With such a big wide world out there, it’s easy to forget the beauty on your doorstep. But with the North York Moors just an hour or so drive away from my front door, it certainly would be foolish to me to do so.
A few months back my other half and I were lucky enough to have a night in Hawnby, a quaint little village in Ryedale, North Yorkshire. It’s a curious place, seemingly split in two with an Anglican church a short walk away again from the lower end of the village.
The story goes that in the 18th century two men – Cornforth and Chapman – were working in the fields near Hawnby when they both took a nap. They awoke to find they’d dreamt the same dream – that God was calling them.
They told their tale to a friend, John Hugill, who felt the same. So the trio travelled to Newcastle to hear the famous preacher John Wesley, were inspired by his words and returned home as Methodists.
This caused great scandal in the area and the local landowner, Lord Tancred, expelled them from their homes on the hill. They ended up settled down by the bridge and so the village was split – with the original settlement up the hill and the Methodist community at the bottom.
Inn at Hawnby
We stayed at the wonderful Inn at Hawnby, a pub and B&B in the upper part of the village which offers fantastic food and a range of real ales. We wanted a break in the middle of nowhere, where mobile phones are rendered redundant, with gorgeous scenery and little to do aside from relax, walk and gorge ourselves on wonderful food. The Inn provided just that.
We arrived one Spring afternoon and we couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful evening. Having settled in to our room, that’s the one on the top right, we went on a wander down the hill, through the lower end of the village, past the church and back up the other side.
Aside from the shopkeeper of the Hawnby Stores and Tea Room, we saw no-one on our stroll bar a field of sheep and some rather excitable farmyard dogs. But upon our return to the Inn we were somewhat surprised to find the dining room nearly full.
Great food with local ingredients
The Inn has a reputation for good food and it seems its reputation is entirely justified. For mains we both settled for leg of lamb steak, with Mediterranean vegetable ptitim (it’s a bit like couscous), walnut and watercress pesto and black tapenade, followed by a selection of English cheeses and a tankard of port.
But of particular note was my starter, whipped goat’s cheese with wild garlic baked carrot, alongside pine nut and carrot top risotto. The Inn uses locally-sourced ingredients where possible and it astonished me that the humble carrot could be elevated to something quite so tasty.
All Saints Church
After a decent night’s sleep and a hearty breakfast we went back to All Saints Church, which is situated a surprising distance from the village. This pretty little church is thought to date back to the 12th century, surviving a 14th-century ransacking and a devastating flood in 2005.
But idyllic as this countryside church appears, it hides a sad past. The most striking features of the interior are the stained glass windows, which commemorate the “fighting parson of Hawnby” Revd William Hughes, his wife Mary and his sons who died fighting in the First World War.
Rev Hughes inspired the moniker by encouraging 61 men in Hawnby to enlist to fight. By the end of the Great War, 17 of those recruits had died – including three of his four sons.
A dedication at the bottom of the window depicting St Stephen and St George, below left, reads: “In loving remembrance of Harold George Augustus and William Hughes killed in action in 1917. Sons of William Hughes rector of this parish, and Mary his wife. RIP . Valiant dead take comfort where we lie. So sweet to live, magnificent to die.”
Another window, above right, features a passage from the Bible and the parable of the sower: “Some seeds fell by the wayside, and the fowls came and devoured them up. Some fell upon stony places. Some fell among thorns; but other fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit.” It is dedicated to Rev Hughes and his wife, erected by “their sons and daughters”.
But perhaps the most poignant of the windows is at the back of the church, above centre, which features a soldier looking up at Christ. Two medical staff are seen carrying away another victim in the distance. It is a scene familiar to history books but rarely those of a church. A Remembrance wreath of poppies beneath it commemorates those who fell.
A Poetry Church
Also at the back of the church is a poet’s corner – with books, folders and pens encouraging visitors to write their own.
Flipping through the pages of poems is a great reminder than even the smallest of places can have a thousand stories. You just need to find them.