The fetterlock and falcon of Fotheringhay
On my 80km (50 mile) sortie into north Northamptonshire this morning, I sped through villages like Coppingford, Glatton, Lutton, Fotheringhay, Southwick and Stoke Doyle, all of them small communities with fewer than 100 inhabitants, but all of them with houses built in the singularly attractive stone of the area, and churches that have been cared for and restored over the last thousand years.
It is astonishing that a community the size of Fotheringhay (80-90 inhabitants) can afford to pay for repairs to the church’s lantern tower, the scaffolding for which is probably taking the best part of a week to build. But a quick bit of research has uncovered that the community was given a grant of some £54,000 to repair the lantern tower, and that over recent years, they have managed to raise nearly £1.5 million for general repairs to the fabric of the church.
Fotheringhay, as small as it is, has played a major role in this country’s history. Not only was it the birth-place of Richard III, but the Castle (which now no longer exists) was the place of execution of Mary, Queen of Scots. If you study the photograph carefully, you will see an insignia at the top of the tower: a falcon within a fetterlock, the symbol of the House of York.
Study the map below, and the stretch of road from Wadenhoe (in the west) to Old Weston……..remarkably straight, and almost as if my phone had lost contact with the gps signal. Well, here in the UK, a straight stretch of road frequently indicates the one-time presence of the Romans, and this stretch is precisely one such inheritance.
It’s easy to cruise through country communities, some only a cluster of houses, admiring the local architecture, spying churches hiding behind a screen of trees, sweeping over packhorse bridges that date back centuries, and within minutes you’ve left them behind anticipating the next village.
But stop occasionally, root around, find information boards or street names that tell a deeper story, and you will be amazed at what you might find. Odell, for example, has a manor house at the top of a hill that is called Odell Castle. Much more than just a name, shortly after the Norman invasion in 1066, a motte-and-bailey castle had been built by Walter de Wahul, with a stone keep, where the family lived for the next 400 years. The much restored castle survived until 1931 when it was destroyed by fire, and the present manor house was built in the 1960s.
Villages like Milton Ernest will carry connections with a famous person, even though those connections might have been fleeting. The famous musician, Glenn Miller, for example, spent most of the war entertaining American troops in Europe, but sadly met his end when his aircraft disappeared in bad weather in 1944. He had been stationed at a local airfield near Milton Ernest, and his death is commemorated with a plaque in the village hall.
Then I could mention the history of Thurleigh Airfield, but easier to give a link that gives a complete history of its role in World War 2.
Now tell me, is this the result of some alcohol-fuelled joke that took root after a long session in the pub, or is this a tiny glimpse of an “us and them” dividing line appearing in a small Northamptonshire village?
The Addingtons are very small communities. Outer Addington does not exist, except possibly in the minds of a small group of inhabitants who live on the edge of Great Addington. They have obviously declared UDI, are now boasting being twinned with the oil-rich state of Dubai, whilst big brother next door has obviously come off second best.
And please tell me what this is all about. What looks like a concrete podium, out in the country, part of which is covered by a substance that looks like white foam. (And before you suggest it….no, it’s not a stile!).
We are blessed in the East Midlands with a huge variety of country tearooms, many of them in sleepy little hamlets, but they manage to survive, even thrive. A mainstay of the numbers that cross their thresholds is the lycra-clad brigade. We arrive, after doing a ‘chunk of miles’, sometimes in challenging circumstances, and expect to be served a gallon of tea and a selection of cakes and scones.
Today, the Old Vicarage Tearoom at Naseby beckoned, along with the pleasure of the company of other like-minded roadies. Except for me, to get my cup of tea and cake, it was the mean distance of 35 miles just to get there, with a similar distance to get back home (of course).
Now I’m not complaining about doing the miles. I mean, someone has to suffer for the benefit of mankind……. But this was suffering of a different order. There was a 20mph (32kph) wind coming from the west, and guess which way I was going………you’ve got it, due west……..all the way.
The last five miles were purgatory (ie. not quite hell). It had taken me about an hour longer to do the distance than in normal conditions, so I was ready for that gallon of tea and endless selection of cakes and scones.
But most afflictions have some compensation……meaning of course, when they stop. But in this case, my route home had the added blessing of a powerful tailwind, making me feel good about the average 20+mph speed. It’s good to be reminded of those days when that might have been an average club-run speed…….
What better way to end a beautiful sunny winter Sunday than to jump on the bike and spend a few hours basking in the lengthening solar rays. The recent snows seem to have spring-cleaned the countryside, the crops once again are engaged in the process of growth, and the ancient village churches take on a special quality as the sun sinks beneath the horizon. Enough of words………….