[I recently got to spend a whole week back in Blighty all by myself (well, almost). I had a wonderful time in a beautiful town and did a lot of thinking and some writing, while I celebrated the imminent release of my first novel. Fair warning: my next couple of blog posts might be a little contemplative.]
When you think of the quintessential English village, what comes to mind? Quaint old crooked houses, leaning into narrow lanes? Hedgerows around fields dotted with sheep placidly chewing among medieval ruins? A church that’s existed since before America was born or thought of, surrounded by gravestones dating back to the 1600s? Rolling hills in the background, fringed with copses you could imagine walking up to for a picnic and a spectacular view?
Well, then, you could do no better than to visit Chipping Campden, a little spot in the northern reaches of the famously beautiful Cotswolds. Chipping Campden, like so many of its friends here, is just about perfect. I just came back from spending a week there and I miss it already—though that could also be because I didn't have to feed or do laundry for anyone but myself for once.
(Now, I’m not saying that many other villages in many other parts of Britain aren’t similarly perfect. They also contain the quintessential elements above, just with their own building materials instead of the preternaturally yellow stone that signifies the Cotswolds. So don’t get mad at me, Yorkshire, Cornwall, Derbyshire, Cumbria, Kent, East Anglia, and all the rest of you. I love you all.)
I went to St. James’ church in Campden because I’d seen its imposing gothic tower over the slate rooftops from my window. I’m not a person of faith, but I am a person who appreciates the spirituality and commitment that has gone into each carved stone finial and pane of stained glass in these venerable buildings. Also, I like old stuff.
St. James delivered so much more than I’d expected. Apart from the printed welcome to visitors and the leftover poppy wreaths from Remembrance Sunday, there was no way of telling that I hadn’t walked into the 1800s. Or even the 1700s. Even my cynical heart couldn’t fail to be moved by the soaring ceilings and tall windows, the well-loved and -polished pews, and the simple altar below the exuberant stained glass. I got to take a minute out of time, and as we can all attest, this is not easy to do.
In our crazy tech-obsessed lives (yes, I am obsessed too), there would still appear to be nowhere like a church for giving you that space, physically and mentally, to slow down, to think outside yourself, to appreciate what can be done if craftsmen are simply given the mandate to make a place where the soul can soar. Perhaps this is why I still like many of the old hymns, even though I can’t identify with the words themselves. The music for them was written with a view beyond our ordinary lives, and for that, I am grateful.
So I recommend to you, if you’re feeling a little overwhelmed this holiday season, to find a pretty church and just sit for a while by yourself. If you’re that way inclined, I expect praying will be nice. If you’re not, don’t worry about it. Words of comfort will come to you anyway.
(And then chuck some pennies or folding stuff into the donation box. Those pews don’t polish themselves, you know.)
Kimberley Ash is a British ex-pat who has lived in and loved New Jersey for twenty years. When not writing romance, she can usually be found cleaning up after her two big white furry dogs and slightly less furry children. Her first novel, Breathe, is now available from Crimson Romance.