March 16 – Charlie is really getting into Geocaching

Our First Beautiful Spring Day in West Suffolk and Essex

Hello from 1066 – A Medieval Mosaic

We were off to an early start this morning after packing a picnic lunch and a thermos for the three of us. Charlie had come up with a route of 24 churches which we thought was probably a bit ambitious but we were ready for an adventure. We arrived at his place at 9.30 am and swapped cars so that Charlie could drive as he knows where we were going.

Most of our trip today was in Essex, across the border. It is a very pretty part of the country and would be the first time we have geocached in Essex so a new souvenir for our geocaching page. First on the agenda was St Andrew’s church in Bulmer. This church had a 15th-century octagonal font with angels and shields on the bowl and woodwoses on the stem. It also had a Queen Victoria Royal Coat of Arms which I think is the first we have seen but the really outstanding feature was the tiles in the sanctity. The tiles were in blue, brown, gold and white and there were three different patterns, one being in front of the altar rail, a different one alongside the altar and another under the altar which can only just be seen. It also had a big beautiful stained glass window behind the altar and an hourglass pulpit. There was no geocache here though. As we drove through Bulmer we passed the Bulmer Brick and Tile Company. This company is a family business who specialise in making handmade bricks and tiles using traditional methods and work on large projects for National Trust, English Heritage and Historic Royal Palaces.

Our first cache find was at St Paul’s at Wickham St Paul. The church was not open but we found the cache right beside the car.

We could not believe that Castle Hedingham did not have a church micro at St Nicholas church as it dated from 1180 and is amazing! Charlie could not find a park so he stayed in the car while Mike and I explored. There was a gentleman in the church dusting the cobwebs with a long pole. He was very knowledgeable and told us all about the church. The thing that attracted me the most was a wonderful tapestry of the village – The Castle Hedingham Village Embroidery. It is a four piece work depicting the many styles and periods of architecture to be seen in the village. There are 39 buildings portrayed covering from Norman period to modern day. Also depicted are the Essex and the De Vere coats of arms, Hedingham Castle, Kirby Hall Farm, cricket grounds, bowling green, Augusta House, school, poplars, river Colne, Bingham pottery, Old Moot House, Youth Hostel, Bell Inn, Crouch Green cottages, hop growing, woodcut by Eric Ravilious, mulberry tree, silk handweavers, train, St Nicholas church, yew trees, the Dower House and so many more. Each piece had been worked separately and then added to the final work. It was all worked in long stitch and had a lovely cabinet to display it in. Beside it was a lovely model of the church made from wood. There was also a copy of the Domesday book open to the page which mentions Castle Hedingham and an old copy of the King James Bible. The church had a wonderful six bay wooden chancel screen which dates from 1357 with carved faces which all depict different saints and people.  It also has a beautiful mosaic monument in blue and gilt which commemorates the First World War. In the South aisle side chapel is an altar with a 19th-century tessellated mosaic reredos. There were 11 misericords including 5 original ones, one dating from 1130. One depicts the tale of the wolf and the monk as told by Gerald of Wales. Against the north wall of the chancel stands the black marble tomb of the John de Vere, 15th Earl of Oxford. A lady was sitting in the vestry polishing the brass-ware on a communion table which dates from 1646. During the Reformation, this table was used for communion instead of an altar.

At Sible Hedingham, we found the cache easily after visiting the St Peter’s church which has an Edward III coat of arms. It also had a model of the church made of 200,000 matchsticks by Mr E.I. Rainer and a lovely reredos with 12 saints. The rector’s date from 1330 with John de Bouchier and there were shields on the roof beams.

At St Mary Magdalene in Wethersfield, I knew what to do for the multi but it still took a while so it was good to have Charlie’s help. I had to find a plaque on the gate and count how many of each letter there were in the sentence. As a result, I only had time for a quick look at the church. There was an alabaster altar tomb of Henry Wentworth of Cobham Hall 1482 covered in graffiti. The list of rector’s date from 1304. Having collected and manipulated the numbers we set off to the final. Mike headed off across the field at a quick pace and found the cache without any problems. When he held it up I turned around and met Charlie coming up behind me. He had heard a nightingale which then flew out of the bush we were standing by. Apparently, it is highly unusual to hear or see a nightingale and she had a very pretty song. We awarded a favourite point for the cache, the church, the walk and the sunny Spring day.

