When I was at school there was always great excitement approaching four o’clock in the afternoon when a double headed express would come steaming past our school playing fields. My friends, perfectly sane kids and most with a good sense of humour, would rush out after lessons with their little books of train numbers desperate to record whatever came past and as it was the early 60’s there were often a few odd engines well outside their normal territory which apparently added to the fascination. Except I didn’t get it. Engines were just engines, big black noisy smelly things with smoke and steam pouring out of low funnels, but essentially all the same. Photogenic maybe but none of my friends had cameras and the object of it all seemed just to find out the number of each engine and underline it in the little books. Instead I liked to go and visit old churches, also photogenic, also iconic in the context of old England, often full of architectural beauty, redolent with social history, imbued with the mystery of centuries and a bit scary with all those dead bodies in the churchyards. Especially if you were only 12 and alone on your bike because all your mates were clustered somewhere along the East Coast Main Line watching out for the Flying Scotsman or whatever else happened to pass. I was an odd child; I even liked Brussels sprouts.
So what do you do if 50 years down the line you find yourself retired with lots of time on your hands and located in a part of the country where there is a medieval church every two or three miles and some of them good enough to feature in all the best guide books? No good asking my wife as she sees churches as I used to see steam engines (though I must admit that to see a steamer in full flight now is something really special….). So with Martin’s wife having similar views to mine the idea arose that the two of us might just occasionally have a day out in the country, provided the weather was good, have a nice drive through the countryside, maybe an occasional walk across fields and along streams, of course a good pub lunch and a few churches just to give the day a bit of structure.
So our church crawls began and the areas we chose to see first, mainly Rutland and Lincolnshire, are full of wonderful churches and not just the splendid well known ones like Heckington, Swaton or Lyddington, but also little quirky churches like Brooke (Rutland), Howell (near Sleaford) or Peakirk(near Peterborough). In fact every church has its beauties, often poignant, often dilapidated but still beautiful. Every church has its human stories of happenings long ago and the people involved in those events, and while visiting churches we often meet up with people, sometimes a local coffee morning held in the church, American tourists looking for ancestors, local church helpers, village vicars, other church crawlers, or even the local squire who wants to know what we are doing, especially if the lead has just been removed from the local church.
There are four of us now who go out for a day, usually once a month throughout the warmer months. We’ve been doing it for a couple of years and have visited over 100 churches, averaging around 12 per trip, probably spending about half an hour at a church if we can get in, much less if the church is locked up. We’ve been lucky so far and out of our 12 usually 7 will be open. Many thanks to all those dedicated people out there who still keep their churches open, especially in these days when many churches have sadly been targeted by thieves.