St Michaels Church, Cowthorpe


Address:                          Oak Lane, Cowthorpe, LS22 5 EZ

Parking:                          In the village (not in the farmyard).

Opening times:           Daily; 10 am – 4 pm, possibly earlier (unpredictable).

Wheelchair access:    Very difficult access; poor gravel path, partly grassed and partially obstructed by the stumps of two yew trees.  2 steps down into the chancel and a very narrow entrance door.

Access Info:                  The nave door is padlocked; entrance is through the narrow low set chancel (priest’s) door; please mind your head and be aware of the two steps down into the church.

Interior lights:             None; power off.

Refreshments:            The Bridge Inn at Walshford, LS22 5HS, or plentiful in nearby Wetherby (about 5 miles).

Market day:                  Wetherby, LS21 3AQ; every Thursday.

Information:                This small grade 1 Gothic style church was built in 1458 of limestone and sandstone for the eminent lawyer and Baron of the Exchequer, Sir Bryan Roucliff, replacing a small chapel which stood next to the River Nidd.  Its outward appearance is noted for its tower’s ramparts which give it a fortified look, the exterior of the tower’s west wall arch is also rather castle like.  Inside, the majority of the fittings are original from the period, a notable piece is the elaborate wooden Easter Sepulchre with canopy which is regarded as a rare example and possibly unique.

The font has the Roucliff coat of arms carved on it; also, the three original bells in the turret have an inscription on them which is dedicated to that family (clearly, a man who did not wish to be forgotten, and indeed has not been).  Also, the brass plaque in the Choir is of Sir Bryan Roucliff and his wife Joan Hammerton who are seen holding the church, unfortunately the plaque was stolen in 1850 and only recovered in part in 1886; it is now partially illustrated to show how it originally appeared (copied from an earlier drawing).

The artist J.M.W.Turner passed through this village during his grand tour of Yorkshire in August 1816 and made three sketches of the then famous Cowthorpe Oak, now long gone; it was located just north of the church, records show that it’s trunk had a 60 foot circumference, and that its branches had a spread that claimed to covered over half an acre.  

The unfortunate Guido (Guy) Fawkes is another well known name associated with this village; it is believed he spent some of his younger years staying here with relatives who lived in the area, there is evidence to suggest that he may have been at one time a bell ringer at this church (also see route 3 – Farnham).

St. John the Baptist, Healaugh


Address:                     Main Street, Healaugh, LS24 8DA

Parking:                      By the war memorial or up the drive and park facing the church gate.

Opening times:         Daily; 10am – 4pm.

Wheelchair access:  Good; gate/path, a small step into the nave and two onto the chancel.

Interior lights:          Nave/tower; close to the belfry ladder.

Refreshments:          White Swan at Wighill – Food, 12 pm onwards Tues – Sun.

Walk:                          Moderate,5.5 miles,pick up the directions starting in Healaugh; no map:

Information:              This fine example of a Medieval church in the sleepy village of Healaugh (pronounced, Hee-law, Heal means, woodland clearing), has been kept in excellent order.  It was built as result of the establishment in 1218 of an Augustan Priory and is located on the site of a much early church (649 AD – engraved dedication glass pane to St Hilda, in the west window).

It is largely 12th c, although the upper part of the tower is a later addition.  The large single span northern arch in the chancel is noteworthy.  The priory was demolished in 1535; its remains are still visible in the grounds Healaugh Manor Hall (private property).

There is a good deal of the long forgotten stonemasons work through-out the building, in particular, the plentiful roof corbels; inside, they are the heads of (presumably) notable dignitaries of the time, whilst outside they are that of, and rather more entertainingly, gargoyles and grotesques.  The Norman nave door surround has three orders, one of which is believed to represent the life of St John, but it appears that as a result of a misinterpretation of the Vulgate Bible, Salome is depicted dancing on her head.

