Albion, ancient sites, Art, Books, Don and Wen, TOLL, travel

An old haunt

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“If we were to tell the whole story, no-one would believe it. Even I don’t believe it!” Except, we were there. We know what happened. We were part of that surreal succession of coincidences, odd occurrences and strangeness that set our feet on a new path…one whose direction we could never have imagined.

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Going back over that incredible series of events, it sounded fantastic, even to us. Looked at individually, there was not one part of that adventure that could not have been explained away in hindsight, but take the whole thing together, where events came one after the other, minute by minute and it is a different story…and we were there. It was indeed incredibly strange.

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We have revisited many of the sites that were part of that weekend over the past few years, but it had been a long time since we had been back to the little place we call ORC.. the rainbow hued chapel we had been led to by the birds. This weekend, we went back. The kites accompanied us again… they had led us there that first time too…

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It is a tiny place, off the main roads and half hidden by yew trees. It has none of the magnificence of the restored churches and knows nothing of grandeur or majesty in its architecture. The little church that has stood here for nine hundred years is a little shabby. Homely. It is also the most beautiful church we have ever visited… but you need to feel it with your heart, not just see it with your eyes.

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As soon as the door opens…and it always does…it is as if the place reaches out with a loving welcome to draw you in…like coming home after a long absence…which, this time at least, is true. Our focus this year has been the preparation of the workshop and our adventures have been minimal compared to the summer we spent exploring this area in depth and detail. The simplicity of the place goes straight to your heart.

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The font is probably 12thC and very plain. The altar as simple as can be. The woodwork old and worm-eaten, or new and without character. It does have some beautiful stained glass… some of it heraldic and going back to medieval times. There are curious medieval tiles preserved in the chancel… and then, there are the wall paintings…

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Just fragments, but they were as clear as we had ever seen them. The pigments react with the atmospheric conditions and the prolonged damp of winter must have had an effect. The saints look down from the walls as they have since the 1300s and their now familiar faces were a welcome sight. We just sat, soaking in the feel of the place, glad to be back.

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St Christopher looks still at the Child he bears, opposite the old door where the pilgrims cut their crosses into the stone…they are still there. St George is the most impressive to remain, with the Princess behind him, holding the skein. By St Lawrence’s feet, the old scratch-dial is still carved into the wall…and interior sundial for the times of services. St Francis extends his hands to the birds in the Tree as he preaches to them…

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In the visitors book we turn back not-too-many pages to find the entry left by a friend when I brought her here in 2013… the little church is always quiet. It was with a quiet smile that we left, walking to the churchyard to sit in the sun for a while. The site is old… very old. In the fields beyond the churchyard, traces of a Norman motte and bailey share the site of a Roman villa, where once an even older community lived and worked. The hills beyond hold their memories and we have walked in their five thousand year old footsteps on the Ridgeway above. As we left, the kites came in, soaring above the mistletoe that crowns the trees. It was good to be back.

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