One of the things for me about Open Doors Day is local opportunity. Another is thoughts of travel, and how different parts of the world conduct this sort of experience that is on offer in the event Open Door Days.
The pamphlet on hand and distributed uniformly through the places I visited, states that it is coordinated nationally by the Scottish Civic Trust (& Co.). This handout also stated that the main opportunity to see some things in Inverness was the first weekend, Sat 1st and Sunday 2nd of September. The other chance is one event on the final day, in Week 5.
I’m using this pamphlet gratuitously as my one point of reference, as it was just the blue signs on the fences or gates or doors of places on the day that got me aware of this event. That and this pamphlet, as it was given to me in a couple of places when we were there. Research = zero, but that’s no reason to not review how we experienced it on the Saturday.
Basically the idea of Doors Open Days is as it says on the box – as from the perspective of the Scottish Civic Trust, in a high level partnership with a range of Councils and Trusts, etc. This is about opening the doors of the beautiful buildings that you see in Inverness-Shire, both Easter and Wester Ross, Caitness and Badenoch & Strathspey.
This is where I get back to places around the world, particularly because the four buildings I saw in Inverness and highlight below were all churches. Different cities and towns around the world offer access to varying degrees. Some you can walk into but have to pay, some by donation, or free and regularly open for anyone to walk in – or who more regularly keep their doors shut.
Inverness generally keeps the doors of many of these spots closed. Even on a day like this, not all options were available. For example, I was keen to look in the ‘Inverness East Church of Scotland’ on Academy Street, but it was one of a number that weren’t open.
Saying that, Inverness isn’t shy of the odd church here and there, so there was still plenty to see. I also had a visitor staying, so it was a nice way to combine a walk in the sun, getting groceries, having lunch out and also bumping into volunteers for the Ness Book Fair (https://nessbookfest.wordpress.com/ ) while shopping for other stuff in EastGate. In between that we slipped through 4 churches. For me, they always look so beautiful from the outside, and curiosity takes hold about how they are on the inside.
I went to this event a couple of years ago, and I was prepared to be slippery like an eel to be out and away and doing all the other stuff as well, but also not sitting down for a cup of tea and a chat.
Actually, take those chats as you do. With the right people they can be great. However, this year I was pleased that I came along a lot less ‘let’s talk about…’ and more ‘what would you like to ask?’
There were still cups of coffee offered, and information and people sitting waiting to talk to whoever walked through the doors. For e.g. my friend who I went with asked an interesting (to me) question relating to weddings in the Free Church, about not having a central isle to walk down. Another about the difference between St Marys having a white stone altar or front to their dark wood one. The range of questions we asked were things of interest (again, to us, anyway) and taken and answered really well in all of the places.
For a review of the actual places/ buildings, I’ll do this just below. The photos are so you can have some form of objective perspective, as well as a chance to see inside these genuinely beautiful places that are mostly, sadly for me, closed. In this though, I saw how the event would have taken a lots of resources to put on, for e.g. the high level of volunteer help in the places was great for the people going through.
The rest of this review below will just be subjective filler, things that happened or thoughts or facts about the places. It’s funny, it might be easier to be objective in reviewing a building as an object than it would be a band as an entity (or however you want to think about it).
There are other moving parts though in trying to think of a review on space and buildings instead of a gig – the history of the building and one’s own feelings towards it, either over time, or on one day going in – whether it could be thought of the same as a specific gig for a band.
I don’t know if that idea will hold up. Let’s see…
Ness Bank Church:
There was a small but busy bunch of volunteers as the first thing that we saw entering into the Ness Bank Church. They were sorting out their paperwork and tidying up their pamphlets and assorted paraphernalia as we came in for a poke around. That didn’t stop us from getting an official brochure, though – they were on the ball. As was the main man, for it was a man, conducting the show in an apricotty (or salmon – some colour named after food) cardie. He was funny, effusive, and open to showing people around, should they wish to.
It’s a really good looking church from within, one of my favourites, particularly for the uniform and sparse wooden ceiling. I’m usually for all sorts of bells and whistles up there on a church ceiling, showcasing the best artistic talent and local tastes that there are to offer. However, there is something about this place, with the plain but extremely well-crafted ceiling, the raw stone within and the homey dedicated rag-work art by the congregation. There’s a name for it – it’s even a big cultural thing in some places like the Southern States of the Us of A.. – quilting! That’s it. Good counterpoints to the old-school stone and wood, and showed a side of congregation hanging out together and doing stuff, I’m guessing.
There was the organist playing away giving mood and atmosphere. I was tempted to shout out ‘you know any Maiden’ (The ‘Iron’ in Iron Maiden is of course redundant and unnecessary when shouted out this way. It is a given, even in Churches). However, we were quite liking her choices and left her to her own discretion, as the staff did to ours, apart from pointing out where we could go upstairs and get a better view for the photos. Nice of them, hey!
It’s an interesting thing to review a church, and this is the 1st of 4, so the place for me to work out how.
Thinking about this structurally for the review, there is a bit of crossover for/ with gigs – there was music and there were chats had, and learning done. They are one of the only places to have the consecrated wafer and wine already set out before people at church so they save some time in the proceedings of the service, for e.g. The best crossover aspect for the analogy seems to be when thinking about both of them as a moment in time, and in this respect, we enjoyed the place and the space.
