Places: Christ Church, Westerdale

Westerdale is a tiny village a couple of miles to the west – logically – of Castleton. Even quieter than Castleton, I’m not sure it even has a pub and at least a couple of the roads leading there have grass growing through the middle of the tarmac. Despite or perhaps because of this it’s a lovely little place, a quintessential sleepy Moors village. I decided to walk out there and explore a couple of weeks ago and found the beautiful Christ Church, hiding behind its trees and hedges, to be Westerdale’s best kept secret. So here we go, I thought I’d share!

The Castleton-Westerdale road. Looks like it leads nowhere, doesn’t it?

Castleton-Westerdale road.

But actually, hiding away at the far end, you find this:

Christ Church, Westerdale

The church itself is screened from the main road by a series of hedges and trees, some of which are gorgeously overgrown with creepers:

Christ Church gate.

westerdale 02

Natural garland on the hedge.

Natural garland.

This railed grave buried in rhododendrons touched my heart. I love rhododendrons, I’d rather like my own grave one day to look like this:

westerdale 17

Venturing inside the church, there’s a porch which contains a few very, very old-looking gravestones:

westerdale 04

westerdale 05

In most English country churches the porch opens straight into the main body of the church, but here there’s a tiny additional room that houses the bell ropes; cool and shadowy, almost like some sort of spiritual airlock to protect the atmosphere of the church. As I walked in, there was just one patch of truly vivid light:

westerdale 06

My cameraphone hasn’t done full justice to the colours, sadly, or the texture of the light: truly jewel-like, subtly patterned by the weave of the carpet on which it was lying. But you can get an idea of it, and this is one of the only times I’ve ever seen stained glass really project the kind of colours and light that it’s always described as doing in novels. Here’s the little window that was casting it:

westerdale 07

Why a fish? Who knows. I have no idea of the story behind this, but I’m sure there is one.

I also took a few pictures of the bigger windows in the main church:

Above the altar.

Above the altar.

westerdale 08

Detail of the window above. There were little Zodiac astrological symbols in each quarter of the window.

Detail of the glass above. There were little zodiac astrological symbols in each quarter of the window.

westerdale 12

A few other fixtures and fittings:

The altar, draped in its cloth.

The altar, draped in its cloth.

Memorial brass in the form of a Calvary cross.

Memorial brass in the form of a Calvary cross.

I had to look up the significance of this next item, not being particularly familiar with Christian liturgy, but I learned that this is a Paschal candle, lit as part of the Easter services. This one is from 2012:

Paschal candle.

Paschal candle.

On the way out of the church, I spotted this little text written out and pinned to the noticeboard:

westerdale 15

Finally, a couple of photos from the walk home, as I found another route back down a road even more unfrequented than the one I came in by. Sadly I didn’t get photos of the weasel whom I spotted nosing around in the grass verge – he/she was too quick and wary by far to let me get that close! – but I did find a wild rose-briar, and a row of foxgloves growing by a dry stone wall, so I took pictures of those instead:

Wild roses.

Wild roses.

Foxgloves, wall, grass and sky. What more could you want?

Foxgloves, wall, grass and sky. Perfect.

All in all, a wonderful day. Hope you enjoyed these – thanks for reading, as ever!






Places: Church of St Michael and St George, Castleton

In any English village, you can usually guarantee the presence of two establishments at minimum: a pub and a church. Castleton is no exception, and indeed boasts two pubs, the Downe Arms in the village centre and the Eskdale Inn out by the railway station. Church-wise, though, it’s surprisingly impoverished. There’s the Wesleyan Chapel, which keeps the neighbourhood supplied with coffee mornings and musical interludes, but there’s only one traditional-style parish church.

That one church, though, is worth a visit. So a few days ago, during a brief break in the foggy weather of the last two weeks, that’s precisely what I did. Welcome to the parish church of St Michael and St George, Castleton:

Church of St Michael and St George, Castleton

Daffodils and silver birch outside the church

To find St Michael and St George’s, you go downhill from Castleton’s centre, following the road signs for Danby; the church is on your left as you head out of the village, set back amid trees, daffodils and a thick carpet of green grass. It was built in the 1920s to honour the fallen of WWI, consecrated on 28 July 1926, and replaced an older “tin tabernacle” – a prefabricated, corrugated-iron church that dated back to 1863. Architecturally it’s plain by comparison with the glory of many older English parish churches, with almost nothing in the way of stained glass or ornamental stonework. The porch is a small, unassuming entrance, given an extra rustic touch by the broken wooden rake that hangs in one corner:

The church porch

Wooden rake

A rake in the rafters.

It does also contain this tiny stained-glass window, the only one in the church, which is partially assembled from fragments of what looks like a much older window:

Stained-glass window

Stained-glass window detail

Detail of the window; below the shield with the three lions of England, fragments of older, broken stained glass can be seen.

I don’t know but I’m guessing these pieces might be all that remains of a previous church, either on the same site or close by. If I ever find out more I’ll let you know!

There are two other significant piece of ornamentation inside, though. First is the beautiful reredos or painted panel behind the altar, featuring the church’s two patron saints with their respective dragons:

Altar and reredos

Second, there are the oak pews, panelling and fittings, made by a renowned craftsman who was himself a native of the Moors: Robert “Mouseman” Thompson, of Kilburn. Thompson’s nickname came from his trademark: a little wooden mouse that he would carve somewhere on the pieces he made. His work was in high demand and can be found all over the North – his workshop is still in business to this day – and I have fond memories of hunting under tables and along wainscoting for Thompson mice in the library of my own alma mater, Bradford Girls’ Grammar School. St Michael and St George purports to have a total of ten mice:

Card listing the church's carved mice

These cute laminated cards are provided in the church to guide would-be mouse hunters.

I didn’t come close to finding them all, but here are a couple that I did:

Mouse on wood panelling

This mouse is on a panel just to the right of the organist’s seat.

Mouse on wooden pew

This one is on one of the pews.

I also took this shot of the lectern base, which shows the beautiful rough-chiselling technique that’s also characteristic of Thompson’s work:

Base of the lectern

The organ and pulpit show the same simple yet graceful style:

View of the organ pipes

The pulpit

I also noticed, hanging in a corner of the narthex (the area at the western end of the nave), this: a Cradle Roll, showing the births and baptisms for the parish. This one covers a range of dates in the first half of the 1940s:

Cradle Roll

And on the way out, if you’re looking carefully, there’s one final mouse:

Church gate and mouse

Squeak squeak…