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St Peter, Belaugh
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St Peter sits high above the Bure, its small village scattering crazily down to the river below it. From there, it looks glorious, a crown to the hillside. An eight year old boy, bored and restless, on a boating holiday with stern parents in the early years of the 20th century, looked up at it and was astonished by it. "It was the first time I ever fell in love", he would later recall. His name was John Betjeman, and it was the start of his lifelong love affair with churches.
On the day of my visit, St Peter was under the cosh a bit - or, at least, the scaffolding and tarpaulin. It is in any case mighty difficult to photograph all in one go, since the steepness of the site and the hemming in of other buildings makes it hard to put a distance between your camera and the church. If I'd had a boat, it would have been easier.
Almost immediately to the west of the tower, the ground drops steeply away for about 30 feet. I looked down, and saw a scattering of 19th century gravestones being slowly dragged down by gravity. The view from here is stunning, but I couldn't help thinking that St Peter may not last many more centuries.
As with all the churches in this area, St Peter was open and welcoming. The interior is clean and bright, despite the debris of the building work, and there are a couple of fascinating medieval survivals, the best of which is the screen. Much smaller and intimate than the ones I had seen earlier in the day at Worstead and Tunstead, it was very much to scale with the church, fitting twelve panels into the small chancel arch. They depict ten of the eleven faithful disciples (Thomas being the exclusion) along with St John the Baptist and St Paul. Hover on the images to find out what they are, click on them to enlarge them.
It was late in the afternoon, and I was only half an hour from catching my train at Hoveton station, a mile or so off. Hazy spring sunshine filled the church through the large west window beneath the tower as I explored.
There is a round Norman tub font, unusual in this area of Norfolk, and wily oriental faces look down on it from corbels in the north aisle where it stands. Up in the chancel I stooped to examine a rare surviving chalice brass, a memorial to a Priest from this church's Catholic days. I imagined the young Betjeman crazing his parents to moor, and then dragging them up here to gaze at it in wonder, in incomprehension.
Simon Knott, April 2005
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