At this time of the year I always seem to find myself drawn back to the wonderful poem Gawain and the Green Knight. The poem was written by an unknown author in the late 14th Century, but was only rediscovered two hundred years ago and published for the first time in 1839.
The story begins as the court of King Arthur is celebrating the feast of Christmas. The door burst open and the formidable figure of the gigantic green skinned and green haired Knight rides into the great hall clothed all in green on a green horse. He issues a grisly challenge to Arthur and his Knights and asks if anyone amongst them is “bold both of blood and brain”, and will dare strike him one stroke for another, “I will give him as a gift this axe, which is heavy enough, in sooth, to handle as he may list, and I will abide the first blow, unarmed as I sit. If any knight be so bold as to prove my words let him come swiftly to me here, and take this weapon, I quit claim to it, he may keep it as his own, and I will abide his stroke, firm on the floor. Then shalt thou give me the right to deal him another, the respite of a year and a day shall he have. Now haste, and let see whether any here dare say aught.” Gawain begs Arthur to allow him the honour of taking the challenge and so begins Gawain’s magical quest.
Anybody interested in reading the poem could do no better than get hold of a copy of the extremely accessible and beautifully written translation by Simon Armitage.
Earlier this year I finally completed my own slightly shorter quest to visit Lud’s Church in the beautiful Peak District. Lud’s Church is thought by many to be the location of the Green Chapel that Gawain travels to in the story to complete his part in the bargain that he makes with the Green Knight. Lud’s Church also has links with Robin Hood another Green Man and there is even a legend of a ghostly green man who haunts the surrounding woodland.
My walk started from a car park about two miles from Lud’s Church and followed the walk detailed at the end of this article. It took me through some incredible countryside and I was astonished at just how vibrantly green the woodlands around the area were. I was worried about missing the entranceway but shouldn’t have as you definitely know when you have arrived at this magical place.
The church is in fact a deep chasm on the hillside above Gradbach in Staffordshire. As soon as you enter you understand why this incredibly atmospheric location has inspired so many legends. Apparently many visitors find the atmosphere too overwhelming and won’t go any further than the entrance. I must admit I paused and had to take a deep breath before walking between the moss and fern clad walls but would not have missed the experience for anything.
The pathway soon leads to a set of steps that take you even deeper into the chasm. It had rained before my visit and this area was extremely muddy so I would advise good boots, but there are a number of stepping stones that lead through the mud and onto safer ground. Lud’s Church appears to have been seen a sacred place from early times. On Midsummer’s Day the light from the sun penetrates deep into the chasm. Lud or Llud of the Silver Hand is a hero from Welsh Mythology and was also known as Nud in Welsh or Nodens by the ancient Britains. There is another legend that Lud’s Church is named after a horse ridden by a huntsman who was pursuing a deer close to the chasm. The hunter didn’t see the approaching danger but his horse, Lud, did and stopped throwing the rider to his death at the bottom of the chasm. The ghost of the hunter was said to haunt woods around the area covered from head to toe in moss and leaves. This lead to the figure being known by the locals as The Green Man.
How to find Lud’s Church
There is a free car park around two miles from Lud’s Church (located at 53.193063, -2.002955). Walk out of the car park and turn right. Follow the narrow road until you come to a fork. Take the right hand fork and head down the hill to the Gradbach Mill Youth Hostel. Once at the Hostel you’ll see the hostel on your right, a footbridge in front of you and a path to the left. Follow the path, which in turn curves to the left. You will come to a small gate, go through the gate and follow the path to the right. About 20m further on there is a narrow stone style on your right (with a private grounds sign on a gate further behind it). Go through the stile and turn left. Follow the road for around 30m. On the corner of the road, you’ll see another stile. Look over the wall to the right you will see the footbridge that you need to cross. Cross the footbridge and you will come to a signpost. Head for Swythamley and Lud’s Church. Head straight up the steep hill and you will quickly come across a path that goes to the right. Walk along this path until you come to a large rock formation on your right (about a ten-minute walk). You will then see a sign for Lud’s Church to the left; follow it, and within a few minutes you will arrive.
A Merry Christmas to all our members!
Many thanks to Les Miles for adding this previously unlisted Green Man to the Gazetteer. It is on a Kneeling Cushion or Hassock in Sherborne Abbey in Dorset
Wishing all members of The Company of the Green Man a fantastic Yule. thanks to everyone for all the contributions and support during 2011. Here is a picture of one of the most seasonal Green Men I could think of from the roof of Salisbury Cathedral…He is wearing a Santa hat isn’t he?
Congratulations to Martyn Gaunt for spotting an as yet unlisted Green Man and Green Beast in the Minster at Southwell in Nottinghamshire. They are both to be found on carved wooden friezes above the choir stalls, the first one is on the north side of the choir and the second, more animal like one is above the stalls on the south side. Martyn commented “While I knew of the many green men within that have been well documented, especially in the Chapter House (Have you been? It is absolutely wonderful!) and the misericord with a full length foliate figure, I had previously been completely unaware of these two figures”
The medieval churches of Essex house one of history’s best kept secrets. They are frequently inhabited by a mysterious carving of an ancient male head, with foliage, usually oak leaves emerging from its mouth, ears, nose or eyes. He is surprisingly common in Essex, has many guises and is concealed in nooks, roofs, sometimes barely discernible on fonts, but may also be found lurking on roofs, walls, and hidden niches of churches.
I have one copy of the book hot off the press free to a good home all you have to do is e-mail me at email@example.com and on 21st December I will pull the name of the lucky winner out of the top hat. And the catch! well it’s only open to current members of The Company of the Green Man (except me and the author..sorry Susan!) and whoever wins it must be willing to write a review of the book and get it to me in time for our May/June e-newsletter.
If you want to buy your own copy in time for Christmas it’s available via Amazon.co.uk from our book shop for £7.99 just click on THIS LINK to visit the bookshop.