Twenty years ago I had occasion to visit a bank in Appleby to carry out a survey. I’d realised en route that I had plenty of time in hand so I’d taken a scenic option in making my way there from my previous appointment, and I have a vague recollection of a narrow track running along a slightly precipitous drop in heavy rain. Of course my mind may well have conflated another journey with the events in question given the conversation that took place.
Talking to one of the young women in the branch I’d remarked on how I’d detoured over a fell-side to get there, and was immediately challenged to name the hill in question for as she rightly went on to say, Appleby is not situated amongst the lakeland fells. She made little effort to conceal her disdain for this idiotic grockle on her patch as she expressed her herself.
In the years that followed I had no cause to visit Appleby again, or Appleby-in-Westmorland to give the town its full name (and avoid further opprobrium). The main cross-Pennine route by passes the place and so do many who might otherwise visit, apart from a few days each summer when the roads and fields around are littered, in some cases literally, by the visitors and their equine stock who come for the Appleby Horse Fair.
All this was to change a couple of weeks ago, for when spending Easter in the area we travelled to Appleby to allow teenagers an opportunity to expend some energy in the public swimming pool, while we enjoyed the sun, ironically on a bench outside the same bank that had provided my earlier memory. With temperatures at an unseasonable high, it was a perfect spot to take advantage.
As we did so I was able to scrutinise the main road of the town, Boroughgate, and muse on the history it must have witnessed. At either end of the street’s incline a tall white column rises, marking the limits of the town’s market, and called High Cross and Low Cross. Presumably these limits are from respect for the occupants of the large buildings that also sit at the extremes, for at the top of the hill sits Appleby Castle, which dates back to the 12th Century, whilst at the foot you can find the church of St Lawrence.
The castle wasn’t welcoming visitors so we read the notice on the iron gates which gave a run down of the building’s history, though bizarrely it ended in the 15th Century! Surely something has happened in the last few hundred years.
Walking back down the hill there are buildings whose age is revealed by the eccentric lines of windows and walls.
Which brings us to the church itself, though it hides some other interesting locations; a swimming pool built as a war memorial,and a cricket ground much of whose boundary is the River Eden.
But back to the church.
It frustrates me. It’s also a 12th Century edifice, but look online and you can learn of the tombs within it, and the organ moved from Carlisle in the 17th Century, and yet the thing that captivate me about it isn’t mentioned anywhere that I can find. Mounted above head height on every pillar I could see are a selection of medieval faces, some clearly noble, others less so, but what charmed me about them was the expressions on their faces. Here are just a few; I wonder what is the story behind them.