Wye Rapids House, Symonds Yat East, Ross-on-Wye HR9 6JL. Tel: 01600 890 210

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14 Jan

Beautiful Churches in and near the Wye Valley!

We have many guests who stay with us here at Wye Rapids, who do so with the aim of exploring the local area, whether it be local woodland walks or a bit farther afield, using Symonds Yat as a base for exploring Herefordshire, Gloucestershire, Forest of Dean, and Wales.

It is fascinating to hear about some of the research and routes our guests sometimes take. We bring you this one, by kind permission of a recent guest who undertook a pretty impressive ancient church expedition.

In addition to all the buildings listed here, Tintern Abbey is well worth a look which is about 30 minutes drive away from us here at Wye Rapids, as are the wonderful Cathedrals of Gloucester and Hereford. Often these churches are set in beautiful countryside and well worth a stroll around. A more local church which we recommend is St Margaret’s church, Welsh Bicknor (via nearby Coppet Hill) – a must see for the sheer beauty, set aside the River with old rail bridge across the Wye within close proximity.



4m/7km SE of Abergavenny, Monmouthshire.

Another deeply rural church, St Mary the Virgin is situated in Monmouthshire farm land in the Usk Valley, tucked away in a patchwork of fields close to the River Usk.

A rebuilding by Seddon of an earlier church, St Mary’s real treasure is inside – a decorative scheme of 16 “sgraffito” memorial panels by Heywood Summer, drawing much of their inspiration from the surrounding landscape and the ‘Benedicite’. Stained glass by Kempe.

CWMYOY + St Martin

6m/10km N. of Abergavenny, Monmouthshire.

Splendidly sited on a hillside above the River Honddhu, and just N. of Llanthony Abbey, St Martin’s was inadvertently built on a glacial landslip. It is memorable for being so utterly drunk: the tower, propped by massive external buttresses, has sunk and leans distinctly N., while the chancel tilts in the opposite direction. There are numerous good things in it: curious plaster panels in the porch, a 13th-century cross, and many memorial tablets. All delightful.


3m/4km N.W. of Llanthony, Powys.

This charming little church, one of the smallest in Wales, stands in beautiful surroundings on a bend of the mountain road between Llanthony and Hay-on-Wye, in the Black Mountains. It was described the 19th-century diarist Francis Kilvert as ‘the old chapel, short, stout and boxy, with its little bell turret (the whole building reminded one of an owl), the quiet peaceful chapel yard sheltered by seven great solemn yews’. It was built in 1762 and retains its W. and S. galleries. In the graveyard is a memorial to a carpenter by Eric Gill, 1935.


Also spelt Patricio;

5m/8km N. of Abergavenny, Powys.

Up a remote valley, on a bluff overlooking the Vale of Grwyney, stands a 12th-century two-cell church of remarkable appeal. Approached through Caroe’s excellent stone lych gate, the church, with its famous rood screen of c. 1500, was well restored by him in 1908. The two stone altars in front of the screen are a remarkable survival. On the W. wall is painted a memento mori, a comic skeleton with a spade. The monuments include several by the Brutes, distinguished by elegant lettering and charmingly unsophisticated decoration. The huge font is pre-Conquest.


SHOBDON + St John the Evangelist

6m/10km N.W. of Leominster.

The celebrated Georgian Gothic Revival church of 1752-6 is the work of The Hon. Richard Bateman of Shobdon Court, friend of Horace Walpole. Whimsical Rococo Gothic interior with enormous pews painted white, two tiny transepts containing the family and servants’ pews and a chancel framed by a ‘proscenium’ arch. The pulpit is in similar vein, and appears to float in mid-air. The whole effect is extremely pretty and is now much admired, though in the past antiquarians have suffered anguish because its Romanesque predecessor was despoiled; the weather-beaten remains of its carved arches are in a field close by, but the Norman font has been restored to the church.

LEOMINSTER + St Peter and St Paul

12m/19km N. of Hereford.

