May 1 – A geocaching trip North of Lowestoft

Burgh Castle Roman Fort and lots of churches

Hello from 1066 – Medieval Mosaic

We decided to go off on another expedition this time as far as Lowestoft and even further. Many of the church micros along the route had already been done so we headed up the A12 until we got to Frostenden. We turned off along a lovely quiet lane until we reached All Saints church which has one of Suffolk’s oldest round towers, almost certainly Saxon, and the church is mainly 13th-century. There was a super sundial over the south door which exhorts you to ‘Watch and Pray’. The church was closed so we went to search for the numbers. There were quite a lot to collect and seemed to be some room for error. We thought we had them right but we couldn’t get close to the final so we can not have got them right and finally had to give up.

St Michael’s church in Oulton took a bit of finding but had a car park and a lych gate. The word lych is an old Saxon word for corpse. In the middle ages when most people were buried in just shrouds rather than coffins, the dead were carried to the lych gate and placed on a bier where the priest conducted the first part of the funeral service under its shelter. The current gate was constructed by a Mr Colin Baxter in the 1940s, using only hand tools. This was a multi but required you to walk around the churchyard in a clearly defined order collecting some numbers from headstones on the way. We could not locate the first or the last headstone which meant that we had four numbers missing. While I could make an educated guess for the first two, the last two was the reason we could not locate the geocache. It was a pity because it was a lovely church and churchyard.

It is believed that the current building stands on the site of a church founded by St.Felix, circa 650 AD. It is also thought to have been the site of a Roman Temple. The church stands on high ground, in common with nearly all churches named St.Michael’s, overlooking marshlands to the west. The main fabric of the building is 13th-century but the base of the central tower is most certainly 10th/11th century Saxon. Other features indicate an 11th/12th century Norman influence. St Michael’s was once a cruciform church with a central tower and spire, the spire being quite uncommon in Suffolk. The church originally had a thatched roof but this was replaced with tiles, the weight of which in later years caused severe distortion of the roof timbers of the chancel. A complete reconstruction of the chancel roof was carried out in 1958. At one time the church must have possessed some fine stained glass but only a few portions remain, mostly at the tops of the side windows. The most interesting piece is cross-shaped and is at the top of the window above the north choir stall. This is definitely 15th-century work and depicts Jesus displaying the nail holes in his hands. There is a painted pipe organ built by Archie Chaffey in 1941. But what strikes you first as you walk in the side door as we did, was the two facsimile memorial brasses on the floor of the chancel, one to Sir John (d.1445) and Katherine Fastole (d.1478) and the other to Sir Adam Bacon (c.1318). The octagonal font with four big lions around the base is in excellent condition.

You will often find yew trees in churchyards as their straight boughs made excellent bows. It was commonplace for the men of the parish to practice their archery after the Sunday service. In 1252 the ‘Assize of Arms’ ensured that all Englishmen were ordered, by law, that every man between the age of 15 to 60 years old should equip themselves with a bow and arrows. King Edward III took this further and decreed the Archery Law in 1363 which commanded the obligatory practice of archery on Sundays and holidays! The Archery Law “forbade, on pain of death, all sport that took up time better spent on war training especially archery practice“. In 1515 King Henry VIII imposed a more detailed statute part of which decreed “And that buttes be made, in everie citie, towne and place accordinge to the law of auncient time used, and the inhabitantes and dwellers in everye of them to exercise themselfe with longe bowes in shotinge at the same, and elles wher on holy daies and other times conveniente.“. This law has never been repealed!

As we did not find the church micro in Oulton we decided to look for the village sign instead.  It was erected in 1990 and is topped by a model of the church surrounded by various shields, below these are some ornate carvings of sheaves of barley and the village name. Two of the shields depict Sir John Fastolfe (Lord of the Manor of Oulton (Houton) from 1419  until his death in 1445 and later immortalised by Shakespeare as Sir John Falstaff) and his wife Katharine who are buried in the church under reproduction brasses.

Other shields show;
– The summer house of the author George Borrow (1808 – 1881) who resided in the south of the parish,
– the Arms of the Hobart family who were Lords of the Manor from the late 1500s until 1631,
– the ‘Stook of Barley and Crossed Malt Shovels’ which symbolises Oulton’s agricultural past and its once flourishing malt houses,
– Oulton High House, the old manor house of Oulton, built by the Hobart family,
– a wherry, a traditional sailing craft which was a common sight on the waterways to the south of the parish in bygone years,
– the Arms of the Bacon family who were associated with the church in the early 14th century.

St Margaret’s church in Hopton-on-Sea was built in 1865 to replace the medieval church which burnt down. Sadly the church was closed as we managed to arrive on one of the three days it is closed each week. We looked for the cache near GZ but had no idea what the hint ‘You’ve got Humphry Davy to thank for this one’ meant. Finally, I gave up and went back to the car to google the hint. Humphry is best remembered for isolating a series of substances for the first time: potassium and sodium in 1807 and calcium, strontium, barium, magnesium and boron the following year. A light bulb moment – We should look around the lamp post. Suddenly Mike found the cache hidden in the dirt at the bottom of the lamp post.