Finchingfield is a very pretty village and it has a lovely church complete with battlements. There was an amazing gold and blue mosaic reredos as well lots of wall monuments and hatchments. The Berner’s Purbeck marble tomb was lovely with its brass on top which was intact except for the two shields. St John the Baptist had a wonderful Norman archway into the church. We started collecting the numbers for the multi but after going around the churchyard twice we only had three numbers and we realised that it was going to take too long so we decided to leave it for another time. Sometimes we take up to an hour to do a multi but today we have an agenda so time to move on.

St Mary the Virgin’s church in Great Bardfield had a steeple had wooden shingles and a lovely 14th-century stone chancel arch combined with a stone rood screen. The screen was commissioned in 1377 by Edmund Mortimer who was the grandson of Edward III. The church had wonderful stained glass windows including one depicting the Incarnation. The lovely reredos was gilded wood with a picture made from marble. It took the three of us a while to find the cache though we were looking in the right place the whole time and we had a good hint. Finally, Michael spotted the cache but he dropped it while he was unscrewing it. Luckily Charlie saw where it fell. The log was sopping wet so completely unsignable. There was a great view from the cache site.

St Katherine’s church at Little Bardfield is a pretty little church with only two bells. There was an impressive coloured and gilded First World War monument. A short walk took us to a quick find. Mike couldn’t reach the cache which was inside the tree but I managed to manoeuvre it out of its hiding place. Alongside the muddy pathway to the cache site, we could see four lovely big houses with tennis courts, swimming pools and flash cars. “East End, done well, moved out”.

The huge cathedral-like church in Thaxted had three names – St John the Baptist, St Mary and St Laurence. It had a lovely wooden Queen Anne coat of arms, hatchments and beautiful carved bench ends. The 15th-century font which was completely enclosed in a wooden box and cover. There were lots of wonderful stained glass windows including some Medieval glass and a C.E. Kempe window. There was a 15th-century carved screen and a monumental brass. There were two organs, one of which had dark mahogany casework with carved detail and gold leaf display pipes which were played throughout our visit. On the way up the path to this cache my knee disconnected quick badly and so I was hobbling for the rest of the day. I have to remember not to walk too quickly. I sat down in the church to rest it while listening to the music and reading the booklet. We found the cache quickly just over the road but it had no lid on and was just a mouldy mess so there was nothing to sign. We took our picnic bag from the back of the car and sat in the unused porch to eat ham sandwiches, yoghurt and vanilla slice. We also had a nice cup of tea all the while serenaded by the organ music.

St Mary the Virgin at Debden was a very unusual shaped church with the altar in the middle and a chapel to the Chiswell and Kirby families at the rounded end. The emblem on the outside of the church and the font are made from Coade stone in 1786. Coade stone is an artificial stone made in the 18th and 19th century which was used for architectural decorations and garden ornaments but remain weatherproof. There was a George III Royal Coat of Arms and a lovely stained glass window by Gibbs and Howard from around 1900. My GPS had decided to randomly delete all the caches and my cell phone could not get any signal at all so we had no direction and no hint so had to give it up looking for the geocache. It is very frustrating as my GPS does this from time to time and will not work properly again until I have completely reloaded the caches from the laptop. However, we did not have the laptop with us we had to use the cell phone for the rest of the day. Unfortunately, there was no cell phone signal here so we had no idea where to start looking for the geocache so we had to leave it. I cannot believe some people rely entirely on a cell phone when geocaching as mine runs out of power so quickly and often you cannot get a signal.

St Mary the Virgin, Newport had no geocache but it did have a lovely knitted tapestry. Each piece was knitted and then sewn onto a knitted background which was quite a novel idea, a bit reminiscent of our Giant Jersey.  The 19th-century stone pulpit was mounted on marble columns and it also had a pigeon lectern. There was no main stained glass window, reredos and only a plain altar but the windows in the chancel had roundels of coloured glass. In the chapel was a portable altar where the lid lifts up to show a wooden painted reredos with five pictures on it and the vestments and silverware were obviously transported inside.

