It was with more than a little anticipation that I stood at the top of this short flight of stairs, before descending to the amazing Anglo-Saxon (first half of the seventh century) crypt at St Wystan's, Repton in Derbyshire.
The original floor level would have been around a metre-and-a-half lower than the current one. It must have been quite a lofty space then, as there is still ample headroom.
Consisting of nine almost square bays, this is not a large room. The barley-twist columns are probably inspired by those at St Peter's in Rome and denote an area of special spiritual meaning. Curiously, the adjacent spirals run in opposite directions. I am sure that this was done with a purpose, but have no idea what may have inspired it.
Standing in the midst of such antiquity, breathing in the beetly dampness, I strained to picture this in its original form: a mausoleum for the bones of Mercian kings and a site for pilgrims to venerate.
Having explored the crypt thoroughly, I sat still in silence and enjoyed the peace and cool quiet. I felt a world away from the pettiness and hubbub playing out in the day-to-day outside. As my eyes adjusted to the light I noticed some tiny froglets hopping across the stone flag floor. I learned later, that the crypt had been flooded following a deluge of rain a few days previously. Presumably these little creatures were carried down here at that time. I gathered as many as I could, cradling them gently in my hand before putting them into my camera bag. Later on I released them in some long grass near the graveyard wall.
After a good while my reverie was broken by the arrival of the church's vicar accompanied by a journalist from BBC Radio Derby, who was interviewing him as part of a series of features about subterranean sites in the area. I listened in and, afterwards, asked the vicar if I could take a photo of him, adding, "I love your beard." His name is Martin Flowerdew and, originally, a Norfolk man, hailing from near Diss. He had a glint in his eye to go with his head-turning beard and I took to him immediately. If only every member of the clergy was as engaging and welcoming (I think back to Walsoken, for instance!).
So here we are... no photograph or video yet conceived could begin to capture the wonder of an ancient place such as this. It really does have to be experienced. Go out of your way to visit Repton and follow in the footsteps of many nameless folk who have gone before, time out of mind...