There is many a church in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust were it's obvious that there hasn't been a regular service for many years.
St Mary's, Ashley is not like that. With its well tended churchyard, fresh flowers and clean altar linen, it is difficult to believe that it closed in 1976 and no longer serves a regular congregation.
The church was built during the 12th century, with replacement windows installed in the 15th and 16th centuries. A porch was added in 1701. It was restored twice during the nineteenth century.
In the chancel there is a 13th-century wall painting in the splay of one of the windows, and a number of memorials to local big wigs.
In these days of the "Global Village", we worry about what's happening in Brussels, Washington, Moscow and Beijing, and even news of what happens in Westminster seems a little parochial. The memorials reminded me that there was a time when the death of the local squire was big news, as it was likely to have far more of an impact on the villagers than events elsewhere.
Next to the top end of the churchyard there is a bank and ditch. This is part of the bailey of Gains Castle, also known as Ashley Castle, a ringwork fortification built during the civil war between King Stephen and the Empress Matilda known as The Anarchy.
It was of earth and timber construction and was probably on the site of an old Iron Age hill fort. It seems possible that some sort of crenelated stone building was erected on the site later, but this fell into disuse in the seventeenth century and all the stone recycled elsewhere.
The site is private property, and there is little to be seen from the firmly padlocked gate a little way up the road.