With my time running short in Basingstoke I was hoping to grab as many of the outstanding CWGC graves in some of the churchyards between Basingstoke and Reading. The problem is that they are not easy walks, being out in the countryside and far from the stations. I had intended to grab two separate churches on this day, with a possible third depending on time and energy.
I started my excursion from Bramley Station, which is the first station on the local line between Basingstoke and Reading. The train that arrived was not the usual one that I had been catching lately, instead it was a different DMU, and I must admit it was also a noisy bugger.
My walk would take me to the village of Sherfield-Upon-Loddon, which was about 3,5 km away and then down the A33 to the church of St Leonards which was a further 1.6 km away, ironically in the direction of Basingstoke. My initial planning had erred somewhat as I had placed the church in the village whereas it was really quite far from the village.
Navigating through the country lanes is always risky and at one point there were roadworks that really messed me around. There is a lot of water in this area too, and I kept on coming across streams and bridges, as well as the village pond. Eventually though I came to the village and had to backtrack a portion to find the church.
The one good thing about my detour was the discovery of the village War Memorial, and that in itself made the detour worthwhile. I don’t mind detours if I can discover something on them, and this memorial was a unexpected bonus. The memorial may be found at Google Earth co-ordinates: 51.314562°, -1.026138°
Eventually I reach the A33, which was really like a mad racetrack in parts. And I walked and walked and walked until I started to question where I was going. My mapping app was not helping too much because it kept on trying to take me to the United States! But, I saw a sign ahead, and my destination was listed on it. Finally!
The church is called St Leonards and it has four CWGC graves
in it’s churchyard.
Like so many of these old churches it is difficult to really date the building, although according to their website
the church was extensively restored in the 19th century. Unfortunately as I arrived so did somebody with the keys, but by the time I had found my graves they had left so I was unable to access the building. It is quite a pretty building, with a nicely proportioned spire and quite a large churchyard that has some new burials in it as well as a lot of older ones.
I also discovered that I was going to have a mud problem on this trip. I had noticed large pools of water on my walk to here, and parts of the churchyard were also wet.
There was also a new addition to the church which blended in quite well, although I was not too keen on the front doors of the church, and the sign that informed that all valuables were removed from the church overnight. It is sad that things have come to this.
My CWGC graves were all grouped together which made my life so much easier, and there were no private memorials that I could see in the churchyard.
One last look around and I was on my way again. It had been a satisfactory visit, and the goal was achieved. In fact the day was still young and I was ready for number 2 on my list!
Hartley Westpall St Mary was next on my list, it had one solitary CWGC grave
in its churchyard. Distance-wise I had to return to Sherfield upon Loddon via the A33, carry on for a distance and then at the Hartley Westpall sign turn turn right and continue until I found the turning to the church. It was roughly 2,5 km from the Sherfield roundabout. I had considered that I would probably be able to make one more visit after this one depending on how I felt, it really depended a lot on what I found at the end of this stretch.
It was a bit of a dicey walk though because there was quite a lot of traffic, and oddly enough it was always groups of vehicles that came hurtling up behind me. The signs on the road are a bit misleading though because that really is the boundary of the village, and not the village itself. In fact I was not too sure how big this village actually was because there was so little in front of me I even had to check the satellite image to see if there were any likely targets.
Eventually I reached the church, and it was a quite a small one, constructed of flint and wood, it was almost unassuming.
And my war grave was easily spotted amongst the snowdrops.
The church is called St Mary The Virgin
and it was being cleaned so I went inside, and the woodwork nearly knocked me over. The exterior walls may be newish (although that could mean anything), but the heavy wooden beams that hold the roof up could be original and could date from 1330.
Make no mistake about it, those roof beams are of the same standard as I saw on board HMS Victory. It is a solid structure, rough in its finishing, but amazing to see. You do not get woodwork like this very often.
The church also has a really nice collection of stained glass windows as well as an outstanding wall memorial which would not seem out of place in a cathedral. Unfortunately the legibility of it is poor, but the artwork is museum quality.
There were also a number of wall memorials to past rectors as well as soldiers, and I was very happy to see an original article about the funeral of the soldier who’s grave I had just photographed. It was really a unique memorial and the inclusion of his “Dead Man’s Penny” was an even more poignant touch.
I like finding small memorials like that because they do bring a personal touch to many of the graves that I photograph. Often there is no real history to a grave, it is a name and a number with no real story behind it. Private Thomas Elliott was an individual, he served his country and he is buried in this really quiet part of Hampshire, and he is remembered in this small ancient church with the wonderful roof.