We visited St Margaret’s church at Wicken Bonhunt but it was closed. For some reason, the cell phone did not show a church micro here but later when I was logging the finds I found there was one. However, we did retrace our steps to the St Helen’s chapel and found a cache there which was only a piece of paper. It was pretty damp but Mike was able to sign it.

St Mary and St Clement church in Clavering was a lovely church with large wall monuments, a Decalogue and an hour-glass pulpit. There were little angels on the wooden ceiling. The brasses had been taken up and mounted on the wall. Using the cell phone, we managed to arrive at the right place by a footbridge over the river but I could not get a signal to read the hint. Try as we might we just could not find the cache and finally had to give up. I bet it was there though. Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver grew up in the Cricketers, the village pub his parents kept.

We also visited St Mary the Virgin in Arkesden where there were some good corbels, stained glass windows and some lovely tilework but there was no geocache there either. There were some impressive wall monuments, one to John Withers and his wife of 1692 and the other was ‘The Cutte Monument’ to Richard Cutte and his wife, 1592. There was also an effigy of John Croxby, the vicar of Arkesden from 1435 – 1456, dressed in cassock and surplice.

We also drove through Wendens Ambo which has an interesting history. The earliest signs of a settlement are from the Roman period. Remains of a villa were found during an excavation in 1853, and finds of flint tools from 300–200 BC suggest an even earlier settlement. It is likely that the farming community of Wenden probably started around the 6th and 7th centuries, taking its name from the valley in which it lies: Wendene. The Domesday Book contains the first written account of Wenden Magna and Wenden Parva. Wenden Magna was owned by Robert Gernon, a Frenchman who also had land in Stansted and Takeley. Wenden Parva was also owned by William de Warenne, who fought for William the Conqueror at the Battle of Hastings. On 23 March 1662, Wenden Magna and Wenden Parva were joined to create Wendens Ambo. Within the village is Audley End railway station which is the main station for Audley End House and Saffron Walden. We stopped in front of the hall for Mike to take a photograph. Maybe we will visit as now it belongs to English Heritage. St Mary the Virgin in Wendens Ambo had some 14th-century wall paintings depicting the story of St Margaret of Antioch in the sanctity which is more clearly show in the drawings done by E.W.Tristam in 1934.

St Mary’s in Saffron Walden was another cathedral-like church built around 1250 on the site of a previous Norman church from 1130. The chapel had a wonderful seven-part stained glass window and there was a wooden rood screen with a walkway on top. The main altar had a brilliant reredos with five figures in the centre and two smaller ones on each side. It had an amazing stained glass window behind the altar with wonderful blues and purples. There was also a tomb in the vestry behind the organ that was being played while we were there. There were also some very good monumental brasses on the wall. When we went to find the cache, it wasn’t on any of the road signs as the hint would suggest. We had been looking for a while before I realised that we were the fifth DNF and that the cache probably was not there any longer. At Saffron Walden, there are some wonderful examples of pargeting on the buildings. Pargeting is a decorative or waterproofing plastering applied to building walls adorning them with medallions in high relief and the stone and plaster scroll-work, and in Norfolk, it is called ‘pinking’

At Radwinter, St Mary the Virgin church was closed but we found the cache easily even though we were on the wrong side of the fence we managed to reach it anyway. It was a good sized cache so we left the travel bug that we have been carrying around for a few weeks.

At this stage, my cell phone ran out of power so we headed home driving passed Dick Turpin’s house in Hempstead on the way. We stopped so that Mike could get a photo but his camera had run out of power so we are three for three, no GPS, cell phone or camera.

Charlie had prepared a meal of back bacon casserole for us and Ruth met us there to share the dinner. I made self-saucing chocolate pudding and we had a lovely evening chatting. A great tally for the day, we visited 16 churches and found 8 church micros and had two DNF’s. Can you believe it, after a lovely warm spring day it snowed again in the night but it was not as bad in East Suffolk as it was in the West.