Our Chris­tian Her­itage

Thock­ring­ton Church, Northum­ber­land

Evergreen - - Summer 2018 - ROGER HAR­VEY

Noth­ing mat­ters more than lo­ca­tion, and the church of St. Ai­dan at Thock­ring­ton oc­cu­pies a re­mote fine po­si­tion on Northum­brian moor­land which could scarcely be bet­tered for drama and ro­mance. An iso­lated build­ing north of Hadrian’s Wall it sits within an im­pres­sive craggy land­scape and has haunted me for more than 50

years. As a child I spent many idyl­lic days on the Bav­ing­ton moors, with pic­nics on the se­cluded banks of Colt Crag Reser­voir, play­ing in and around my favourite stream, fish­ing for tad­poles and wa­ter­snails, and walk­ing the wide grassy hills around Thock­ring­ton.

You can find the church by turn­ing east off the A68 about ten miles north of Cor­bridge, but my ap­proach is usu­ally from the op­po­site di­rec­tion, via Great Bav­ing­ton. Sheep stroll un­car­ing on the quiet, sin­gle­track roads while the rough farm­land is of­ten alive with the songs of larks and curlews be­neath blue skies filled with jet en­gine vapour trails.

The church sits on a sec­tion of the Whin Sill, a rocky ig­neous out­crop which stretches from Hadrian’s Wall to the coast and at first glance looks like Noah’s Ark, a dra­matic ed­i­fice with dis­tant views across the rolling moors. Noth­ing vis­i­ble re­mains of the vil­lage that once flour­ished here, though, only a soli­tary farm and the church it­self which dates from around 1100.

The build­ing’s ex­te­rior was al­tered in the 13th cen­tury when the orig­i­nal apse was re­moved, pre­sum­ably be­cause its foun­da­tions were in­se­cure on the slop­ing hill­side. The east end, how­ever, is sup­ported by di­ag­o­nal but­tresses while the west wall is sup­ported by a mas­sive stone con­struc­tion. To­gether with a dis­tinc­tive stone- roofed, topheavy bell cote dat­ing from the 17th cen­tury, they cre­ate the cu­ri­ously lop- sided Noah’s Ark sil­hou­ette.

The sim­ple Nor­man in­te­rior is plain yet cosy, a haven of se­cu­rity amidst the bleak sur­round­ing moor.

The nave is cool and spa­cious with a fine stone arch lead­ing to the tun­nel­vaulted chan­cel, echoed by a sim­i­lar arch fram­ing a sin­gle win­dow above the al­tar. There is also a large font and a carved pul­pit.

Out­side, the vis­i­tor has won­der­ful views across vast swathes of bar­ren coun­try­side while among the few head­stones in the small church­yard is that of Lord Wil­liam Bev­eridge, founder of the Wel­fare State, whose daugh­ter lived nearby in Car­rycoats Hall.

What­ever the weather there is a dis­tinct sense of peace here, es­pe­cially un­der sunny skies with the back­ground bleat­ing of sheep and the chirrup­ing of birds mak­ing it both tran­quil and spec­tac­u­lar.

MICHAEL DURNAN

Northum­ber­land has vast ar­eas of un­spoilt coun­try­side as here near Belling­ham, lo­cated a few miles north west of Thock­ring­ton.

MARK CUERDEN

Thock­ring­ton Church sits on the Whin Sill, a hard ig­neous rock in­tru­sion made of do­lerite. The builders of Hadrian’s Wall found it most con­ve­nient and this pic­ture shows Mile­cas­tle 39 at Steel Rigg near the stretch of wa­ter called Crag Lough.

Left: The au­thor at Thock­ring­ton. Be­low: The sim­ple church in­te­rior ( left). Vis­i­tors to the area are likely to hear the call of the curlew and the bleat­ing of the hardy black- faced Swaledale sheep.

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