northernvicarwalks – August 2021

I should entitle these monthly summaries “northernvicardoesn’twalk” or “northernvicarridestherails”. I only walked 20 miles this month. I rode lots of trains. The Wrexham Bidston line, Sheffield trams (though I had to walk the final mile when they took my tram out of service!), the Apedale Railway, two days in Bristol (including a ride through St Philip’s Marsh Depot), Edinburgh and the tram, Birmingham (with two freight lines), and Bedford/Leighton Buzzard. I can feel your excitement!

There was a lot of work done – an email from On High “hoping I was having a quiet summer” got a resounding raspberry. There have been a lot of baptisms and weddings – all good fun.

Two National Trust properties this month. Beningborough Hall was rather lovely – a good place to meet Harry and Sarah (we are a long way from them).

Julie herded sheep at Kedleston.

I continued to ramble on facebook.

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Alstonefield, Staffordshire – St Peter (again, for Lockdown Chronicles)

On Tuesday 31 August Caroline (our church administrator) was back after a week away, so we had a couple of hours trying to sort out where on earth we are! Then we drove north to High Peak Bookshop as Julie wants pictures for her blog – books and lunch. She was quite chuffed to find this book as her review is mentioned in its blurb.

We had a beautiful drive through to Alstonefield and, like the last time I visited, struggled to find St Peter’s church. It’s on an earlier blog –

Disabled access through the west door and a good exhibition to look round. “The Isolation Chronicles” by Sue Prince, artist. Her website is – the paintings have been published in two books. Her pictures are a fascinating record of the last horrendous year – of the normality, the boringness, the incompetence and evil of those in authority, and the wonderful work of so many. It was great to see them all.

I also enjoyed the Cotton pew, the pulpit and the woodwork again.

There were good refreshments too, rather special china, and we had a chat to Carrie (one of our fellow students). They have had a goodly number of visitors to the exhibition, and I was glad we had made the effort to attend.

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northernvicarwalks – July 2021

Northern Vicar is not very good at walking. I only managed 17 miles this month, partly because of an ingrowing toenail.

I did manage railway trips to Marple, the tram curve in the middle of Sheffield, the early morning curves used in Toton yard, the line at Amerton, and the East Coast Main line from Doncaster down to Peterborough and back via Pyewipe Junction in Lincoln. Here are the railway records – part of my campaign to do all British Rail track for a third time.

I did manage to do some work. We have 10 am services in both churches, a Zoom at 11.30, Evensong in one church or the other, and a Wednesday morning Communion. Three weddings, a baptism, and several Memorials/Burials of ashes.

A beautiful day at Stowe Gardens in Buckinghamshire.

A few days in Northumberland at the end of the month. Forum Books in Corbridge was wonderful, Souter Lighthouse and Arbeia Roman fort.

I am still managing a daily facebook ramble. Here they are.

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Derbyshire – Smalley, St John the Baptist

One of our local retired priests put on facebook that there was a flower festival at St John the Baptist in Smalley – I thought we had a Diocesan communications department to tell us what is going on – so we went for a drive, it’s only a few miles away, SK 407446. They had a nice clear notice outside.

There is a mention of a church and priest in the Domesday book, but it was a parochial chapelry for Morley until 1877. They have a yew tree in the churchyard which they claim is “the finest in the Derbyshire and calculated to be about 1,000 years old” – as curator of the Allestree yew, I beg to differ. For the festival we have fairies in the tree, and a willow horse.

The west wall is the only part of the church building of 1793 which is still standing, transepts were added in 1844, and new aisles and chancel of 1862-3. The Vicar who led all this building work was The Reverend Samuel Fox. The short west tower was added in 1912, architect Currey & Thompson, and the main porch is also C20, replacing the original. It was lovely to have a buzz as we came in, and people were being sensible with their social distancing. You realise how much we have missed events like this. The church looked great. (The flowers had been up since the weekend, so were a little past their best, but Heanor Flower Club deserve to take a bow).

The Roll of Honour is very long, and the font was given by Mr Anthony Kerry in 1856 in memory of his only daughter. The theme of the flowers was ‘A Day to remember’, so ‘a new baby. A new birthday’ is very appropriate, but a little sad for the Kerry family too.

The window in the north west corner is in memory of Herbert Harrison Dix (1883-1972), for many years organist and choir master. “Make a joyful noise untothe Lord” – we’ve all known choirs like that! Talking of noise, a window with the Glastonbury Festival and Thorn tree. I like the flowers round the columns and the dove arch too.

A trip to the Art Gallery and Kew Gardens.

Some nice memorials, and I like the face at the bottom of the moulding.

Lovely altar frontal, with a reredos of 1864 and Victorian windows. Looking westward, the window in the west wall is in memory of churchwarden Ivan Eyre. I did a google to see if I could find the artist. There is a Canadian artist called Ivan Eyre, and a car window firm in Smalley, but that’s as far as I got.

In the north aisle was a display about 9/11 – certainly a day to remember.

