Le Gringalet took me today on a rural ride into north east Essex to survey our lands there. Beyond Stane Street, the country becomes more rolling and the lanes more secret. The countryside is ancient here, holding the stories of the centuries and telling them in quiet places.
One such place is Newport in Essex, east of the ancient Norman settlement of Clavering and just south of the saffron town of Walden, lying off the high road to Cambridge. When I knew it, it was a market town but these days, with the passing of time, it carries forth its trade in different ways.
For the unititiated, Newport hosts pleasant surprises but, as always, you must seek them – taking time to stop, to think and to absorb. One such place is the Church of St Mary the Virgin.
Since last I was this way in the 1550s, the Church has changed slightly – I feel sure the tower is different to how I remember it – and inside there are few of the decorations that once adorned the walls.
That said, reader, kneel in submission to the Lord and turn your eyes to the sky and there you will be greeted by a host of angels, carved in oak. They are a host in the heavens.
But what pleased me most was the movable altar there – a site I recall from my last visit here centuries ago – although it has been ravaged by time since then. But close study, dear reader, still repays: I believe it was made in the 1200s and though it has lost much decoration it dazzles like a jewel.
The carving on the front and sides is ornate, although it is with sorrow I report that the shields of illustrious knights which once bedecked it have long gone. No more Sir Bors, Sir Kay, Sir Galahad and my fellow knights, just hollow indentations. And yet, in our imaginations dear reader, we can make our own armorial bearings. We can festoon the blanks with colours and hues as bright as any battlefield.
Yet what pleased me most was the painted reredos. Of course, it is many years since I have seen it but the images are as clear now as they were then – dulled with time yes but as exquisite and as beautiful as they day they were first painted.
It is strange that on our journey through life we often miss those things which can enhance our experience beyond the humdrum and everyday.
If you pass through Newport, dear reader, fail not to enter the Church and partake of the joy you will find within its walls. You will not regret your experience.
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