St Mary’s, Akenham
I was due at Akenham church, near Ipswich, to play at a cream tea and evensong on the first Sunday in August. Akenham was a Churches Conservation Trust church, and, I was informed, the evensong services in August are held there, the first of which was always preceded by a cream tea. I managed to rope in Steve to play duets with me during the cream tea; I felt solo Bach was suitable for the service but not for the jollities in the churchyard.
Getting there was an adventure. Despite being almost on the outskirts of Ipswich – only a mile from Whitton – it felt as though it was on a hill in the middle of nowhere. Along the lane before I came to the rough track leading to the church, I passed a tractor and baler that looked like two of the first mechanised pieces of farming equipment to appear in the countryside. They had an amusing charm about them, but looked somewhat impractical for the task in hand. Clearing a field of cut straw is a big job.
This summer has been full of excitement and activity, and, sitting in a sunny garden listening to bird song while I write, I am glad to feel it is not yet over.
With only a few small pauses between B&B bookings – all of which were occupied by visits from family and friends or short musical trips away from home – and averaging 5 concerts a month since April, I feel happy to have made it to mid-September without having to hide in a darkened room (more than once or twice, at least).
There have been so many highlights it would be hard to choose between them. One, of course, must be the many lovely people I have met and the joy with which they have shared my house, garden and creatures during their stay. Many of the other highlights are of course creature related. A kingfisher flew over my pond – I’m not sure what he was doing here as there are definitely no fish in it, but I was very happy to see him all the same – and I have seen hares in my garden almost daily. One crossed the bridge recently, which I as a result I now consider a magic bridge. Leia the chinchilla, who sadly lost her friend Solo earlier in the year, found a new friend and it only took a few days before they were snuggled up together. Malteser and Dusty the rabbits… well, cute, fluffy and funny pretty well sums them up. The goaties have, surprisingly, refrained from too much mischief this season but continue to rule the garden and the chickens with their usual self-assurance.
St Ethelbert’s, Herringswell
I had delayed visiting Cavenham, north of Bury St Edmunds, as I had spotted Cavenham Heath nearby on the map and wanted to combine my church visit with a walk there: it was a bit too far away to make a separate trip appealing. For nearly the first year of my church tour, having a cello with me made this impractical. This time, however, realising that Cavenham was in fact only fifteen minutes’ drive from my friend Penny’s house in Bury St Edmunds, and that I now had a cello case which I could happily carry on a walk with me, no further delay was necessary. An added benefit of stopping off at Penny’s house for a cup of tea was that she had a map of this small area of northwest Suffolk that I discovered was missing from my collection.
St Mary’s, Farnham
The only Farnham I was aware of, until I examined my church map closely, was in Surrey. I was just as ignorant of the fact there was an accessible church so close to Stratford St Andrew, which I attempted to visit once about two years ago, forgetting it had been converted into a house. It was a good job no one arrested me on suspicion of trying to break in. If I’d known about Farnham, I would certainly have been delighted to cross the road and leave the A12.
St Andrew’s, Boyton
The following morning I went back to where I had left off, on what Simon Knott – but no one else I have heard – calls the Bawdsey Pensinsula. Boyton was first. Driving around the little lanes of this sandy area of Suffolk is a pleasure: it feels truly rural. This makes sense, of course, as you would never be ‘passing’ on your way anywhere. There is nowhere to pass to. I met only tractors on my journey; thankfully no large ones or the roads would have struggled to accommodate us.
St Mary’s, Bawdsey
The following morning I decided to drive to the end of the peninsula and work backwards: Bawdsey was my first stop. I found the church within a park-like, dripping churchyard. It was a pity it was too wet to enjoy exploring thoroughly: it is difficult to choose clothing suitable both for outdoor wet weather exploring and practising the cello in churches. Bawdsey possessed an outsized, stumpy tower, and a body that clearly once used to be larger: the roof had been lowered and there was a series of blocked archways on the north and south walls, within which windows had been placed. According to Simon Knott, this church, similar to Covehithe, was a small church was built in the ruins of a larger one1. This would also explain the outsized – though shortened – tower, but I found no evidence of ruins.
St Mary’s, Dallinghoo
It was the week of my solo cello concert in London, and having anticipated both being in a panic about it, and needing some quiet time after a non-stop 10 days of B&B and 2 concerts, I had booked myself 3 nights in Orford to visit churches and practise the cello. While looking at my map to decide which churches to stop at on the way, I remembered a recent conversation in which Dallinghoo was mentioned. The ‘Hoo’ villages fascinate me simply because of their amusing names, and so no more consideration was needed: I located it on the map and found it conveniently near my route.
St Edmund’s, Hargrave
Due in Gazeley church for a concert the next evening, I decided to visit one of the churches in the area to practise beforehand. My intention was Denham, as I had checked it was likely to be open. But somewhere along the way the names got muddled in my head, and I thought I was looking for Depden. I only realised my mistake once I arrived in Chedburgh, where I decided to stop, on the offchance, not really expecting to find it open. It wasn’t, and since I was now so close to Depden, it seemed silly to turn around without trying that too. Soon I found myself at the end of a narrow driveway with a list of keyholders, which provided enough evidence that Depden, too, would be locked. Frustrated, and realising now that Hargrave was now closer than my original destination, I set off for that village instead, thinking the likelihood of my getting into any church now was slim.
Nearly an hour after leaving home, ready to give up if Hargrave was locked, I drove up a grassy driveway with a sign stating, ‘no cars: please park on the grass’. My disobedience was due as much to the fact I couldn’t determine on which patch of grass I was supposed to park, and had run out of patience, as to the diminishing number minutes I had left in which to practise the cello.
To my great relief, I found the door unlocked. It was a lovely little church: quite Victorian, but with a proper atmosphere of a small village church. I decided immediately that I wouldn’t take any photos today: I knew I would feel better if I used all my time on practice.
St Margaret’s, Cowlinge
On a cold and drizzly bank holiday Monday, I set off westwards cross-country to Cowlinge church, near the border with Cambridgeshire. But this was a special, somewhat surreal journey: beside me was not my cello, which had been relegated to the back seat, but Carolina, a Belizean friend whom I had known for 20 years, since she was 8, but she had never been to England before. I had been dreaming of having her to visit almost since I first knew her. Her older sister, Gloria, had been over twice, but circumstances had prevented Carolina from coming. I stayed with her family – four girls and three boys – for two months while helping at her village primary school on my gap year. I got to know the girls best as the boys were already teenagers doing their own thing. Their house had no electricity or running water and we used to walk down to the river every day after school.
All Saints’, Acton
Indoor temperature: 11.1˚C, humidity: 62%
I had arranged in advance to visit Acton church after going to try out a newly restored cello in Great Waldingfield, having agreed to give a concert on it. Christopher, the keyholder, said he’d leave the church open for me and would return after his meeting to give me a tour of the church.
I had tried to visit Acton church early in my tour, when I didn’t know it was kept locked. I hadn’t tried to visit again until now, nearly two years later. The warmth with which my request was received on this occasion immediately banished from my mind any lingering reservations caused by its state of lockedness. This warmth continued on my arrival, despite the church being empty: I found a chair set out for me in front of the chancel, with a welcome note on it. It made me smile.