More tea, vicar?

It used to be that even if everything else was closed, you could always get into a church. I tried to get into three different churches on Thursday and was spectacularly unsuccessful in my endeavours.

These days, it seems, you have to save up all your church-going for a Sunday, which could make it a jolly busy, not to say organisationally complex, day. I’m not sure how early churches open their doors on a Sunday, but I don’t imagine it’s much before the start of the service, and once you’re in there and other people start arriving, it could be rather awkward to get up and leave in order to get to the next one before its service starts. The courteous thing would be to sit through an entire service in each church, but since they tend to have their services around the same time it could be extremely difficult to visit three in one day.

I can get into my local Buddhist temple any time I like, 7 days a week. Come on Christians, rally round and let the heathens in!

Anyway, before I knew I was going to be stumped at every turn, I set out with a happy heart and my delightful assistant by my side, for one of my favourite local tearooms. I was going to need energy for all this church visiting and how better to stoke up the boiler than with a big pot of leaf tea and an exemplary fruit scone.

Crisp on the outside:

Soft and fluffy on the inside:

Quite superb. And so, very satisfyingly fuelled up, off we popped to church number 1.

Our first church of the day was Trinity Gask Parish Church, “a simple rectangular structure dating from around 1770”Β (quote from the website you find if you click on the church name). There was a nice stained glass window at one end of the building and I tried peering in the windows along the sides but I couldn’t see it from that angle. It did seem to have some fine old wooden church pews, but it was too dark for me to take a photo of them.

Nice yew tree, very menacing in the dark if you happened to be creeping amongst the gravestones on a stormy night. (Branch cracks, owl hoots, muscles tense, heart rate quickens….is there someone behind you?)

Having failed to get into church number 1, we had a bash at church number 2, which seemed a much more likely candidate. This was St Serf’s Parish Church at Dunning. It dates back to the 13th Century and is looked after by Historic Scotland, who apparently open it to visitors during the week in the summer months.

St Serf’s is home to the Dupplin Cross, a piece of carved stonework from 800 AD and one of only a few surviving complete free-standing early Medieval crosses in Scotland. I would like to take a peep at it some time, but on this occasion I had to make do with a view of the outside of the church. Workmen warned us that the building was unsafe and so we weren’t to go in, even though the door was invitingly open.

Church number 3 was, I think, my favourite (it’s got crow-stepped gabling).

Here we have Tullibardine Chapel, another one under the care of Historic Scotland, only I’m not sure you can ever get into this one. I have a feeling I visited years ago and just walked straight in on a week day, but I may be imagining things. Tullibardine Chapel dates from 1446, when it was built by the family who inhabited Tullibardine Castle a couple of miles away, but sadly the castle is no longer in existence.

The windows were very small, but the stonework was beautiful.

There were a number of gravestones dotted about around the chapel, some of which were lying on the ground and being cosied up to by moss:

There were some delightful carvings too:

Having failed dismally to get inside three churches, it was high time for a spot of luncheon. Off we tootled to nearby Auchterarder and, instead of a tearoom, went to a restaurant.

We ordered salads, which I’m sorry to say were a bit woebegone, but the tea was excellent. There was a whole tea menu which included some interesting green teas and I plumped for one called Sencha, described in the menu thus: “steamed green tea steeps a pale and delicate liquor with just a hint of dew covered meadows and roasted chestnuts” I think it was the dew covered meadows that reeled me in.

It was nicely presented on a wooden tray containing the teapot, a teacup and a little dish for the teabag, which also had the teabag’s empty packaging on it. Note the leaf sticking out of a hole in the teapot lid:

The teabag itself was pyramidal and was attached to a small cardboard leaf on a wire.

After lunch I did wonder about trying another church nearby, but decided I’d had enough of organised religion for one day.

My dad has come up with a brilliant idea. All these churches are sitting idle 6 days a week, not allowing anyone in to see their glorious interiors and only raking in the shekels on a Sunday. In the excellent tradition of perfect partners it seems these churches have missed a trick. If they had tearooms attached to them, they could make a bit of money from selling tea and cakes during the week and also keep their doors open for visitors to wander round. I assume that the reason most of them remain closed is to avoid vandalism when there’s no-one about. A tearoom next-door would surely solve this problem, while at the same time producing a bit of profit for church upkeep, providing employment and raising the profile of the church itself.

There is in fact a Tibetan Tearoom next to the Buddhist temple I mentioned earlier and so, rather surprisingly, the Buddhists are already a step ahead of the Christians when it comes to getting money out of tourists in Scotland. I think it’s high time we made more of our beautiful country churches, and a church with a tearoom would be a match made in heaven.


36 thoughts on “More tea, vicar?

