Saturday 26 May 2018

Being a Church Tourist

The day started rather grey but late morning the sky cleared and the afternoon was a 'proper' start to the bank holiday weekend. We had planned to do some food shopping in the morning and then use the car to look at some of the villages close to the river that we had missed because there was nowhere to moor. However, rather than use the nearby Asda we drove to a large Sainsbury on the edge of the city as we wanted to replace one of our cafetieres that was broken a few days ago (we did have a spare) However (again!) on the way plans changed once more as we realised that we only needed a couple of other items today so we would be better to do those later after being out for the day. Alas, the store, when we eventually arrived there, did not have the right size in stock!

Our first aim was to visit Water Newton to look at the church that stands close to one of the river locks. The old house next to the church has immaculately kept gardens.

The church itself is modest in scale - the hamlet has never been more than a few houses and the Great North Road originally ran through the middle. The construction of a bypass restored life to a sleepy backwater.

A plot of around six large new houses has almost doubled the size of Water Newton!

The church is now only used on special occasions and does not have any regular Sunday services. It is, however, very well looked after and the grass outside had recently been cut and the churchyard made neat and tidy.

It is strange to see memorials to former churchwardens who had such along period of office now that it is limited to six years. May be, even this one might have wished at times that he could have had reason to hand over to someone else!

The chancel walls had a number of memorial tablets - this set are to various members of the Knipe family. The top one here records that Randolph was rector here for 27 years. However, elsewhere another tablet refers to Randoph Richard Knipe who dies aged 86 having served as rector for 40 years. The inscriptions do tell us what relations they were but perhaps they were father and son?

From here we drove a short distance north to a small village called Barnack. Christine had spotted on our map a nature reserve with car park nearby. We had hoped to find somewhere to sit to eat our rolls but alas only rough undergrowth - it is a nature reserve and not a park! Instead we adjourned to the village church in the hope that, as is often the case, there might be a convenient bench in the churchyard. Indeed there was - two, in fact.

The church is actively used today, maintaining a history that dates back to Saxon times - the oldest parts are in the lower sections of the tower. Even the upper parts are from the 12C and is said to be the oldest surviving steeple in England.

After lunch we looked inside and it is much more spacious than the church at Water Newton.

It has a number of amusing features - Christine was amused by the carved stone face on a pillar - perhaps she thought that is was meant to be a Mike-selfie!

There is a very prominent squint cut through one of the pillars which the guide book states as enabling a priest at the second alter to keep in step with another who was celebrating mass at the main altar. However the alignment does not seem to fit that explanation and elsewhere we have seen it said that it was used in places where side aisles were used for different social classes and so that they could see clearly the moment of elevation - at some periods in history this was considered the most important, if not the only important part of the service.

Outside we spotted a very large house across the road from the church. Later we discovered that this was the former rectory - at one time the childhood home of Charles Kingsley, perhaps best known for the Water Babies.

The picture on the front of our OS map for this area is of Croyland (or Crowland) Abbey. Neither of us had ever heard of this before so off we headed, just north of Peterborough.

We we returned to our car this morning we discovered that the back had been rather badly splashed with mud - the car park is not covered in tarmac and rain had created some quite large puddles. We were on the lookout for a car wash but each time we saw one it was too late to pulkl in. Just as we reached the edge of Crowland we saw another one - still too late to poull in but this time it was possible to turn around soon after and we went back.

Three very keen young chaps did a thoroughly good job - we hardly recognised it afterwards! They were well organised and each carried out their role in a well-rehearsed operation.

We parked in the centre of the village and walked to find where the abbey was - we had seen it from a distance. We passed Trinity Bridge which dates back to when the River Welland ran through what is now the centre together with another tributary. Later drainage schemes mover the river to the north.

The abbey church is an incredible structure even though what remains in use is just the north aisle.

We were welcomed inside by a couple of guides - one of whom spent a lot of time recounting the history, right from the time when a young man called Guthlac came to lonely and demon-haunted island amid the wild Fenland. He set up a small wooden structure and gained quite a reputation as a wise man, a healer and adviser. He was visited by one of the powerful men of the area who later became Kind Aethelbald of Mercia. He made a promise to Guthlac that when he became king he would return to build a more robust abbey. This he did.

The abbey became one of the more prosperous and sent out monks to teach around the county. It is said that one visit to Cambridge led to the founding of Magdalene College.

Our guide pointed out various interesting and unusual features - including this roof boss known as the Green Man.

The carvings on the rood screen are said to depict some of the demons that haunted Guthlac.

Along with other abbeys, Crowland was badly destroyed in the time of Henry VIII who left enough of the building for user just as a parish church. Lack of maintenance led to further decay over centuries and it is only in the past century that it has been actively preserved. Nothing, however, remains of the south aisle.

Time then to head back to Peterborough and the boat.

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