About Me

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Bristol , United Kingdom
I'm co-director of the Leaping Word Poetry Consultancy, which provides advice for poets on writing, editing and publishing, as well as qualified counselling support for those exploring personal issues in their work - https://theleapingword.com. My fifth poetry collection, Learning Finity, is now available from Indigo Dreams or directly from me.

Friday 11 September 2020

An ancient tree, a long man and two flaming churches

 A thousand years ago, when I still had a dog, I went with my sons to visit my daughter, Jenny, who lives in Sussex. We didn’t want to leave it any longer in view of the increasing Covid-19 infections and the possibility of future lockdowns. 

Here are some photos of that day, which was 2nd September.

The first place we visited was the Church of St Mary and St Peter in Wilmington, which has in its churchyard another of Sussex's ancient yew trees.  

This one has been scientifically dated as 1,600 years old, and is a possible indicator of pagan worship in the area. It's held together by chains, and relies on many props to hold it steady. 

We had a picnic in the churchyard. From high above in the yew a raven scolded us.

Under the tree were several blackly iridescent corvid feathers.

Headstone from 1766

Like so many of the old buildings in Sussex, the 12th century church is built of flint. It used to be joined to the neighbouring priory by a cloister.

Now in the north chancel but formerly outside is the 'Wilmington Madonna', another intimation of pagan worship on this site. 

Jacobean pulpit with sounding board

14th century font

The north transept was very badly damaged by fire in 2002, and a window featuring butterflies and bees destroyed. This window by Paul San Casciani, which also incorporates a phoenix and St Peter, was commissioned to replace it. 

Also by San Casciani, and much more pleasing to my eye, is this Tree of Life window based on the churchyard yew and incorporating a quote from the Book of St Thomas from the Apocrypha: 'Raise the Stone and thou shalt find Me; Cleave the Wood and I am there.' 

One of my favourite things about the church was the graffiti with serifs carved into the door ... 

... including this example which includes a day and a month. 

April 26th 1747 was a Wednesday. 

Just up the road from the church and the neighbouring priory is the other reason why we wanted to visit Wilmington, and that is the famous Long Man.

He's 226 metres high and his pose, with two staves, is very similar to that found on some Roman coins, though no one knows for sure how old he is. He could be an Early Modern folly, or from the Iron or even Bronze Age. 

He's said to be in proportion when you look at him from below, but actually those arms would reach to his knees. 

I think he's great ... though not quite as great as the Giant at Cerne Abbas, obviously. 

Our last stop was in nearby Lullington, to visit what purports to be the smallest church in the country, namely, The Church of the Good Shepherd. 

We accessed it by a chalk footpath over fields.

Not a chalk horse

The church is pleasing to the eye and rather quaint, being only 16 feet square .

It's actually the remains of the chancel of a church that was supposedly damaged by a fire caused by Cromwell's soldiers during the Civil Wars.  

I think that fact might disbar it from the smallest church competition. (I'm on the side of lovely Culbone Church on Exmoor.)

12th century square font


  1. It's so lovely and vivid and real.the photos are just glorious in a peaceful kind of way. Thank you, Deborah. "A thousand years ago when I had a dog" was so poignant for me. Thank you.

    1. I know you know how it feels to lose one, and how you have to renegotiate your place in the world.

  2. Your life seems idyllic even though I know it's also filled with stress and sorrows.