RIDE AND STRIDE SEPTEMBER

Lutton, Hemington, Luddington, Gt Gidding, Steeple Gidding, Thurning.

It was late September 2020, Ride and Stride day across the country, when people are sponsored to cycle or walk around as many churches as they can. This event has been blighted by poor weather in recent years, getting caught in a thunderstorm between Glinton and Peakirk two years before will live long in the memory. Watching the rain pouring out of the spout of the mooning gargoyle at Glinton though that day did bring out the schoolboy humour in me! The forecast though was for a bright and sunny day, so the cycle was taken out of storage, the lycra was given a thankfully rare outing, and this was to be my first cycling churchcrawl in nearly a year.

I was aiming for churches in East Northamptonshire, with a brief excursion in to Cambridgeshire, an area for which I have a great love ! Traditionally, churches will be open on the day, even those who would not normally be open, with refreshments available for those taking part. A lovely social event! Despite the event  literature stating that most of the churches would be open, I honestly thought that the majority would be closed and that few people would be taking part this year due to the pandemic.

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The church of St Peter, Lutton.

First point of call was Lutton, the church of St Peter standing on the crossroads at the centre of the village. This was one of my first churches visited, when I started to do this in 2006, and it has become a firm favourite. I must have been here 15 times over the years, using it as a resting point as I headed home and sometimes just cycling over to sit in the peace and quiet and read. Fond memories of taking an evening prayer service in one gloriously warm and sultry summer evening with a group of young Polish land workers.  We spent some time in the church grounds afterwards, happily chatting and I spent a fruitless few minutes attempting to impress a young Polish woman with my knowledge of her language.

Open and welcoming; until today sadly! This was the first time that I had found it closed. A man had just laid out refreshments in the porch and he came over to say hello. We chatted for a few minutes and then he opened up so that we could just stand inside for a few minutes before any further cyclists arrived. We were fed and watered well, but despite the desire to open the church, it was closed. It is what it is!

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The church of St Peter & St Paul, Hemington.

Next point of call was isolated Hemington, the church of St Peter and St Paul, three miles or so away, a very small village; with just a scattering of houses and a church.

It had been years since I had been inside this church. I photographed it with an old digital camera and wanted to re-shoot with the Nikon. There are carved medieval bench ends here from Fotheringhay church, when the latter was reduced in size during the reformation.  This church was, I believe, open at weekends pre covid but again, on this day, it was closed. Again, refreshments were laid out but there was no one around.

This was the same benefice as Lutton, and it looked pretty much as if all of the churches in this benefice would be closed. I was due to visit all six and it looked as if it was going to be a frustrating day in that respect! It was still great to be out though.

It was still fairly early on Saturday morning and there wasn’t a soul about!  I hadn’t seen a vehicle for nearly half an hour. Cyclists taking part in the event at that time were like hen’s teeth!  I spent a few minutes looking at the gargoyles here, some fine work, including a lion like creature pulling mouth open in gesture of insult. I also took another look at an intriguing stone at the east end, under the east window. A collection of names carved in to a single block, along with two dates, 1668 and 1690. Perhaps the signatures of long forgotten builders who were working on the church on those dates!

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The church of St Margaret, Luddington In The Brook.

It was a short distance to the third church of the day. A mile or so from Hemington is Luddington In The Brook, a tiny village, on the Northants border. Access to the church of St Margaret is through a field, a few sheep watching with mild interest, which turned in to mild alarm as I made my way past them.

The church, with it’s slender tower and spire dates from the 13th to the 15th centuries. A small, beautiful church set in picturesque surroundings. I attended an evening prayer service here with David a few years ago, or intended to, as we got the dates wrong. We were early, a week early actually, and ended up taking in an evening prayer at Great Gidding instead, the church bells ringing out for that service as we were in the church grounds at Luddington!

 The church was closed, with refreshments laid out. A note on the door apologised that the church was closed for the day’s event.  I had been on the road for around two and a half hours by this point in time, cycling through this beautifully isolated part of Northamptonshire. In that time I had seen two people to talk to, one lady on a horse and half a dozen cars. To put it mildly I was isolating very nicely thank you. This was quite depressing. Again, to emphasise the point, this is not said as a church photographer but with my spiritual head on! The churches will be there for the photographer when this has all blown over. What was bothering me was the here and now and the church doors were locked. Yes, we should set an example and do what we are requested. Do what is moral and do what is right, and make sure that all are safe. Having said that though, the church doors were locked at a time of crisis for the country and that did not sit well with me then and still doesn’t now!

I stood in the grounds just enjoying the sun, which was now blazing down, and taking a close look at the gargoyles and grotesques which the church is well known for. A dragon like creature sticks out its very large tongue at the onlooker, a ferocious dog with staring eyes and alarming teeth, a depressed looking monk, a female figure who appears to be crawling out of the wall with a look of distress on her face. Fabulous work!

