I get up at about 7.30am in a rural area of England that I haven't visited before. The sky is blue with white clouds, and the wind isn't too strong. Over a breakfast of porridge and tea, my wife and I plan the day ahead. The relevant county volume of Pevsner's "Buildings of England" is open in front of me, and beside it is a copy of the Ordnance Survey 1:50,000 or 1:25,000 local map. I study the map looking for a circular cycle route of about thirty miles or so. Ideally this will incorporate topographical interest - perhaps a valley and hills, a piece of coast, or a river - and have about six or seven churches that are worth visiting. To decide which these will be I look up their entries in Pevsner. From the map I also work out places where I might get some good photographs, and a location suitable for a lunch stop. I talk about the suggested itinerary with my wife, and, after any modifications, we set off, panniers laden with books, camera, tripod and other essentials.
We cycle along at a gentle 10 miles an hour down shady country lanes, gazing across the hedges and fields, stopping to look at anything that catches our eye, and taking photographs. At each church I start my photographs with exterior views, the first one from the south-east corner of the building, then I do the inside shots: that way I know where the photographs for each individual church begin and end, and I don't confuse the locations. My wife reads the gravestones and chancel memorials whilst I'm busy deciphering the architectural history and recording it with my camera. We chat to each other about any interesting finds. If there's a parish-written guidebook on sale in the church we buy it to read in the evening whilst looking at the photographs. Our bicycles are often parked inside the south porch while we are inside, but where this isn't possible they are leaned against the churchyard wall or the building itself. On these days we favour a sandwich lunch which is often eaten in a south porch too, sat on an ancient oak bench, with the parish noticeboard as diverting reading matter. Ideally the day will have a mix of medieval, C17 or C18, and Victorian churches. The former and latter are easy to find, but Georgian churches are thinner on the ground. If I've judged the ride correctly we arrive back having enjoyed the physical exercise, with a crop of good photographs, and a memory and record of some great history and architecture. Simple pleasures are invariably the best, and a day like this leaves us a little wiser, physically refreshed, and glowing! We've repeated this kind of day many times, and I look forward to planning many more.
The photograph above was taken on just such a day at this time last year. It shows my wife silhouetted in the red sandstone arch of the south porch of the Norman (and later) church of St Cuthbert, in the village of Great Salkeld, Cumbria. It's a composed shot with the figure placed left of centre of the framing arch, looking down the receding path. The arch itself is placed slightly left of centre, with a stone stoup giving some visual weight to the lower right of the image. Not an original photograph, certainly, but a good record of a pleasant day. By the way, if you look very carefully you can see part of the wheel of one of our bikes to the right of the churchyard gate!
photograph & text (c) T. Boughen