The King’s English | Herefordshire, UK

Posted by on January 26, 2003

There are so many reasons I like to travel to England. First of all, it’s a relatively short flight. Secondly, they speak the same language I do. Or rather, they seem to know how to use the language better than we do. In fact the use of English in England is positively marvelous. Such turns of phrase! And the English have such incredibly quirky interests. Let me give you some examples of phrasing and quirkiness, by telling you about our short trip last summer.

A definition that I brought back from this trip concerned the word “committee”. It was found on the bulletin board of the church at Hoarwithy in Herefordshire, and it will tickle the funny bone of anyone who has ever been on a committee, meaning all of you, I’m sure. “A “committee” comprises four kinds of bones: wishbones who wish something would be done; jawbones who talk about what should be done; knucklebones who knock down everything that anybody else suggests; and backbones who quietly get underneath the load and put their backs to it to lift the load.”

Below it there was the definition of a conference, which is“a gathering of important people who singly can accomplish nothing, but together can decide that nothing can be done. ”At least we can understand the English humor.

That was one of the blessings that befell us as we toured around Herefordshire, with an emphasis on very old small parish churches.

We picked up our midnight blue Peugeot at Heathrow and drove to our friend Lizzie’s house in Teddington. The next morning we packed up and drove to Pontshill in Herefordshire and thence to Dancing Green (the place names fall into the quirkiness category, don’t you agree?) Here May Cottage, Lizzie’s 400-year-old brick weekend home, sits in a beautiful garden, with lovely views over the Herefordshire hills, on the border of Wales.

Our afternoon was spent playing church detective. Much of the history of the country can be told in the architecture of the small parish churches. Christianity is old in this part of the world, where some churches are even dedicated to little known Celtic saints. Many of the churches in Herefordshire were built before 1200. Finding these churches helped us to get lost on various tertiary roads, which added to the general interest.

I must interject that the English are also extremely hospitable, witness the following: Lizzie called some friends just before we left May Cottage to say that we might drop by, since we were going to try to find the church at King’s Caple, near their home. The church there has a ceiling like an upturned boat. They immediately invited us for tea. (to which Lizzie replied, “a nice cup of tea would not go amiss.”) (I never think of things like that to say.) By the time we arrived at their lovely country home and garden, Patricia Russell had made scones, brought out her homemade strawberry jam, and set a lovely tea table in the garden. Their garden is spectacular, and is fully cared for by these two retired quintessential Brits, who enthusiastically showed us their various blooming marvels.

We also managed to find Hoarwithy, off the A49, and St. Catherine’s church, where a small functional “chapel-of-ease” had been turned into an astonishing example of Italianate style. It stands on a hill with lovely views all around, a strange sort of small parish church that should really be in Tuscany.

My favorite church of the day was All Saints in Brockhampton. This impressive church has been described as one of the most important buildings of the early 20th century. It is a building of extremely unusual  design, combining traditional crafts with exceptional workmanship, and is one of only three thatched churches in the country. The finest Arts & Crafts scholars worked here to produce splendid examples of their work. There are two unique tapestries designed by Edward Burne-Jones and made by the William Morris workshops.

There are more than 20 Herefordshire churches, which can be visited. If you go, look for a map called SIGNPOSTINGHEREFORDSHIRE, which can be found in any of the small churches, and in the tourist centers. It describes the 20

churches and has a map to reach them. You’ll get very lost if you don’t have this map, but it might be fun.

Our last church of the day was in a village called Much Marcle (I did not make up this name) near Woolhope. Here St. Bartholomew’s churchyard boasts a 1000-year-old yew tree, in which three people can sit.

Our day of quirky names was complete when we arrived at a restaurant called “The Moody Cow” in Upton Bishop. This pub serves very good food, and has excellent wines. There are all sorts of black and white cows for sale, in the form of milk jugs, salts and peppers, etc. We had delicious soup, salmon with ginger sauce, and creamy English desserts(called “pudding” or “pud” in England,) along with a bottle of chardonnay, for about $80 for three people. Have a laugh at their web site at www.moodycow.co.uk

Our visit to Herefordshire was all too short, and even though we had been in this part of the world in past years, we are sure we want to go back, since there is so much more to see.

On our way north, we drove up over the Black Mountains toHay-on-Wye (where only a full day’s stop will do justice to the dozens of book stores for which this town is famous) This drive is worth a journey, as we knew, having done it once before. On the way up the narrow road, there is one tiny hamlet, called Capel-y-Fyn, where there is a little chapel. Its single stained glass window, over the altar, is inscribed, “I will lift up mine eyes to the hills.” On the day we drove through the village, all the local farmers were in the churchyard, clean-shaven, in white shirts and black suits, waiting for a funeral procession. It was a remarkable array of leathery, lined faces somberly contemplating the event in which they were about to take part.

The ride over the top of the mountains was particularly gorgeous on this sunny day. En route, we had a quick lunch at Llanthony Priory. Augustinian monks were here for 300years until the Reformation, but now it is a romantic ruin.

We drove north to Cheshire and more adventures with the English language.

Betsy Shequine is studying English English and hopes to become proficient before her next trip in June.

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