In terms of trying to say the same sort of thing across the board for the 4 churches in terms of recommendation to try to get there, probably the easiest way to go about it is to have a look at the photos and see if you’d want to look inside.
For the people hosting it on the day in the Ness Bank Church, they were friendly and informative, if that helps any decisions on the matter.
St Mary’s Church:
We crossed over the bridge, I loaded up the backpack with goodies at Tescos (should have done that at the end, in hindsight) and we moved to St Mary’s, again sitting on the riverside.
The volunteers for this church were very consciously, it looked, more hands-off. Actually it was half ‘we respect your space,’ and half ‘we’re actually busy organising other things,’ but the benefit of being left to ourselves was positive, and we explored accordingly.
This is one of those ones where the church was definitely beautiful in its own right. Much different to the others seen, as aligned to variations of type according to and aligned with the various denominations.
This one had white marble altar, ornate and intricate and such. And a lot of Sacre Coure sorta stuff – the statue and paintings with Jesus or Mary either having their heart displayed, or heart glowing beams of light.
The contradictions of the images on display was probably the biggest out of the 4 places we visited, with the caveat it had more on display for that to happen also.
By way of example, there were long and high lead-light windows with important events of the bible depicted, but also ones with cascades of flowers coming into the picture, or random stuff like a guy with a guitar, or kids playing football (spoiler alert: the red lead-light kid hogs possession over the blue one, poor kid. The speed of the game and the ball-hogging tendencies was I figured a homage to the Spanish team’s tactics in this year’s World Cup).
Underneath these bright positive communal images there was also a line of images on what may be thought of as inverted crests. These were much more ‘keep in line’ sorta images, more than one of them being Jesus getting whipped by the Romans, for e.g.. How these component parts come together in the religion is known to many, I expect, and not much a pot I’m inclined to stir. However, the balance of these images juxtaposed against each other made for good conversation between us, that’s for sure. We liked the place in a respectful kinda way, and then moved on.
Over the bridge again – Grieg St one this time – but still on the riverfront, where we next headed to the Free Church.
I remember seeing the inside 2 years before and wanting to see it again, but this was the heart of ‘have a cup of tea, and let me tell you a little something about our Lord. You’re familiar with our Lord, I take it…’ last time. Feel a bad person for saying it, but have to in order to put that against the experience this year.
This personified the happiness of the day for me, in being able to pop into somewhere beautiful, and cared about by a community (or congregation in this context) and just ask them the things we wanted to. They were kind – for e.g. they let us go to the top of the altar and see the view that the Pastor (or other name of your choosing) would see – which is a really good view.
I should also say that this was my friend’s favourite. The questions like those mentioned above, such as not having a centre aisle for weddings, or why they chose to be so different to the Catholic church we just came from brought more questions, more engagement with the volunteers, more smiles.
They were informative, knowledgeable, and if I wasn’t such a chicken and also needing to get continuing with other things in the day, then the home-baked goodies to go with the proffered cup of tea that looked tasty from afar may have been sampled and chat had. This Saturday though, we had to keep moving. Luckily the next one was basically just up the way.
The word is that there’s been some sort of church on this space since the 6th Century, when the Picts were chatted to and were down with the idea. Might have been one of their last chances for input in the local area, but that’s just one for the history buffs to niggle each other about.
It took a little while to get into the Church, both because of the beauty of the graveyard surrounding it, and also that this very graveyard had a cute bunny in it.
Accompanying friend duly had a very touching moment with said rabbit, where they got to know each other across a safe gazing distance. Took time to build up the rapport, but this was a lovely day outside, and they were indeed having a moment, so who am I to push into that space.
Eventually though, being human, my friend tried to get that little bit too close to the rabbit and that was that, spell broken and we could go in.
The interesting part about this space for me is that the main altar is on one side rather than an end of the building, and how the seating wraps itself around in accordance to that.
It is another good looking church with simple but extremely well crafted full wood ceiling. My apologies for my photos re the ceiling, just couldn’t get one to focus right. Maybe it was the dark wood absorbing common perceptions and notional understand of light. Playing with the fundamental dancing in and out of corporeal form of spirits both on the wing and in the rafters. Then again me stuffing up possibly had something to do with this bad photography also. One shouldn’t always blame immutable spirits manifesting in corporeal yet shifting form for their inability to get the photo into focus. Anyway, apologies – it is interesting inside, we got another invitation to another cuppa (but I think only as they were putting on the kettle anyway, and they were nice people), as well as more help, more information, and more smiles.
It is an interesting layout of church, and one with an interesting history. Architecturally inside it wasn’t necessarily my favourite, but still interesting and worth a visit.
In true Nettle fashion, arse-backwards by chance I stumbled fortuitously across this event.
I say fortuitously as I liked the event and wanted to let people know that there are still 4 weeks of options, even if they are out across away a few hours. Depends on how much you like buildings, architecture, history, a drive through the countryside, a walk through town, etc. If you like that type of stuff, have a look and see if there’s anything of interest to you on the rest of the weekends throughout September. This above was 4 places on Saturday the 1st that we visited:
I was happy that I was able to get to see the insides of these building, especially as they are often closed. The event is a great collaboration between a number of Councils, Trusts, etc. Is this sort of thing is your cup of tea (of coffee, perhaps with a home-baked slice) then I highly recommend it. There was a lot of effort, coordination and, importantly, volunteers on the ground to make this a success. I’m glad it was, and hoping that there’s some more open doors next year.
Follow us on social media