The tiny church of St Bega can be found about three miles North of Keswick (town) and about a quarter of mile North of Mirehouse on the East shores of Bassenthwaite, the only 'real' lake in the English Lake District. The church is partly hidden from view by a small copse of trees, and is approached from two footpaths. The first one, which is the one I followed, leads North from Mirehouse, across fields and well marked footpaths. The second, descends South across the fields from the A591. Towering over Mirehouse, the church and Bassenthwaite to the the East is spectacular Skiddaw, the sixth highest mountain in England! The church is one of only three in England dedicated to St Bega, an Irish Princess today considered more of a 'cult' of personality rather than a real historical person.
Above. St Bega through the trees.
Above. The North facade of the church.
The first interesting feature of the church that struck me, was the wall to the left of the North door. The stone work is obviously older than that surrounding it, and closer inspection revealed a blocked doorway. The wall, consisting of rough stone work, and the tiny blocked door, standing to only around four and a half feet tall, are some of the oldest features in the church, and date to the original build date of the church, put at 950, over one hundred years before the Norman invasion of the British Isles.
Above. Pre-Norman door and wall on the North wall.
Above. The Bellcote at the West end of the church.
Above. The South facade of the church.
Above. Looking down the Nave into the Chancel.
The Chancel arch, plain and in remarkable condition, is Norman, and probably represents part of the original Norman rebuild of the tiny church.....the original building would have been half as wide as the church we see today,
Above. Interior view of the high doorway in the North wall.
The door in the North wall is also Norman.....again, very plain and simple, not with the more familiar dog-tooth or chevron decorations more commonly associated with Norman architecture.
Above. Looking East down the South aisle towards the chapel.
Above. Looking West along the South aisle.
Above. 16th century Chance arch leading into the East chapel.
Above. The second 16th century arch leading from the East chapel into the South aisle.
Above. Another view of the Norman Chancel arch looking from the Nave.
Above. Sketch of the grave slab, rescued and presented against the wall.
Above. Photo of the grave slab....details not very clear - refer to the sketch for more features.
The windows throughout the church date from the restoration of the building that took place in 1874.....a plan shown in Mike Salter's book, The Old Parish Churches of Cumbria, shows no original windows anywhere in the church.
Above. Memorial to the Wane and Pearson families.
Above. Royal Coat of arms of George II
The church is operated on an 'open door' policy, so is accessible during daylight hours, and is well worth a visit, as is the surrounding countryside. Mirehouse is a great place to while away the hours walking the gardens and exploring the walled bee garden for example.
Shap Abbey masonry
Shap Abbey escaped the early phase of the Henrican dissolution of the Monasteries, but the policy of closure of Catholic ecclesiastical establishments eventually caught up with it in 1540. As the Crown took control of Shap's lands and estates and its wealth, the site was sold off to the Governor of Carlisle. What was left slowly fell into ruin and lay forgotten for decades. During the dying years of the 17th century, stone was quarried from the site to build Shap Market Hall, a building that survives to this day. More stone was taken from the site, ornate and carved column stones, and taken to Lowther Castle, to be incorporated into the Earl of Lonsdale's new country house. With the many rebuilds and remodelling of the Earl's house, some stone was removed from the main building and used in the construction of stair ways in the ornamental gardens to the South. These relics from Cumbria's monastic past, are still visible today.
The stairs consist of a mixture of stones taken from ornate piers and columns, and a few bosses that would have topped the decorative columns. There are also a few roughly carved crosses inlaid into the patio area at the top of the stairs near to the Patte d'Oie.