"To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour."

From "Auguries of Innocence"

by William Blake

Monday, 23 May 2016

A Country Churchyard (and Latest Reading)

I persuaded D it would be a good idea if we stopped off at a local churchyard yesterday on our way home from the farm shop at Meriden. I was really hoping we might get a sighting of a Spotted Flycatcher as I've seen them here in the past. Highlight of the journey, apart from the glorious display of wild flowers in the hedgerows, was a weasel which ran across the road in front of the car carrying something in its mouth - presumably a prey item.

Berkswell is a very picturesque little village. Sadly, the museum housed in this 17th century cottage has been forced to close due to lack of support.

Just outside the churchyard is the very ancient St Bercul's Well which takes its name (as does the village) from a Saxon chieftain. Monks who brought the Christian faith from Lichfield baptised converts in this well. This ancient spring was once dedicated to a Saxon deity and the base of the churchyard preaching cross (or a round stone depending on which book you read!!) may once have held the statue of this pagan god.

Maud Watson - the first woman Lawn Tennis Champion at Wimbledon - was the daughter of a former Rector of Berkswell and once lived in this house. The House is no longer the rectory and is now privately owned and called The Well House. It has the most beautiful walled garden and (if I won the lottery) I could just see myself living here!

Maud is buried in the churchyard and one of these days I will remember to look for her grave.

St John the Baptist is one of the best examples of Norman and Early English Architecture in the Midlands and features in Simon Jenkins 1000 Best English Churches book.

The 12th century church was built on the site of an earlier Saxon church. It contains a superb crypt parts of which date back to the 8th century. The 2 storey gabled and timbered porch was added in the 16th century. The room over the porch is now used as a vestry but originally it was a village school room and pegs for the boys' coats and benches where they used to sit remain.

Sacred ancient wells, preaching crosses, (a possible mark stone which I failed to photograph), ancient church built on a pagan site - Alfred Watkins who wrote the Old Straight Track would be in raptures and immediately looking for leylines. Since reading the Watkins' book I've done a bit of research with OS Maps into local ley lines and several possible ones lead from the Berkswell church/well - one continues to a moat, then Maxstoke Priory and onto another moat giving the four minimum ley markers. Another possibility passes through Packington Ford, Coleshill church (Coleshill or Cole's Hill is mentioned in Watkins' book as Cole is one of the possible names for a ley man (or person who planned and laid out the leys)) then onto a moat at Curdworth. I've thought about doing a series of posts but to be honest whenever the family spot me with ruler, pencil and OS Maps there is a rolling of eyes and mutterings of "away with the fairies" again so have decided it might not be such a good idea!

To totally change the subject my camera lens is away for repair at the moment so I was using the Canon Bridge but at this stage D decided to commandeer his share of the camera so the rest of the photos are by him. He does take far more creative shots than me even if he does have a preference for shots taken at an angle!! In retrospect, I could have taken my Olympus with the macro lens and at least taken some flower photos. I found I was at a total loss without a camera and spent most of my time telling him to take a picture of this, that and the other.

The Preaching Cross - a medieval replacement of an earlier one (Please see above)

There are around 36 of these grotesque masks just below roof level - they are believed to have been a protection in the days of the early church from evil spirits. (These would probably have been of interest to Alfred Watkins too!)

We named this frightening stone "face" "The Scream"

A lovely sundial on the church tower

The churchyard here is a delight - another example of a "God's Acre" or "Living Churchyard" where wild flowers and wildlife flourish.

Wild flowers included Bluebells, Cow Parsley, Dandelions, Cuckoo Flower (Lady's Smock) and Speedwells.

Hawthorn is in full flower now - we saw lots in the hedgerows along the lanes too along with Red Campion and Greater Stitchwort and fields shimmering with Buttercups.

Mole hills!

Sadly, we didn't see any Spotted Flycatchers although I will hopefully return to search again. Birds seen included Jackdaws, Blackbirds, Pied Wagtail, Jay, Swallows, Blue and Great Tits. This is also a good site for Green Woodpeckers - plenty of places for them to "ant" but again failed to spot one today.


I've just finished the second Anne Cleeves "Shetlander" book and enjoyed it as much as the first. Am really looking forward to reading the rest of this series and then moving onto the Vera Stanhope books.

