Ninekirks (St Ninian’s) Church
It's always the way isn't it? You live near somewhere so you never visit it. Well, Open Heritage weekend was when I decided that I was going to visit Ninekirks Church. It lies off the A66 between Penrith and Temple Sowerby, not far from the Centre Parcs entrance so I pass it often - but usually I'm either on my way somewhere or going home. Of course I should have gone on the Saturday - Saturday was a lovely day. But I didn't. I waited until Sunday - a day which was wet enough to make ducks miserable. Do you see what I mean with this picture? Poor "Lady Anne Clifford" came out to welcome the 'mad person' and just about managed to shelter from the rain.
Lady Anne Clifford was an amazing 17th century heiress who finally returned to her roots in the north when she received her rightful inheritance. Owning Pendragon, Brough, Appleby and Brougham Castles in Cumbria, she set about a programme of restoration following decades of neglect and the effects of the Civil War. She also rebuilt churches in the local parishes, generally proclaiming the fact that she 'had caused it to be rebuilt'.
Although the date stone on the porch is 1841, the whole of the rest of the church remains as it was when Lady Anne restored it in 1660. It is unusual because of its canopied family pews and triple-decker pulpit:
Although the church seems a relic of the 17th century (complete with no electric lights which only adds to the atmosphere) it is actually on a much older site. The alternative name for Ninekirks is St Ninian's Church and it is thought that the church was originally founded by the saint in the early 5th century. In fact, coins from that period have been found in the area which suggests that people were either travelling through the area or living here. During the 13th century the population moved close to Brougham Hall and St Wilfrid's Chapel was built. Far more convenient, this was used for the normal Sunday services with Ninekirks only seeing worshippers for special events or when the chapel couldn't be used. By the time Lady Anne arrived, it had pretty much fallen into disrepair and needed a thorough rebuild.
However, it retains an enormous medieval oak chest, a medieval stone head and a stone effigy of a knight set into the floor as well as the 17th century woodwork like this poor box:
There is plenty of interest to see here but it's not just about the fixtures and fittings. Even on a rainy day, the church is in a lovely setting - enclosed in a bend of the River Eden, the simplicity of the church seems to match the unpretentious nature of the surroundings. There is a wonderful atmosphere in here - it's so quiet and peaceful that it is hard to imagine it as the centre of a bustling community. The church receives few visitors these days as it is in the middle of a field, 3/4 mile from the car parking space. However, it is well worth the effort to seek out this hidden gem and just sit awhile, soaking up the atmosphere.