Thought provoking memorials, beautiful views, peaceful surroundings and fascinating tales going back a thousand years, add to the usual spiritual experience of visiting a church.
Most of the churches on the Shotley Peninsula welcome pilgrims and travellers alike, to enjoy a quiet contemplation all week, and all welcome holiday-makers to join with them in a Sunday service.
Churches usually have a story to tell and the ten peninsula churches, some of which are named in the Domesday Book, are no different. Going back almost 1,000 years, St Mary’s Church in Shotley is perhaps not the prettiest building, but sitting atop a hill overlooking the Orwell, it has an inner beauty to go with the stunning views. There is the added poignancy of hundreds of military graves, mainly Royal Navy, but also some for Dutch sailors who were killed nearby. It is the final resting place for many generations of seamen, including those from HMS Gypsy, which struck a mine in the River Orwell and sank.
The legend of Anne Boleyn’s heart is just one reason to visit the small but perfectly formed St Mary’s Church in Erwarton. The remains of what is widely believed to be the royal heart is buried below the organ at the church, marked by a Holbein print of Queen Anne’s portrait. Take time to wander around the back of the church and enjoy the awe-inspiring view down to the Stour and beyond. Medieval graffiti and delicately pretty glass tiles help make St Mary’s Church in Harkstead such an attractive place to visit and enjoy splendid peace and quiet.
Most of St Andrew’s Church in Chelmondiston, was destroyed in 1944 when it was hit, along with the school next door, by a Doodlebug. This Anglican church is open during the day and ideal for a peaceful break, with picturesque Pin Mill just a short walk away.
So much activity goes on at St Michael’s Church in Woolverstone, that it is regarded as the community hub. Sitting neatly alongside Woolverstone Hall, the former seat of the Berners family (now a private school for girls), St Michael’s Church is a short walk from Woolverstone marina.
Legend has it that Woolverstone got its name from Viking chieftain Wulf, who sacrificed a village maiden on a huge glacial stone on the site of the current church (giving rise to the name Wulf’s stone). Things are bit more welcoming these days with tea and coffee facilities available for casual visitors.
Holbrook, All Saints is a friendly church with a wide range of interesting architectural features. Among the memorial stones in the church lies Sir John Clenche, an infamous judge during the reformation, who sentenced Saint Margaret Clitherow to be crushed to death for being a catholic.
An eclectic mix of ancient and modern stained glass windows provide a ‘wow’ factor in St Peter’s Church in Stutton. It’s an ideal place to reflect and rest after walking along the nearby river bank and public footpath, which runs along the back the playing fields of the Royal Hospital School.
There is a colourful range of leaded windows at St Mary’s church in Tattingstone, which also houses the Western family tomb.
St Edmund is a notable presence at Wherstead’s St Mary’s church, and its mixture of Victorian and Norman architecture makes for an interesting visit. A key holder’s phone number to gain access to the church is displayed.
St Peter’s Church at Freston has an interesting war memorial in the churchyard but is not open to visitors during the week.
To learn more about these churches and other places of interest, take a guided trip of the area with a Shotley Peninsula tour.