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The Oldest Church in England-Across Country-English Scenery -Through Epping Forest-Drivers Asleep-Chingford-The Royal Forest Hotel-Queen Elizabeth's Hunting Lodge-Upstairs on Horseback―The Genus Tripper-To-day and the Long AgoHome Again-Pleasant Memories of the Past.
HAVING at last got hold of the clerk, the next thing to do was to inspect the curious church. This is not a large structure, the nave being, by rough step measurement, only about thirty feet long and fourteen feet wide. The walls are composed of great trunks of trees split asunder and roughly hewn to an approximately smooth surface on the inside; these trunks are set upright close together, as shown in the illustration, which is a faithful representation of the building. The better to preserve these ancient timbers (that originally had their ends fixed in the ground and had become rotten in the damp earth), a foundation of bricks has been made to receive them, and, in spite of the weight of centuries that is upon them, the olden walls seem strong still and apparently well able to outlive centuries to come. The tops of the timbers are fixed into a wall-plate by wooden pegs, and thus sustain the roof.
The first thing that struck us upon entering this ancient fane was the warm, comfortable appearance that the walls of wood give to it, in such marked
A SAXON TIMBER CHURCH.
contrast with the chilly look of the bare stone that
Another peculiar feature about this church that we remarked is the fact that there are no windows, as is usual, in the walls at the side, the nave being lighted by dormer windows in the roof above; the effect of this is a softened gloom that is very pleasing and restful to the eye. In the church we were shown a fragment of ancient stained glass, with the crowned head of St. Edmund upon it, also a bit of mediæval carved wood, representing the tradition of the wolf watching the king's head.
So old and black are the timbers of the walls that the clerk told us there had been many disputes amongst authorities upon such matters as to whether these were of oak or of chestnut, but though the matter was still in dispute, the generally received opinion was that they are of oak. There are some monuments in the church, but none of special interest. Taking us outside, the clerk pointed out the spot where at one time the entrance had beenjust opposite to where it is now. This former doorway had been filled up in past days with half trunks of trees to match the others, and he supported the fact that the entrance had once been there by showing us a holy-water stoup hollowed out of one of the ancient timbers. Wonderfully interesting is this ancient wooden church, taking us back to the morning of English history, possibly the most interesting, certainly the most ancient, in Great Britain. If walls
have histories, surely these rude timber ones have their own story to tell? It was with great reluctance that we left this one remaining timber church of our Saxon forefathers and retraced our steps to the unromantic town of Chipping Ongar.
Mounting the phaeton once again, we proceeded on our way to Epping, our intended destination for the night. We drove along for a time in silence, for we felt sorrowful that our most enjoyable wanderings were coming to an end, as all good things do in this world, and all evil ones too for that matter. To-night we shall rest at the little forest town of Epping; to-morrow evening will see us once more in smoky, prosaic London. The last day of a driving tour is always to me a sad one; the long, tedious journey through the wilderness and mazes of London suburban streets is not very inspiriting, and when you have to traverse the mean, dreary outskirts of the East End, the coming home is more depressing still. London has grown so huge-resembling more a province of houses than a city-that it takes a long while either to drive out of it into the real country, or to get back into it again after the last genuine green fields have been left behind. In the outward journey you have the knowledge that when you have escaped from the miles and miles of houses you will reach beauty at last; going back again no such knowledge cheers you.
There was, we judged from a glance at our map, an excellent high road from Ongar to Epping, but it appeared to us also that we could make the stage by cross-country lanes, and as we concluded that
OUT OF THE BEATEN TRACK.
these would be infinitely more agreeable than the dusty highway, we decided to go by them; nor did we regret our choice of route. Truly the lanes were narrow, winding, and in parts hilly and heavy going, but, on the other hand, they led us through a very pretty rural country. The way certainly was difficult to find, as one lane led into another in a most confusing manner, and some led nowhere save to fields and lonely farmsteads, but what mattered this? Our time was our own, we were accountable to no one for it, if it pleased us—as it did-to loiter; wherefore should we hurry? and if once or twice (in spite of all our care) we managed to get off our right road, did we not gain very pretty unexpected peeps by our unintended explorations?
The country we passed through was very English-looking a country composed of meadows and tilled fields, with tangled hedges between, dotted ever and again with rambling farmsteads, built long before this century began, with here and there a lowly cottage, and now and then a stray windmill (just to give the landscape a character), and last, but not least, with distant peeps of many a greytowered rural fane. The cottages, I must confess, were the only objects in the landscape that did not afford us unqualified pleasure: they were lowly, but scarcely deserved the term picturesque—a term I should like much better to employ could I do so faithfully, and I maintain that it is the bounden duty of a traveller, whether at home or abroad, to record facts, not fiction.
Scenery strikes observers differently. Dr. John
son (as before remarked) called the English country 'only a collection of green fields.' A recent American writer has expressed the same view in another way: he calls England 'an endless monotony of fields for the production of breadstuffs,' varied by moors for grouse shooting.' Truly some people have eyes to see, but do not observe. The ordinary town-dweller, long immured amidst bricks and mortar, has to become educated to understand the more subtle beauties of the every-day English landscape, for these are of the quiet, restful order and do not proclaim themselves at first sight, unless there be a striking feature in the view to compel attention to the less assertive charms around. But after all, scenery that impresses you at first seldom retains your admiration for long. It may astonish you, call from you wonderful adjectives at the time to express your sudden admiration, but astonishment is not love-and only love endures for ever. The Yosemite valley in California perfectly fascinated me when first I beheld its stupendous precipices and its glittering falls shattering their waters into spray from the mere height of their descent. As I beheld this wonderful valley from Inspiration Point, spread out beneath me in all its indescribable glory, with the silent company of snowcapped mountains beyond, their summits dazzlingly white in the cloudless sunshine, I thought that I could never tire of it. It seemed like some enchanted valley, some fairy fableland, hardly a reality. Yet in a week I was utterly weary of all its overpowering splendours. Its grandeur oppressed, no longer delighted me. I felt rejoiced, truly, to have