I first heard of the "Morville Hours" some years ago when I listened to extracts read aloud when it was "Book of the Week" on Radio 4 and thought then what a beautiful book it sounded. Finally, I pulled it out of my pile of "books to be read" and I wasn't disappointed. It is one of the loveliest books I've read. Its not just a book about the creation of a garden but includes snippets of gardening and religious history, geology, wildlife, books, poets, plants, Books of Hours, history of the Dower House and its past inhabitants, the author's family and childhood. It really is a magical and beautifully written book which I would heartily recommend if you haven't read it. Even better, I have discovered that Katherine Swift's garden isn't that far from here (just past Bridgenorth) and is open 2 days a week so I am really hoping I can persuade B (or D) to visit with me.

I've also re-read the fifth of the six books in Susan Howatch's Starbridge novels.

I've just finished "House of Shadows" by Nicola Cornick - a new author for me. It is the untold story of Elizabeth Stuart - The Winter Queen. The novel set around Ashdown House (now a NT property) and mill is one of those time-slip novels which are not that easy to read on a Kindle as its not so easy to flip back and check previous chapters. Nevertheless I really enjoyed it. Sorry I never got round to taking a photo of the cover.

Two recent arrivals in the post and both make very interesting and useful reading :)

My Wildlife Trust #30DaysWild pack has arrived :)

and a little treat to myself - I do love these butterfly pin badges and have built up quite a collection. Proceeds go to fund various butterfly conservation schemes.


Rosie said...

You do find the most fascinating places to visit. I enjoyed reading about all the history of the village and church and the churchyard looks delightful. Shame about the Museum closing. The grotesques are amazing, like the one above 'scream' such a wry grin on its face. Glad you are enjoying the Ann Cleeves books and if you get the chance do go to the Morville Dower House garden, we went a few years ago and it was delightful. The author of the book who lives (or lived there then) was serving tea and scones in the courtyard to all her visitors:)

Ragged Robin said...

Rosie - Thanks so much for your very kind comment. Berkswell is so interesting (good pub for meals too :) ) - I've been in the church several times lots of interest inside. Will try and do another post on the interior one day. I won't tell you who the face with the wry grin reminded my son of!!!!!! :)

Thanks so much for the info on the Morville Dower House Garden - I did read somewhere that the author does the most amazing cream teas :) As far as I can see she does still live there. She gave a talk recently in Ludlow on the history of English Country gardens which I would have loved to go to - but Ludlow is about 2 hours (sadly, a bit far for a 2 hour talk). Have you read the Morville Year? Hoping to buy that and read after proposed visit and I think she is also writing another book :)

Dartford Warbler said...

Lovely photos as ever. Such an interesting village and churchyard. I imagine that the medieval stonemasons must have had some fun making those gargoyle faces!

Ragged Robin said...

Dartford Warbler - Thanks so much. It would be interesting to go back in time and find out what was going through their minds as they were making them and where they got their ideas :)

Wendy said...

A wonderful post about such a fascinating place. I'm very interested in the Saxon connections and the well. I like that there is some of the Saxon church left with the crypt. I don't know much about ley lines but that all sounds interesting, too. The grotesques here are great; I think 'the scream' is frightening. Not one to look at as it gets dark!
I love that the churchyard is full of wildflowers. The butterfly book looks good. I wonder if there's a similar one for my part of the country.

Ragged Robin said...

Wendy - Thanks very much Wendy - so pleased you enjoyed. I do so enjoying going to these villages and finding out about the history. I could kick myself now for not going to the museum last year when it was open on selected Sundays :( My son made the comment he wouldn't fancy being in the churchyard in the dark!!

It is so good to see that more and more churchyards seems to be adopting a wildlife friendly approach :) The two butterfly books were both produced by local Butterfly Conservation Groups. The Annual Report I get free each year as member of the Warks group. The first book the West Midland Branch of BC have compiled and just published. It might be worth you getting in touch with your County branch of BC to see if there is something similar. Their website may have details if not I'd email them! It really is an excellent book - contains lots of photos and details of ecology of butterflies seen in West Midlands, tips on gardening and photography and places to see the various species etc etc. (I have a similar but less detailed one for Warks which was published quite a few years ago).

David said...

Wonderful post Caroline with a wide variety of subjects and plenty of historical interest. The history of the old Well is fascinating and the whole ley lines subject is very interesting and definitely worthy of further study, no matter what anyone else thinks!

The church is rather lovely too, I particularly like that timbered porch, and the stone carvings are certainly imaginative. "The Scream" one looks like a Troll or something out of the Lord of the Ring films.

