced corn-growing. Humans are resourceful.
Pevsner moans twice that the interior is 'not up to the exterior'. I disagree - the uncluttered, stripped back look allows one to enjoy the chief features with clear sightlines. This rood screen, dated 1512, is glorious, and beautifully painted, along with the south and north parclose screens.
As at North Walsham, there's a splendid number of figures - two Victorian replacements, of Christ as Man of Sorrows and St Paul, followed by 11 apostles split between the north batch
and the south, which concludes with St Jerome, St William of Norwich and St Wilgefortis.
The wealth of saints shows the opulence of the gift, given to the church by John Alblastyr (died 1520), whose brass is in front of the screen. The figure (again Pevsner gives non-metrics, of course) is only seven and a half inches long.
Here, too, is another cover above another fine font. It's suspended from an angel on the roof (sadly too dark to catch properly either by flash or natural light).
There's one more interesting screen, connected with the tower gallery. It's of 1501 but the graces are copies of Reynolds' New College windows painted by a female parishioner in 1831.
Too many splendid details on the outside to take up even more of your time here, so I must stick to the eye-catching Decorated doorway on the north.
From Saturday afternoon to Sunday evening, where our drive back led us to explore a church which, because of its proximity to Bacton Gas Distribution Station, Jill says we'll never be able to incorporate in a walk: St Margaret's Paston.
It stands in a large churchyard next to the thatched flint barn,sole survival of the Paston mansion - at 163 feet, says Pevsner, the longest and one of the oldest in the country. The interior is closed to the public since it's a refuge for a surprising number of species of bats.
The Pastons, one of whom we've already encountered recumbent in North Walsham, are immortalised by the letters written by various members of the family between 1422 and 1509. They sound compelling as a commentary on the disordered times, but presumably the three volumes have been whittled into a more readable selection (I'm also intrigued that Sir John Fastolf comes into the picture). Anyway, Dame Katherine Paston has a monument to match Sir William's in North Walsham.
She looks splendid in her semi-recumbent posture, the highlight of Nicholas Stone's alabaster work.
The church text wants to claim the obsequious lines above as the work of John Donne. I don't think so.
Next to Dame Katherine is a plain, shiny urn - also Stone's work - for Sir Edmund Paston (died 1632).
There are also brasses, c.1575) of Erasmus Paston (died 1538) and (the outline of) his wife
and a rather touching war memorial window with swans (whoopers?) in its bottom right panel.
It's appropriate that we also saw here our third St Christopher of the day.
Here's the ensemble
Further east, also 14th century work, are remains of the Scourging of Christ and the story - I don't know it - of the three Quick
and the three Dead (one can clearly make out a skeleton or two).
There's a variety of designs in the mostly poppy-head benches, including another grotesque enfolding the Paston arms
and a gryphon.
Again, the overall effect is stripped-back and pleasing, and the screen adds to that (though Pevsner says 'little of it is old').
Generally, though, the church seemed less well cared-for or maintained than most of the others. And maintenance of these splendid slices of history is what we walk for. Give a little (or a lot) if you can.
Once again, the links to previous Norfolk Churches walk chronicles:
Cromer to Southrepps 2015
Mileham to Bittering, 2014
Beechamwell to Gooderstone, 2013
Ingoldisthorpe to Thornham, 2012
East Rudham to Helhoughton, 2011
Wormegay to Castle Acre, 2010
Walpoles to Wiggenhalls, 2009
King's Lynn to Sandringham, 2008
Earlier walks back to 2002 BB (Before Blog).
*23/9 And it still is - more so than before. But help is at hand. My Turkish surgeon advised stent removal no later than a month after my return, which is now, and a letter finally arrived from Chelsea and Westminster Hospital giving me a mere appointment for - 12 December. Oh, the NHS. But help is at hand thanks to a young doctor I finally got hold of in the hospital who's fixed me up a scan for next week and the removal the week after. Can I have an Amen? And I was about to go into further debt by having it done privately.