Following on from studying St Michael’s at Brimfield we drove along narrow lanes towards another small village called Yarpole. The direction sign at a junction directed us along an even narrower lane to Yarpole itself and on the opposite side of the road we spotted a brown Tourist Sign directing us to Yarpole Belfry. Thus we were expecting to find a belfry but no church. Separate belfries are a feature of several Herefordshire’s churches.
But when we drove into the village following signs for the Belfry we found both the belfry and an accompanying church only a few metres apart. We certainly were not expecting to find such an exciting place! The church here in Yarpole was a true community affair. We were in for many delightful and heart-warming surprises.
As we closed the car doors alongside the churchyard we got our first view of St Leonard’s over a low wall. We could only see the bell tower at that time but the big blue sign made us think there must be a church to be found there somewhere as well.
The next sign was more confusing as it welcomed us to Yarpole Village Shop and Post Office which were both to be found inside the church. We then realised this was a special place, the centre of village life around which the community revolved.
Signs outside the main porch provided further clues to the character of this community church.
On the path that wound its way towards the church porch we took a diversion to get a close look at the belfry which was separate from the main church building. Once inside it took a while for our eyes to get used to the dark before we could appreciate the ancient woodworking skills of its builders.
We were surprised by a little sign explaining what made the churchyard special and different from most others. The graveyard is managed by volunteers to optimise the wildlife potential. Areas of grass are left uncut for wildlife, and lichen is left to grow on gravestones and stonework. Rough areas are left for nest sites, hibernating sites and groundcover for insects and invertebrates. The area is full of wild flowers to attract bees and butterflies. Another sign nearby announced a Spring Concert
On either side of the porch carved stone faces welcomed us in, and inside the porch modern colourful stained glass windows added warmth to that welcome.
We found the door open and the sounds of voices came to meet us. This was a lively community centre with a cafe, village shop and Post Office. From the roof hung beautiful photographic hangings. The stone pillars were built from two types of stone giving it a striped effect.
In the gallery where the cafe opened each morning a chess group was silently enjoying their games.
Exploring the interior we found the usual furniture and features of any village church and the worship side of the church’s functions sat so comfortably alongside the community functions.This is what village churches should be like, keeping themselves open and used beyond occasional Sunday services and serving the community as they were originally meant to do. Other features however were exactly what we would expect to find in any church.
We liked the idea of the pebble pool. Each pebble dropped in the water represented a prayer.
We then had a wander around the out side of the church looking for interesting little details.
So the first two churches we had discovered on our initial exploration of the villages of Herefordshire in search of little churches serving small communities were totally different. St Michael’s at Brimfield was quite traditional and typical in the way it was used and in how the interior looked and felt. But St Leonard’s at Yarpole was a totally different kettle of fish – it was a community centre and felt full of life. It had a relaxed atmosphere with a warmth missing from so many of the churches in England.
On our first day we found one more little church in this area and we will share this with you in Part 3.