This is a story of an early Saxon church, a missing glass piece, and a moderm tale of lost loves
The church of St Andrew’s which overlooks the harbour at Clevedon goes back to early Saxon times, and in those days the village was a thriving fishing village. It is known locally as Old Church, and from here you can see up the channel to Bristol, down to Weston-Super-Mare and across to the Welsh coastal area of Cardiff to Swansea.
Birds were still in their nests and the hedgerows covered with a harsh coat of white as I walked along the path that runs by the old church, and along the edge of the steep rock face below.
This was the warmest day we had had for many weeks, so I decided to take a walk down to the beach.
Walking along what had once been the old river and was now a footpath, I ventured to the playing fields where as a teen my friends and I had watched Clevedon Sports FC play many a game. The memories were still vivid of the players running the fields, and on the next pitches the rugby team played, the field so big it held two rugby pitches and the football pitch side by side.
Passing these fields, I headed to Wordsworth Road where my friend Mike used to live—many is the night in all weathers I had walked this route to see him. We had been friends since school days, and only parted when I got married and moved to Bristol, some 20 years after our first meeting.
The route I had chosen took me to bottom edge of Church Hill. As I walked through the gate used to stop traffic from entering, I could see the path up to the hilltop ahead and to the right of me. It is quite steep and from this side manageable but coming down from the old pillbox on top, can be treacherous even in the driest of weathers as the path is overgrown and narrow.
I stopped to look at the old harbour, looking just the same as it had done for many years—like a muddy inlet left to the elements. There were some boats rocking with the sway of the passing tide, and the chill winter’s air fair took your breath away as you turned to the inlet, the wind of the channel drawing on the cold water, and chilling to the bone. There is nowhere to sit down here, so tired as I was, it was a walk up the hill before I could rest awhile. I did get there finally, and was so grateful for the chance to sit on the bench.
The seat overlooks the sea, and has a beautiful view of the Welsh coastline opposite, the inlet to your left and the Church of St. Andrew behind you, with its graveyard looking sadder than usual in the drab grey of winter. Sometimes if you sit and watch you can see ships heading both ways in the channel, but today the waters were calm and silent, except for the waves smashing on the rocks below me. The air was still and calm as I made my way back up the hill to where the pillbox once stood, now just a concrete base, and down the hill a few yards were the remains of what used to be an anti-aircraft position—something that always intrigued me as it is of no strategic value, being too far from anywhere, and so easy to just leave alone.
After a while I got up and was walking around the church. As I got to the corner to turn to take the path down through the brambles, a strange mist appeared from the channel. Being of a seafaring family sea mists did not usually bother me—they were something coastal peoples lived with in the early spring, or late autumn—but here we were in mid-winter and not acting like normal sea mist. This one was hugging the coast, not moving inland, or out to sea. And I thought I could hear noises far off in the fog, like metal on wood. From my vantage point I could clearly see the edges of the bank—it was moving inland then swirling out to the coast, but avoiding the sea. The bank was still many miles away, but as it moved it seemed to be gaining speed. The area around here is flat and boggy, crossed by the rivulets of the Yeo, with only about six or seven miles between the three—it was as if the fog was gaining power from contact with these rivulets, yet strangely avoiding the sea.
As I stood transfixed, it was some time before I noticed that not only was the mist a lot closer now, but it was moving over the marshland below me. The old port area was now in the mist, as it swirled around below my feet, it was as if I was inviting me to go down, but my feet were frozen to this spot, and wouldn’t move. I just watched as the mist started to creep along the sides of the hill around me, the boats that had been moored there, now were shrouded in mist, and those noises, there they were again, definitely I could hear metal on wood, and the heavy splashes of oars in the water, then a silence.
Then the screaming began. I could hear the screams of women and children, men shouting at them to get the weapons… what was going on?
There was no signs of the boats as I went down the path, and although terrified of what I would find, I was not afraid of the people in the mist. I was more afraid for the mist itself, as it had brought them to me, or had it taken me back in time?
As I ventured down the path, I sensed changes around me, the boats were replaced by fishing boats, and the men were working hard pulling in the nets as the ladies gutted and skinned the fish. This was a scene I had witnessed at many coastal ports, only this time I was actively involved, and we were in Saxon clothing. All was calm as the nets were pulled on board save for the calling that had gone with fisher folk for generations to help get the nets in.