The well known, Lord Wharton, was Lord of the Manor and famed for bequeathing a large sum of money for the purchase of bibles to be given away to children  (and still to this day, the books can be found on charity shop book shelves).  The church is set on raised ground making it a dominant feature of the village, it also gives a fine vista of the surrounding countryside.

All Saints, Bolton Percy


Address:                          Main Street, Bolton Percy YO23 7AF

Parking:                           On the road

Opening times:           Daily; summer, 10 am – 5 pm, winter, 10 am – 3.30 pm.

Wheelchair access:   Good; two steps onto the chancel.

Interior lights:              L/H/S of nave door and opposite, on the west wall near the book display cabinet; also on chancel, L & R/H/S behind the choir.

Refreshments:            D’oyly’s Tea Rooms and B&B in the village; opening times n/a. The Crown pub (YO23 7AG), hidden beside the gatehouse; does food.

Market day:                  Selby, YO8 4PU. Every Monday – on two sites.  Also; farmers market, 3rd Saturday of each month; 9 -2 pm.

Walk:                                Very easy, 3.5 miles:                                           

Information:                 This is a very grand and welcoming church of the 15th c, its significant size is probably due to its past roll of serving many of the surrounding villages. The lovely lychgate is the work of Mouseman Thompson, and was dedicated to local brewer, Samuel Smith in 1929 (who’s beers can be sampled next door).  The carving of a knight is that of St Oswald, who was against bloodshed and so is shown here without a sword in his scabbard.

In the chancel the triple sedilia, piscina and credence table are all worth a look, they have a timeless and ancient appearance about them and almost look like they simply grew there, they are fine unmolested examples of the period.

There is a further example of Thompson’s hand here; the four riddle posts around the altar (upright curtain rail supports) are from his workshop.  The box pews, pulpit and sounding board are 18th c and are in the Italian-Jacobean style, the font is 12th c, but its early life is not known, and the church tower has a peel of three, of which the earliest is dated 1603.

This part of Yorkshire was witness to much fighting during the Civil War, with the battles of Towton and Marston Moor being fought near by.  At one time Cromwell’s Parliamentarian troops where briefly, quartered in this church; there is evidence of their stay in the form of graffiti in a stall near the pulpit, also, the deep grooves in the wood are believed to have been caused by the troops sharpening their swords; it is surprising that there was not more damage considering the dim view that Cromwell took of churches in general.

There is plenty of stained glass here, in particular, the modern north west wall window by Tom Denny, which, although of a contemporary design, fits in perfectly and is quite beautiful.

The timbered gatehouse that borders the churchyard is a noteworthy survivor of the centuries and was the entrance to a now long gone rectory manor and very large tithe barn; the tithe was an ecclesiastical tax imposed on villagers and farmers during the medieval period to support the running costs of the local church; usually ten per cent of their annual income.  There is the face of a Green Man carved into the framework in the south east corner of the gatehouse and can be viewed from the churchyard.

Just over the road is an extension of the churchyard which, like the church, is very well maintained by the congregation, some tree stumps around the perimeter have been carved into crosses and look very effective. The parish has an excellent website:    Guided group tours are given by arrangement via the church warden.

Church of St Mary, Lead, Towton


Address:                      B1217, Wakefield Road, Lead, Towton, Tadcaster, LS24 9QN

Parking:                      Roadside parking.

Opening times:         Daily; 9 am – 6 pm.

Wheelchair access:  A difficult challenge; so, one for the more adventurous; located in the middle of a gated pasture field (about 100 yd s from the field gate), no path, low gate outside the nave door (to keep the sheep out), no steps.

Interior lights:          None; no power.

Refreshments:          The Crooked Billet Pub, opposite the church field, open lunchtimes:

Market day:               Tadcaster LS24 9AS; every Thursday.

