We were up and away early, very early, Friday morning. It was tempting to look at some of the historical treasures of Worcester, but we really didn’t have time to get stuck in a busy city centre on a Friday, especially when we were due in the north that afternoon. We hit the road before breakfast instead, and our reward was a beautiful, misty dawn.
We had only to glance at the map to realise that the one thing that stood between us and the north was Birmingham; a big, big place. Not a place you want to hit in rush hour, when even the motorways come to a standstill. And rush ‘hour’ is a misnomer there. It lasts for ages. We could, of course, go round the long way… which seemed to me to be infinitely preferable.
Taking the back roads in a vaguely northwesterly direction we meandered through the halflight, watching small towns and villages pass by. Turning on impulse off the main road, we found ourselves on a lane running between fields. There was nowhere really to park and watch the morning mists as they swirled over the land. We moved on and within a few minutes we were parked outside a church. It was bound to be locked… and it really looked like one we would like to see. Charming village houses surrounded it, but there was a mounting step beside the lych gate, rather different from any I have seen before and a ‘cross’ beside the door.
Even from outside you could see there was good stained glass in there. The walls, a pink sandstone, held odd carvings, randomly placed, recycled from an earlier building perhaps… and this one looked old enough. It still amazes me how much we have learned in such a short time about church architecture. We were reading the building as we looked, almost unconsciously, even though we really know very little. Early nave, later addition of clerestory and probably extended for the chancel… You just get a ‘feel’ for these places.
Subsequent research brought a wry smile of regret for the locked door. The village of Alveley has a recorded history that goes back two thousand years. This was a Norman church, though, built to replace the earlier Saxon one of which only a cross survives. A Saxon cross… and, just as a bonus, a 14thC mural of the seven deadly sins… and we had found the church by accident? And it was locked!
Had we but known, there is also a Buttercross a little way further on, where food was left for the village during its quarantine when the Black Death took over half its population in 1349AD. There are other historical connections too… the family of the Confederate General Robert E. Lee originated here.
Of course, we knew none of this at the time… only what we could see and suspect might wait inside the old building. We couldn’t wait around in the hope someone might open the church either; it was after seven and we were beginning to think about breakfast.
We headed back to the main road and drove for a while. As the sun rose, we were stuck behind a tractor and its attendant line of frustrated motorists, so I turned instead down a lane that bore the signposts of both a dead end and a church. The sun gilded a pathway of diamonds across a dew-drenched lawn. Birds sang and spider’s webs caught the mist. An old yew tree cast its shadow into the fields… we really didn’t mind the locked door of the church. This was a far cry from the madness of city roads and motorways. We might have a long drive ahead, but there was no reason to rush. Beauty is always worth waiting for.
We headed off in the general direction of Telford, or at least that was the plan. It ran in my mind there was something I should know about Telford… or was I thinking of Thomas Telford…? No doubt we would find out…