This is the last hurrah for the year as far as dear old Bessie is concerned.  The Met Office is predicting a few sunny days this weekend, albeit rather cold ones, so it seemed a good idea to take advantage of this rare phenomenon in a year beset by damp, soggy ones.

We have returned to Gloucestershire, and the wonderful Apple Tree Park campsite as it’s close to Slimbridge.  We didn’t see much of the hides last month so hopefully will get to see some of the new arrivals out on the scrapes.  Today, however, the weather being very dull and gloomy, we will concentrate on travelling around looking at some of the interesting churches we missed last time.

So, up the A38 towards Gloucester and off on the ring road towards Ross-on-Wye.  We seemed destined never to visit this capital of the Wye valley as we always get diverted on the way.  Today we took the road to Kempley to visit the fantastically beautiful St Mary’s Church but on the way saw this pretty church on a bend and decided to park Bessie on a grassy mound in the middle of the road to take a better look.

This is St Anne’s at Oxenhall, with a stunning yellow door:

Unfortunately for us that door was firmly shut so we didn’t have a chance to examine the interior.  A notice in the porch was asking for church sitters to look after it.  Apparently English Heritage had helped with necessary repairs and its quid pro quo was that the church should be open to the public for at least 250 hours a year.  What a pity that the public can’t be trusted to enter without someone in attendance.  Most churches these days have some sort of CCT which at least allows visitors to enter in daylight hours.

So, a trifle disappointed, we headed off to Kempley.  The first church we came to was St Edward the Confessor, an Arts and Crafts church built in 1903 by Randall Wells, H.G. Wells’s brother no less.  

It was difficult to park so Peter nipped out quickly to take a few photos.  Luckily, this was one church that was open and he went in to take a look.  The contemporary fixtures and fittings are by Ernest Gimson and turned out to be stunning.  He couldn’t find a light so only saw the results of his photography when he got back to Bessie.

Note what appears to be William Morris wall hanging behind the altar.  We tried to return later in the afternoon but unfortunately by this time the church was locked.  Somewhere else to return to!

Kempley itself seems to be a long drawn out village in about three parts and perhaps this is why it has two churches.  We were really looking forward to seeing inside St Mary’s, which was way out in the middle of nowhere, as we had read about the fabulous 12th century frescoes on the English Heritage website and had downloaded the interesting audio commentary onto our iPhones.  It didn’t disappoint:

In through the Norman door with its massive original hinges,

and you see the roof timbers which have been examined and declared to be the oldest in England, c. 1120-50.






Then you gasp when you see the amazing 14th century wall paintings in the nave, leading to the chancel and what can only be described as truly wondrous – the most complete set of Romanesque (Norman) frescoes in England.

The frescoes were whitewashed over during the Reformation as some of the subjects were considered idolatrous. Centuries later in 1872 the then vicar noticed signs of colour beneath the whitewash and with the help of the Cheltenham architect, John Middleton, the frescoes were uncovered.  Shocking to think that, with the best of intentions, Middleton then used a shellac varnish to “preserve” them.  By the 1950s the varnish had darkened to a deep brown and the paintings were virtually invisible.  It was discovered that it could be removed, however, and magically the frescoes came back to life once more, seemingly unharmed.

A Norman door at the west end leads to the tower where stands the 15th century parish chest, carved from a block of solid oak coming from a tree thought to have been planted 250 years before that!






It is difficult to follow St Mary’s but we thought we would give another St Mary’s a go – this time in Dymock, world famous for the Dymock Poets, a literary group including Rupert Brooke and Robert Frost, who made their homes here in the early 20th century.

A plainish church, but with a very nice sundial the church has an interesting exhibition about the poets:

From Dymock it was a two-mile journey into Herefordshire to see the church of St Bartholomew at Much Marcle.  Unfortunately the beautiful Medieval stone effigy of Blanche Mortimer (which Simon Jenkins hails as his “favourite” in his England’s 1000 Best Churches) has been temporarily removed as the plinth on which she lies is under restoration.  So we had to do with a photograph displayed on the temporary wooden screen:

However, there were other marvellous effigies (see the featured image above of 17th century Sir John Kyrle and his wife – note that his feet are resting on a hedgehog!)

I particularly liked the rare 14th century wooden effigy of a local gentleman, carved from a block of solid oak and re-painted in what are considered to be colours similar to the original ones.

Last, but not least, in the churchyard stands an ancient yew tree, thought to have been planted c. 500 AD.  The bottom of the trunk has rotted away and a simple wooden seat fitted.

Sitting inside you can see the sky above.  A spooky experience!