And so to Walsingham in Norfolk. All very odd, and I'm dyed-in-the-wool C of E. The oddest thing for me is that the Shrine to Our Lady of Walsingham is in fact Anglican. This is the Church of England so high it must have rocketed over the border into full-on Catholicism. The streets are permeated with the smell of incense and elderly spinsters in nun-style headscarves staring beatifically into the distance as they stand blocking up parking spaces. We were looking for shriney things, and quickly found a dusty shop window filled with plaster saints. My companion photographed one with an enormous £11.50 price tag round Joseph's neck, and we wandered into the Abbey grounds. Well, not exactly wandered, we had to negotiate a lady having trouble with the till who took eight pounds off us to look at snowdrops and a ruined arch.The actual Shrine place was more interesting, if very disturbing. A pale brick building that looks like a bus station in Romford hides a garden full of bricked and gilded stations of the cross and a perfect set of three crucifixes on a grassy knoll. It was with relief that we saw these cleansing fluids on a dusty window sill as we fled to Brancaster and two big plates of whitebait.
A couple of days in Herefordshire, and an essential visit to Kilpeck church, one of the best preserved Norman churches in the country. Many will know of this pink sandstone building high on its knoll next to the castle, mainly for the incredible doorway with its Green Man (the object of my visit) and the course of corbels running around the top of the walls. Such a medieval pageant of heads and faces, upside down pigs, doves, musicians, acrobats and wrestlers. And then outside this little Reliant Robin under the yews, losing yet another wheel. Its elderly owner stood by it, staring at the space where the third of only three wheels ought to be, lost in thought. Probably remembering slow excursions down Herefordshire lanes, leaning gently into the bends.
A dozen or so years ago I was travelling across Cowbit Wash between Crowland and Spalding in the Lincolnshire Fens. A sudden kink in the road and I glanced to my right and saw this little red brick chapel slowly sinking into the grass verge. Readers of my Pastoral Peculiars will probably recognise it as an 1895 Wesleyan Chapel, and remember that not long afterwards I drove by and it had been completely erased from the landscape. Only a pile of orange bricks lay in the grass, incised with the name of a local brickyard- Peakirk. One of which of course now resides in a dark corner at Ashley Towers.
Why do I mention it again now? Well, I found the 35mm transparency in an old biscuit tin this morning, and I have demolition on my mind after having seen in quick succession the excellent and ever entertaining Jonathan Meades' mourning of the destruction of examples of 'brutalist' architecture, and the sad but inspiring documentary on the incomparable Ian Nairn. (Catch both on the iPlayer thing if you're quick.) And it prompted the thought that as cooling towers and unloved shopping centres are subhumed in piles of grey dust, we should spare a thought for these tiny and apparently unloved buildings. I was brought up being sat down on uncomfortable pitch pine pews in places like this, particularly on holidays when a search for a Baptist Chapel ended up by us being herded into Primitive Methodist strongholds that were often both remote and alarmingly eccentric. So I know a little bit of how it was here. Small boys (and of course girls) staring out at waving wheat on a summer's evening, fingering the peg doll or tin toy in the pocket and wondering if the interminable sermon would ever come to its conclusion, and the quiet fields could once again echo with shouts of gleeful relief as they run down the lane.
Thinking about all this water, water, everywhere; and its attendant miseries, I thought we ought to have something much brighter and summery to look at. So rummaging through last year's pictures I came across this. Irresistible, obviously. From what I remember, the lettering is beautifully ticked-in (as signwriters say) along the jib of a big mobile crane used to hoik boats in and out of Oare Creek at Faversham in Kent. All around here is a wonderland of the things we like: boat hulls, maritime detritus, rusting containers. Let's hope the sun starts to shine on Faversham and everywhere else very soon, and for longer than five minutes.
Every Monday night a select band of fellows gather round a table in our local pub. We euphemistically call it 'Camera Club', which isn't a club and we rarely talk about cameras. In fact we want to call it something else, because we know that when we say "We're going to Camera Club" everyone thinks we dress up in doubtful raincoats and club together to hire a dodgy modelfrom Leicester. No, each week in strict rotation one of us will nominate a subject which we attempt to shoot during the week, and the next Monday we will present our results to each other. Our presentations are obviously anointed with comforting libations, and always end in us roundly abusing each other. It is stimulating, thought provoking, and great fun.
We're probably in our third year now (nobody can quite remember) and have done everything from books to boats. And once, when half of us had failed to turn up, absence. The winner was one of those cardboard holders for two dozen eggs. With one taken out. Anyway, last night it was bridges, and Saturday saw Youngest Boy and I talking about these devastating floods as we stood next to the Great Ouse at Great Barford in Bedfordshire (top), and Sunday saw all of us belting around the countryside in wintry sunlight looking at all our local contenders. The nearest bridge to my home is the next one down, where I always stop to see the water level of the River Welland, hoping to catch a glimpse of a heron. Then another county boundary bridge between Leicestershire and Northamptonshire, next to the old Ashley station (how appropriate) and finally Medbourne with its classical English pose for the camera. Thence back up to our village and me setting to fire to the kitchen again for Sunday lunch.
How I came to miss this when I made my Pastoral Peculiars book nine years ago is as mysterious as the thing itself. High on a windy ridge above the Northamptonshire village of Little Brington is all that remains of the church of St.John's. Built as a chapel of ease in 1856 by Frederick Spencer, 4th Earl of Spencer (1798-1857), it served those in the village who found the walk to the Spencer tomb-laden St.Mary in Great Brington wearisome. Altruistic as this may seem, it also doubled-up as a memorial to the Earl's first wife Elizabeth Georgina Poyntz, whom he married in 1830. A hundred years on and the church had fallen into disrepair and the body of it was demolished. At the request of the Air Ministry (wish we still had one of those) the tower and broach spire were kept as a navigational landmark. A friend also quite rightly thinks that the local hunt would've lobbied for its continued presence as a prominent marker in these steeplechasing acres. There's another pastoral peculiar nearby that a faulty camera memory card and glowering clouds prevented me from snapping, but you'll find more of the same here, and if I've read it correctly for as little as one penny. Now that is peculiar.
Thank God the sun's come out for a while. I was beginning to despair, being one who is described by his loved ones as having that SAD syndrome. Or maybe it was just sad. Anyway, this morning feels very good for some reason so I'm rearing to get out there to start snapping before a celebratory lunch finally overwhelms me. Who knows what I might find. To be going on with here's this morning's coffee pot (a highly-valued Christmas present) doing all the right things for me on my kitchen table.
I am a writer and photographer who spends all his time looking at England, particularly buildings and the countryside. But I have a leaning towards the slightly odd and neglected, the unsung elements that make England such an interesting place to live in. I am the author and photographer of over 25 books, in particular Unmitigated England (Adelphi 2006), More from Unmitigated England (Adelphi 2007), Cross Country (Wiley 2011), The Cigarette Papers (Frances Lincoln 2012) and Preposterous Erections (Frances Lincoln 2012)