St Peter’s, Freston
Indoor temperature: 5.3˚C; humidity: 71%
Steve had arranged for us to pick up the key from a member of the Paul family: the owners, Steve told me, of most of this area of the Shotley peninsula. Tessa Paul’s house and garden overlooked over the estuary and pretty countryside, but any potential for envy was instantly dealt a fatal blow by the proximity of the Orwell Bridge and the A14.
We pulled up outside the churchyard next to a meadow that looked tailor-made for sledging. Once again I found myself surprised by the hilliness of the peninsula, and the loveliness of the view.
There was a freezing wind blowing through the churchyard, so we only stopped long enough to pay our respects to the fibreglass replica of a wooden war memorial statue outside the church, made by a friend of Steve’s. The original, as solid as the replica was hollow, was inside the church to protect it from weathering.
This time Steve accepted my mitten offer, quickly adding, ‘only if they are the ones Joost wore, so his magic might rub off on my bassoon playing’. But, despite my ‘weather warning’, still he wasn’t wearing enough layers: our breath hung in clouds about us. This church, I guessed, was roughly the same temperature as last year’s coldest visit (4.5˚C). I can’t be sure, but for various reasons I suspect my new thermometer of being less accurate in its readings than the previous one.
For the first time, my cello protested at the cold: first one string slipped, and then two of the remaining three followed. I had a great deal of trouble trying to get the pegs to hold in place, but eventually I managed it, and thankfully they stayed put for the rest of the afternoon.
Despite the cold, time flew, and it wasn’t until Steve asked if we should go to Shotley church before it got dark that I looked at my watch and discovered a whole hour had passed while we were enjoying ourselves.
St Mary’s, Shotley
Indoor temperature: 6.3˚C; humidity: 70%
Shotley was in an even more exposed position than Freston, overlooking the estuary and Felixstowe Docks. But what I noticed first was its ugliness: I think is the first unattractive Suffolk church I have visited. With its pebbledash walls (which I am sure was a twentieth century crime) and stumpy tower that looked as though it had fallen down or been knocked off, due to the clerestory having been built (at a later date) to the same height, it wasn’t a particularly pleasing sight. I was curious to know how its interior would compare.
Steve reminded me to take a picture of the lions outside the door, and I remarked that it was rather foolhardy of him to kiss one for the photo as his lips might have got stuck to it, so freezing was the wind blowing off the estuary. He escaped intact, however, and we got safely inside the building.
I was relieved to find the interior was much prettier than the exterior. It was an unusual mix of styles, with an off-centre chancel arch, which is something I still struggle to comprehend. The only part of the church that was conventional – in its best sense, in the context of a rural, medieval church – was the hammerbeam roof.
We decided to play in the chancel because the acoustic was so much better there. Steve was freezing, despite the fact it was slightly warmer than Freston, and we stopped once the cold became too much for him. It was nearly dark, but I was pleased that it was past 5 o’clock, which felt late for church visiting by the standards of recent months.
Our brief exploration afterwards revealed some interesting graffiti on the columns nearest the door, my favourite of which was a boat. I found a second, fainter carving which I thought also likely to be a boat, along with numerous daisy wheels and line carvings.
As we walked back to the car, I commented to Steve that one of the good things about cold church visits is that you feel like you really deserve a cup of tea when you get home. And you enjoy it more than most cups of tea. It was nice to know I didn’t have to rush back home on this occasion, as Steve had invited me to stay for the evening. After tea, cake and chat with Louise, Steve’s wife, we moved on to supper and my essential initiation into their world of board games…
Header photo: View of Felixstowe docks from Shotley church