Everybody loves Bill Bryson. His best selling travel books extol the glories of our country, and here he chooses 14 of his favourite churches, including Durham Cathedral, The Italian Chapel in Orkney and London’s St Martin’s in the Fields. In his own inimitable words ‘It is impossible to overstate the importance of churches to this country. Nothing else in the built environment has the emotional and spiritual resonance, the architectural distinction, the ancient, reassuring solidity of a parish church. To me, they are the physical embodiment of all that is best and most enduring in Britain.’
Snowdrops are one of the first signs of life in gardens after the long winter months, flowering between January and March. Head out on a crisp day to explore frosty landscapes and enjoy beautiful displays of snowdrops, a sure sign that spring is on its way. Lots of churchyards have snowdrops, but some churches also welcome intrepid snowdrop seekers with open days, tours, hot cups of steaming tea and coffee and yummy cake.
Valentine’s Day is renowned for being the most romantic day of the year. But St Valentine is not the only link between love and lovely churches. There are other saints of love, such as St Raphael and St Dwynwen. Churches are host to weddings, and all the traditions and rites associated with them. And then there are the romantic poets, who dreamily wrote about churches, and are buried beneath their floors and grassy churchyards.
When is an island not an island? When, for a few hours each day, the low tide reveals a strip of land joining it to the mainland. The UK has just over 40 tidal islands, some large some very small. The best feature unique churches and chapels, often with monastic beginnings and built in these places for peace and tranquillity. They are often beautiful and fascinating places to visit. But, always check the tide times in advance - or be ready to swim back...
Bridge chapels were once a common feature of major bridges throughout Britain. Mostly built during the 14th or 15th centuries, they were often chantry chapels where prayers were said for the souls of the founders and benefactors of the bridge and also provided a place for travellers and pilgrims to attend mass and pray for a safe journey. Today only a few survive: three chapels on bridges in Rotherham, Wakefield and St Ives; one small building believed to have been a chapel or shrine in Bradford on Avon; and two at the ends of bridges in Derby and Rochester.
The labyrinth motif has been used since prehistoric times. The earliest examples are rock carvings, but they appear in Roman mosaics, the floors of cathedrals in Europe, on village greens and hilltops, in remote Scandinavia, through India, the American Southwest and beyond. Historic labyrinths in the UK mostly date from the late 19th century, when renewed interest in labyrinths combined with a wave of church building and restoration. Only two are medieval: a gilded roof boss in St Mary, Redcliffe and a labyrinth on Hereford Cathedral’s Mappa Mundi. Labyrinths are popular again, so look out for modern examples too.
Christmas and visiting churches go hand in hand. From carol services, through school nativity plays, Christingles and Christmas tree festivals and onto midnight mass and Christmas day morning services; it’s impossible to think about Christmas without visiting a church. The Twelve Days of Christmas was first published as a rhyme in 1780, with the tune coming from an arrangement of a traditional folk song in 1909. The twelve days start with Christmas Day.
Many, if not most, ancient churches in the UK started off as simple wooden structures. Through time, and increased wealth of the church and communities most were replaced with stone buildings, which in turn were altered added to. Wooden churches are, therefore, rare in the UK and offer unique insights into our heritage, whether they have survived for centuries or are relatively new.
Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown was probably England’s greatest landscape designer. He changed the face of 18th century England, designing country estates and mansions, moving hills and making flowing lakes and serpentine rivers, a magical world of green. He even had a hand in a few churches. Bill Bryson wrote: ‘Brown created landscapes that were in a sense ‘more English’ than the countryside they replaced.’
During the First World War efforts were made to mark graves, either where men fell or in cemeteries along and behind the line. Markers varied from a stick or broken rifle to army regulation markers and even carved and ornate memorials. When makers were replaced with headstones these wooden crosses were offered to families of the dead. The family were responsible for shipping them home, and for their final location. Many were given to churches.
In all corners of Devon, not only will you find quaint villages and exquisite cream teas, you’ll also find tremendous examples of history. With ancient abbeys and historic churches to explore, enjoy a great day out discovering local heritage and humble beginnings in Devon. Be warmly welcomed and discover local heritage and craftsmanship in churches, chapels and meeting houses of all ages and architectural styles. Here are just a few to wet your whistle.
Geocaching is a real world, outdoor treasure hunting game. Using a smartphone app, or a GPS, use clues and coordinates to navigate to and find the hidden geocache (container). Once found, sign the log and swap treasure. It’s a great activity, alone, in groups or with family. ChurchMicros are a series of geocaches at or near churches. Here are the 10 most favourited (by percentage) ChurchMicros. There are over 10,000 to find, with links to those listed here on each church page.
Churches offer some of the most magnificent architectural locations in the UK. From spectacular backdrops in Hollywood movies to everyday life events in favourite soap operas, from the grandest cathedral to the humblest parish church; they are indispensable on screen as they are in reality. Sometimes they are churches, sometimes they are something else altogether. The fun is in spotting them, and then visiting the real life locations of our favourite on screen moments.
Churches are part of our everyday landscape, imagine a view over a countryside valley without intriguing towers and spires popping up to entice you. They are also the places we go to celebrate key life events; birth, marriage, death. As such, they must also be part of the landscape of our worlds on TV. As with film, sometimes they are churches, sometimes they are something else altogether. The fun is in spotting them, and then visiting the real life locations of our favourite on screen moments.