Tuesday, 12 December 2017


It was an hour later from Capel-y-ffin. There was already a sunset feel to the afternoon light. I'd been up and over Gospel Pass, and now I was driving south-east on the English side of The Black Mountains, in the far south-western corner of Herefordshire. A somewhat remote bit of countryside, a place of ridges and scattered farms and houses, and very few proper villages. This is what you'd see while driving down-valley.

The largest village hereabouts was Longtown, with its old ruined castle, but that was a few miles away yet. Presently I was driving into a strung-out community named Craswall, which seemed to have no particular central point. Here's a location map, which might help. Click on it to enlarge.

The yellow line is both the Welsh-English Border, and the eastern edge of the Brecon Beacons National Park. This has been debatable land, much disputed in centuries past, sometimes in Welsh hands, sometimes in English hands. You can see a double-kink in the road that goes from top left to bottom right on the map. At the outer point of the upper kink is a little cross, the map symbol for a church without tower or steeple. I am always attracted to remote historic buildings. I thought this one might be worth investigation.

Well, it certainly looked promising. I opened the gate and went through the old churchyard. First thought: what had happened to all the graves? There was just a monument of sorts, with a wooden celtic cross as its centrepiece.

All very mysterious! As has become my habit, I did a circumnavigation of the church before entering it.

It mostly resembled a low barn, with a porch and a stunted belltower. It seemed to grow organically out of the surrounding grass, as if planted as a seedling or bulb some time back. And no proper path to the entrance. Was it still in active use? Was it one of those redundant but preserved churches? Let's see.

Leaf litter in the porch, peeling plaster. This church wasn't presently getting enough TLC. But despite the apparent lack of maintenance, it was in use. There were notices pinned to the door. I'd look at them in a while. Only one keyhole, you notice, not like Capel-y-ffin. No need to triple-lock then, and presumably no teddy bears inside to disturb. I opened the door carefully, a little surprised that it was unlocked. 

A rather bare room, purpose unknown. Perhaps when people turned up for services, or events held here, this is where they would be greeted. The place was supplied with electricity, and could be used after dark. But it all looked cheerless to me. And not at all ecclesiastical. There was a squat door in the far wall. It didn't seem the right kind of door for a church entrance - how did they manage coffins at funerals, for instance? Or if there was ever a wedding here? But it appeared to be the only way into the main part of the church. If, that is, it were unlocked.

It wasn't locked. I was even more surprised. Ducking a bit, I opened the door and stepped inside. Utter silence greeted me. You could almost pat it. And the shadows were getting more pronounced.

I wondered what would happen if the local keyholder came along while I was hidden from view inside. Would I get locked in? What was mobile phone reception like hereabouts? Pretty dire, I supposed. And within these thick stone walls, even more dire. Meaning that if I were locked in, I couldn't phone for release. Nor would anyone hear me from the lonely road outside. Fiona was parked not at the main churchyard gate, but in a wider section of the road some way off. Would anyone work out that a parked car down the lane meant somebody inside the church? Possibly not.

A whole night spent in this drear place wasn't a happy prospect! Oh, surely the person with the keys would check that the place was truly empty? Surely. 

With that somewhat unfounded hope in my bosom, I looked around. It was actually a picturesque interior of historic merit. Not ultra-special, but amply worth the visit.

A bit bare of creature comforts, but neat and tidy, and there was at least an electric heater that could be switched on. And lights: if locked in here by the keyholder, I could put the lights on, and somebody would doubtless come to find out why they were blazing. The lights would be my distress signal. I felt reassured at the thought. It also helped that there was no row of Voodoo teddy bears lurking on a seat. I didn't want the wrong sort of company while waiting for rescue. 

There was another of those upstairs galleries, so popular in this part of the world. Naturally, I went up to have a look.

You'd have to be pretty keen on religion to endure a long sermon while perched on such hard and uncompromising seats! Perhaps there was no choice about it in the old days. Well, at least you'd have a bird's eye view of the proceedings. 

The roof beams looked a bit old, and possibly not too healthy.

Downstairs again, I checked out the little organ.

A Victorian instrument by a local maker.

The final thing I wanted to do was examine the pinned-up notices.

Ah. They had the occasional music evening here. There had been a woodwind and harpsichord recital two weeks previously. I wondered how many had turned up. Where had their cars gone? The road outside wasn't wide, and I hadn't noticed an obvious church car park.

Hmm. It was, not unexpectedly, a listed building, and 'at risk'. But a Friends of Craswall Church group had been formed. In fact there was a meeting here just a few days ahead. I'd have moved on to the New Forest by then. If I'd still been in the area, I might have attended, to find out how the group intended to proceed. I was mildly curious to know. 

Obviously I was not locked in!  

Still, it had been a very solitary experience. Nobody else came to look at the church as a passing tourist while I was there. This said, it struck me that despite the loneliness of these places, I much preferred to view them on my own. I could then feel free to examine whatever I wished, and photograph whatever I pleased. 

I supposed that anyone catching me there could assume that I was either an active churchgoer, or keen on local history - the second approximating my interest in these places best. But really I just wanted to satisfy my constant curiosity, and bag some shots, and these reasons for intruding seemed flimsy and frivolous. It was difficult not to feel like a half-guilty trespasser and voyeur.

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