Our latest church crawl took us to Garway Church, about half an hour south of Hereford in hidden country between the Monmouth and Abergavenny roads. A round trip could easily include Kilpeck, Grosmont, Kentchurch Gardens and one of several excellent pubs …
But, after Kilpeck, Garway is one of the stars among Herefordshire churches, and one of very few genuine surviving buildings of the Templars (later taken over by the Hospitallers after their suppression). It was a 12th-century foundation with a massive and genuinely defensible tower standing next to (now joined to) what was originally a circular naved church. The nave was squared off by the Hospitallers in the 15th century, but the foundations of the original circular walls are still visible (see bottom left photo above).
The splendid dog-toothed chancel arch with its ferocious cat-capital date from the Templars, while the Hospitallers seem to have enjoyed adding graffiti – see the Maltese cross, still the emblem of the Order of St John and St John Ambulance, and the cross with crosslets which is reminiscent of forms in use in Jerusalem and the East.
Later generations have (hooray) left their mark too: steps to nowhere leading to a lost rood gallery; a full set of splendidly chunky vernacular pews; a delicious little organ case; carved choir stalls – and a splendid tablecloth from a linked Sunday School in Africa, with the names of the children embroidered onto little felt fishes.
It has to be said that finding Garway Church can be a bit of an adventure, but in the end our satnav (HR2 8RJ) took us happily right to the end of the little lane that leads to it, and on which we found safe parking. So be brave, be bold and give it a go.