Friday, 15 November 2013

Weddings in wellies, and two wartime tragedies

Last Sunday was a cold but very sunny day, not to be wasted, and so I drove Fiona over to the far reaches of West Sussex. That was through Storrington, then cross-country via Bignor and Sutton to Dunction Hill, then up onto the Downs.

My first destination: Upwaltham. I'd last stopped there in July 2009, on my birthday. Upwaltham is a tiny collection of cottages in a dry valley. It has one of Sussex's specialities: a small, very ancient church that time has passed by. You can find many others, but if you especially like this sort of thing then I'd recommend Botolphs and Coombes south of Steyning, North Stoke south of Amberley railway station, Coates south-west of Fittleworth, Didling between East Harting and Cocking, and Up Marden west of Chilgrove. (What distinctive placenames West Sussex has!) Anyway, all of these are in secluded country spots, mostly with a wide country view. Upwaltham styles itself as 'the church in the field', and you can see why:

In a corner of the small churchyard was a post on which a Remembrance Day wreath had been hung, with several little crosses in the ground below:

This touched me, especially the little crosses. So different from the much more formal kind of thing you see in towns. Not many would have come. It must have been quietly done.

These isolated churches are mostly in active use, not merely preserved and protected as ancient buildings. Some have been 'discovered' as places to get married in. This is a trend that has been developing for some time, and some rather unusually-situated churches have been pressed into service for that Special Day. The most unusual that I've come across (and potentially the most awkward to use on a wet day) is the isolated church at Fairview on Romney Marsh in Kent (actually it's on Walland Marsh, but let's not quibble), which sits in a waterlogged meadow mired by sheep droppings:

You can imagine how it might be if, on a wet and windy day, with the grass squelching, and the sheep poo oozing, a wedding party in their finest attire tried to access this church! I suppose they could do it, if they all wore wellies, and kept the bride's dress and train hoicked up off the ground. The big attraction is of course the handsome interior, with its old wooden beams and white-painted box pews:

Ah, wouldn't it be lovely? Those box pews would hide the the muddy wellies from view, so nobody attending need take 'em off. And the bride, standing out there by the altar, could let her pure white wedding dress fall to the floor, and thus conceal her own rubber boots and the puddles around them. The groom, however, would have no such option; but he couldn't stand there in wet wellies. He'd have to get his hands dirty pulling his boots off, and go through the ceremony with slime dripping from his fingers! Never mind: it would make the occasion quite unforgettable.

Back to Upwaltham. I had it to myself. I had not seen the interior in sunshine before. It was a simple and honest building, and the sun sent shafts of coloured light here and there:

At the far end of the interior, at the altar, I saw more wreaths.

British and American. Why both here? A wall plaque offered an explanation:

The Dambuster Squadron! Two planes had crashed into the Downs nearby towards the end of the Second World War, one in 1944, one in 1945, with all airmen killed in each case. The full story, including photos and details of the crew, is here: I can relate to individual tragedies like these two in a way that is not so easy with the toll of lives lost in the War taken as a whole. It's good to think that these fifteen persons have not been forgotten during the last sixty-nine years. I hope they never will be.

It was getting near to sunset. Back at Fiona, I was about to drive off when a local woman passed by, walking purposefully up the track to the church in the fields. She was carrying a wreath of her own, and one of those little crosses to stick in the ground:

I'd never seen a private person actually doing this. Who was the wreath for? Was she a widow? Was I somehow intruding on a personal act of remembrance by taking this shot?

Upwaltham wasn't my only destination that afternoon. There was a second. Glorious Goodwood next.

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