I’ve known and visited St. Andrew’s Church in Wormingford many times over the years. I used to pop in when I was visiting the local village school, which closed some years ago, and more recently I visited when I was taking part in a walk through the Stour Valley as part of the Suffolk Walking Festival. On the walk we were looking out for dragons, of which there are far more in the sleepy Stour Valley than you would imagine.
I’ve never had the opportunity though to stop and take some photo’s, until one day in early October this year.
Driving back to Colchester from Sudbury on a lovely autumn day, I decided to make the time to visit the church, and I’m so pleased that I did.
When I arrived at the church I was met by two gentleman, one of whom was either the Church Warden or the Captain of the Bell-Ringing team (or he might have been both) and a younger man who was obviously his helper. They were waiting for a team from Dorset to arrive to rehang the bell ropes. The ropes had been taken down whilst the bells were restored as part of a programme of work to refurbish the church tower.
The Church Warden very kindly showed me around the church, pointing out the dragon in one of the stained glass windows, showing me the war memorial, and then letting me go up the tower (via some beautiful newly installed oak stairs). From the tower I was able to look down along the length of the church towards the altar.
Wormingford and it’s church are in the Stour Valley on the Essex and Suffolk border. Just down the country lane from the church there are beautiful views across the valley. Often the only sound will be that of bird song, or on a Sunday, now that the bells have been rehung, the sound of the church bells. It’s still a working landscape, and one that it totally man-made, as the result of farming over many hundreds of years.
The communities have changed in the valley in the last fifty years; where once the houses were lived in by farmers and farm workers, many are now owned by people who have to commute to London and near-by towns for work. There are still busy and vibrant towns and villages throughout the valley though, which means that it is still loved and cared for.
Ronald Blythe who is a lay reader at St. Andrew’s, wrote about how the countryside was changing as far back as 1969 in his book Akenfield Later, a film based on the book was created by Peter Hall in 1974.
Then thirty-five years after Ronald Blythe’s original work, in 2006, author Craig Taylor wrote Return to Wormingford. In it he re-visits Akenfield to see how the countryside and it’s residents have changed. It’s as clear sighted, unsentimental and for the most part optimistic as the original. If you are interested in the English countryside and in particular Essex and Suffolk, and get the opportunity, do read both books. You can read Andre Motion’s review of Return to Akenfield in The Guardian here.