A solitary red sandstone church stands on open land between the village of Glassonby and the large stone circle known as Long Meg & Her Daughters. It is dedicated to St Michael and All Angels and dates to the 16th century, but why is it in this isolated spot, where is the village of Addingham and what is the story behind its many ancient stone crosses and tombstones?
The answer lies about 1.5 miles to the northwest, where another church once stood on the banks of the river Eden. The only clues to its actual location come from the name of a field called Kirk Bank and, on the opposite side of the river, a well dedicated to St Michael. Kirk is a Scottish word for a church, and it is thought that the earlier church (and an adjoining village called Addingham) once stood near here. No trace of the church remains because sometime in the 12th century, the river changed its course and undermined its foundations. Rather than re-build it, the parishioners decided to build a new church on higher land, using stone from the old church.
During the drought year of 1913, several more stones were retrieved from the bed of the river and placed in the church including an early Anglo-Saxon stone bearing an incised cross (5th C), an Anglo-Saxon cross shaft in two pieces (9th C), a Norse hogsback tombstone with ‘tiled’ roof (10th C), a medieval cross slab, and a large square stone with a central socket that may have been the base for another cross (incised with lines that resemble a version of Nine Men’s Morris).
Outside there is an unusual Norse hammerhead cross perforated with four holes. Originally, the cross would have been much taller and is supported on a base to which it did not originally belong. The style is reminiscent of crosses from west Cumbria, and this appears to be the only surviving example in east Cumbria.
It seems this tiny unassuming ‘new’ church was not just built of sandstone blocks from the old church, but also took custody of its collection of ancient carved stones. This suggests that the original St Michael’s church, located on the banks of the river Eden, was of significant religious importance dating back to early Christian times.
Within this fascinating part of the Eden Valley, you will find plenty of other hidden treasures. One mile south lies Long Meg and her Daughters stone circle, with a working water mill beyond. To the west are Lacy’s Caves hewn out of the sandstone cliffs bordering the River Eden. North is Kirkoswald with its ruined castle and ancient church of St Oswald’s Church, which was built over a pagan spring that still issues from beneath the building. To the east are the Pennine hills and a string of fellside villages to explore – all linked by meandering footpaths and local lanes. If you are prepared explore at a slow pace, there’s a lot to discover within this relatively small area of the Eden Valley.