I was the first to hear the muffled splash of oars. I stopped dead in my work, the men saw me, and wondered what was happening to me as I looked to the sea, now covered in a grey mist, which a few minutes ago, had not been far out of sight.
As I turned to look for the noises I heard a flaming arrow landed close to my feet. Being simple fisher folk, we had left our weapons of defence in the homesteads when we went out to fish and here we were stranded on the flat with homes far behind. As the boats sped inland, arrows spewing everywhere, men falling all around, I ran to the nearest house and grabbed a spear, then turning to stand my ground, and await what this raid brought.
I was standing there in this battle with all going around me, and swords and maces crashing and breaking skulls open and yet nobody saw me, nobody tried to call for my help. One sword attacker ran to me, and swinging his weapon, he hit the man beside me, and yet totally ignored me, another passed so close I could see his hair flecked with the blood of the slain, and yet never did one attack me.
I could touch and move objects, and yet could not interact in this time with anything. I could reach out for something, and yet nothing could reach in.
This was frightening to me, as I could see people dying, and so wanted to help them defend their homes, and yet now I knew I was helpless, all I could do was watch and feel their loss as they were burned to the ground.
Then the strangest thing started to happen. The mist started to solidify, and it was as if it was physically pushing out to the church above. I could feel the urgency of the mist, as it pushed and shoved me along the path, and at times I had difficulty keeping apace with its rushing forces.
As I came to what had previously been the near edge, the mist thinned and as if not allowed to enter, I was released with a feeling that I should go to check the church.
Slowly I walked up the path, flooded with worries as to what lay ahead for me. As I got to the door I found it open and could feel the chill winter winds going through me.
Standing there at the door and not wanting to go in, the father came from the vestry to see me.
‘ Can I help you my son?’
‘Father, this will sound weird to you I know, but please hear me before you judge me mad I beg.’
‘Go on my son.’
‘I stand hear at the door to your church, having been caught in a mist, which either took me back to Saxon times, or brought memories of the dead and dying to me over the centuries. This mist had a purpose of which I do not know, only that I feel I was sent to you.’
‘I wont judge you, son, save to say the only mist hereabouts was the hawfrost common in these parts this time of the year, and that has long since gone off.’ As for having the feeling you have been brought here for a purpose, we are an old church filled with spirits of the past, so it IS possible you had an encounter from the past. We do have a mystery though. Since this was built, there has always been a piece of stained glass missing. If you look at the bottom left of the window, you can clearly see one piece doesn’t fit, we just put that in to fill the gap, and stop the cold, but it is clear it wasn’t meant to go.’
I stood looking—the father was right, if you look hard enough you can see it is missing a piece. Then, as I looked at the floor by the window, I thought I felt something in my hand and when I looked I saw a piece of stained glass. Looking closely I could see it was close to fitting the missing shape.
I took a stool from the vestry and held the piece to the window—it was an exact fit, and with a little jiggling it went in. Then, even though it was dark and cold outside, a warm autumnal glow spread through the church, and as it lit up the nave, a shape emerging from behind the window.
It was me, in Saxon clothing, as I had been in the mists, and around me was a bubble to shield from harm as I walked out of the door and stood looking back at the church. I went on to look for the grave of a friend who died too young.
There she was, Judith Gray, died aged 24. What a loss, I thought as I went to the archway leading out, and walked back up the hill to have a sit and look out to sea
It was then, as I was sitting , that I noticed a young lady standing smiling at me. Itit was Judy
‘Hi Alan,’ she said. ‘ Why didn’t you ask me out ?’
‘Firstly, Judy, I never knew you were interested in me, and just as important to me, at the time you were Steve’s girlfriend, and I would never come between you. It was only years later I heard that Sarah wanted to go out with me as well, but I was so shy and introverted I didn’t realise it.’
‘It was the shy, introverted Alan that intrigued us, we often discussed who you might ask out, and how we would react.’
‘I did like both of you Judy, but was just so unsure of myself that if you had made the first move, I would probably have been too shy to take it seriously, and probably done something stupid and hurt your feelings.’
Then as if she had the answer she had wished for, and like the mist, Judy vanished.