Outside, some lovely graves. An interesting tower, and the memorial to the man who built it. Thank you to him, and to those who maintain it (worship in it, and decorate it) in the 21st century.

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Orkney 2021 – Burray, St Lawrence

Thursday 17 June was a beautiful day. We went to St Lawrence church on Burray, the island we’re staying on. It’s down a lane off the main road at ND492964. I had rather hoped we could get down to the beach, but no. It is a beautiful churchyard – Orkney Islands Council (I assume) care for them extremely well.

First I made a beeline to the War Memorial. I had read the cottage’s copy of “Broch Island, a history of the island of Burray in Orkney”, by J.M. Struthers, 2013, and purchased my own copy from Kirkwall Museum. It lists the WW1 dead on page 144 (13 men died) and gives six from WW2 (I thought there was only one – John Rosie – on the memorial, and I can’t find him in the book).

One of the CWG graves I found was to Thomas Allen, an Able-seaman who died on 12 July 1918 on the hospital ship Karapara in Scapa Flow, a victim of Spanish flu. He had seen service in the Dardanelles but in 1918 he was serving on the submarine depot ship HMS Vulcan. He was 25.

Some stones that caught my eye were James and Betsy Sinclair remembering two children, and William and Catherine Laird remembering Mary, Gilbert and James. “We have to mourn the loss of them we did our best to save. Beloved on earth, regretted gone, remembered in the grave. Yet again we hope to meet them when the day of life is fled, Then in heaven we hope to meet them, where no farewell tears are spread.”

David and Marianne Wylie had to cope with the death of one son, David – he was 22. On the side of the stone you find an engraving to Robert, their other son. He died in Sydney. I’m sure that’s a family with a fascinating story – and, in this age of Zoom, we forget the distance and difficulty of communication.

The cemetery is still in use – as there is no Crematorium on the islands, I assume everyone is buried. Catherine told me that there was one elderly resident who died during this last year, and the island still managed to mourn him – even though no one was able to be with him when he died.

Sadly St Lawrence Kirk is derelict. Apparently it dates back to the C11, probably as a small private church on the Earldom estate – Victorian surveyors found a stone in the west gable dated 1172. It is likely that there was a broch on this site, so the stones would probably have come from this ancient structure. The building was restored in 1621 by the Laird, William Stewart of Mains. The minister, Rev Walter Stewart, described it as “small but very elegant.” The roof fell in about 1800, it was restored in 1852 and given a new roof. In 1874 the final service was held. A new replacement church was built elsewhere on the island, and apparently they built the new church to the original dimensions so they could reuse the roof! Now that is closed as well, and islanders have to cross to the village of St Margaret Hope on South Ronaldsay for worship.

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Orkney 2021 – Burwick, St Mary

Having visited the Italian Chapel on Thursday 10 June we headed south through South Ronaldsay, right down to Burwick. This end of the island looks very desolate. There are beautiful empty buildings which I would love to buy and redevelop – but they are the same buildings I feel in love with last time. The church was locked with no notices, but there are fascinating lichens (or is that singular?) on the stones. Apparently it is St Mary’s church, built in 1789, replacing an earlier church. There is a website – of a Preservation Trust, but the paypal link is broken and it hasn’t been touched since 2019.

I dreamed of whether the pension pot would stretch to buying this, or one of the derelict farms nearby, converting it to store Madam’s books, and taking up residence. Trouble is, there is now very little reason to come this far south – unless you are catching the pedestrian ferry to John o’Groats. Tomb of the Eagles will not be reopening after the pandemic, and the lovely restaurant we found last time is now firmly shut. While some parts of the islands are prospering, it didn’t feel as if South Ronaldsay is.

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Orkney 2021 – The Italian Chapel and St Magnus Cathedral in Kirkwall

The Italian Chapel was open. I called in one afternoon and they suggested we visited first thing in the morning. We did, and had it to ourselves. It is an atmospheric place. I did a bit of maths – if it was completed in 1945 and I first visited in 1982, that was 37 years. It is now 39 years since my first visit. I do enjoy the artwork, not just the Virgin and child, but also the gospel writers and the decoration and “stonework”. It is a fascinating story of the triumph of the human spirit in the midst of War, a group of Italians a long way from home.

If you want a longer blog, read this one

Last time we visited Kirkwall, I did you four blogs about St Magnus Cathedral – start with This time they were closed for most of the first week as they recorded the St Magnus Festival, then for the second week numbers were very limited – one in, one out. Sensibly, they were using this time to get some building work done. They were also as friendly and welcoming as ever. The painting hangs in the Museum across the road.

Julie enjoyed the Orcadian Bookshop in Kirkwall – – and we ate several times in the Old Library cafe. The wonderful public library was closed, but I sat outside and connected to their wi-fi on a couple of occasions. We walked beside the quay and watched the boats, and I photoed the phone box (as one does).

Talking of bookshops, one of the highlights of the week was when Birsay Books opened especially for us –

The caption on this minibus seemed to sum up our wonderful holiday.

