"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

Sunday, 30 July 2017

Bee-Eaters and a Hidden Treasure in St Winifred's Church, Kingston-on-Soar, Notts

Bee-eaters are a species of bird I would dearly love to see and, as we don't go abroad for our holidays, a sighting in the UK is my only hope. In 2005 (I can't believe it was that long ago!) a pair nested in Herefordshire and we duly made the trip. Only to be told on arrival that the nest had been predated by a fox the night before and the adults had not been seen that day. It wasn't an entirely wasted journey as we watched a Dunnock feeding a juvenile Cuckoo which was a thrilling encounter and had lunch in a pub called "The Bunch of Carrots". Bee-eaters also nested near Niton, Isle of Wight, on National Trust land in 2014 but that was a year we didn't visit the island and they also nested in a Cumbrian quarry in 2015 - a bit too far for the day for us. So I was thrilled that this year there had been the closest sightings yet to home in a Cemex Quarry at East Leake, Nottinghamshire, where the RSPB had arranged access to a viewpoint and car parking. So last weekend we made the trip - only about 45 minutes (well it would have been if I hadn't managed to mis-read the satnav and we got lost!!) from home.

It was a relief to see the car park only had about dozen cars (I know one weekend 1000 people had descended to see the birds!). The view point is only about a 10/15 minute walk away via a bridle path.


Approaching the "twitch" - there were only a handful of people there.

We saw five birds during the hour plus we stayed and most of the time they were flying around or perched on this ash tree.

They were quite some distance away so I was glad we had taken the telescope so we could get far better views than managed with binoculars. Too far away really for photos - this was the best my Olympus dslr with the 70-300 mm lens could manage!

and not much better with the Canon bridge SX50


although on this heavily cropped picture you might be able to see it was a Bee-eater if you click on it to enlarge the image.


I managed better photos of this very tame juvenile Robin who came to visit us.

I wouldn't normally give out information on nesting attempts by such rare species but it has been widely broadcast on social media (including by a group of RSPB birders) that eggs in 3 nests have hatched which is superb news. Understandably the nests are under a 24 hour guard.


I couldn't resist treating myself to a Bee-eater pin badge and t-shirt - it is not every day you finally get to see such a beautiful bird :)

After we had got lost on the journey we passed through some rather pretty villages and decided we would go back and explore one of them - Kingston-on-Soar.

We parked by the Village Hall - where there was an art exhibition which kept B occupied. Retrospectively, I wish I had spent more time there as one of the artists specialised in paintings of churches. However, I had spotted a church which looked open.


What a lovely idea - books in a bus-shelter.



The first reference to the village was in the Domesday book. The village gets its name from the old English "cyne-stan" meaning "royal stone". It is not known today where the royal stone was as it has long since disappeared but it may have had a religious significance.


St Winifred's Church


Parts of the church date back to the 16th century - the chancel was built in 1538 as a chantry chapel for the Babington family. The church was extended in the 19th century and rebuilt and altered in 1900 although thankfully retaining the old chapel and chancel - these did, however, have to be carefully taken down to replace weak foundations and then replaced brick by brick.

A church with two Saints - The church was originally dedicated to St Wilfred but then unusually the dedication was changed to St Winifred when it re-opened in 1900.

I didn't at this stage realise that the church appears in the book "England's Thousand Best Churches" by Simon Jenkins or the delightful reason why.

I'd left my camera in the car as it had the wrong lens on for church pictures and have to admit I commandeered the Canon bridge camera from D so I could take a few photos.

Stained Glass

The Babington Monument was the hidden treasure in the church and what a beautiful surprise it was.

It is one of the loveliest items I have ever come across in a parish church - I could have spent hours studying and admiring it instead of the half hour or so we spent there.

Carved in limestone, possibly by a local Nottinghamshire craftsman, it was erected on the instruction of Dame Katherine (widow of Sir Anthony Babington) in her will in 1537 where she instructed her son John to have "a tomb of alabaster stone made over my husband and me in the church between the chancel and the chapel". However, today no effigy or tomb can be seen.

