Monday, February 27, 2006

Culbone Church, Somerset.

As I did my research for a new travel book on the West Coast of England, I came across a little church that is said to be “...the smallest complete parish church in this country.” It is mentioned in the Guinness Book of Records and also the Domesday Book, a book compiled by William the Conqueror’s scribes to document every village, man, woman, and livestock in England for taxation purposes. The information collected was recorded in a book the English people feared so much they nicknamed it The Domesday Book, after God’s final judgment.

My journey began behind the local pub where the publican had asked if I was “really going to the church?” He told me I faced a 5 miles round-trip and that I’d “better get going if you’re to be back before dark.”

Not deterred, I set off immediately and stayed on the footpath that at times veered towards a particularly beautiful, rugged coastline of Exmoor, but then turned inland through typical English woodland. At one point on the trail, I felt quite uneasy as I had to walk though a tunnel that was dark and very wet with thick moss covering the walls. As I exited the tunnel, I had the distinct feeling I was being “watched” and it suddenly dawned on me that I was either being very brave or very foolish to undertake this adventure on my own.

After about one hour’s hike and just when I thought I should turn back and try another day, I came upon the church. It was so beautiful it literally took my breath away. I scrambled through the last few hundred yards of woodland and could hardly wait to see inside.

Over the centuries, various repairs and renovations have been taken place on Culbone Church, yet it has retained its beauty. The walls are original and thought to be 12th century. The font is very old, probably Norman but the pedestal is believed to be Victorian. The nave is thought to be Saxon (pre 1066) but this cannot be confirmed. The churchyard cross has a 15th century base but a relatively new cross that was erected in 1966.

After a few minutes of sitting quietly in the church and the churchyard, it was time for me to get back to the village, but the church’s location intrigued me. Why was it here so far from the village? The church sits atop a 400 feet wooded area with Porlock Bay to the north and Lynton and Lynmouth to the west. Perhaps 1,000 years ago, the church was more than adequate for the small community. The church can only accommodate 33 parishioners, but still has services regularly.

Mindful of the time, I quickly made my way back to the village and the dreaded “tunnel.” With courage in both hands, I literally ran through the tunnel and breathed a sign of relief on exiting. Then the strange feeling was with me once more and I quickly turned in all directions but saw nothing. Before long, I was back in the pub and decided to order some supper. The publican asked if I had made it to the church and I stood straight up and replied that I had some excellent photos. He then asked if at any time, had I been scared or felt as though I had been watched. In amazement, I told him that the area around the tunnel gave me goose bumps and why did he ask. He told me the area was once a Leper Colony and that lepers used to flock to the church to receive communion. The publican said that many people have commented on the strange feelings they have encountered as they make their way to Culbone Church.