Walk:                          Easy;  3.5 miles –

Information:             Rather wonderfully located in the middle of no where in particular, this is an eccentric survivor.  It is a tiny 14th c church which is thought to have originally been the chapel to a medieval manor house, the remains of which, along with the village are under this field, hence its unevenness.  It is believed that a place of worship has existed on this site going back to pre-Christian times.

  Inside there are a number of items of interest; the altar slab is thought to have once been a coffin lid, the windows still have their 14th c tracery and there are number of decorated ledger stones set into the floor.  Also noteworthy is the inside of the 1784 entrance door which has various past events recorded upon it.  The Village of Lead (pronounced – Led) no longer exists; it was destroyed in The Battle of Towton during the War of the Roses to such an extent that it was never re-established; still, the name lives on.

On the 28th March 1461, 100,000 troops went into battle, of which, some 28,000 souls lost their lives in the 12 hours of fighting; it is regarded as the bloodiest battle ever to be fought on British soil.  The church at Saxton (LS24 9QN), just a short distance from here has in its churchyard the altar tomb of Lord Dacre, who was fighting on the day for the Royalist cause; he was killed by an archer’s arrow. There is a legend that says he was buried upright on his horse; this may well be based in fact, as bones, including that of a horse were unearthed very close to the tomb during a 19th century excavation.

Even in modern times, the grime realities of that day comes back to haunt us; in 1996 the remains of forty soldiers were found underneath Saxton town hall, most of which bared the trauma injuries of their fate.

The church fell into rack and ruin when it went out of use but was brought back from the brink in 1931 by a group of walkers; they are certainly owed a debt of gratitude; it has since become known as The Ramblers Church and is now in the care of The Churches Conservation Trust and its volunteers.

Not far from here is Lotherton Hall (LS25 3EB), which is open to the public; there is plenty to see

All Saints Church, Harewood


Address:                     Harewood Park, Leeds, LS17 9LG

Parking:                      On the unmade parking area immediately outside the churchyard wall.

Opening times:         Daily; 10 am – 6 pm April to October or by appointment.

Wheelchair access:  Good; drive through the gate to the west door. One step into the nave.

Interior lights:          On L/H/S west wall.

Refreshments:          Harewood House cafe; please note that access to the cafe requires payment at the booth as it is in the house grounds:  or, The Harewood Arms on the Harrogate Road.

Market day:                Otley LS21 3AQ; every Tues, Fri,and Sat, plus; farmers market, last Sunday of every month; also, an indoor car boot sale every Sunday, LS21 3BD (cattle mart).

Walk:                           Easy 4.8 miles:

Information:             Access to the church is free but you must tell the staff at the grounds toll booth that you are going to the church only and then ensure that you do not stray an further.

This fine building of the 15th c, with 18th c alterations, was constructed of Yorkshire millstone grit for Sir William De Aldeburgh who occupied the original fortified castle, the remains of which are in the north east corner of the Harewood Estate and can be seen from the main Harrogate Road.  The church is noted for its impressive alabaster tombs; alabaster being a workable form of gypsum; sometimes known as onyx-marble, it is a porous material and for indoor use only.

There is plenty to see here; you can find Guide Information leaflets in the nave near the west door.  The churchyard is pleasant to wander around (via the south door) and of particular interest is the rather unusual (but no longer used) villagers access tunnel in the south east corner of the churchyard, it is about 30 ft long and leads to the estate grounds.    It was presumably, used by the village parishioners to access the grounds and church via the south door so may possibly have been built to ensure that the commoners did not enter the church by the same entrance as the local dignitaries; a more practical explanation maybe that it was created due to the need for a (still existing) Ha Ha, the purpose of which would have been to keep the estate grazing stock out of the churchyard.

It is accessible for the more able, but is down some steps and is also rather muddy.  Note the tower clock, which is of the one handed variety, also above the south door porch is a mass dial, sometimes known as a scratch dial and denotes the service times.

This church has been out of regular use since the 1960 s but is still pressed into service for the occasional ceremony or classical music event.  It is now part of The Churches Conservation Trust.