At Burgh Castle, we found another church with a round tower. Churches with round towers are unusual and they are found mostly in East Anglia. The Round Tower Churches Society (RTCS) was established in 1973 to help preserve these churches and to explore their origins and history. There are about 185 surviving examples in the country, 124 are in Norfolk, 38 in Suffolk, 6 in Essex, 3 in Sussex and 2 each in Cambridgeshire and Berkshire. Round tower churches are found in areas lacking normal building stone and are therefore built of flint. Corners are difficult to construct in flint, hence the thick, round walls of the towers.

St Peter and St Paul’s church in Burgh Castle is a medieval parish church with a Late Saxon round tower. Some of the nave walls may also date back to the Late Saxon period, and the majority of the church building dates from the 13th and 15th centuries. The building contains many reused Roman tiles, probably taken from the ruins of the nearby Roman fort. The church has a lot of stained glass but my favourites were that of Zacharias and Elisabeth by Mr Booker of Bruges in 1903 and a lovely commemorative window with Alfred the Great from 901 and Queen Victoria from 1901 by M.J.C. Buckley.

After visiting the church we walked around the Roman Fort, an English Heritage site and finally to the final of the church micro. When we arrived at the spot we were muggled from two directions both times by dogs. One dog going mad on the other side of the fence and he had just gone when another dog from our side of the fence took exception to us being there. Luckily we managed to sign the log in between dogs. When you looked across The River Waveney from the fort’s elevated site you are looking out over the Norfolk Broads and there are several windmills including Berney Arms Windmill in Reedham.

All Saints church in Belton, another round tower church, was closed which is sad as it had a Purbeck marble font and a carved oak reredos which is divided into 3 panels depicting the Annunciation, Crucifixion and Resurrection. There is a fresco wall painting which was probably painted in the reign of Henry IV (who died in 1413) as the costumes are of that period. It represents the legend of “the 3 Quick and the 3 Dead”.  This fresco was painted over a large picture of St. Christopher so that only the feet and legs of the Saint remain surrounded by fish. On the same wall is a large fresco of St. James. The paintings were uncovered in 1848 but have faded a great deal. We loved the cache as it was a concrete pole with a decoy cache stating ‘not this one’ in five of the six holes. For us, it was third time lucky and a favourite point.

St Edmund Church in Fritton is a Norman, round towered, thatched church. Unusually for a Norman church, it has an apse. The chancel is strangely off centre of the nave – when the nave (but not the chancel!) was widened, the original north wall was retained and the other wall rebuilt about three metres further south! It had a very ornate square font and a fabulous wall painting of St Christopher on the wall as you enter the church. There were also other bits of wall painting including a lady on a window frame. I loved the spider plants hanging all around the church. The apse walls were all painted too. The sanctuary has a series of wonderful stained glass windows of St Ethelbert and St Withburga, St Felix and St Etheldreda, St Olaf and St Fursey, and St William of Norwich and St Walstan. The small window over the altar was of St Edmund and to each side were St Nicholas and St Benedict. A lovely collection of saints. A man arrived to close the church while we were there. We found the cache easily before moving on and giving the cache a favourite point for so many of my favourite saints in one place.

We saw a signpost for St Olaves Priory, a free English Heritage site so stopped to have a look. There were two llamas in the paddock out the front of the Priory Farm Restaurant. The priory of St Mary and St Olaf was founded for a small community of Augustinian canons in the early 13th century.

St Mary’s church in Haddiscoe had no church micro but we could not resist visiting. It had a round tower and a wall painting of St Christopher, patron saint of travellers, on the wall as you enter the church. It had a Norman door arch with St Mary over the doorway. The octagonal font was 15th-century with angels and the signs of the Evangelists around the bowl and four lions around the stem. There was a more modern (1931) stained glass window by Martin Travers in memory of Mia Edwards, a painter renowned for her paintings of children and flowers.

We were going to go to St Mary’s in Gillingham but the roundabout exit was blocked off by police so we headed on to Geldeston. The one-lane road to Geldeston is obviously the alternate route in and out of Gillingham as it was very busy but we managed to find St Michael’s church built into a hill beside Yarmouth Road. The round tower dates from the 12th century but muchVictorian restoration took place so not many original features remain. The porch is medieval as is the baptismal font. However, the church was closed as it is after 5.30 pm so we quickly found the geocache and moved on.

At St Mary’s in Ellingham, we found another closed church. I had found the cache in a cool container by the time Mike walked back from the church.

All Saints Church in Mettingham had a round tower which has stood since at least the eleventh century. The church, believed to date back to around 1066, is a unique building with a fantastic heritage. The North door dates back to the 12th-century even though it is very ‘Norman’ in style. We found the geocache eventually though the hint was not even slightly helpful. On our way through narrow lanes, we passed Mettingham Castle Lodge and Castle View Vacations on Castle Rd. It is a house which is privately owned and run as an Airbnb surrounded by the castle ruins.

St. John the Baptist church in Ilketshall was built in 1267, by Sir James de Ilketshall, on one acre of land. The church was closed. The geocache took us a while to find as the GPS had us looking on the church side of the road. When I finally extended my search I found it very quickly hidden in the bottom of a big tree.

St Lawrence in Ilketshall is a small, fairly plain church but at least it was open. It had no stained glass windows but it did have a George II royal coat of arms. I was signing the log just as Mike returned. The container was clever, it was a metal daisy flower which staked into the ground with a cache container taped to it. It always surprises me when we see new container types after finding over 6000 caches.