At the churchyard’s edge there was a stile in a gap in the hawthorn bushes. My friend looked at the field path on the other side and said perhaps we could walk back to the pub that way. The day was warm and he had come from London in search of countryside. He’s a former colleague and we had shared eventful times in the Parliamentary Press Gallery and the Fleet Street of yesteryear.
Fine, I agreed, but found that the left knee would not support the right leg as I tried to step over the stile. Nor would the right knee support the left. I needed my stick for balance but lacked a third hand. Close to the stile were strands of barbed wire.
I was defeated but I was happy. A stile will have been there for centuries. I wouldn’t want to change it.
From the stile we could see for miles into the next county, beyond the river border. The crops were beginning to mellow towards harvest. Behind us a path had been mown through yellow grass covering ancient graves: a little wildlife sanctuary.
The path led back to the north side of the church which was crisply mown, with new graves. A lovely Victorian vicarage stood nearby. We entered the church, founded in the 11th century.
Silence: cool air emanating from ancient stone; an aura and scent of centuries now passed. And worship. And mixed with it, the fragrance of flowers from the previous day’s wedding.
We stood still and took it all in. I gave thanks with a swift sign of the Cross. We walked up to the Chancel and saw a child-sized, bolted door in the north wall. This was puzzling but I have read that some old churches had a door in the north wall to allow the demons to flee when a child is baptised. I can’t confirm that this is the story here.
And then it was back to the pub and the car. The pub stands beside a weir which is fed by a still millpond, with water lilies and great clumps of wild irises.
As we walked by, two black dogs leapt up at the gate of a thatched cottage. ‘Who are these strangers? they barked.
My friend looked out at the wide skies and the bubbling stream, and the ancient hollow willows from which new growth flourished. Children were playing on the grass.
‘The heart of England’, he said.