May 10, 2007 at 7:15 pm (Anglophilia)

I’ve always been interested in the literature and history of England, but lately that interest has broadened and deepened. This is due to two factors: in depth reading and traveling. In the fall of 2005, I toured Yorkshire with The National Trust for Historic Preservation; in the fall of 2006, my husband and I traveled to Devon, the Cotswolds, and London on a Smithsonian tour entitled “Classic Mystery Lovers’ England.” At the time of the Yorkshire trip, I had not been to England in twenty years; my 1985 trip was London based, with several brief excursions into the countryside.

To travel in Yorkshire, on the other hand, is to immerse yourself deeply in that countryside. Suddenly you find youself in a place both beautiful and ancient. Before I went, I spent some time on a website dedicated to the Dales and to the North York Moors ( – click on “views”). I gazed in amazement at the photos of what seemed to be a sort of pastoral paradise and thought to myself, Surely this place can not be so pristine, so otherworldly. Oh but it is, it is…

Of late I find myself making comparisons between Yorkshire and the Cotswolds, and to my surprise, the Cotswolds has (have?) a slight edge. This slight preference may be because of the beauty – spellbinding beauty, if I may say – of the Cotswold stone used in in so many of the older structures, or the churches, or the look of the villages, or the fact that one is rarely more than an hour and a half away from London. I cannot say for sure. On the other hand, I will not soon forget the Church of St. Mary in the tiny Yorkshire village of Lastingham. St. Mary’s Lastingham began as a monastery, founded in 654 AD by St Cedd , who was described by the Venerable Bede as “a wise, holy and honourable man.”. The existing church, which dates from 1078, had to be completely rebuilt because of the depredations of Viking marauders in the ninth and tenth centuries (great nuisances, those Vikings!). Of special interest is the crypt, which is the oldest part of the church. Although its construction dates from Norman times, various ancient carved stones within the crypt have been shown to be from the ninth and tenth centuries.


In his lovely little book on the villages of Yorkshire, Sir Bernard Ingham says this of Lastingham: “You walk with the history of two millennia in the rural peace of Lastingham. It is at once a humbling and uplifting place. A village truly of the saints.”

[Bernard Ingham’s Yorkshire Villages was published by Dalesman Publishing in 2001]

In England’s Thousand Best Churches, Simon Jenkins describes how, on his first visit to St. Mary’s Lastingham, it seemed as though “Solitude itself had crept inside the church, descended to the crypt and knelt to pray.” In conclusion, he states that “Lastingham has few furnishings of interest. It does not need them.”

[England’s Thousand Best Churches by Simon Jenkins was published by Penguin in 2000.]


Simon Jenkins


  1. John Jewitt said,


    Have you seen David Dimbleby’s How We Built Britain? It is an excellent tour of some great British architecture and has the social history / commentary to go with the footage. very good stuff.

  2. Ripon, in North Yorkshire « Books to the Ceiling said,

    […] sacked and rebuilt – three times! – throughout medieval times, Ripon Cathedral put me in mind of St. Mary’s Lastingham, which I visited when I was in Yorkshire two years ago. Once again I found myself standing in an […]

  3. The Northern Clemency by Philip Hensher, with an accompanying query as to whether the ranks of the great writers are being replenished « Books to the Ceiling said,

    […] was primarily an industrial city. Judging  by his descriptions of it, is a far cry from the beautiful, mystical Yorkshire that I have recently experienced on my travels and am forever extolling in this space. […]

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