The Babington family originated in Northumberland and later acquired property in Derbyshire and Kingston. Many of you will have heard of Anthony Babington born in 1561, who was the great grandson of the Anthony mentioned above. He was brought up a Roman Catholic and in April 1586 he was involved in a plot where part of the group planned to kill Elizabeth I whilst he rescued Mary Queen of Scots who was at that time imprisoned at Chartley House, near Stafford. Walsingham, Minister to Elizabeth, knew of this plot almost from its conception as a letter between Anthony and Mary giving details of the plans was discovered and read by Walsingham's agents. These incriminating letters were enough to bring Anthony and his fellow plotters to trial and also Mary. Anthony was executed in September, 1586 and Mary the following February. There is a story attached to the Babington monument that Anthony hid on top of the canopy and managed to evade capture for several days until he was eventually discovered.

The 4 piers, base and shafts of the monument are decorated with tracery, carved heads and figures; the capitals decorated with babes and tons (the Babington rebus), the canopy contains carvings of angels holding shields with the Babington arms and those of the families they married into, foliates, more babies and barrels and tracery. On the east side is a carving of the Last Judgement.

Sorry for all the photos but the carvings are so wonderful it was hard to leave many pictures out!

The font made of Chellaston alabaster was installed in 1933 "in memory of Margaret, Lady Belper (1852 - 1922)" as a gift to the church from her son Algernon Henry, 3rd Baron Belper.

It was an Open Churches Weekend in Nottinghamshire and there was cake!!! :)

*D - photos taken by D with the Canon bridge SX 50

The rest were taken by me either with the Olympus e-420 70-300 mm lens (bee-eater walk) and with the Canon bridge camera at the church.


A Guide to the Church and a short History of the Church and its Worship compiled by Brendan Magill

Guide book to The Babington Monument

Many thanks too to the kind and helpful church warden who was so full of information. I will email you if I can return in the future.


Countryside Tales said...

Fantastic! I'm green with envy about the bee eaters and so pleased you've seen them. The enlarged photo showed up well. I'd heard they were there so it was great to read your first hand account. Very pleased they've hatched eggs too. Sad that the nests need 24 hour security isn't it?

Wonderful church too. The babbington story was fascinating x

Deborah RusticPumpkin said...

There must always be cake! Well, aren't you the lucky one? Even if you couldn't get really close, you've seen a real, live Bee Eater! I knew exactly what you meant when you said about the car park because we used to operate one of the boats that landed on Ramsey Island, and when the RSPB took over the numbers of Twitchers sky rocketed, and periodically there would be a sighting of a rare bird and our lives went off the scale busy ferrying thousands over to the island. Amazing carving on those columns! Incredibly beautiful, both close up and from standing back.

Rosie said...

I'm so pleased that you were able to get to see the bee eaters, what a wonderful experience. Thank goodness there weren't too many people there and you were able to park and get to the site easily. Great photos and of the young robin too. St Winifred's looks a fascinating church and the Babbington Monument is amazing, the stained glass windows look wonderful too:)

amanda peters said...

So pleased you got to see the Bee-Eaters, and great they have managed to breed. You never know in a few years time they might be as common as the Red Kite, now that would be good.

Yay.. for getting lost as you might not have discovered this lovely Church the carvings inside are amazing.The windows are lovely to with the light shining through.It's such a great piece of art, can't imagine how long it took to create the detail is stunning. Thank you for all the lovely photos...
Amanda xx

Ragged Robin said...

Countryside Tales - Thanks so much - a red letter day for me :) It is sad that there are still egg collectors around operating illegally and I think they are also keeping an eye on foxes coming too close :( A fox predated the nest in Herefordshire.

