Once again I wish to thank a reader in England for another refreshing and interesting “tour” of his corner of the world. Other of his “tours” are listed here.
Just as Jesus took respite in his day despite the intensity and constant need for His earthly ministry, we, too, are encouraged to take “retreats” from time to time in our daily work and ministries.
This means anything from a church-sponsored getaway to “sitting at the feet of Jesus,” as did Mary (of Mary and Martha fame), listening to Him through His Word, His preachers and teachers and inspired hymns and music, or at other times by drinking in the magnificence and metaphor of His creation and what beauty artists, architects, and builders may have contributed by their works embedded there.
If we can’t physically be in such a place of respite, I believe God sends us narrators, as it were, to give us a glimpse. My friend Colin Markham is one of those people.
Take a few minutes today to enjoy his tour of Elham Valley, even in such a time as this.–pbn
Visit Colin’s blog at: https://fellowshipofstpeter.com/
Saunters along the Elham Valley: 1. Elham (pron. ee-l’m). Pop. 1,509 (2011)
by Colin Markham
Visited on a hot Sunday afternoon in September – a veritable Indian summer – Elham exudes an atmosphere of brooding somnolence. The wider world and all its troubles hardly intrudes on the ancient settlement with its mellow bricks and tiles and stout-beamed dwellings. Somehow the tranquil ambience rises above the fray of human folly, beyond conflicts and wars which have at times impinged on the lifeblood of countryfolk. Nothing disturbs the Sabbath peace that has descended on this quintessentially English village. In the shadows, sheltered from the shimmering heat, cats stretch and doze. Families enjoy quiet reveries after a satisfying lunch. For now there is space for rest and meditation or leisurely walks among the quaint assemblage of buildings, all that is pleasing to the eye in this compact and self-contained village embedded in lush green hills and winding lanes.
A little way down the hill from the main road is The Square, a delightful collection of architectural gems, chief among them the parish church of St. Mary with its substantial tower and tall spire, ‘to many the most beautiful church in Kent’. The interior typically exhibits various medieval styles with later additions. Overall a handsome presentation with interesting features. In the surrounding churchyard there are many pitted and time-worn tombstones with barely decipherable inscriptions. The decay of these stones betrays the dust of those interred below, long-forgotten mortals whose remains mingle with mother earth. May they rest in peace in another place where neither moth nor woodworm destroy, where spiritual treasure is laid up in hearts and souls, ‘for there is no eternal city for us in this life but we look for one in the life to come’ (Hebrews 13.14).
In the centre of the village the most imposing building is The Abbot’s Fireside (1614),
which evokes the image of a warm retreat from the biting winds of winter. Until the early nineteenth century Elham hosted a weekly market. Was it located here, where the road widens, or in The Square? Farther along the High Street the Methodist church of 1839 stands out from its surroundings, a symbol of religious fervour that broke free from the staid formalism of the established Church. Examples of nonconformist churches and chapels are common in towns and villages across the land, many adapted as private dwellings as faith communities dwindled in times less attuned to the leadings of the Spirit.
The Row, a road running parallel with the High Street, contains another miscellany of attractive buildings. The Manor House is the most notable. It is an impressive timber-framed building, ca. 1500 or earlier, with a long frontage and irregular fenestration, its stateliness beautifully preserved.
Branching off from some of the streets are public footpaths and narrow byways which invite exploration, rewarded in various ways with the discovery of half-hidden dwellings and quiet places where one can rest and wonder where the trail ends. Viewed from the hill east of Elham, the village and the sweep of the landscape are glorious to behold and of lasting impact on the memory.
When the clamour of the modern world weighs down on the senses, when long sleepless nights disrupt the calm of the soul, when all seems dark and bleak, remember the day you climbed that hill and what you surveyed from it – the valley with its carpet of russet and green, the pretty village nestling on the hillside, the church spire, the patchwork of tiled roofs, trees and gardens – and let your mind be transported, your fears dispelled and your spirits uplifted by the magic of this lovely corner of England.
A thing of beauty is a joy for ever: its loveliness increases; it will never pass into nothingness, but still will keep a bower quiet for us, and a sleep full of sweet dreams and health and quiet breathing.
(John Keats, from Endymion, in The Oxford Book of English Verse). Colin Markham, September 2021
- John Betjeman, quoted in Peter Sager South-East England. Pallas, 2004, p. 253.
- See Matthew 6.19-21. See also John 11.25-26, 14.1-3; 1 Corinthians 15.35-58; 2 Corinthians 5.1-10; Psalm 90.
- Elham was granted market rights in 1251 when it was officially accorded the status of a town. See John Newman’s Kent: North East and East. Yale University Press, revised edition, 2013, p. 340.
Image of St. Mary the Virgin Church credit: https://s3.britishlistedbuildings.co.uk/lbimg/101/260/547/101260547-115323-o.jpg
Image of The Abbot’ Fireside credit: https://www.pubsgalore.co.uk/images/display/73001_73500/73174_0cb7e006.jpg?w=2