Bolton Percy : the Perfect October Morning Out

Barely half an hour’s drive from home we turned off the A64 Leeds to York road into Tadcaster and there’s a little sign ‘Bolton Percy’, which would be easy to miss, just after crossing the River Wharfe in the centre of town. About 3 or 4 miles down this lane and we arrived at the village of Bolton Percy. On the right as you enter the village there’s a cricket green and pavilion and soon on the left is the car park for D’Oyly’s Tea Room.

We parked up and went to explore the village. Right in the centre are the four other things we came to see –

the No-dig churchyard,

All Saints church,

the Crown Inn

by the ancient river crossing

and the piece de resistance the fifteenth century Bolton Percy Gatehouse recently fully restored and now let as holiday accommodation by The Vivat Trust.

I first heard about the village of Bolton Percy when The Vivat Trust added the Gatehouse to its portfolio. Later I read a magazine feature in Intelligent Life about Tom Denny and the installation of the Millennium Window in All Saints Church. Any reference to English country (or other) churches always leads me to my Simon Jenkins’ ‘England’s thousand best churches(All Saints was awarded one star) and a couple of years ago Nun Appleton Hall (about a mile or so from BP) turned up in another book I was reading : Michael Holroyd’s ‘A Book of Secrets: illegitimate daughters, absent fathers‘. (I checked with the waitress at D’Oyly’s) and it’s impossible to see the Hall from the road and no Rights of Way pass through the estate). Internet searches for Bolton Percy bring up D’Oyly’s and further searches for All Saints church bring up references to Roger Brook and his No-Dig Gardening in the churchyard. So, when a walking friend urged me to let her treat me to lunch or tea as a ‘thank you’ for the lifts I’ve given her (I’m always happy to have her company anyway) I suggested we might give Bolton Percy a try.

Jenkins says : “The church sits on the Yorkshire plain next to the remains of a river crossing. The gatehouse of an ancient manor lurks next  door among the trees”

The early 15th century church is big and grey, its white limestone interior darkened by age and stained glass, but saved from impenetrable gloom by some clear windows in the south aisle.”

“The Jacobean box pews are complete, with charming knobs as poppy-heads.” Currently decorated in anticipation of Harvest Festival.

“There are two pulpits,  one early 17th century and one early 18th century, the former austere, the latter more flamboyant, its tester supported on an Ionic column.”

Then there are the stained glass windows : an east window with a rare depiction of the Virgin Mary as its centre piece;

the Burne-Jones for Morris and Co. Caritas window;

the Millennium window by Tom Denny inspired by Isaiah 43: “I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert.” The River Wharfe flows through it and an owl and a curlew are flying.

Outside and just across the road is the continuation of the churchyard. This lovely, natural space is full of wildflowers and a haven for wildlife and a peaceful resting place for Bolton Percy villagers. I’m sure it is hard work keeping it looking naturally ‘unkempt’.

It was a difficult decision as to where to take lunch but we finally chose the tea room and enjoyed a toastie followed by tea and lemon cake. All homemade and beautifully served on classic china. A perfect morning out.

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The Literary Connection of North Lees Hall

“It was a fine autumn morning; the early sun shone serenely on embrowned groves and still green fields; advancing on to the lawn, I looked up and surveyed the front of the mansion. It was three storeys high, of proportions not vast, though considerable: a gentleman’s manor-house, not a nobleman’s seat: battlements round the top gave it a picturesque look.

Its grey front stood out well from the background of a rookery, whose cawing tenants were now on the wing: they flew over the lawn and grounds to alight in a great meadow, from which these were separated by a sunk fence, and where an array of mighty old thorn trees, strong, knotty, and broad as oaks, at once explained the etymology of the mansion’s designation.

Farther off were hills: not so lofty as those round Lowood, nor so craggy, nor so like barriers of separation from the living world; but yet quiet and lonely hills enough, and seeming to embrace Thornfield with a seclusion I had not expected to find existent so near the stirring locality of Millcote. A little hamlet, whose roofs were blent with trees, straggled up the side of one of these hills; the church of the district stood nearer Thornfield: its old tower-top looked over a knoll between the house and gates.”

Jane Eyre  (Chapter 11)

Today I visited a friend and former neighbour who, with her husband, moved to work in Sheffield. They now live in the Hope Valley in the beautiful Derbyshire Peak District . Our plan was to take a walk from her house to visit North Lees Hall, visited by Charlotte Bronte and her friend Ellen Nussey. Bronte later based Mr Rochester’s home Thornfield Hall on North Lees Hall.

The Vivat Trust has similar aims to The Landmark Trust. I have never stayed in one of their properties but my feeling is that they do everything much more comfortably or even luxuriously but that they don’t have such a ‘low’ (ruinous?) starting point. North Lees Hall is a Vivat Trust property.

The day started off very misty – but these always turn out the best. After a cup of tea and brief chin-wag we headed off up the hill from her house. It was a perfect walk – a climb up the lane to begin and over a couple of stiles and then green grassy paths for a good hour or so with wonderful views of Stannage Edge (a climbers paradise, apparently). Eventually through a wooded copse we spied the Hall. By this time the sky was fully blue and cloudless (Jane Eyre’s “fine autumn morning” indeed).  Another hour’s walk via an Ice Cream Parlour  (Hope Valley Ice Cream) brought us across a golf course and home for lunch.

Stannage Edge, Derbyshire