Church was a wonderful find :)

Deborah RusticPumpkin - Thanks very much. Actually for once I had to forego the cake - that was son's helping! He and his sister had already eaten some and when it was my turn I realised we only had enough cash between us for the church guides I wanted to buy so I chose them instead of cake!!

tbh I am not a lover of "twitches" - I would rather watch birds on my own! but there are occasions when it is the only way to see a species. I can just imagine how busy you were with boat trips at certain times!! The look of my face must have been a picture when I first saw that monument - my jaw just dropped and I sat down suddenly!!! just to take in the beauty of it all! :)

Rosie - Thanks so much. As long as nests are ok I think the Bee-eaters will be around for a few weeks yet so do hope things quieten down for you and you get time to visit. The church is a few miles away from the bee-eater site. I am pretty sure the churchwarden said it was open every day.

Amanda Peters - Thanks so much. It would be great if these nesting attempts became more and more common. We don't get many Red Kites round here sadly just the occasional sighting but I am keeping fingers crossed they spread into Warks from Oxfordshire. But their increase is an amazing conservation story :)

We got lost trying to get back to the village and OH had had enough and was nearly on the motorway before we spotted a signpost!! I think David may have taken the one good photo of the windows - it has a look of his style!!! and he did take a few for me. He is much more creative than me with photos! I think the monument was "cleaned" last century but the detail and condition considering when it was made are just superb :) ps church book has arrived :) What a beautiful book - several in North Yorkshire. Will send you some photos today or tomorrow so you can see. Makes me want to get straight in car and visit one of the CCT churches!!!!! :)

Toffeeapple said...

How exciting to see Bee Eaters here in England. But how lovely to see the sweet baby Robin too.

Ragged Robin said...

Toffeeapple - Thanks so much - if I am really honest - the sighting of the young robin almost meant as much as the Bee-eaters! There is something about attending a "twitch" that for me takes away the excitement of seeing the bird - you almost feel as though you are just there for the tick! :( Finding your own birds is much more thrilling :)

CherryPie said...

What a special treat to be able to see bee eaters.

That church is a great find, the Babington Monument is a hidden gem. I will have see if I can visit one day.

Ragged Robin said...

CherryPie -Thank you. Yes, it was a good day with the Babington Monument the "icing on the cake". Hope you can visit the church one day.

Pam said...

Fantastic you finally got to see the Bee-eaters and that getting lost didn't seem such a bad thing in the end..........

Ragged Robin said...

Pam - thank you and thanks again for advice re: Parking :) Great day out :)

Bovey Belle said...

Double WOW for this post - Bee-Eaters AND that FABULOUS church and monument. My goodness, that tomb must have cost an arm and a leg to do! I've never seen anything like it. I was going to ask when I saw the Babington name, was it they of the plot, not surprising I suppose as it is a relatively uncommon name.

Good photo of the juvenile Robin. We have had several around the garden (two fighting already, obviously cock birds whose attitude starts young) and indedd, seem to have had a lot of birds nesting in our garden/yard/paddock etc this year (including Flycatchers in the hay barn who built their nest on the flat top of an accro prop).

Ragged Robin said...

BoveyBelle - Thanks so much for your lovely comment. I was just speechless when I saw that monument especially as I hadn't been expecting anything like that to be in church! I thought we were just going to see bee-eaters so hadn't bothered checking out churches or anything else in the area so it as a complete surprise :)

Good news about all your nests especially the flycatchers :) I've been to a local churchyard often used by Spotted Flycatchers but couldn't see any this year. So sad the way they are in decline. Pied Flycatchers I have only ever seen in the Forest of Dean and Lake District. Although we did once have one of the latter in the garden on passage at migration time. That was a real red letter day! :) and Spotted occasionally seen in garden again at autumn migration time.

Chris Rohrer said...

WOW!!! You twitched!!!:) I love it! 45 minutes isn't bad at all and you did what I would have done. Gone to see the birds and then meander back home. That is pretty awesome! Congrats!!!

Ragged Robin said...

Chris Rohrer - Thanks Chris - so lovely to hear from you. I do once in a blue moon "twitch" though usually fairly locally! I just couldn't resist those bee-eaters especially having dipped some years back!! Sadly the 3 nesting attempts by the 3 pairs failed (perhaps due to lack of insects) but hopefully we will get more and more nests if the species colonises more.