Built of local sandstone, St Peter and St Paul’s is only a part of the original priory, but a very fine one. There is a large tower at the W. end, with a marvellous 12th-century carved doorway. The N. side is the old monastic church, with fine Norman arches; in the centre is the 13th-century parish church, and to the S. is a 14th-century aisle with magnificent Decorated windows ornamented with a profusion of ballflowers both inside and out: an instructional mix of every building style.


t St Michael and All Angels **

12m/19km E. of Hereford.

This fine church in rich golden sandstone keeps well back from the town centre, which can be reached by a cobbled walk past medieval buildings. Some Norman work, but mostly early 14th-century, with lavish use of ballflowers. The early 13th-century detached tower stands to the N. of the church, imposing and lofty with a high 18th-century spire. The W. front of the church is Norman, with zigzags, and inside is a very rudimentary Norman chancel, much at odds with the spacious Decorated nave and aisles, with their fine Reticulated windows. The N. chapel was once a chapter house, and it too has magnificent windows. There is a good collection of monuments with works by Flaxman and Westmacott; the stained glass is by Kempe and others.

KILPECK + St Mary and St David **

7m/11 km S.W. of Hereford.

Apart from a corner of the nave which is Saxon, some medieval windows and a bell cote restored in the 19th century, it all dates from the third quarter of the 12th century. This is one of the most celebrated examples of the rich, late Romanesque style in England, showing influences from all over Europe and Scandinavia, and it marks the highest point of the Herefordshire stone carvers. The S. doorway has a Tree of Life tympanum and carvings of Welsh warriors in Phrygian caps. There is an exceptionally varied carved corbel table with a Sheela-na-Gig, entertainers, a dog, doves, hares, embracing lovers – as Jenkins says, ‘all the life of a bawdy and busy Herefordshire village’. The chancel arch has draped and nimbused Apostles. During the restoration by Lewis Cottingham in 1848 some of the grotesques and carved figures around the S. doorway were ‘re-worked’.

HEREFORD + All Saints **

High Street, Hereford.

All Saints is late 13th- or early 14th-century, with a spacious lime-washed interior entered directly from the street a real city church. It has a noble 13th-century tower and spire, whose famous twist was rectified in 1992. The S. chapel has an interesting Wren-style reredos. The fine canopied 14th-century choir-stalls have excellent misericords, and there is a welcoming cafe at the W. end perhaps everything a modern city church should be.


TEWKESBURY + St Mary the Virgin

8m/12km N.W. of Cheltenham.

Tewkesbury’s abbey church is in the flat meadows where the Avon joins the Severn, which once ran red with Lancastrian blood. With the proportions of a cathedral, the abbey is a monumental expression of Norman power, with a grand Norman nave, W. front and tower, an early 14th-century apsidal choir with chapels forming a chevet,and superb vaulting to the nave and transept of 1349-59. Through all run echoes of England’s longest and most futile Civil War. There is a memorable set of 14th-century monuments, second only to Westminster most notable of which is that of Hugh le Despenser, d. 1348, and his wife Elizabeth Montacute, d.1359 and a great deal of delicate stonework in the chantry chapels.

PAINSWICK + St Mary the Virgin

3m/4km N.E. of Stroud.

A large church with spire at the centre of the Cotswold town, it is surrounded by fine houses.

The churchyard has ancient clipped yews and a unique collection of carved table-tombs, many marked with the trade symbols of their occupants. The interior has a Classical reredos in the S. chapel and a 19th-century iron screen in the S. aisle. The S. entrance is now covered by a rather odd modern porch.

HIGHNAM + Holy Innocents ★★

3m/4km W. of Gloucester.

Set in a park, the church was built by Thomas Gambier Parry and Henry Woodyer in 1850 of a grey-green limestone in Decorated style. The magnificent spire is covered in ballflower motifs and has crocketed pinnacles. Inside, it is pleasantly dark with walls painted by Parry to simulate drapery. There is a continuous frieze of Biblical characters, all with golden haloes. The chancel arch is tall and elegant, with painted mouldings, and the chancel is brilliant with shining tiles, painted organ, and walls with texts, vines and symbols of the Passion. The jewel-like stained glass is by Clayton and Bell, Hardman and Wailes. This is the Anglican fulfilment of the Pugin ideal.


