Saturday, 22 August 2015

Alton Priors, Wiltshire

Having probably ensured a lifetime free of vampires by eating the garliciest garlic bread ever at the Barge Inn, we drove to the churches close by at Alton Barnes and Alton Priors. I'm getting so picky that I wasn't that impressed by Alton Barnes. It was ludicrously cute really, as you can see by this Geograph photo by Kevin Farmer. But its alleged Saxon origins weren't that obvious to me. The two churches are very close, but there were quadrupeds (as Mr Pevsner would say) in the fields between and were feeling cowardly and drove round (it would have been much nicer to walk over the fields though).

Alton Priors is completely different. It's more isolated, like an island in the middle of a field. You have to climb over a stile to get into its enclosure. There's the most enormous yew tree (or rather, two enormous yew trees) to the south side of the building. I did my usual hopeful 'close your eyes and walk through the portal' thing, walking through the gap between the trunks, but remained in the 21st century. Ah well.

The church is much larger than Alton Barnes, and its emptiness seemed to give it a more interesting atmosphere. It's looked after by the Churches Conservation Trust. There are some interestingly carved Jacobean pews in the chancel. But I liked the ancient 'imposts' of the chancel arch with their dotted blob motif - definitely Norman (and an early kind of design? - it's so simple, it's reminiscent of the Anglo-Saxon things we've seen?).

I knew there were supposed to be large sarsen stones under the church floor. The 'trap doors' didn't have their handles though. I wonder if the CCT is fed up of people looking? I wonder why were the trap doors ever built? I suppose someone thought the stones were curious enough to be worth looking at (the floor and doors are quite new looking).

What with the stones and the massive yews it's no wonder people speculate this place is a bit special, with its hint of holiness beyond Christianity. And now I come to read more on the internet - it seems I've missed out seeing another excellent thing at the site. There are two spring-fed pools with bubbles coming up - the source of the Avon. We'll have to return. Bob Trubshaw talks about it on the 'In Search of Holy Wells and Healing Springs' blog.

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