With bed and breakfast guests from 27th December, I decided to book a short break to visit churches in the week before Christmas. It felt a little risky to book 3 nights away several weeks in advance, not knowing what the weather would be like. But, bar any blizzards, I knew that if I committed myself by paying for accommodation, I would go, and enjoy it even if the churches were freezing. And if they were really too cold, I could spend more time walking and writing instead.
So I found and booked the loft of someone’s outbuilding in Westleton, near the coast and a good area for both walking and churches. I was lucky with the weather: it was mild, with more than a fair smattering of sunshine. For the second time this autumn, however, my trip was preceded by an animal disaster which meant that I left home both with a heavy heart, angry with myself and doubting my competence, and feeling that distraction and having a break away from home would do me good.
Although I was persecuted by my thoughts on the drive eastwards, the landscape and warm sunshine helped to calm them a little. I was looking forward to playing the cello: I had been itching to get back to it, but clearly not enough to override the decorating drive I had lately been on, which had taken up all free minutes of the day.
St Michael’s, Rendham
Indoor temperature: 8.3˚C, humidity: 73%
The first thing I noticed on stepping inside Rendham church was its exceptionally beautiful floor bricks. They bore some similarity to the bricks on my terrace, but the patterning, grooves and colours were much more pronounced. They probably started off life more vibrant than my outdoor bricks, but the difference may also have been a matter of weathering.
On the right of the door at the back of the nave was a history display like none I’d ever seen in a church before. It was a mini museum. I loved the idea of using a church as a home for the village’s historical artefacts and news; it seemed appropriate. It took me a while to find the descriptions of the numbered items on display, eventually locating them in a folder. I could have spent an hour there, reading all the newspaper articles and looking at the objects, but I was keen to get playing.
I was cold, and feared I wouldn’t warm up. But eventually I did, and I felt so much better after doing some practice. It is rare that a quotation from a television drama comes to mind – they are not renowned for their pearls of wisdom – but this time one did, maybe because the drama was based on a book. ‘However bad you feel, make something, build something with your hands, and you’re sure to feel better at the end of the day than you did at the beginning.’ No doubt I am paraphrasing, but the same sentiment seemed to apply to playing the cello, despite the lack of physical evidence to show for one’s labours. It was something to focus the mind, block out unwanted thoughts. It was its own little other-world, existing inside the other-world of the church.
Wandering round the churchyard afterwards, glad of my first real opportunity of the day to be outside in the sunshine, I noticed some ragwort flowers. Once I started to look, both in the churchyard and the countryside, I realised how many flowers were to be found just four days before the winter solstice. It is only the frost that deters them, and we’d had little of that so far. It altered my perception of the dormancy of this month. In November there are still autumn flowers to be found; in January snowdrops start to show their faces. December is the month that most people would struggle to associate with any flower; and yet the sturdiest of the summer and autumn flowers soldier on.
My day ended with some frustration: I’d hoped to fit in another church before dark, but I found building works underway at Bruisyard, and both Carlton and Sweffling were locked. Skidding along a muddy field verge to reach Carlton, fearing I might get stuck, I decided not to attempt it again until late spring at least. I hoped the following days would be more successful; after all, I had the luxury of three nights in the area. So I gave up and went to Westleton to find my accommodation, the cosiness of which more than made up for the disappointing end to my afternoon.
Header photo: Rendham church floor detail