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A selection of the many gargoyles and grotesques that can be seen at Luddington.

Leaving Luddington, we cross the county line in to Cambridgeshire, and the church of St Michael, Great Gidding, could be seen a mile or so away. The church here was closed. No refreshments laid out for cyclists. No means for any cyclist or walker to have their sponsor form stamped.  My own thoughts will stay with me on this one. It was good though to see Red Kites circling around the spire of the church and it was lovely to see an elderly gentleman who came over to talk to me. He was making his daily visit to sit on a bench and be with his wife who had passed away a couple of years previously. It is great to see these beautiful churches, but it is also a lovely thing to be able to meet and spend time with people connected with these churches whilst doing it.

Moving on to Steeple Gidding and the church of St Andrew, which was open! The church here is redundant and is cared for by the Churches Conservation Trust, who have been excellent in attempting to keep as many of their churches open during the crisis as possible.

We are delightfully rural here. The hamlet is just a couple of houses and a church. A bench in front of the church looking south has a lovely view out over the uninterrupted countryside. Fond memories of sitting here a few years ago on a humid summer afternoon, listening to the cries of exotic animals from Hamerton Wildlife Park over the fields! I photographed my first Red Kite here many years ago and a few seconds after that saw my first grass snake in many years.

The earliest parts of the present structure date back to the 12th century, but it is suspected that there may have been a church on this site before then. The south door, with chevron moulding dates from that time. Most of the rest of the exterior dates from the 14th century. Here we have another slender spire, with recessed steeple. A grotesque high up on the tower, with wild lockdown hairstyle, sticks out its tongue, still hard at work in repelling evil even though the church is not used for worship anymore.

Moving inside, it is bright and welcoming inside, sunlight streaming in through the clear glass of the four clerestory windows. It is spacious inside due to the pews having been removed. There is a single stained glass window to the east, with Jesus with lamb around His neck in the central of the three panels. Not great quality glass to be honest.

A medieval stone coffin lid can be seen to the south west of the nave. A floor slab to Thomas Cotton dates back as far as 1640. The chancel bears the mark of much Victorian restoration. A pleasant interior, it was lovely to see it again.

A couple of people turned up just as I was getting ready to leave. These were the first people that I had seen visiting any of the churches that day. A mental note was made on two points.  Firstly, the only church that I had found open thus far was a redundant church that was cared for by a charity. Secondly, the only people I had seen visiting any of the churches were visiting a redundant church that was cared for by a charity.

It was a few miles to Thurning. I did consider heading out a bit further to Hemington before aiming for Thurning. This was the first long cycle ride for a while and, although the legs were still moving okay at present, I feared for the state they would be in come 5pm ish!

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Above, the church of St Michael. Great Gidding Cambs. Below. the church of St Andrew.

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It was a few miles to Thurning. I did consider heading out a bit further to Hemington before aiming for Thurning. This was the first long cycle ride for a while and, although the legs were still moving okay at present, I feared for the state they would be in come 5pm ish!

Thurning is another very small East Northamptonshire village, It is probably best known for the Thurning Feast, a big food festival held on July 25th, the feast day of St James, of whom the church here is dedicated.

The church here is set on slightly high ground, at the side of the main road. A quiet, peaceful place! Memories of a previous visit and chickens on the main road close to a home made road sign which read “Chickens Crossing”.  Two people were leading a horse on foot up the middle of the main road. Traffic concerns not really a problem. A pleasant village with friendly people!

The church of St James dates back to the 12th century, with the west end, with very slender tower and spire being rebuilt in 1880. The church was closed and the table with refreshments on was set against the north gate of the church, preventing access to the church grounds. The rebel that I am, I entered the grounds through the side gate to the west!

  I had left the house at 8.30am, and the event didn’t start until 10. When I reached Thurning the event had been going on for three and a half hours. The register at Thurning, where the cyclists and walkers booked in had five names on it, which was surprisingly low given that Thurning is a pretty central church for anyone wanting to take in the churches in this area.

It was good to chat with a couple of cyclists on a sponsored cycle ride for a cancer charity and a man connected with the church here came up to say hello. As with the man at Lutton earlier, there was an apology that the church was closed. Closed it was though.

 I was looking at a church website between lockdowns, for a church in Norfolk. The front page had an apology from the vicar that his church was not open at that time. He claimed that the problem was that instruction from the Church of England had made it very difficult for small rural parishes to open their churches. I assume this is with regards requirements for cleaning.  Perhaps this is the case throughout the country.

Headed off towards Barnwell, a delightful village with two churches and a royal connection! Will resume this write up of the day in the next posting.

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The church of St James, Thurning.