LIKE EVERYWHERE ELSE, Nottinghamshire has had it’s share of snow so far this Winter though as is usual, generally less than most. I find the snow freshens the landscapes and really enjoy the rarer opportunities these days to get out and enjoy a bracing walk with a little crisp snow underneath my boots.
The pictures here were taken on just such a pleasant Sunday morning walk just before Christmas. My friends and I parked up at nearby Papplewick village and headed along the bridleway into Newstead Abbey where we took morning coffee before retracing our path back to the pretty village.
I always find the site of Newstead Abbey a somewhat inspiring one at any time. I’ve written here before of my great affection for it, which travels back several decades, for the this historic place. This day was an opportunity to see it’s grandeur draped in a fresh coating of thin white snow. The Romantic poet, Lord Byron’s ancestral pile in its Winter clothing.
The courtyard and its cafe is always of appeal but particularly so on a cold wintry morning where a mug of steaming hot coffee could be viewed as one of life’s great, yet simple pleasures.
Looking over towards the lake, the early signs of it freezing over were visible. A light drifting of snow had skimmed and settled across it’s thin crusty surface.
Watery sun shone down on us on the eve of the shortest day of the year, glinting off the grassy meadows outside the Abbey. There were few there to enjoy the sights and sounds of Newstead Abbey in this cold December Sunday morning.
It was a time of year when many things need to be done, the important late Christmas shopping to be concluded and food and drink to be brought into the home in preparance for the soon-to-be festivities. For all that, I’m happy that I found the time to visit one of my favourite places in it’s different guise. The coffee was good too.
An emailed conversation with a good friend recently focused my thoughts on the origins of how I began this addiction called ‘running’ many years ago as a twelve-year old with an attitude and an inclination. My friend Margaret and I have shared a few miles on the county’s footpaths and country lanes, we also at one time were part of the Redhill Road Runners club but that’s probably a story for another day. Safe to say, we have both had our share of pleasure, friendship, heartache, frustration and achievement over the years taking part in the sport. did I say sport? Perhaps more a way of life because I find one begins to define oneself as a runner in many ways.
When I think back to when I began running it brings a smile. Not quite into my teens and obviously knowing everything* I was probably kitted out in a pair of Tesco jeans, ‘Tesco Bombers’ as us Levi’s-deprived lads termed them. Completing my running clobber would be an orange Mickey Mouse t-shirt and pair of very flat-soled trainers which had starred in many a school playground twenty-a-side, tennis ball, football match.
The First of May.
Is this day one of the nicest on the calendar? Spring is rushing in after a long dark winter. Birds are happily singing everywhere, trees have that beautiful and fresh translucent green in their leaves that is seen at no other time of year. Everywhere is finally becoming active, people remember their smiles and thank their blessings all over again. We emerge into Springtime once more.
My First of May this year was partly spent with a friend walking from the local village of Papplewick through the graceful and historic Newstead Abbey, ancestral home of romantic poet, Lord Byron. Vividly coloured peacocks fought for scraps, visitors sipped tea lazily and appreciatively whilst all was well with the world for those precious moments. Water burbled and gurgled over stepping stones whilst a moorhen sat pacified mid-stream. Canada Geese took the sun on the finely-clipped grass.
St. James’ Church, Papplewick, Nottinghamshire.
Linby and Papplewick are two of my local villages, both distinctive and attractive due in no small measure to their structure of yellow sandstone quarried from Linby itself. The stone is slightly reminiscent of Cotswold stone in its warm, cosy glow both in winter and summer. There’s more than the average share of history from within the environs of these two neighbouring villages but perhaps that is largely a matter for a separate look at them on another occasion. This story today is of two local churches, very disparate in the tales they have to tell.
Walking with my partner’s mother and aunt who are visiting from either side of the vast plains, forests and mountains of Canada, we set off strolling over the narrow path alongside a newly ploughed field after passing by a small selection of grand homes clearly inhabited by the well-heeled of the locality. Ours was a simple short walk for posterity and fresh air’s sake in the main. It was however to be punctuated by one or two sights I had never seen in my time in Nottinghamshire.
Shortly after we passed over two fields we came to the idyllic setting of a fisherman’s pond damned from the River Leen. Ours was but a jealous peek inside the hedge from a quaint little bridge as the pond stocked with coarse fish loomed through the bows of the overhanging trees and undergrowth. A stern warning of privacy and a secured gate stopped us from entering and walking the banks of the pond. We did however see several trout in the brackish water beneath us on the bridge.
Another field brought us in sight of Papplewick’s principal place of worship, St James’, a tiny church nestled amongst the oaks and birches in its original Sherwood Forest setting. Our slice of good fortune was that for the first time I had ever walked this path the church was actually open due to three ladies preparing decorations for Harvest Festival festivities the coming Sunday. A scout around the churchyard saw the gravestone of Lord Byron’s servant buried in the 1820’s, members of the local Montague family and the local regiment of the Sherwood Foresters were also interred in the longish grass.
Luckily we were invited inside to inspect the little church. One can only smile at the faith and devotion that is evident in these small shrines everywhere around us dating back so many hundreds of years. I find this very touching still. A small stairway beckoned to an upper balcony that ran the length of the church which just had to be explored. We were told that this area was reserved for worshippers from a ‘higher’ social class – perhaps not in keeping necessarily with the message communicated in the church I reasoned to myself. We were told that the monks from Newstead Abbey would rest, take shelter and pray at St James’ whilst walking the many miles to Lenton Priory. It was not difficult to imagine the men of the nearby Augustinian order emerging through the pleasant greenwoods of Nottinghamshire and into this beautiful place all those hundreds of years ago
Clearly the quaint little church of St. James’ at Papplewick would be a beautiful, cosy place to worship on a cold, wintry Nottingham evening. I imagined the warm, soft glow of its lights through stained glass, like embers ushering people to it through a forest floor laden with brown oak leaves. The fact that people had been attracted there, doing just that since the twelfth century laid claim to that thought.
One last observation was of the large, impressive yew tree in the churchyard. Legend tells us that the forest outlaws and yes, even Robin Hood himself were said to have used the tree to fashion their longbows from, the wood being of a perfect nature for the strength and suppleness required of the mighty and storied English weapon. Other stories tell us of a different reason for the presence of yew trees in so many churchyards. One theory is that yews actually predated the churches and were used as pagan meeting places which offered shelter under their thick, shroud of umbrella-like branches, that churches merely sprang up in the same places due to their suitability as places of worship. Nobody really knows but I find either story equally palatable.
I cannot leave the subject of St, James of Papplewick without relating its further involvement with the legend of Robin Hood. It was one of Robin’s supposed main collaborators, minstrel, Alan A’Dale who was reputed to have been actually married here, (though some say he is buried here alternatively). I have no idea of the truth of these legendary tales but one visit to Papplewick leave one in no doubt that many forest happenings could have occurred in the secluded depths of this parish. Further evidence of the royal foresters can be seen inside the church with two tombstones carved with the archer’s longbow and hunting horn.
Whatever one’s ability to suspend belief for a moment, these artifacts are truly magical and open the history book wide to a chapter hundreds of years ago that was so important to this area.
Truly St. James’ Church in the parish of Papplewick, Nottinghamshire is a most remarkable place.