6m/8km N.E. of Ross-on-Wye.

The old church of St Mary is an unforgettable place, with an 11th-century nave and chancel, and its walls aglow with some of the finest Romanesque frescoes in England. In the barrel-vaulted chancel in particular, an almost complete cycle survives with Christ in Majesty at the centre surrounded by the Symbols of the Evangelists and other themes from the Revelation of St John the Divine; a heavenly vault indeed. In the nave are further wall-paintings of the 15th century. An interesting tympanum is set over the S. door, almost obscured by the Tudor porch.

ELKSTONE + St John the Evangelist

6m/10km S. of Cheltenham.

In the high Cotswolds, this is one of the most famous Norman churches in the county. There is a tall Perpendicular W. tower, the original Norman tower having collapsed.

This is built of huge freestone blocks, which contrast with the rubble walls of the Norman nave. The S. doorway has a richly carved Christ in Majesty in the tympanum and a prominent beakhead above. Inside there are two beautifully carved zigzag arches that formerly supported the central tower and which effectively divide the exquisite little sanctuary, with original rib-vaulting, from the tall body of the church. The chancel arch terminates with two dragons’ heads. The E.

window has highly coloured glass by Henry Payne of Stroud, 1929, giving a beautiful light to the tiny sanctuary. Elsewhere, carved faces gaze down from the corbel-table.


7m/l Ikm N.W. of Cheltenham.

In pleasant, sleepy, riverside country is one of the most celebrated Anglo-Saxon churches in England. Originally a monastery, founded in the 8th century, it was rebuilt in the 10th after the Viking invasion and later given Early English and Perpendicular windows. The tall, slender tower, Saxon in the lower part and medieval above, is very striking as one approaches across the large churchyard. Inside, the unusual height of the nave is further emphasized by the blocking of the E. end, originally an apse, and by the double triangular-headed window high up in the W. wall. The chancel has seating on three sides of the altar in the 17th-century manner, and the late 9th-century font is a wonderful piece, a cylindrical bowl covered with patterning Nearby is the chapel of the Holy Trinity, dedicated by Earl Odda on 12 April 1056 in memory of his brother. Recently discovered is a Saxon painted figure on a stone panel, set high in the E. nave wall, comparable in age to that at Nether Wallop.

CIRENCESTER + St John the Baptist

14m/22km W. of Swindon.

The largest and most splendid of the Cotswold ‘wool’ churches, and perhaps one of the most beautiful Perpendicular churches in all England. The nave and aisles have pierced traceried battlements interspersed with tall crocketed pinnacles – as exciting a skyline as at Gloucester Cathedral. The remarkable three-storeyed S. porch of c. 1490 is bedecked with oriel windows, niches and tracery, once used as the town hall. Inside, one is immediately struck by the enormous height of the clerestoried nave of six bays and the characteristic Cotswold’ window over the chancel arch. Other features are the rare painted and gilded ‘wine glass’ pulpit of c. 1450, the early 18th-century Bristol brass candelabra, the Lady Chapel monuments, the fan vaulting.

BERKELEY + St Mary the Virgin **

10m/18km S.W. of Stroud.

St Mary’s is a robust edifice standing above the castle, overlooking the Severn estuary. The bell tower stands some distance from the main church, which has a splendid Early English W. front with ramped lancets and buttresses. The Early English arcades inside have finely carved stiff leaf. Comper did the stone reredos in the chancel, 1918. The elaborately carved 15th-century Berkeley Chapel contains the canopied tomb of James, 11th A CHACELEY: ST JOHN THE BAPTIST – Norman at its core, the additions of the 13th and 14th centuries Lord Berkeley, d. 1463, and a feast of other monuments; angels hold the Berkeley Arms over the small priest’s doorway.

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