Knowing my love for churches, my sister sent me the Instagram of Luke Sherlock. It was everything a lover of churches could want. Exquisitely beautiful imagery with thoughtful well-researched captions. One of the few good things Instagram does well is giving a platform to people such as Luke, those with passion and curiosity, a place to shine. With his 'boundless' energy and enjoyment of historic landmarks and landscapes, takes the viewer on a journey, and in the process, the viewer learns and is perhaps inspired to make their pilgrimages. Here's hoping, as Luke, who I was thrilled agreed to write for Tat, suggested the subject, which I will let him introduce.
Sudbury & Long Melford, Suffolk
London Liverpool Street to Sudbury (Suffolk) – approx. 1hr 20
This is the England of the imagination. First, make your way to a pleasant village green in Sudbury beside the River Stour and enter St Gregory’s to discover its astonishing 15th century font cover. Then onwards, up through lush water meadows and past country cottages to Long Melford and Holy Trinity, one of England’s truly great “wool churches” – so named after the medieval wool and cloth merchants who funded them. Don’t miss the decorative beauty of the Clopton Chantry Chapel, completed in the final years of the 15th century.
Southease, East Sussex
London Victoria to Southease (via Lewes) – approx. 1hr 15
Round tower churches are rare. Round tower churches outside East Anglia are scarce. This example from Southease, East Sussex, is 1 of only a handful of England’s 180 or so round tower churches that are outside East Anglia. You can visit St Peter’s by catching the train to the almost unfathomably small Southease station and walking along a little track. Inside are faded yet evocative 13th-century wall paintings, depicting New Testament scenes, as well as a fine Jacobean pulpit. This is a restful place, sitting between the south coast and the capital. Virginia Woolf and her husband Leonard set up home at nearby Monk's House, a 16th-century weatherboarded cottage, in the neighbouring village of Rodmell - now in the care of the National Trust. I stopped by on my walk back to Lewes and the train home.
The Wiggenhall Loop, Norfolk
London Kings Cross to Watlington – approx. 1hr 40
This is a vast flat land defined by water below a wide East Anglian sky. It’s moody and windswept. Perhaps this is a connoisseur’s choice, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a better collection of medieval churches in such a small patch. Leaving Watlington station, you trace the banked levee above the gloomy River Great Ouse and first come to the open bones of the ruined 15th century Wiggenhall St Peter. Beyond awaits Wiggenhall St Germain, famed for its collection of carved medieval benches. Next is Wiggenhall St Mary the Virgin, where a 15th century rubble and brick tower gazes over an ivy-covered churchyard. Finally, back along the river, you reach the handsome perpendicular gothic architecture of Wiggenhall St Mary Magdalen. This isn’t gentle England. It’s remote, wild, almost intimidating. I love it. Make sure you pack sandwiches.
London Liverpool Street to Marks Tey – approx. 55 mins
From Marks Tey be careful as you cross some busy roads, through housing estates, before fields, forest and landscaped parkland open up on the approach to St Michael & All Angels. The Romanesque apse here likely dates from the early 12th century. Christ in Glory is painted, enthroned upon a rainbow attended by angels and apostles. These paintings were partially reconstructed in the Victorian period. This certainly isn’t an approach to conservation that would be advocated today. Yet, stood taking in a vivid impression of what must have been, this is an incredible survival. The decorations at Christmas add to the magic.
Ickleton & Duxford, Cambridgeshire
London Liverpool Street to Great Chesterford – approx. 1hr 7
I walked from Great Chesterford to Ickleton and entered the Norman interior of St Mary Magdalene. Awaiting were a set of original 12th-century wall paintings, discovered after an act of arson in 70’s. After admiring the medieval bench ends, I trudged onwards to Duxford St John’s. Now this is box office. One of the most atmospheric churches in England. A Norman core, an array of medieval wall paintings, fine carvings, and the accretions of the ages. Cared for by the Churches Conservation Trust, this place has a cinematic quality. It’s simply not to be missed for any intrepid church explorer. Onwards I scuttled to Whittlesford Parkway to re-join the line back to London.
Of course, there were many more journeys I made during my years living in London before I relocated to historic church utopia of Somerset. I hope this handful of suggestions inspires you to either visit some of these wonderful places or craft your own mini pilgrimages. The churches will be there waiting for you.