… And suddenly we were in Yorkshire again, where our trip together had begun. It was almost over. But then, Yorkshire is a big county… we had things still to see and another night before we headed back to Sheffield. The weather had curiously turned bleaker and colder the further south we went and there was more snow in Yorkshire than we had seen in Scotland save on the distant mountains.
We turned once more to the coastal roadwhose western counterpart had served us so well through Cumbria and Scotland and headed southwards to the tiny village of Lythe, just north of Whitby. Friends had told us there were Saxon remains there in the church, though we had little idea what to expect. We had seen a couple of pictures, but were, perhaps, less than enthusiastic as we squelched through the mud of the farm track where we had parked and walked through the biting wind to the tiny church of St Oswald. In fact, what we expected was to find that it was locked.
We were, however, in luck, and by a curious coincidence, the couple just leaving had signed the visitors’ book and were from the same district in Sheffield as my companion. I would urge anyone visiting the old churches to sign the books… funding for the preservation of many of these historic sites can be influenced by the number of visitors.
A simple little place, St Oswald’s. Very much what we have come to expect. A wooden church from around 900AD, replaced by stone in Norman times, probably around 1200AD. A central nave, aisles north and south and a raised chancel beyond the arch. Very pretty, very peaceful… and lovely stained glass in the windows. A very fine modern screen, dating from 1910, separates nave from choir, and the ceiling is painted. Sadly, many of the original Norman features were lost during nineteenth century restoration, as is the case with so many of our old churches.
The best bit for us was the west end of the church… neatly turned out as a mini museum to house a collection of ancient stones, complete with a comprehensive set of information. We had fragments of carved crosses and hogback stones; Viking and Saxon stonework… a medieval Green Man… and some wonderful imagery to work with. And, had we been able to predict when we would actually make it to Lythe, there is a crypt full of other stones that can be seen by appointment…!
The hogback bears an incised image of the Lythe ‘gingerbread man’. He does look remarkably like the modern confection, but has a far more interesting story to tell. The hogback was placed in the churchyard almost a hundred years ago during a renovation and left to gather moss. When it was cleaned in 2007 the figure was uncovered. I have to say, I entirely approve of many of the information boards in this little museum… particularly as they accord with some of the conclusions to which we had already been brought as we work on our books together.
Then there were the wrestlers. The footwork looks fairly self-explanatory on the humans, though the characters involved are up for debate. On the other hand the horse-like beast below the two figures seems to have scales and appears at least to have an unconscionable amount of legs yet again. Say, for instance, about eight, which of course brings us back to Brechin, Bakewell and the other stones depicting Odin’s steed, Sleipnir. Though admittedly, it is difficult to be sure what were carved as legs and what is damage after over a thousand years.
But then we have to mention the tympanum, though I’m not entirely sure what to say… A fragment of a twelfth century panel that would have filled the arch of the Norman door. The inscription says it is probably a passage from Genesis referring to Adam, Eve and the Tree of Life. If so, I have to say, the imagery seems a tad unorthodox and the symbolism leaves much open to question.
The Cross head is unusual in Yorkshire, having more in common with the Irish High Crosses than local work. It dates from the mid 800s to 900s AD. The back of the cross is simple interlaced carved with a central boss. The central head on the front face bears no halo and ‘may not be a representation of Christ’. Either way, it is a beautiful thing and the purple of the heather before it seemed perfect to me. It would of course. The heather covered hills of Yorkshire are my home… even covered in snow.