I have to admit I enjoyed this church a lot, it was a really surprising building. Doing more reading about it, I discovered that there are registers dating from 1558, and considering that in 1558 South Africa had not even been discovered.
It was time to leave this wonderful old place, with its beautiful woodwork and friendly atmosphere. I had a decision to make soon and had about a 1.5 km to make it in. I had decided to walk back to A33 and either go left for home, or right for Stratfield Saye St Marys. It was still quite early and while I was a bit pooped I felt like it may be worth my while to try for this church which was about 4,5 km from the turning off to Hartley Westpall. The problem was that I was unlikely to make a standalone trip out here again, and I was technically “in the area” so I decided to head in that direction.
At some point I encountered that map above, and I wish I had encountered it much earlier, and had been able to take it with me to where I was going. It really laid out the area much more logically than the small screen image I was using on my phone, and if ever I do return to this area I am going to print this map out.
My biggest problem came when I reached The Wellington Arms. At this intersection the A33 goes off to the right, while another road heads off to the left. Inbetween the two was a path that I was hoping to take to reach my destination.
Unfortunately the path was gated off and was marked “Private Park” which meant I had to make quite a detour to get to the church which was technically on the path that I could not access. It was either go on or go home, and I had come this far already so the road to the left I did take.
It was a long road. It did not have a pavement, but it was not too busy so I did not have to hop into a handy bush each time a car came.
I crossed the River Loddon again, I was getting there. I reached the end of the road and was faced with more road. Where was the church? I changed to satellite view and headed towards what I thought was a cluster of buildings, but before that I saw a sign which said “to the Church”, but I could not see the church, instead I was facing a set of gates which were closed. A small sign read “No entry, access to the church only”. Aha! I was getting somewhere.
Inside was all quiet, there was a largeish house on the right of the road that I was following, but still no church. I kept walking and then saw the lychgate. I had arrived!
It was not a good looking church, if anything it looked like a modern version of a temple. However, according to what I read it is quite old “1758 possibly designed by John Pitt (Calvin p 639), restoration 1965. Replacing a medieval church in a new site, the building has a Greek Cross plan, with an octagonal tower above the crossing. There is a copper dome (with a finial) and copper roofing of low pitch to the arms” (http://www.britishlistedbuildings.co.uk/en-139116-church-of-st-mary-the-virgin-stratfield-)
The church has a very large churchyard, although there were not too many graves that caught my eye. I was more interested in why was this church in this park in the first place.
The churchyard was still in use too, so there must be a congregation here, it is just a pity the building was not open because there were a lot of interesting memorials inside of it.
But, it was realistically time to to head off home. I had a very long walk ahead of me and frankly was not looking too forward to it. I had two choices. I could hoof it to Bramley which was 4.3 km away as the crow flies, or I could cut across to Mortimer Station
which was 3,5 kms distant. In both cases the crow could cheat and take a short cut, I had no such choice. I checked my phone and Bramley was as much as 2 hours walk away whereas Mortimer was 53 minutes. I decided on the latter and set off on my epic trek across the countryside. It went quite well initially, I passed Strafield Saye House in the distance and it may be worth looking into how it ties into the church and park I had just come from.
But then things began to go pear shaped as the lady in the GPS directed me to turn left onto a footpath that was only 50 metres long and which ended in a muddy field. I eventually took her advise and headed across the field, aiming for a gate in the distance (Why didn’t I take pics of this?), then I waded through a path of mud until I hit a road and that road said “Mortimer Station.—>” and 29 minutes later I was at Mortimer Station. I had stood here for ages after my visit to Strafield St Mary not too long ago, although I was not as tired on that day as I was now. Surprisingly I only waited 6 minutes for a train.
And I was home just after 3.15.
Did I mention I was bushed? It had been quite a long journey, all for 6 graves. There are still more graves in that area, but I probably will not get to photograph them, which is a pity because I put a lot of mileage into getting these graves photographed. I had seen three very different churches, and seen one remnant of workmanship that left me amazed. The countryside is very pretty, although it can be wild in parts. Weather had been favourable, and for once I had not run out of battery life on my phone. There are a few lessons here that I need to learn. Preparation, navigation, information and of course proper maps and more information. Having completed this I could probably redo it in half the time, and walking much less. But that is the old hindsight thing.
Basingstoke is pretty much wound up when it comes to CWGC graves now, although I still have 2 weeks before I leave here, so just maybe I shall try for those last few graves, although I really want to return to Reading Cemetery.
Who knows, maybe next month you may see one more post about this area.
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