Thursday dawned hopefully over Derbyshire. It was the day of our monthly meeting so we headed out for Great Hucklow, where our party converged from various directions on the Queen Anne for lunch before wandering out to Chapel en le Frith in search of a church and a Saxon Cross. We found the medieval market cross first and the stocks, still in the centre of the little town.
It is a nice little town, all square and solid, built of the local stone that seems to carry stoic resilience in every weathered line. The golden tones that reflect the sun in spring, were darkened by the perennial damp of the winter beneath skies rapidly turning sombre. The wind was bitter, carrying the chill of the distant snows we had seen lingering on the hills.
Passing Church Brow, a typical old street with its odd mix of ancient cobbles and modern telephone lines, we entered the churchyard. The parish church of St Thomas Becket was first erected by the Normans around 1225AD. Most of what can now be seen is much later, dating back only to the 14thC, with the ornate tower and south front built in 1733.
The church has a long history, beginning as a forest chapel. Much later, in 1648, 1500 Scottish soldiers were taken prisoner after the battle of Ribbleton Moor, during the Civil war. The prisoners were incarcerated here by Cromwell’s troops in horrendous conditions for sixteen days. When the church was reopened, more than forty soldiers had died and another ten perished as they were marched away.
We, however, were here to see the Saxon Cross, older by far than such a squalid episode of human history. The carvings are worn and weathered, yet they still hold their mystery and forgotten message… a visual language we can no longer decipher.
The church was locked, so we were denied all but the briefest glimpse of the interior, stolen through the clouded pane of a window. Even from outside we could see the vibrancy of the stained glass in many of the windows, including an unusual juxtaposition of St Aidan, the Venerable Bede and Melchizedek… a window which will, doubtless, call us back to visit in summer when the doors will stand open with any luck.
So we wandered around the churchyard, where ancient and modern grimaced at each other in what felt like a good natured battle. The significance of the expression was debated… what does that pulled mouth really mean… and did those who reproduced the expression in later centuries actually know?
We repaired to a little tea shop and, thwarted in our desire to see the inside of the church, debated out next move. We still had time before the meeting and we can work equally well on foot…or in the corner of a cosy pub. We had passed a sign for Edale… and it ran in my mind there was something there worth seeing. Certainly, there was a church…and probably a pub. There were also hills, and Mam Tor dominates the skyline. It wasn’t far… We retrieved the cars and off we went in search of Edale…