The story so far.....share your thoughts and photos about The Ridgeway's churches to help us create a community Top 50!

Add variety to a walk or ride by stopping off at a church or other religious building along The Ridgeway, since many buildings actively welcome visitors. The Aldworth Giants in St Mary’s church have been attracting people from far and wide for centuries, including Queen Elizabeth I herself, and its churchyard is home to a yew tree that is said to be the oldest in the country. There are numerous spires to spot along the Trail, including the unusual open-work spire and octagonal belfry of Wallingford’s St Peter’s church beside the Thames. Head inside a church to find a cool, peaceful place to sit for a rest on a hot day or decipher stories told by memorial stones and stained glass windows. A highlight along The Ridgeway is the colourful window in Farnborough’s church created by the artist John Piper for his poet friend John Betjeman who lived in the village. There’s more to discover so read on below….

Banner image: Stained glass by Piper in memory of Betjeman. Credit Sarah Wright

Swathes of snowdrops in St Botolphs churchyard are enjoyed by visitors over tea and cake at the start of every year. It might seem fitting that ‘snowdrop teas’ draw Ridgeway wayfarers into the church because St Botolph is the patron saint of travellers. Traditionally, travellers would give thanks to St Botolph for a safe journey but his influence is much broader since he is recognised for playing a major part in founding Britain’s Christian culture by promoting Christianity to the pagan Anglo-Saxons.

At St Mary’s in Streatley, the churchyard hosts an Anglo-Saxon warrior burial rather than snowdrops. The man was re-buried there in 1932 by the reverend after his remains were found in the local area. The warrior’s iron spearhead and knife gave rise to suggestions that he could have died fighting the Vikings in the Battle of Ashdown in 871AD.

Huge knights in armour are a surprising and unique sight inside St Mary’s in Aldworth. There are nine effigies, made in the 14th century, which are known as the ‘Aldworth Giants’ because it is believed the family were all over 7 foot tall. The life-size sculptures are unfortunately missing two heads and several limbs as a result of politically-motivated vandalism during the Civil War, but there are still interesting details to see. For example, Lady De La Beche lies on a pillow supported by angels and her eldest son Sir John De La Beche wears the armour of a knight, with dogs and a lion at his feet. It was recorded in 1644 that local people considered there were ten family members and the missing man ‘John Ever Afraid’ is buried in the church wall to save his soul from the Devil.

The romantic ruin of St John the Baptist at Mongewell is another sight worth a visit just off The Ridgeway. Standing beside the River Thames, it is an atmospheric 12th century church that was partly rebuilt in the 18th century to add an unusual Gothick style polygonal turret in brick. The tower once had a clock and a bell.

Catching the sound of bells ringing, people singing and church organs can make a visit to The Ridgeway a memorable one. Churches are busiest at certain times of the year, such as Christmas or Easter, and this is also when they will be specially decorated with flowers and other items. A noticeboard at the main door will often list the activities taking place.

So next time you are passing a church, why not take a little rest and have a peek inside?

Note: Endorsement of any particular religion, belief or argument is not implied by the content of this webpage. Other religions, viewpoints etc are reflected by other Top 50 webpages. The Ridgeway is a public space where we hope everyone is respectful towards each other and follows the Countryside Code. Everyone is invited to share their photos and stories to help us create a community Top 50 that reflects the diversity of people who care about and enjoy The Ridgeway.

Notes: More information about the Battle of Ashdown, wayfarers, writers, artists and paganism along The Ridgeway is available in other Top 50 entries.

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