People who live in large, sparsely populated countries have a different definition of ‘nearby’ from ours. I know someone who thinks nothing of driving two hours for their weekly shop, including a stint on a car ferry. Another friend drives twelve hours to their ‘local’ hospital. When we asked my visiting Canadian cousin where she’d like us to take her while she was in England, she said ‘France’. My aunt, her grandmother, chose Scotland.
How lucky we are here in the Cotswolds to have so much within easy reach – not only essential facilities, but places of historic and cultural interest to enrich our lives. My latest discovery on our doorstep is the tiny, historic church of St Andrew at Leighterton. (Other tiny, historic churches are available, as the BBC might say.)
Like so many of Gloucestershire’s hidden gems, St Andrew’s is not far from a main road, but unless you have cause to drive down a very minor and winding lane, you’d never know it was there.
When I finally see St Andrew’s for the first time, I am wrong-footed by its boxy shape and quaint half-timbered tower. The architecture puts me in mind of stories by Hans Christian Anderson or the Brothers Grimm. When I share a photo online, a friend says it looks Norwegian.
I halt my car to give way to a parade of ducks waddling down the middle of the road beside a pond. Then a white goose comes towards me, like some kind of feathered escort for the slow-moving car behind it. I half-expect the goose to wield a red flag, as used in the early days of motoring.
Have I now driven into an Enid Blyton illustration, or is this just a typical Lightroom rush-hour? Either way, I’m charmed.
The church door is locked, and I must wait until the following week to be taken inside by a keyholder. The interior doesn’t disappoint.
Above deep sills, stained glass windows splash colour against the pale cream walls.
Dark ceiling timbers are echoed at ground level by row upon row of wooden pews.
The compact chancel, featuring a beautiful mural in the style of Frederic Leighton, shelters behind a low stone arch. To one side of the arch, a chunky stone pulpit makes a good companion piece to the sturdy 14th century font by the porch door.
To the other side, an organ has been made-to-measure to fill a second arch.
I discover a musical surprise behind a red velvet curtain: a ring of tubular bells.
After taking over 30 years to discover St Andrew’s, I’m returning rather sooner: on Thursday 9th November at 7pm, to sing with Hawkesbury Choir in a candlelit Concert for Reflection and Hope, directed by Ben Humphries with Ben Haslam on the trumpet and January Johnnsen on the viola, in aid of Help for Heroes, Macmillan Cancer Nurses, and St Andrew’s Church. For more information and to book tickets (£10 including wine), visit www.badmintonbenefice.com.
Just try not to be disappointed if The Snow Queen, Little Red Riding Hood and Noddy aren’t in the audience.
This post was written for the November 2023 issue of the Tetbury Advertiser, and St Andrew’s, Leighterton is in its catchment area.
IN OTHER NEWS
With my writer head on, I’m currently preparing for two book talks, and if you’re anyway near my home village of Hawkesbury Upton or the nearby Cotswold market town of Stroud, I hope you’ll want to come and join me! Click the images fore more information and to book tickets.
At the Stroud Book Festival Cosy But Criminal event, Kat Ailes and I will be talking about the defining characteristics of so-called cosy crime fiction, what has inspired and informed our contributions to the genre, and why it’s so enduringly popular. We spent two hours chatting recently about how we’re going to fill our hour, so I am sure we will have plenty to say!
At the last HULF Talk of 2023, part of the Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival series of events that takes place in my home village in the Cotswolds, I’ll be joined by 12 local authors sharing all kinds of books – all of which would make great Christmas presents for your friends and relations, especially when personally signed for them at our event! It’ll also be the official launch of my hot-off-the-press collection of festive short stories, Christmas with Sophie Sayers. Do come and join our celebrations! You’ll find more info on the website at www.hulitfest.com, and also the booking link for tickets. Or just click the image above to hop right to it.