Every September across Scotland hundreds of buildings not normally open to the public open their doors to visitors for free as part of Doors Open Days.
On Saturday 9 September a number of churches in Perthshire were taking part in the festival. The delightful assistants took advantage of the occasion to have a day out in their local area peeking inside a few of these interesting buildings. First on the list was Abbey Church in Coupar Angus, which they had often passed by in the car but never been inside.
The present church building was built in 1865, long after a previous church on the same site had been destroyed in the 1600s. The original church was an abbey, established in 1150, run by Cistercian monks. The monks were talented farmers, turning the surrounding fields into farmland. Their hard work many centuries ago laid the foundations for the agricultural community that thrives in the area today.
Only a small portion of the original abbey remains in one corner of the graveyard, sealed off with wire fencing and supported with wooden struts to prevent it from crumbling completely.
The assistants strolled into the church to see what was what, and were met by the minister, who proceeded to relate interesting facts about the building.
The room was dominated by enormous organ pipes at one end and a magnificent hammerbeam roof above, constructed by a Dundee shipyard and designed to look like the hull of a sailing ship.
The organ was being played by an unlikely looking chap with long dark hair and tattoos. The assistants sat down, on very comfortable chairs, and listened to the splendid sounds being belted out into the cavernous space. According to the minister, the pipes on show were purely decorative (the real pipes being hidden behind them and protected from dust by a cover).
Through the back of the church, accessed via the doorway on the left in the picture above, the assistants were shown a new kitchen and a curious set of gravestones set into the wall of another room. In recent years, when a new extension was designed, building permission was granted on the understanding that these gravestones would form part of the inside wall. The assistants declared they had never seen anything like it, and everyone agreed it was a most unusual feature.
Back inside the main body of the church, the assistants admired some of the stained glass windows, which ran along both side walls, before wandering outside to take a look at the graveyard.
The graveyard was remarkably extensive and contained some headstones considerably older than the present church building. The delightful assistants struggled to read some of the words and dates but enjoyed the carvings of skeletons, cherubs and other adornments.
When they’d had their fill of gravestones, it was time to think about their stomachs. They had been offered tea and coffee in the church, but declined it in order to keep their appetites keen for a spot of luncheon.
There was another church they were interested in visiting at the village of Invergowrie, about 12 miles from Coupar Angus. By the time they got there it would be bang on lunchtime, and with the promise of an enticing-sounding cafe they’d heard about, they wasted no time considering other options. They left Abbey Church with gladness, having enjoyed their first church of the day.
When they reached Invergowrie, they were pleased to see two churches with ‘Doors Open Days’ signs and balloons on their entrances, but dismayed to find that their promised cafe was full with no seats available. Not wishing to hang around waiting for a table to become free, they dashed down the road to the nearby Glendoick Garden Centre, which offered a good cafe and plenty of free parking. Both assistants chose cheese and tomato croissants while their chauffeur sank into a bowl of thick vegetable broth with a delicious herb scone.
Rather than having puddings at Glendoick, they went straight to the next church viewing, with the idea of finding another eatery for sweet treats afterwards. They sped back to Invergowrie, and drove into the car park of All Souls Episcopal Church. As they arrived the rain came on. It was bouncing off the windscreen so heavily that they stayed in the car for a while until it eased off. By that time, delightful assistant no.2 was feeling pleasantly weary and opted to stay in the car for a small sleep while his spouse and their chauffeur enjoyed the ecclesiastical architecture.
Although it was built at around the same time as Coupar Angus Abbey Church, All Souls was a very different affair. It immediately struck both visitors as having the feel of a Roman Catholic church, with a high altar and carved stations of the cross around the walls.
Two enthusiastic ladies from the church thrust laminated information sheets into the visitors’ hands and pointed out various features. The minister appeared and told them a little about the building, and the visitors took themselves off to the Lady Chapel: a small chamber where Wednesday morning services were conducted and attended by only 3 or 4 people each week. The space contained some attractive mosaic work.
The visitors learned that even on a Sunday the congregation of All Souls was small, and no doubt the upkeep of such a large and elaborate building was a challenge. Many church buildings across Scotland, having fallen into disuse in recent years, have been sold and renovated to become private houses or given alternative uses. This particular building would certainly make for an interesting home, but deep pockets would be required to make it habitable for everyday use.
After politely refusing the offer of hot beverages and home baking at All Souls, the visitors went back outside, where the rain had stopped and the sun was coming out. Delightful assistant no.2 was sound asleep, but woke up when the car doors were opened. He had enjoyed a lovely restful half hour’s doze and confirmed that he felt up to joining his companions for one last church of the day. A short distance along the road they drove into the grounds of Invergowrire Parish Church, constructed not long after All Souls but in a very different style.
As with the outside, the inside of the Church of Scotland building was very different from All Souls Episcopal. An airy sense of light and space was created by lots of large windows and a beautiful open timber roof.
A lady was playing the organ and the delightful assistants sat down in a pew to listen, and to admire the magnificent stained glass window above the altar.
The stained glass window was installed in 2009 and had many points of interest. An information sheet had been given to the assistants, explaining the symbolism of the design. As Delightful Assistant no.2 noted, the sheet was almost more complex than the window itself.
One of the features that particularly stood out to the assistants was the praying hands on the outer edges that morphed into doves.
By the time they had taken in as much as they could, they felt ready for a change of scene and a little refreshment. Being close to the Scottish Antiques and Arts Centre at Abernyte, which contained the splendid Cafe Circa, they hopped into the car and hot-footed it cake-wards.
After examining the cake counter they settled into sofas and cogitated the hot beverage options from the menu. Delightful assistant no.1 opted for one of her favourite cakes, Victoria sponge, slooshed down with an Americano with cold milk, while her spouse chose his usual coffee option, a cappuccino, and paired it with an orange, apricot and almond cake. Their chauffeur was enticed by the carrot cake and selected a layered latte to go with it. While they waited for their treats to arrive, some of them took the opportunity for a bit of shut-eye.
They all enjoyed their cakes and coffees, and by the time they left the antiques centre it had turned into a beautiful afternoon with golden autumn sunshine. It had been a most interesting day and they drifted home happily, well satisfied in soul and stomach.