Sunday, May 3, 2009

ruins amid the Saints

Simon's entry on South Elmham Minster is here, for supplementary reading.

Leaping ahead in chronology, because this site deserves its own post. We visited it on the day we meant to see as many of 'the Saints' as we could. The weather was bright and windy. With the help of our OS maps (#230 Diss & Harleston, and #231 Southwold & Bungay) we reached the plateau (relatively speaking) and found Mundy's Farm, the first landmark.
A signposted right-of-way led across the ploughed field, straight into the woods. We briefly considered finding somewhere to lock the bikes, but the only structure was the signpost, so we set out walking the bikes across the flinty field. The woods, as you can see, are open and sunny. It is very quiet, easy to believe yourself alone for miles.
Side note: I can lift a bike over a fence more easily than I can lift a bike over a stile. I have no good explanation for this.

Then, past hedges and a stream, we came to South Elmham Minster, as it's called. Flint-core ruins, roofless, with trees growing around and among them.
It's probably impossible to describe the place or the atmosphere of it without invoking Tolkien. Twisty trees. Inexplicable ruins. Deep in the English countryside. It only needs someone in a cloak, to tell you by what names this place is known to the elves and the ents.

In the first picture (up top), you can see the edge of a bench. That and a sign giving the probable history of the site are (thankfully!) the only overt modern additions. Mostly you can wander without speaking, imagining almost any sort of past use and purpose: castle, chapel, temple, manor, even cathedral. The name 'South Elmham Minster' comes from the belief that it was a cathedral, for all the small South Elmham churches. But apparently that Elmham Minster was in Norfolk.

Another theory is that it was a pagan temple, and it is surrounded by earthworks, which might be the remains of a Roman encampment.
Presently, though, it's believed to be a private chapel for a Bishop's residence, dating to about 1000 AD, built for the first Bishop of Norwich, Herbert de Losinga. (If anyone knows what name the Elves knew him by, I'll add that here).
It's easy to believe that the site had a religious purpose; even now (even more so now?) one wants to be still, whether to pray or meditate.

The trees (beeches, I think) are very nearly as striking as the ruins. Several are intertwined in this loving yet Laocoonish fashion. Perhaps it was the influence of the Minster, but I saw them as more intriguing than disturbing.
As many times before, I wished I were a better sketch artist, with much more time. But that's where photographs are useful.
We leant our bikes against a huge fallen tree that had begun to sprout upwards. I almost took a picture of it, and discovered later that the same view was for sale as a postcard--also that most of the pictures I'd taken were from the same angles & places that the postcards were taken from.
I'm not sure what this says about my eye for photos, whether good or just predictable. Or simply that it isn't possible to take really bad photos of some place this beautiful and mysterious.

Our next stop was to be South Elmham Hall, but I'll save that for another post. Since I neglected to take any pictures of the right-of-way across the fields, entering, here's a pic of the way out (to South Elmham Hall) which shows, maybe, how miles-from-anywhere the Minster seems to be.

I could have stayed longer, just sitting and being quiet amid the trees and stones, but South Elmham Hall has secular medieval wall-paintings, not to mention a caff, and biking does make for an appetite. So through the fields we trundled, following the footpaths from the eleventh century to the fourteenth century.


Evan Goer said...

Absolutely gorgeous!

batgirl said...

Isn't it! I very nearly headed this post "The coolest place in England"