February 27 – A church Micro day around Ballingham

Pencoyd, Michaelchurch, Tretire, St Weonards, Orcop, Llanwarne, Much Birch, Bullinghope, Dewsall and Callow

Hello from 1066 – A Medieval Mosaic

Today is the first day without our doggie charges so I planned a route of church micros around south Herefordshire. Pema and Pinga like geocaching when it involves long walks but going by car from church to church, not so much. They get tired of all the in and out of the car on and off of their leads. Having said that they are very good dogs and will happily sit outside the church waiting for us without whining or trying to run away.

The first on the list for today is St Dubricius at Hentland which is on a dead end road not far from Hoarwithy. Hentland is one of the oldest churches in the deanery of Ross and Archenfield. Archenfield was called Ariconium by the Romans and in Welsh as Erging. Ergyng means “Land of the Hedgehog” and there is a hedgehog shown in the St. Dubricius window. Most of the church dates from the 13th and 14th centuries but part of the north wall is dated around 1050, the time of Edward the Confessor. There is strong evidence that Hentland (Henlann = hen llan = old church) was a thriving community as far back as the 4th and 5th centuries AD.

Every year on Palm Sunday the ancient and rare custom of the distribution of Pax Cakes takes place at Hentland, Sellack and Kings Caple with the blessing of peace and good neighbourhood. The custom is thought to be unique to this small area. The cakes are now really biscuits and carry an impress of a lamb and a flag. The most interesting monument in the old churchyard is the 14th-century medieval cross with four effigies on the face and according to parish records the Great Yew was planted on Shrove Tuesday 13th February 1615. There is a spring and holy well on the North East churchyard boundary, sometimes called the lip well, one lip was for people, the other for animals.

Saint Dubricius, also known as St Dyfrig, was an extremely prolific abbot/bishop who trained over 2,000 priests at his monastery, which stood near to the 14th-century church that now bears his name. He is remembered as one of the most powerful churchmen of his age. Dubricius was the son of Princess Eurddil. Her father, Peibau, King of Archenfield, was known as “King Dribbler,” thanks to his uncontrollable habit of foaming at the mouth. One day, the King found that his unmarried daughter was pregnant and ordered his courtiers to drown her in the River Wye as punishment for her transgression. However, when they tied the Princess into a sack and cast her into the raging waters, the current simply washed her, unharmed, back to the shore. Three times they tried to carry out the King’s sentence, but each time the river delivered her safely back to land. So the King ruled she was to be burnt alive, and she was flung onto a blazing pyre. Next morning, messengers came to retrieve her bones and found her sitting unharmed amongst the ashes, the infant Dubricius on her lap. Mother and child were promptly taken before the King who, realising the injustice of his ways, welcomed them with open arms. No sooner had he done so than his grandson reached out and touched his face, and he never foamed at the mouth again.

It was a beautiful day with the first blossom trees coming out and daffodils were flowering everywhere. We soon collected the numbers for the multi and easily found the cache which was in good condition. The church is right beside Pengethly Park. The church has fleur-de-lis wall painting in the chancel and sanctuary but we weren’t able to take photos as it was blocked off for renovation.

At St Denys church in Pencoyd I feel like we cheated on the multi as I saw a telltale geocaching stone under a tree from where we parked the car and when I went to check there it was. The log was damp but signable. The church was small with a round font. The earliest part of Pencoyd is probably the 14th-century tower but the church was restored in 1878 when a new chancel was built.

St Michael’s church at Michaelchurch is a 12th-century Churches Conservation Trust church with 13th-century wall paintings on all the walls. These paintings are various geometric shapes and floral patterns with dark red as the main surviving colour. Painted on top of this in various areas, probably during the 16th and 17th century, are inscriptions in black lettering, some of which are parts of the Ten Commandments. Two very special features of the church were the choir pew ends, one of a winged warrior standing on top of a dragon and the other of St Michael. One was broken right off so I hope it was not stolen. This church was down a little lane out in the country but luckily a little park for about two cars had been provided. This fabulous little church is situated on a corner plot with very little in the way of habitation nearby, however, it would seem that the area was once more densely populated than it is now.

The church at Tretire is dedicated to St. Mary and is set in a peaceful and relatively remote position. It was almost entirely rebuilt in 1856 and inside there is a lovely East window depicting the Last Supper, two angels and the Lamb of God.

St Weonard’s church is situated in the village of St Weonard. It is a bigger church than the others we have visited today and is on top of a hill so it stands out from all directions. It had lovely colourful patchwork altar frontal and a lovely East window. The Mynor’s side-chapel also had a fabulous East window which shows many characters but the four big ones are St Catherine with her wheel, St John the Baptist dressed in sackcloth, the Crucifixion and St Weonard as a hermit. The chapel had wall monuments to Robert Mynors Gouge and Peter Oswald, a Physick. There was also a small Flemish looking stained glass panel. The South window beside the altar was by Powell and Sons. There was also a Queen Anne royal coat of arms over the doorway dated 1710. We found the cache easily which surprised me a bit as it has not been found since the beginning of October 2018 even though the village is right on the A466 road from Monmouth to Hereford. This church was a great find with a toilet and a seat outside in the sun for us to eat our picnic lunch with a view. The clock struck 12 while we were there even though it was 1 pm which is what the clock face read. It must be a daylight saving clock!!