  1. Love the photos, old churches are the best. And your photo of the scone made my tummy growl and makes me long for a good cuppa πŸ™‚ Am heading to the kitchen now… It’s all your fault πŸ˜‰

  2. There’s some terrific stonework in there, and I really like the moss and lichen covered gravestones.

    One question though: could you taste the dew covered meadows?

  3. Once again, I loved your photos and descriptions. The tearoom idea is excellent! I would have been disappointed not to be able to see inside those churches, particularly the second one with the Dupplin Cross.

    • Thanks very much Jo! It was pretty disappointing not to see inside the churches. I’ll definitely be going back to St Serf’s later in the year when they’ve done the renovation work and it’s open to the public.

    • It’s a long way for you to come, but I think you’d have a ball taking photos, and I would absolutely love to see what you would produce from here! Thanks very much for the comment. πŸ™‚

    • This place serves amongst the best scones I’ve ever tasted. At least, they suit my tastes down to the ground. They are quite bready, but also light and fluffy. I don’t know how they do it but I’ve had lots of scones here and have always been extremely pleased with them. I wouldn’t mind an hour with their scone maker to see just what they do. πŸ™‚

  4. Interesting to read your thoughts about churches being open. I am the gardener for our church, so (until my daughter fell ill anyway) I was there often a few times during the week. Our church hall is used throughout the week by various organisations (including another small congregation in fact!) but the sanctuary as such isn’t open for tourism. This isn’t just because of vandalism, but also the already soaring cost of electricity and heating, as well as the need to have people there while it was open. There is also the question of insurance, which is also rapidly soaring.

    St. Machar’s Cathedral stays open during the daytimes, staffed by volunteers, and they have a big box for donations from visitors to cover the costs. They regularly get busloads of tourists, but even so I don’t think the cost of keeping the cathedral open is always fully met by visitors.

    The tearoom-next-to-the-church is an excellent idea, and the church off the main square in Inverurie has done exactly that! (I think it is staffed by volunteers.)

    • Thank you very much for the information Christine. I know that some of the big churches in cities are open all the time through the week for tourists, and I can appreciate that it’s a totally different story with so many visitors and presumably more of an income gained by them. I was thinking it was a bit of a chicken and egg situation, in that there aren’t many visitors because the church isn’t open but the church isn’t open because there aren’t enough visitors to justify it. I could believe that St Machar’s would get a lot of visitors but that the cost of upkeep would far exceed their donations. This is where having another income source would come in very handy.

      As for the small country churches, it just seems such a shame to me that we have these buildings that are often superb works of art, even if they’re quite simple, but many of them are closed for business 6 days out of 7 (I would imagine that even some of the country churches I visit are open in the evenings for things but these times are sort of ‘members only’ for those in the know, not for someone wandering in off the street). I think every church I’ve been in has exuded a calm and a peacefulness, and even large cathedrals with loads of tourists milling about can feel amazingly peaceful. I know they were built primarily for worship, but what’s a church without people in it? Some of these wee country churches have tiny congregations and share a minister, and they must be in desperate need of a cash injection.

      I must get myself up to Inverurie and see this tearoom next to the church. Do they keep the church open during tearoom hours?

  5. The tea looks so devine πŸ™‚ I love everything form the flavour descriptions of “dew on a meadow” to the leaf growing out of the pot! A real find, I would truly travel there for the teas!!!

    • It really was a tip-top cuppa, and I loved the little leaf growing out of the teapot too, the whole thing looked so organic. I was a bit put off by the food, but you’re right that it would be worth going there for the tea alone. I didn’t try any puddings so maybe next time I’m passing I should pop in for tea and something sweet.

  6. A Tibetan Tearoom? Ooh I’d love to try that! Looks like you’re on a winner with the tearoom and old Church combo. Hope you can have that organised by the time I get over to the Mother Country. πŸ™‚

    • This may take me some time…..when are you coming?! I must do a post on that Tibetan tearoom some time, it’s quite a place, set in a Buddhist monastery in the Scottish Borders (not all that local to me really, at 3.5 hours drive away, but that’s just a wee step for an Australian isn’t it? :))

      • Tis. A wee step indeed. I used to drive 5 hours just to get a milkshake once upon a time. But they were good milkshakes, and you could easily get there and back in a day.

        3 and a half hours? Sounds like an excuse for an overnight visit or a tour. All in the name of research, of course. I’m thinking 2014 for a visit. That should give you heaps of time!

    • I know, it was a great pity. I’m wondering now if I’d contacted them beforehand if we’d have been able to see inside, but it might have caused someone considerable inconvenience to have to be there to open up, and anyway we just went to them on the spur of the moment.

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