This was another very short visit and probably would never have made my list but for the fact that I thought it looked quite quaint in a picture I’d seen! And it certainly is quite quaint – a little thatched building down a single-track lane (are there any other kinds of roads in the West Country?!) with nice views across the valley.
It is also very attractive on the inside: a fairly intimate church with closed-door pews and a musician’s gallery. A leaflet at the front of the building fills you in on the history of the Baptists in the region and reports that this is one of the oldest Baptist churches in England. There is reference to Baptists meeting in the Lough Wood near Kilmington as far back as 1653 and the present building is said to date from around that time. With Baptists and other non-conformist religions suffering great persecution in the mid- to late-1600s, it is thought to be notable that at that time Loughwood was close to the border with Dorset so a preacher could escape into the neighbouring county if danger approached. It was also thought that the building used to be hidden among trees so as to be less conspicuous. Worshippers would also come to Loughwood from many miles away, with an early list of baptised members showing four from Shebbear, which is 65 miles from the Meeting House!
A complete restoration of the property was carried out in the 1960s and the leaflet in the church gives further information about this for anyone interested in the detail. Personally, I was more interested in the hidden stone steps that lead into the baptismal pool below the pulpit (as kindly shown to us by another visitor who had just found them under a wooden cover). There was also a clock on the wall that caught my eye as it was made by John Tratt of Colyton. This is a family name that I have rarely come across outside my own family circle so I will have to check with my uncle when I get home to see if he knows that he has clock-making relatives in Devon!
Highlights: The little hidden steps to the baptism pool; the information about Baptist persecution
After Shute Barton and the Loughwood Meeting House, our National Trust excursions were still not over for the day as we then headed to Branscombe for a walk on the beach. Branscombe village has a few NT-owned buildings to look at as well so we first visited the Forge, which is still functioning and offers a really lovely selection of ironwork – look out for the rather beautiful calla lily candlesticks. Then we made our way down to the Manor Mill, a working watermill that is operating on Sundays (good timing on our part once again!). There is also the Old Bakery, which is now a lovely little tearooms with an orchard garden, but we didn’t eat there as we wanted to get down to the beach (about a three-quarter mile walk from the village, or a short drive down – yes you guessed it – a single-track lane!) We finished our day with an ice cream and a (slightly bracing) paddle in the sea.