St. Weonard is thought to have been a local saint. There used to be stained glass in one of the church windows, sadly destroyed now, that showed him with a woodcutter’s axe living as a hermit, and just to the south of the church grounds is a tump which is a said to have been the site of his burial. Excavations in 1885  found two Bronze Age cremation burials within. This mound was also utilized as a Norman motte for a small wooden castle and more recently as a site for other village activities and morris dancing. Near to St Weonard’s we passed a barn which when viewed from the road above or from Google Earth it was built in a cruciform shape. It also had slits in the walls that looked like slits for shooting arrows but I imagine that is is more likely they are for ventilation. I thought this was the tithe barn but now I am not so sure.

Orcop means ‘top of the ridge’ and St John the Baptist church stands with very few other buildings around it. The church had a nice patchwork altar frontal in gold, black and brown colours in similar colours to the quilt my sister has just completed in New Zealand. It only had a very small piece of colour in one window which was modern and the design symbolises ‘light’. The first rector dates from 1277 with Joannes de Orcop. The nave and the north aisle were erected in the 13th-century, the chancel in the 1300s and the tower in the 1500s but it had major renovations in the mid-19th-century. Although the church was reroofed the internal roof is still medieval. Michael went up the hill to the letterbox cache as I couldn’t get over the stile easily. It was so quiet I could hear him clipping the box open and closed. There were great views and we took a Yorkshire Mega 2018 travel bug.

The next church was at Llanwarne where the geocache had been disabled but we thought we would go to see the church anyway. As we drove up though I realised that we had been here before on 27 November 2018. Christ Church dates from 1864 and it has wonderful Llanwarne roundels which are twenty-seven 16th-century Flemish roundels also called the Sorgheloos series. These were originally believed to portray traditional and biblical scenes. However, the roundels feature some extremely rare subjects and are now understood to include scenes from the story of Sorgheloos, a late-medieval Dutch morality tale. The glass was donated to the church by the then Rector, Walter Baskerville Mynors (1826–1899), after it was removed from the parish church of St Weonard in 1884 by Walter’s elder brother Robert Baskerville Mynors (b.1819), to make way for a memorial window to their mother. There was a wonderful carved wooden pulpit with a thistle and a rose both with a crown over the top. The apse had three wonderful windows with angels in each corner and amazing background detail. These three windows which depict the Nativity, Crucifixion and Resurrection are in memory of Walter Baskerville Mynors, the Rector from 1855-96. Across the road is the ruins of St John the Baptist church the chancel and nave of which date from the 13th century. It has a lovely 15th-century lych gate and above the entrance is a sundial that was reinstated on the 28th August 2012. The oak frame was a requirement of English Heritage and has faded to silver grey and so now blends in. When we were here in November we looked for the cache but were unable to find it. Today we collected the numbers again and ended up in the same place but after a more extensive search still found nothing. I hope the CO soon replaces the cache as there are two lovely churches here so Llanwarne definitely deserves a church micro.

The next church on our agenda was St Mary and St Thomas a Becket at Much Birch but as we approached I realised that we have been here before in November. The cache has been replaced since then but when we went to do the multi we had the same problem that we had last time with the numbers giving us a negative number. We walked about 200 metres down the road to where we thought the coordinates were pointing but it turned into someone’s farm and as there was no public footpath sign we did not venture any further so we got our first “did not find” of the day.

Our next cache was at Callow. We parked at the village hall and as we were walking to St Mary’s church we stopped to talk to a lady in her garden. She is the keyholder for the church which is under the care of a trust. We chatted to her and her husband for ages and they kindly let us into the church. The church was built on the site of a previous church in 1830. It had some nice tile work and a lovely East window depicting the “Crucifixion”. An interesting thing is that they had a photo of a wedding that took place in the church in 1971. It shows wonderful wall painting all around the church but it was starting to look a bit tatty so someone painted the church with thick paint. We couldn’t believe our eyes as it is highly unlikely that it could be removed. The church stands at 672 ft above sea level and the tower is 45 ft high. They did not know about the geocache but they were happy to know that it was there as the villagers are great ones for picking up rubbish. This cache is a fake rock so should be safe and we found it easily. During our conversation with Jan and Bern, she mentioned that she came from near Tenby. I told her that we had done a house sit in Pentlepoir and it appears that she was born and brought up there and her sister and other family members still live there. It’s a small world, isn’t it?

We were getting a bit tired but I only had two more churches on my list for today and it was planned as a circular route so we continued on down the road to Dewsall. St Michael and All Angels church was a small church consecrated in 1340 seemingly in the middle of nowhere. But the area has a long history as a holy site. There is evidence of Romano-British and medieval settlements and burial grounds nearby. The South wall of the church is probably Saxon with 12th-century additions. Dewsall means David’s Spring or Well. It appears in the Domesday Book of 1086 as under the patronage of William Fitz Osborn, a relative of William the Conqueror who fought at the Battle of Hastings. The church was closed so we just found the cache and moved on to our last port of call.

St Peter’s at Bullinghope was closed. The container was small rather than a regular which was on the listing but it doesn’t make any difference to finding the cache. There are lots of lovely daffodils flowering after all the warm Spring weather that we have been having lately and we had a very enjoyable day soaking up the sun.