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Orkney 2021 – a holiday as Covid seemed less of a threat

I did full posts on several Orkney churches, and St Magnus Cathedral, when we visited in 2017. We came up for two weeks in June 2021, staying at The Slap Cottage on Burray. It’s highly recommended – their website is

We had originally booked for 2020, but that was cancelled. Catherine just transferred us to 2021, and both Premier Inn and Pentland Ferries gave us full refunds. This time travel is allowed. We were asked to take Covid tests before we set off and we found the cleaning regime in both PInns en route, and on the ferry, was good.

We had the pleasure of the animals – the baby goats were very special.

The island was much quieter than we have known it in the past. The cruise ships have stopped coming, so the number of people visiting the major sites has collapsed. This meant we had Skara Brae to ourselves on the couple of occasions we visited.

We visited the Ring of Brodgar and the Stones of Stenness on a couple of occasions – enjoying the fact we have Morgan the powerchair, and there is an excellent board walk which links the two. The sunset was magical, spiritual, very special indeed.

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northernvicarwalks – June 2021

Most of June was spent on Orkney, and I’ll blog a couple of churches from there shortly. No railway trips at all that month, and facebook ramblings were a bit erratic. Here they are for posterity.

In the week we came home we had a lovely walk along the Chesterfield Canal from the Hollingwood Hub, plus three weddings (including a bus), a baptism, a couple of memorial services, and an Annual Parochial Church meeting (or was it two?).

We had a morning out hoping to explore churches, but Fenny Bentley, Bradbourne and Brassington were all locked. The month only saw 37 miles of walking.

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Thockrington, Northumberland – St Aidan

On Tuesday 25 May 2021 we were in Northumberland, collected Harry, drove north to Barter Books, then south via Edlingham (which was locked), Otterburn Mill for lunch, then onto the A68 and south – until I saw the sign for Thockrington. That was fun! At one point we were herding sheep with the car, then had to send Harry out to send the sheep behind the car so they didn’t escape when he opened the gate. We walked up to the church and found it open, which was a joy.

My 2013 blog is very short. Here’s a bit more information from the parish website – – a website which has not been updated since 2017 (which is unbelievable, so much for the digital world we have all lived in while we have coped with Covid).

The church was built by the Norman family of Umfraville in 1100 and it remained in their possession, with adjoining lands, until 1226, when they were forfeited to the Archbishop of York as compensation for disturbances to the peace of the Prior of Hexham and damage done to the Archbishop’s lands by Robert Umfraville. The Archbishop assigned the church and its revenues as an endowment for a prebend in his cathedral in York.  This arrangement lasted 625 years, until the death of the last prebend in 1851, when it was merged into the diocese of Durham, and later transferred to Newcastle.  Documentary evidence of the population of the settlement at Thockrington dates back at least to the 1296 Lay Subsidy Roll, when 18 tax payers are recorded, through to the early nineteenth century when 25-30 cottages existed. In 1847 a returning sailor reputedly brought cholera, and the village was wiped out, the houses being burnt. Apart from some foundations pressing through the turf, a single farmstead and the church are all that remain. There is a total parish population of about 50. Before Covid they had a fortnightly service. I wonder what the future holds.

One assumes that the slab memorialises a member of the family, Pevsner says “Decayed effigy of a lady”.

Harmonium and collection plate. “It is more blessed to give than to receive”.

What’s the door for?

I flicked through the history file and found the graveyard map. Last time I came I found the graves of Lord and Lady Beveridge – read about him there, The Beveridge Report, this time I also managed to find that of Connie Leathart.

Constance Ruth Leathart was born in Low Fell in 1903, was educated at Cheltenham Ladies College and Queen Ethelburga’s in York. In 1925 she started flying lessons at Newcastle Aero Club and is said to have written “C.R. Leathart” on the application form so as to disguise her gender. She received her flying licence in 1927, one of only twelve female pilots in the UK, and the only one outside London.

According to Northumberland Archives – – “Connie became part of a group of flying socialites and participated successfully in many air races both in this country and throughout Europe; her photograph albums contain numerous photographs to support this.  She held a Royal Aero Club of Great Britain Air Tourist’s Identity Card allowing her to be exempt from landing, take-off and garage fees for a period of 48 hours in several European countries. Connie travelled so regularly that she had a special locker cut into the fuselage of her Comper Swift to accommodate her picnic hamper.”

With her friend Walter Leslie Runciman, she set up Cramlington Aircraft Ltd on the aerodrome which had been built in 1915 for the Royal Flying Corps. In 1939 she joined the Air Transport Auxiliary, and by 1943 she was flying heavy bombers as well as fighters – Spitfires, Oxfords, Ansons, Tigers and Wellingtons. The following year she suffered a period of ill health, and her contracted ended in June 1944. After the War she went to work with the UN on relief efforts in the Mediterranean, distributing food and medical supplies by plane. Her final flight was in 1956. After that she had a small holding at Little Bavington, where she died in 1993. She did not want a headstone, but her friends put a stone from her open air swimming pool. I was very pleased that the church had provided a graveyard plan! Another piece to read is

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