A ficticious story inspired by the hidden St Peter’s, Dalby-cum-Skewsby, North Yorkshire by Maggie B Dickinson
For Judy the best part of not working was her redundancy from setting the alarm clock five nights a week. Bliss. In future the irksome clock would only be programmed for important occasions and she would revel in the luxury of wakening up naturally, whatever the hour. But tonight she would use the alarm because she and her friend Tina were making an early start to North Yorkshire, to a cottage nestling under the escarpment of Sutton Bank, near the White Horse.
Wisteria Cottage was handy for Byland Abbey and not a million miles from Ampleforth. More importantly, over the hill was the delightful small market town of Helmsley with the serene Rievaulx Abbey nearby. An awesome ruined castle at its hub and the castle’s original walled garden – now a café and plant centre – added to the charm. The town and the area’s vernacular architecture of mellow stone and red pantile roofs always reminded Judy of Normandy.
Judy and Tina never went anywhere directly, preferring instead to sidetrack from their route by visiting interesting churches, abbeys, garden centres, pubs, charity shops, and cafés with outdoor seating from which they could people-watch. Part of their mission was to visit whatever wasn’t in the guide books for all to see and share so that they missed the crowds and savoured quiet aspects of the countryside through which they passed mostly unhindered.
On a previous visit they had discovered the remote church of St Peter, a tiny place on a side road that leads off a lonely lane and is accessed only by regular parishioners and those in possession of a 1:50,000-scale ordnance survey map.
To find it they had travelled some distance east from Brandsby, along a ridge and past the unique historical Troy Maze. In accordance with the map Judy suddenly turned sharp right through what appeared to be a hole in the hedgerow and came to rest at the end of an unsurfaced track under a couple of arched willows that almost hid the car.
They wandered round to the front of St Peter’s, whose ancient masonry clung to a leafy hillside. On its west was an attractive large rectory and on the other a sizeable hall. The view south was as pastoral as it gets, looking over the newly-moan grass and weathered headstones to a gap in the trees through which was the Vale of York down below.
The altar was within an ancient squat tower, a structure considerably older than the nave. On the outside of this the builders had utilised a couple of gravestones from the days when people were unable to read. At that time the stonemasons would create a headstone made up of the tools of the trade of the deceased and in these stones make an interesting study.
Looking towards the tower from the aisle gave Judy and Tina the impression that the whole of the tower was leaning towards York but on closer examination it was merely the entrance archway that had developed a mind of its own.
The simple interior of the church appeared to have been whitewashed long ago. The walls, now a mucky shade of white, revealed part of a mediaeval scripture where the paint had crumbled away. There were a couple of stained glass windows, a memorial to a boy by the name of Lumley who had lived at the hall next door, and accidentally shot himself. Another tablet honoured the men who had fought in two world wars. Not only did it record the dead, but unusually it listed those who had survived too.
Tina and Judy put a modest donation in the box next to the door, wrote suitable text in the visitors’ book, and made to leave the church. The door wouldn’t open.
“It’s not working,” yelled Judy, “the handle won’t turn.” Tina almost elbowed her out of the way in her panic and tugged at the huge iron ring.
As she continued to assault the handle Judy went over to a pile of parish magazines which sat next to the visitors’ book in which she had written – rather ironically as it happened – “Oh, the peace and silence. It’s dangerously near perfection”. Suddenly, waving one of the magazines in the air, Judy yelled out in horror, “It says the vicar’s not working any more. He’s retired and some other guy comes once a month, first Sunday.” Tina snatched the booklet from her friend and after reading the dreadful report burst into tears. “But it’s only the 10th today,” she wailed.
“I think we should pray said Judy”. “Sod that,” Tina retorted, kicking the door in temper and frustration, “we’ll just have to ring the verger’s number on the front of the parish magazine.”
And they would, except that they were in deepest Yorkshire and sadly their phones weren’t working through lack of a signal.