It’s official. Four days without internet or phone signal can result in a massive social media bender as soon as technology-starved blogger returns to civilization. I seriously have no idea where the day went, only that I did some work yesterday morning and then it was midnight and I was still looking at photos of bearded dragons. Somebody take me off this Buzzfeed drip!!
Sim asked me what I used to dream about visiting before coming to England. In all honesty, my ideas about England and British culture were heavily if not entirely influenced by Richard Curtis films and British TV shows imported to PBS in the late 1980s (Mystery!, Masterpiece Theatre, Jeeves & Wooster, Blackadder, and Red Dwarf to name a few). I was expecting a beautifully crafted city packed with witty, intelligent, impeccably dressed men and women with good manners and a knack for solving crime. I dreamed of literary salons, meet-cutes, and a social life full of colorful characters straight out of a Noel Coward plot.
I cannot tell you how devastated I was when I got here and learned that this was a nation of over-privileged blowhards, crooked politicians, and racist fatties. Just like America!
In spite of all of this, my fascination for English history (as portrayed through television) has maintained a hold on me, and my travel itinerary always reflects this.
Last weekend was spent in Norfolk, in a small seaside village. It’s a place very dear to my heart for many reasons, one of which is that here I can indulge in one of my favo[u]rite forms of travel: Necrotourism. For those unfamiliar with the term, necrotourism is the practice of visiting tombs, grave sites, battlefields, haunted buildings, medical museums, and other such grim locations for the purpose of education, entertainment, or, in my case, both! Why bother pacing around creepy cemeteries and musty old museums full of dead things in jars? I can’t wait to tell you in this exciting new series. Today’s post is all about creepy old churches.
- They are hella old. The Americans have done a pretty great job of wiping out anything truly ancient, so it’s rare to come across a building that’s any more than 200 years old. The above English church has a piece of glass from the 15th century!! It caused a big commotion in the village of course and I would not want to spoil the surprise with a photo here, so if you happen to be rolling through Wiveton anytime soon, make sure you don’t miss it!
- They have all the hot gossip. Before Facebook, there was the church bulletin board. Along with flyers and pamphlets on local history, there are birth, wedding, and funeral announcements for the whole parish. Plus, vendors are all over them things trying to drum up business. You are likely to score a coupon for discount takeaway or a free coffee. If you’re not into that, you can take a stroll down the aisle and read the floor for past events. Yes, you read that correctly. Many churches have memorial plaques and even graves inside with dedications from throughout history. I recently visited a church with genuinely moving testimonials from 400 years ago. Who knew that sobriety was such an underrated trait? NB – I’m pretty sure “sobriety” meant something else back then, because I’ve never known an “amiable” Englishman who isn’t hammered at least two nights per week.
- They are everywhere. The church pictured above has a rather stunning view of the church in the next town, which is about 2 miles away. With the towns numbering 158 and 376 respectively, it’s hard to imagine why they would need so many churches, but any amount of time in the English countryside will prove to you that they take church quotas pretty seriously. I mean, what if walking 20 minutes rather than 5 minutes meant the difference between paradise everlasting and burning in hell?? WELL???
- Graveyard. You can learn a lot about a town’s history just by taking a stroll through the church cemetery. While you’re competing with your travel companion to be the first to find a celebrity grave (or just the oldest one), have a look around. Are there any writers, artists, poets, or musicians? What about unknown soldiers? Can you identify any common gravestone symbols? You can even learn things from the landscape. Did you know that yew trees have been planted at churches and sacred sites since before the dawn of Christianity?
Wherever your travels take you, remember to behave yourself. It may not be a sacred space for you, but for someone else and thousands of others before them, it’s a place of worship and reverence. I know I can be flippant at times, but I have my limits. I don’t tend to take photos of specific graves, no matter how cool they are, and I rarely take photos inside the church if there are people in there. I’m not suggesting that you have to follow those guidelines by any means, but, you know, try not to let your dog pee in the cemetery.
Have fun, and please feel free to get in touch and tell me about your travels via email or on Twitter. I’m @hexpatriate