Good to see that the churchyard is also a welcoming home for all of God's other creatures :-)

Hope you are well and my kindest regards to all :-)

Ragged Robin said...

David - Thanks so much. Ley-lines are a fascinating subject that I've been revisiting recently. I've not done much research into the latest ideas about them being spiritual energy lines! but Alfred Watkins idea of them being ancient trackways is a fascinating one. When you do start lining up markers on an OS map the amount of ancient places that come into line is really quite amazing.

Berkswell is probably my favourite local church - such interesting history and you are right "The Scream" does look like something out of Lord of the Rings!!

Fine thank you - finally getting over a horrible sore throat/cough infection that has been working it's way round the family! Hope you are well and best wishes to you all :)

Pete Duxon said...

it is a nice church eh ;)

Ragged Robin said...

Pete Duxon - Thanks Pete and yes it is nice :) Did you find all the Berkswell mice - I still need to find 5 or 6!! :) The crypt is very special.

Deb said...

What a shame about the museum closing.:( I love the grotesques, at first glance i thought the one above 'the scream' was winking. The Well House does look beautiful, nicely tucked away. Will look out for the 'Morville Hours.' :)

Ragged Robin said...

Deb - Thanks so much :) Dreadful shame about museum :( The grotesque you mention does look as though it is winking :) If you decide to buy the Morville Hours I do hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

amanda peters said...

A great read and place, I do love to see what you find on your visits.
Grotesque masks, old buildings and wild flowers.
Shame about the museum having to close.

Been busy recording flowers this last few weeks, what with work little time to blog as well. Had a great afternoon again learning about flowers, of on another flower walk on Saturday. Taking up to 200 photos every time I go out there is a lot to sort through at the end of the day !
Hope the weather turns this weekend and we can get the moth trap out !
Hope to you are feeling better.
Amanda xx

Ragged Robin said...

Amanda Peters - Thanks very much Amanda. I kept D busy taking photos! Tried to get him in the church to see the "Berkswell mice" but he was having none of it!! Lots of wild flowers there - another churchyard I think that would warrant another visit and still hoping to catch up on Spotted Flycatchers!!

So pleased to hear you had a good time on your flower course. Gosh that is a lot of photos to sort through especially if id is involved as well! All sounds great fun though :)

Looks a bit milder here overnight weekend (and dry!!) so perhaps there will be more moth species about for both of us. Updated my records today and haven't seen many species at all this year - even worse than usual!!

Yes thank you - feeling much better now. The others had it for about 3 weeks before it finally departed so about on schedule!! Not that I've felt that ill just out of sorts and not really up to going out and walking around. Lack of camera hasn't helped either!

Have a good weekend and enjoy your flower walk. Hoping, all being well, to meet a bee expert locally and get a book autographed on Monday :) (Still have water vole survey to do too!!!!)

Caroline Gill said...

Thank you for another fascinating tour - and for the photographs. Thank you also for the book recommendations. 'The Morville Hours' sounds just my sort of book ... and what a delightful cover,

Ragged Robin said...

Caroline Gill - Thanks very much. I hope if you decided to buy "The Morville Hours" it will give you as much pleasure as it did me :) Amazing what a difference a book cover can make. I've made purchases in the past or being attracted to a book purely by the cover!

Countryside Tales said...

Fantastic church! So interesting, all the history. And the churchyard looks beautiful x

Ragged Robin said...

Countryside Tales - Thanks very much CT :) Its a lovely and very interesting village - so glad you enjoyed.

Chris Rohrer said...

Hello stranger!!!! Sorry to hear about your camera. I know how that goes. I had to do the same with Micheal on one outing. When you blog......:)

Looks like another fun trek out. Would love to see those Tits and that cool Woodpecker. You have some great birds in your area that are unique for that part of the world. Hoping you have a good summer to study your moths.

Ragged Robin said...

Chris Rohrer - Hi Chris - lovely to hear from you again - I know how busy you are :) It is a right pain re: camera - still waiting for lens to come back from repair :( I feel totally lost when I go out without a camera :(

There is good birding over here but doesn't compare with the variety you get over there!! Thanks for the good wishes re: moths. Its been a slow start for many of us this year. I now put moth posts on my other wildlife garden blog (see top right) although I think I will probably eventually go back to putting everything back on this blog. Easier all round! :)