Any Northumbrian will recognise the conflicting feelings of pride and unease when a visitor compliments the area; we are flattered by the recognition for our beautiful county, but we don’t want the secret to get out with too much pace.
And while ‘pace’ is not what springs to mind when you visit the Church of the Holy Trinity at Old Bewick, this is the feeling I get as its popularity grows.
Situated between Chillingham and Eglingham, this Norman church is remarkably authentic, a “perfect period piece” according to John Grundy, whose fascinating history of the church was shared in a talk last September. A transcript is in a folder at the back of the church.
Nestled in a nook of the Kirk Burn, whose name means ‘Holy Place’, the site feels like a spiritual secret garden. There are just two parking bays and I have never seen anyone else there, yet more and more people seem to be talking about the place.
It feels like you are the only one who has been there for decades, despite the excellent upkeep and full visitor book, which boasts names from Texas, Sydney, Orkney and virtually every local town and village. Comments mention how beautiful, simple and peaceful it is, but many also acknowledge that it is chillier inside than out.
In a recent archaeological assessment for the Diocese of Newcastle, Peter Ryder noted: “It is a rare survival of a Norman church that still has its apsidal sanctuary; almost always these were rebuilt with square east ends.”
The area in question, a domed ceiling above the altar, does feel special and is beautifully painted with stars depicting the heavens.
The attention the church has received is wonderful, with frequent mentions in magazines and books. It is still used for worship and ceremonies, and it is important that we continue to add to its layered history.
It has been loved by monarchs, architects, farmers and antiquarians. And while the church has suffered at the hands of Border Reivers, Scottish troops, civil war, time and the elements, it stands in a state of glorious static – a snapshot into the past.
It’s probably the best worst-kept secret you’ll experience this year.
With thanks to Marion Penfold and family.