Sunday, 8 July 2018

Avington (near Hungerford), Berkshire

Mr Pevsner had the right idea. He always went back to his bed and breakfast at the end of a hard day's fonting, and he wrote his notes up after supper. He did this because he knew he'd forget things if he didn't. I've been very slack of late and it's a shame because the brain really doesn't remember things for very long. And yet our fonting trips are such a special and important part of my existence. They keep me sane. They are the things I do in the gaps between the necessary evil of going to work. They are actually what I'd like to be doing. When the Youth go on about YOLO (they probably don't any more, it's probably passe) they're probably talking about chucking themselves off bridges with a bungee or backpacking through the Congo. But I'm not bothered about those things, I know what floats my boat. It's geeky but it makes me calm and happy - it gives me a buffer for all those annoying moments in my job. It is (as Jonathan Meades once said) "anoraking about" with a Pevsner.

 Avington's quite a trek, it's over the border into fairly uncharted territory (Berkshire.. this is the Wiltshire Wandering blog after all). I don't like doing too much research before we go somewhere, because I like to be surprised. Sometimes I sneak a look at the CSRBI to check how many millimetres the font is across (no no I don't, don't be so unpleasant). No, sometimes I do check the marvellous resource of the CSRBI to see what's Romanesque. Pevsner wasn't always as detailed as he might have been about our favourite type of sculpture - he had a lot of other things to get through so I don't blame him. But Avington is a Norman extravaganza.

There is something to be said for knowing where you're going though. I hadn't even got the right map. I mean I had got the right map somewhere (it was at home) but it wasn't one of the half dozen or so in the car. My other half used to joke that the maps in the car were worth more than my car. It's probably still true (I don't care). So B and I drove down a dead end road to Avington Manor, not realising that the church wouldn't be in sight. I'm fine when I have an OS map, it's like my all-areas pass at a festival - I can stride confidently knowing that I'm perfectly entitled to be on the public footpath. But without one, I get all peasanty and deferent and don't like marching up the extensive drive of manors in case someone appears with a shotgun. It's paranoia. Luckily B could use the modern technology of her phone to locate the church and we trotted on. I need to get with the 21st century but at some level I'm scared of getting totally addicted.

The church at Avington is in a totally dreamy location - an overgrown meadow near the banks of the river. There's no laid path and barely any gravestones. It's just sprouting in this wild quiet spot. We could hear a cuckoo calling. It could have been any era you liked really. It's a weirdly timeless spot.

The south doorway has perfectly solid and interesting Normanness. When you're eager to see what you expect inside it's easy to overlook the scrolly leaves, zigzags and column patterns you'd be delighted to see anywhere else. The doorway even has the tonguey, almost 'protobeaks' on the columns which we've seen at other Wiltshire spots with top-quality carving. So these features clearly indicated there were treats in store inside.

On entering you see the font - it's been hacked about a bit, but most of the figures are still clear. The font reminded of Chirton (with its saints and arches), but the figures are more complex here. It's more difficult to see what's going on and interpret it. There's hours and hours of drawing enjoyment in the font.

But it's so hard to concentrate when the chancel arch is so fantastic - pretty much in an unprecedented fashion for us, as the super-wide arch had 29 beakheads all across the chancel side, and tongue-poking animals all across the nave side, two characters to each block of stone. Whoever saw so many creatures? It was truly crazy. And to add to the craziness, there was even evidence that more beakheads had been on arches springing up into the centre of the chancel - they'd been cruelly cut off or taken away. There were more creatures than one could know what to do with. It was stupendous.

And there was even more Romanesque interest - two faces biting at the columns either side of the chancel arch, and in the corners behind the altar, a superb cow-face and cat-face. Weirdly, the CSRBI doesn't mention these at all, but they're superb and characterful. The Church Blurb suggested these were an ox for Saint Luke and a lion for Saint Mark. But who knows if that's true. They're great carvings regardless.

I found the amount all a bit overwhelming but drew a little. I need to spend less time fiddling on computers watching nonsense and spend more time creating satisfying art from these superb carvings. Pictures to follow.

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Flax Bourton, North Somerset

There is a rule of Sculpture Seeking, viz. that if you come to a T junction in a village, you are more likely to take the direction away from the church you're looking for, regardless of how much logic and deliberation you apply. So it was when we finally rolled into Flax Bourton (that we had already been lost was entirely down to my overconfidence in navigating roads out of Bristol).

So when we arrived at the church on this hot day I was already a bit flustered and irritable. The church is right on the main road - probably the closest to a road that we've ever seen. It's got a wall built in front of the door so you can't walk out into the juggernauts (and previously the horses and carriages). Someone has paid for a rather nice glass door to seal the porch off from the noise and pollution. Seeing this, I foolishly thought that it might mean a warm welcome.

No, it didn't. The door was locked. I could lean on the glass and squint under my spread fingers to try and look in without reflections. I could even see the carving. But the door was locked.

I just want to ask, WHY? If you don't want people to steal all the presumed gold candlesticks in the church, why not lock them away like all the other churches we visit? But even if you lock the church itself, why can't people even get into the porch? Is Flax Bourton really the centre of an international crime ring focused on church porches? No-one can even get into the porch to read the noticeboard. I know I'm a heathen and you might only want to let in good members of the congregation that come to services on a Sunday - fair enough. But mightn't Christians want to pop in at other times?

I was disappointed.

We went to the stone circles at Stanton Drew instead. They were fully accessible.

You can see photos on Deborah Harvey's blog. She gets a bit carried away and calls them Saxon - I think as they match so many things we've seen, they're almost certainly Norman. She shows there are more lovely carvings inside the church - not least a cat and a winged legless dragon (these are also misbilled as Saxon). The latter is the first we'd have seen in my recollection. I think it's called an Amphiptere. It would have been an exciting moment. Here's a picture of one to make up for all that disappointment.

From Fictitious and Symbolic Creatures in Art by J Vineycomb.

Bristol cathedral

CC unicorn by Anders Sandberg

After a delicious lunch at the Watershed, B and I hauled ourselves up the slope to the cathedral in Bristol. The square outside is home to two amazing gold unicorns. It's not every day that you get to see even one gold unicorn. But here are two, raising their front legs in a very lively pose.

There's a lot of unicorn imagery about at the moment. They seem very popular. And rightly so. But I'd like to point out something about them that I found out while trying to track down what a winged but legless dragon is called (see Flax Bourton) - it's from the same book, 'Fictitious and Symbolic Creatures in Art'. You can't quite see on the photo above, but look elsewhere (eg on Urbina Vinos) and you will distinctly see the cloven hooves! Oh no, unicorns don't have hooves like horses. They have feet like a stag. Don't ask me why though. It's just how they roll.

But we weren't there to see the unicorns. We were there to view the Romanesque architecture.

Monkton Farleigh, Wiltshire

copyright Rhiannon 2017
Finally, a finished piece of work emerges from a sketch made long ago. This is a lino cut, hand cut and printed on the kitchen table. I'm pleased with it.