Didling – St Andrew Church

All things must come to their natural conclusion and so it is with Dine and Divine. It was in early 2017 that my old school pal BQ and I decided that we needed to find a new excuse to have a decent lunch together from time to time, in order to catch up on news of family and friends.   As I mentioned in the last entry, our friendship began over 70 years ago and during that time we have met up, albeit rather irregularly, and shared a current mutual interest that reflected the natural progression through life.   In the early days it was rock climbing until a near miss led us on to the safer option of hill walking, then a long addiction to golf, and finally our shared interest in historic church buildings when, with the help of my techno-savvy son, we set up this internet diary of Dine and Divine. It was an unlikely partnership as BQ is a devout practising Roman Catholic whilst I am quite ambivalent to all forms of religion. But we decided on a format which was simple enough – church first, eat second – and arranged our first visit which was to St Leonards Church in Bursledon on 15th March 2017 and now, 5 years later, sadly this will be 48th and final entry.   There are a number of reasons for our decision to stop now, but the main one is that we feel that the time is right. We seem to have visited all of those churches with sufficient interest to warrant a visit without having to endure hours of driving – that activity which, during that same progression through life, gradually morphs from pleasure to angst.

Our hosts, WordPress have been able to give us a range fascinating statistics about our site and from them, I see that our entries have been viewed very many thousands of times by people in 88 different countries. Top of the list, as one would expect, is the UK followed by the USA then Australia, but surprisingly in 4th place comes China. All very interesting.

And so, goodbye to our many followers, thank you for your interest and comments with particular thanks to those who have taken the trouble to research other sources where they suspect that we have made a factual error. In most, although not every case, claimed mistakes have been corrected.

BQ and I will, I am sure, continue to meet for the occasional lunch when family obligations permit and, who knows, we may even hear about an elusive Saxon church hidden away in a corner of the Meon valley, and so perhaps the right concluding phrase is au revoir. MW

What a wonderful church it was for this final entry, one that we had somehow previously overlooked when searching though our bible – the Simon Jenkins book ‘England’s Thousand Best Churches’.

The Church of St Andrew could not be in a more beautiful and tranquil place than its situation on the North slope of the Sussex Downs. It was difficult to find with no help from the satnav, but we finally deciphered the rich Sussex dialect of a passing farm worker ‘Keep going to the end of Bugshill Lane then look for a narrow track on thy left which shall tak thee to Didling’. We parked the car and stepped out into a beautiful warm late spring morning in perfect silence, save for birdsong and the sound of distant sheep which reminded me that the building we could see through the trees has long been known at ‘The Shepherds’ Church.

With its overwhelming sense of isolation and simplicity, The Church of St. Andrew is a magical place.  Its setting could scarcely be more perfect, but as I pushed open the ancient oak doors and saw an interior virtually unchanged from medieval times there was an added impression of timelessness.  Only the row of scarlet prayer books indicated that this was still an active place of worship. 

But what adds to the magic is the fact that the building has no electricity and, during the winter months, services are still held by candlelight as they have been for centuries.   I could imagine the parishioners trudging through snow along Bugshill lane towards the welcoming sight of a lone building with its windows radiating a warm yellow glow. On an impulse I suggested to BQ that a visit to the church in winter to attend evensong could well be a transformative experience, but he pointed out that it would involve almost four hours of driving in the dark.  A convincing point.

The rough-hewn Saxon Bracklesham stone font predates the church by at least two centuries. It is one of the oldest fonts in the country although its original home a mystery. BQ relaxes, at peace with the world
The gnarled old oak pew ends topped with candle holders are original 15th century, although the seats and backs are modern replacements.

This ancient Yew in the churchyard had a narrow escape in 1945 when workmen sent to lop off a large branch which was damaging the roof of the church, misunderstood the order and began to cut the whole tree down. A local farmer saw this and notified the rector who was just in time to avert the tragedy, as may be seen by these axe marks.. 

Our final Dine and Divine lunch at the nearby White Hart pub was a simple affair. Sandwiches and beer.

BQ’s Final thoughts

  A spiritual journey comes to a fitting finale at the most simple and beautiful church located in a fold in the downs, where prayer was easy, accompanied by the bleating of sheep. How apt that my final photograph captured me in prayer alongside an Anglo-Saxon font, which predates the building of the church. During the past five years I have searched out the Anglo-Saxon remnants of our past, criminally obliterated by the Norman invasion. My astonishment at finding that our little corner of the mainland was the last to be converted to Christianity made the hunt even more exciting. We followed the rebel Saint Wilfred as he converted the native ‘meonwara’ and founded churches in the Meon valley.

The occupying Normans were great builders and we marvelled at some of their impressive churches, and the discovery of wall paintings unearthed under the whitewash of the reformation. The journey was better than any history lesson, particularly in the company of my best friend MW, and of course there was always the food.

I will miss the arguments with the Sat-Nav! BQ

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