The journey north should have given me the first clue to how the weekend would unfold. To be fair, it did… I just didn’t realise. A rainy week had given way to sunshine as I pointed the car north and the hawks kept an eye on my departure. After three hours driving the flat plains gave way to the first of the hills; there was still some way to go and I was still much further south than we usually work, but nevertheless, once you cross one particular road you seem to enter a different landscape and know yourself to be in Derbyshire.
Making good time I decided to turn off the main road to a village that looked as if it should have some kind of ecclesiastical building to visit. Several miles of winding country lane later I parked in the centre of Church Broughton and headed off on foot with the camera to inspect the village’s namesake.
A neat avenue of trees leads to the porch of the old church. The door opens on a peaceful place, typical of so many of our village churches. This one has stood here for at least the past 900 years and traces of the Norman building still remain in the font and the pillars of the nave. There may have been a church here before as the village seems to trace its roots back even further to a time when it was part of the Saxon kingdom of Mercia, but nothing now remains here that predates the Normans.
The font, however, is unusual in its decoration of flowing, intertwined geometries; unlike any I have seen before. In spite of its great age it looks rather modern. There are some old carved heads looking down on the aisle and the east window is well worth a little study, but perhaps the most interesting story is that of the people of the village, traced as a living history throughout the building and in the traditions it still upholds… the Maypole and May Queen, for example, along with the somewhat eccentric teddy bear parachuting from the church tower in summer.
There is a literary connection too with a strong link here to the Auden family. Two of the vicars of the church were uncle and nephew of the poet W.H. Auden. In the sanctuary St Michael holds the dragon with the point of his spear, the statue a gift from the family. The weathercock on top of the tower still bears the bullet holes left by one young Auden; possibly W.H. himself says the information provided, though that is mere speculation. The sun glints from the weathervane, but the birds and the carved faces on the tower take precedence over bullet holes in my eyes.
I drive on, taking the twisting, narrow lanes towards Ashbourne, pulling over when movement in the skies catches my eye…four huge birds in flight over the fields. The dog walker looks at me and shakes his head as I snap away in a futile attempt to capture them … ah well, the photograph, after all, matters far less than watching this aerial display of grace that welcomes me back to the north. It was looking as if it could be a good weekend.