Readers’ photos

December 9, 2019 • 7:45 am

I say just “photos” because these aren’t wildlife photos (though several species are mentioned), but civilization photos. Still, please send in your wildlife photos, as I’m running low, and may have to cancel this feature.

Let’s go to church this morning! These lovely photos come from William Savage, whose notes are indented:

No wildlife this time but some history in the beautiful Norfolk landscape. My wife and I went to find All Saints Church, Waterden: a church which has completely lost its village and now stands by itself in the fields, surrounded by nothing but agriculture and woods. You get there down a narrow lane with room for only one vehicle at any time going in a single direction. Fortunately, we met nothing on the way besides a stoat (Mustela erminea), which ran across the road in front of us.

When you arrive, you need to walk down another pathway to the church itself.

It’s tiny! No electricity, heating or anything else modern inside, so services can only be held occasionally in summer. There’s also a candlelight Midnight Mass listed on the notice board, which I’m told attracts a capacity congregation of about 60 people, many of whom have to stand throughout.
Over the years, much of the building has collapsed and been patched like this:

There are still some 13th-century parts, however. Like this carved part of window tracery, now oddly placed in the wall of the porch.

Inside it is starkly plain, with early 19th-century box pews and whitewashed walls.

The main impact the place had on us was the complete peace. All we heard outside were the calls of a family of Common Buzzards (Buteo buteo), which were circling over the woods. There were sometimes three and sometimes four; parents and this year’s fully fledged young. They make a sound very like a cat asking for food! Now we also know of another species of raptor with a similar call, for their cries were answered in a slightly higher pitch by a pair of Red Kites (Milvus milvus), which drifted past high overhead. The two species seem to be able to coexist in the same localities, probably because they focus on different prey. The kite has longer, thinner wings and is designed for sailing over the countryside, looking for carrion and anything small and vulnerable. The buzzard is more of a specialist hunter of rabbits and hares, though it will take carrion as well.

The south door is original 13th-century work, patched up in modern times. This final picture gives the best sense of how isolated the church is.

You can see the fields stretching away to the horizon, as well as the way the walls now lean at odd angles and are patched with brick. Norfolk has no building stone, so the bulk of the church is made from flints, giving it the effect of a vertical cobbled road!


22 thoughts on “Readers’ photos

  1. It appears the wall is very much tilted out and maybe is held in place by the additional structure structure on the side. Not too sure about that.

    1. I believe you are correct. The brick pillars appear to be more contemporary additions to absorb some of the lateral force and thereby shore up the wall. Sort of like not-quite-flying buttresses.

    1. I thought Gilbert White was on the South coast, not the East coast? But the flintwork walling is a vernacular style there too, for the same reasons, from about Brighton round to Dungeness.
      That fintwork styling is quite disinctive, but I’ve got to say that this is not a very fine example of it. Flaking the rounded nodules to form flat-ish surfaces on the outside of the wall and filling the gaps with lime mortar putty and the debitage rubble from the chipping is the stylish way to do it. Sometimes only the more visible walls are done “fancy” (e.g., near the door) with rougher work on walls that people won’t look at so often.
      It is quite common for fossils found in the flint nodules to be put at prominent locations in the wall – at the angles of door arches, for example. Which is why geologists find paying attention to the local “ritual” monumental masonry structures to be productive.
      Gilbert White worked at Selborne, which is on Chalk downs. Actually, quite close to a couple of horizontals I did in the National Park, back in the early 90s. I wish I’d known that at the time.

  2. Put me in mind of Church Going by Philip Larkin. I believe Christopher Hitchens was an admirer of that poem, too.

  3. I love these old stone buildings. This church is in great shape for it’s age. While traveling in western Ireland, I passed many church ruins. They had collapsed ceilings, open to the sky, gravestones flattened on the ground.

  4. As a Norfolk resident one of my guilty pleasures (as an atheist) is heading out with an OS map and wandering the lanes and footaths looking for old churches. Normally they are left unlocked, with no one around.
    For anyone around here who hasn’t been Ranworth church has an accessable tower. Lots of old ladders and a spectacular view of Ranwoth broad from the roof, a couple of minutes walk away is the Norfolk Wildlife Trust reserve. Which has a great broadwalk through the Carr, boggy alder woodland, great for wildfowl, wonderful insect life (dragonflys, swallowtail butterflys etc) and I even glimpsed an otter there.

    1. Your guilty pleasure is approved of at this end. Where I live in south western Canada we have no heritage such as beautiful old stone buildings to explore and appreciate. Closest we have in my area is a rail line with several bridges, circa 1900, many destroyed in forest fires and then rebuild for walkers. But we try. I would love to go rambling where you are.

    2. I don’t know Norfolk all that well, but I love motorcycling there (very slowly and carefully) and the villages are just stunning. I enjoy distinguishing the churches, which seem to be mainly square tower types, from those of other counties, such as the spires of the Cotswolds. I have never especially looked for ones like this, completely off the beaten track, but I will next time I visit.

    1. I thought the same thing: “Lol I am with you alway”. I thought- “What century is this supposed to be again?”

      I’ve spent too much time on the Internet. 🙂

    1. “it is part of the extended phenotype of one particularly wide-ranging African ape”

      Too-wide ranging if you ask me…

  5. The tile-work roof is relatively recent too. I can’t think of any local-ish stones that are flaggy enough to make decent roofing sheets in the 13th century. Collyweston “Slate” (not a slate!) is the closest contemporary I can think of, but that’s around a 100 miles away – a bit far for the 13th century. The pitch of the roof (in flintwork, with a “recent” edging of brickwork) speaks of something heavier than slate slate (Snowdonia, Balachuish, post-railway) roofing when the flintwork was done, so I’d posit ceramic roofing tiles and look around for fragments in the soil. Their shape, material and firing can be very diagnostic for where the building materials came from (and often thus, who paid for it to be built).

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