I found St Hilda’s church in Ellerburn, North Yorkshire almost by accident when researching things to do and see in the area. I found a reference describing it as the ‘mother church’ for the area and a similar date to “St Gregory’s Minster”:http://wasleys.org.uk/eleanor/churches/england/yorkshire/north_yorkshire/north_yorkshire_two/kirkdale/index.html in Kirkdale. This sounded like and undiscovered gem and we went in search of it.
The church is up an unclassified side turning off the Whitby Road out of Thornton-le-Dale. It is at the end of the road, set in a steep sided valley with sheep grazing. The only other buildings are a farm and the Cosy Nook Cafe.
It is a small church with nave, chancel, small bell turret and stone slab roof. With its porch and clerestory windows, it looks more like a farmhouse than a church.
The church dates from about 1150 and carved stones from an earlier church have been built into the walls. Before going into the church it is worth walking round the outside.
There are the remains of Saxon cross on the corner of the porch and also in the south wall to the east of the porch. On the east side of the porch are the ends of two hogs head tomb covers. There are two more carved stones in the south wall of the chancel. One has ropework carving, he other a scroll design. There is a carved stone with a stag with antlers high on the left hand side of the east window. This is now covered with lichen which is hiding the carving. It is best seen early in the morning or evening when shadows make the carving more obvious.
Two very big buttresses forming an arch on the west wall of the church beneath the bell turret. The original north door has been blocked.
Inside it is a simple church but with great character. Gas lamps, now with electric bulbs, hang from the roof.
The floor is paved with large stone flags and there is a King post wood roof. Over the chancel arch are the faint remains of wall paintings. The plain glass windows flood the nave with light. At the back is a round Norman font on legs. Pews are 19thC and the pulpit has a splendid sounding board.
The pillars supporting the chancel arch have scrolls and zig zag carvings. The chancel is small and feels full with choir stalls and pulpit. There is a heavy wood reredos under the east window with an overhanging canopy.
This is a delightful place and well worth searching out. The church is open 9.30-3.30. The handle can be difficult to turn, but say a prayer and persevere. The large car park is for church use only. For others (and the area is popular with walkers), there is a charge of £3 per day payable in the church where you collect a ticket. If visiting the Cosy Nook Cafe, you can buy a short term ticket from them.
FINDING ST HILDA’S CHURCH, ELLERBURN, NORTH YORKSHIRE
Try entering the post code YO18 7LL into Google maps for the approximate location. The church is approximately 400 yards to the west. The grid reference is SE841842.
At the crossroads in Thornton-le-Dale, take the Whitby road. Almost immediately take the first right and then turn left. If you cross the river, you have gone too far. This road takes you to St Hilda’s Church.
There are more pictures “here.”:http://wasleys.org.uk/eleanor/churches/england/yorkshire/north_yorkshire/north_yorkshire_one/ellerburn/index.html