The weather has been glorious as summer drains away and though my camera and I have been busy I’ve been a little under the weather recently and lacking inspiration. Sometimes I get the feeling that I’m running round in little circles getting nothing much done and it’s at those times that I need to pause and think.
Every now and then as I drive back and forth across the Cotswolds I stop in a village and explore – we’re knee-deep in the picturesque here but too often we hurtle past it. Just recently on my way back from the Cotswold Wildlife Park I went straight across the crossroads instead of my usual left, and found myself snooping around Shilton.
It’s a picture-book pretty village with plenty of wobbly cottages, probably more holiday homes than houses for locals; a couple boasted cars so posh they were shrouded as if recently dead. It was the middle of the afternoon and the only things stirring were builders working on a renovation – spoiling the illusion of timeless calm with Radio 1.
I’m not a religious person but I do find myself drawn to ancient churches. I don’t have any expertise in reading them, in fact I rather like not knowing much. Just seeing what catches my eye and absorbing the atmosphere. I sit for a while. A small, empty church is one of the few properly quiet places in a rackety world.
The gardener/nature lover in me is pleased by venerable trees, the touching little clumps of snowdrops or daffs which spill from graves, intriguing lichens mapping the gravestones. Here I saw Colchicum in the grass and a speckled wood butterfly resting on the brambles. It was possible to climb straight out of this churchyard into the undulating fields of Oxfordshire.
The Church of the Holy Rood at Shilton is at least Norman, possibly Saxon in its origins, with painted decoration on the arches inside dating back to about 1150. This and a little 13thC paintwork is all that remains after Victorian so-called restorers stripped the plaster murals off the walls, appallingly misguided vandalism which pushed William Morris and Philip Webb to found the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) in 1877.
I sat for a while and imagined the Cotswolds shepherds and wool merchants who might have frequented this place. It was cool, it was quiet. I picked up a leaflet for later reading, dropped a few coins in the honesty box and went on my way. On the verge outside there was a sparkling colony of Hieracium aurantiacum, or fox-and-cubs. A cheery man invited me to the forthcoming Harvest service. I felt restored.
Just one day later Chris (my husband) and I headed west from the Cotswolds, coincidentally he’s a member of SPAB, and the Gloucestershire group had arranged to meet in St Mary’s Church at Little Washbourne. It’s no longer in use, but it’s a solid little Norman church set among orchards and fields and still has a peaceful atmosphere.
I slightly resented the other group members and wanted it to myself; I sat in one of the square Georgian pews and imagined children of a previous century catching each other’s eye and trying not to giggle as the sermon droned on.
We decided to drop in on Tewkesbury Abbey next, outside the sunshine made the stonework crisp, and there was some joyously complicated bellringing going on. Gorgeous trees, including a stupendous copper beech and a Liquidambar glowed in the precincts.
Inside there were plenty of visitors, even a shop, but it was still quiet – you couldn’t even hear those bells – then a disembodied voice invited us to join it in prayer or at least to sit in silence for a while. I was happy to do the latter, while absorbing angels and curlicues, tiles and tombs. I was glad that non-believers are welcome to share the peace of believers. I’ll share a few more pics and wish you peace, however you may find it.