RICHARD LUTZ wanders through a bit of this sceptered isle in Worcestershire
For good or for bad, this year has been peripatetic, a bit of a wander: California, Burma, Spain, Scotland. Some of it blanketed in 40C wet heat, some of it kissed by a cool breeze off the Hebrides.
All memorable for different reasons. But if there is a fine place on this planet, this rock, a place that simply catches your breathe, spins you away from the everyday, it is on a fine warm late summer’s day in England. Nothing beats it. It is a jewel.
And on that score, The Teme Valley, west of Worcester is hard to beat. I walked along its muddy forgotten lanes, up its hills filled with ash and oak, through villages both sleepy and quiet, into churches, small churches, with no grandeur except the grandeur of age. I peered from the tops of the spine of the hills that wind between the Malverns and the Abberleys and looked across green valleys speckled with farms and hop fields and dotted with orchards, ringing with the noise of very little except the hum of a tractor, the bark of a dog or the pierced call of a hawk.
The Teme Valley (its capital is the drowsy hamlet of Knightwick) is a gem. And on the day that I dipped into it, with my friend Paul, we lost track of time, let Indian summer warm us, got lost in a wood that the map said didn’t exist and wound our way through a quiet corner of England.
The churches around here, of course, are treasures. Not because they may have a rare piece of silverware, a corner where someone famous is buried or an elegant carved piece of tracery. But they are a treasure because they are so quiet, with so many questions. Each church is a jigsaw with missing parts.
At Alfrick’s St Margarets,for instance, why is that early Norman piece of sculpture implanted in a wall 4 feet off the ground?. No mention in the old fashioned guidebook. Is it because its pink rough stone is so obviously an unChristian fertility figure, too embarrassing, too much of an anomaly to fit into church history?
And why is Knightwick Chapel, sitting on a hill looking forever west, so tiny, forgotten and…locked.
The churches, especially in this tapestry of woods and valleys, are the story of Britain. The story of things that quietly go on. Yes, the barns are now becoming conversion jobs for commuters, the manor houses not so jauntily maintained, the roads widened for the bigger cars.The lady at Alfrick’s church chirps on about her choir and the concert they will be giving- not a big concert, just for local folks. It’ll go un-reviewed, uncharted. But remembered by those who enjoyed it, here in the Teme Valley.