WHIT WALK 2023 (PART ONE)
A Walk Around Ravensden, Wilden, Colmworth, Bolnhurst and Keysoe Churches. May 2023
This is being typed out on the first day of Advent in 2023. The temperature has struggled to get above freezing for the past week and there is a light sprinkling of snow on the ground here to the west of Peterborough. An ideal time then to recall a pleasant Saturday in late May that same year, which was spent indulging in my two favourite pastimes; churches and food!
A month of so beforehand I had sent an e mail out to Keysoe church in Bedfordshire to see if any of the churches in that benefice of five churches were open to visitors. I received a nice e mail back inviting me on a five church ‘Whit Walk’; with the itinerary being as follows, meeting at Ravensden for breakfast before walking to Wilden for coffee and refreshments. After that we walk to Colmworth where we would have lunch. After lunch we would walk to Bolnhurst for tea before completing the day by walking to Keysoe, where would have supper.
At each of the churches there would be a short service. This appealed very much; to be honest it was sold to me at the mention of breakfast! This five church walk would come in at a little under 10 miles and would avoid main roads; local knowledge and mobile phone GPS taking us through some beautiful North Bedfordshire countryside.
Of the five churches, I had visited four of them before, but had only seen inside two. Ravensden, Wilden and Bolnhurst had all been visited with David on a Sunday evening in June 2015, with only Wilden being open on that day. I had visited Keysoe on a glorious Saturday in 2013, as part of a four day cycling churchcrawl; with the church being open and cream teas being served. Only Colmworth had not been previously visited.
The day started out fairly dull but there was the prospect of a cloudless sky and unbroken sunshine when that early cloud was burned off, and so it turned out. Just to put a little geographical context in, we started off some four miles to the north east of Bedford and we would be heading north. Peterborough was roughly 40 miles away, again to the north and we were roughly 35 miles away from home.
I arrived early and took the chance to look around the church of All Saints as the other walkers started to arrive. The church, which can be found at the south west of the village, consists of west tower, nave with north aisle, south porch, north vestry and chancel. The church dates back to the 12th century but there has been much rebuilding here over the years. The west tower dates from the 14th century, as does the chancel and the nave was rebuilt during the 15th century but retains a 12th century south door. The small south porch dates to around 1700. The large north vestry was built in the 19th century, originally being used as a school room.
A closer look at the western end of the south wall of the nave and some of the buttressing shows some small red tiles, used as filler, which I suspected might be Roman.
The sun still hadn’t broken through and, moving inside, it was quite dull inside as a result. The chancel was lit up though and there were pleasant sounds of breakfast being prepared to the north. The north arcade is of three bays, and dates back to the 13th century, with a plain and simple altar, in the north chapel. The east window is of three lights, with modern stained glass showing the risen Christ, with hands outstretched, wounds visible on hands and feet. He symbolically wears a blood red cloak and is shown with red nimbus. The Holy Spirit rests above him in the form of a dove. Standing at the chancel arch and looking west, the church organ is tucked under the tower arch.
People were by now gathered together and there was a pleasant time spent together eating toast and cereal. Breakfast finished, there was a short service and then we were off on the first part of the walk. We exited the church grounds to the west, and then headed North West towards neighbouring Wilden; with around a dozen people and a friendly dog. taking part in the walk.
When David and I were in this area some eight years previously, we were struck by how beautiful the countryside is in this area. It was a pleasant walk, spent getting to know the people in the group and before too long, again with a little local knowledge, we arrived at the church of St Nicholas, cutting down a path between some trees, with the church hidden from view on the approach and taking me by surprise a little as it came in to view suddenly.
With the rest of the party enjoying coffee and cake, I took in the exterior. The church that we see today, which looked glorious under a near cloudless sky, consists of west tower, nave, south porch, north vestry and chancel. This is a fairly basic structure with no aisles or clerestories. The church here has origins in the 14th century but the majority of what we see today dates from the 15th century.
The three stage west tower is heavily buttressed and battlemented; the Union Jack flag making use of what little breeze there was. The nave is also battlemented and the church is buttressed throughout. Externally, this is a church of pleasing proportions in a quiet, peaceful and very beautiful setting.
Moving inside, there is some interesting graffiti in the south porch, with several people leaving their initials, with 17th century dates included, the earliest going back to 1619. In among these is what looks like several letter ‘M’s. These look to be Marian marks, marks of protection, where in pre reformation days, people would pray to the Virgin Mary for protection for the church and the people inside it. These can also take the form of interlocking letter ‘V’s; for the Virgin of Virgins. A fascinating piece of this church’s history! Close by is a faded scratch/mass dial which would have stood on the exterior before the south porch was put in, acting as a sun dial.
A teddy bear sat guard on the east side of the porch, keeping an eye out on those entering. Alongside were two umbrellas. No chance of those being needed today except to keep the sun off!
The light quality inside was delightful. My gut reaction is always to head straight for the food but I ignored the refreshments for a short while and explored the interior. The three light east window dates from 1902 and has a stained glass depiction of the Angel of the Lord appearing to the three Mary’s on Easter morning. The angel points upwards towards Heaven, with text reading ‘He is not here for he is risen’. A close look shows that Jesus’ robe and the crown of thorns are at the angel’s feet.
Interestingly, there is some medieval stained glass in the tracery of this window. This is dated to the 15th century and could well be contemporary with the rebuilding of parts of the church. This is doubtless all that remains of what medieval glass was here before the restoration when much would have been destroyed as being idolatrous. A close look at the medieval glass shows that it is surrounded by coloured glass which is more modern, O daresay dating from the time that the window was installed.
The three light window on the south wall of the chancel is of clear glass and a ledge below looks to have provided a sedilia, the seating for the priests during the Mass in pre reformation days. Close by, a little further to the east on this south wall is the piscina, in which the priest would have washed his hands and the holy vessels used during the Mass.
Looking up, there are carvings of angels in the chancel roof, with golden hair and golden wings, with the majority at prayer. These have been repainted at some point back in time. The roofs are restored but contain original timber from the 15th century, and the font is also dated to the same period. This is octagonal, with designs of shields, flowers and tracery, with one blank panel containing much graffiti.
A wall monument on the north wall of the chancel is to Jasper Fisher, who was Rector here for 12 years, and who died in 1643 and who rests ‘In the assured hope of a joyfull resurrection’. At the foot of the monument is a winged skull, symbolising the mortality of Man and the flight of the soul towards Heaven.
It was good to chat with a lady connected with this church, and we took a look at the graffiti. A friendly welcome and time well spent as we sat in the pews with sunshine blazing in through the south windows as the second short service of the day was taken.
It was time to move on, with the church of St Denys at Colmworth being the third point of call.