St Michael’s, Woolverstone
Outdoor temperature: 14˚C; indoor temperature 10˚C, humidity 78%
It was a glorious February afternoon when Steve and I headed to Woolverstone, the only remaining church for us to visit on the Shotley peninsula. I had forgotten it was in the grounds of Ipswich High School for Girls, and couldn’t quite believe what I saw: it was the estate of a country boarding school, not a day school, and certainly not one bearing the name of Ipswich. A greater contrast to Ipswich School, the other private secondary school in Ipswich itself, was hard to imagine.
On the way to the church Steve explained to me something about an instrument that was being delivered to him for mending, but perhaps I was concentrating too hard on where I was going, because I didn’t gather until he fished a saxophone out from beneath the table with the visitors’ book on it that the person in question had arranged to leave it there for him. My cautious side thought this arrangement rather a risk on the part of its owner, but the rest of me found it charmingly rural and old-fashioned. What a relief, and a blessing, that you could still get away with doing such things in 21st century Suffolk.
It was a little disappointing to contemplate spending an hour or so in a dark, chilly church on such a beautiful afternoon, but at least there was the prospect of duets. Before we began to play, I discovered a sleepy peacock butterfly fluttering on the ground, and took it outside. I was worried that the warmth of the sun was already beginning to fade, but I had little choice: it would certainly die if I left it in the church; this way at least it would be free to find new shelter. Butterfly duty fulfilled, we set up in what I assumed was the chancel, which was the lightest and most spacious part of the church.
We searched through our music for some duets we hadn’t tried yet: we were playing for fun, but at the back of our minds was our Raydon concert in June, for which we would eventually have to choose some pieces to play.
After nearly as much chatting as playing, we packed up to look around. It was only now that I realised that there appeared to be a second nave (with pews) and chancel (with rood screen) in the north aisle. Strictly speaking, I suppose, we had been in the original nave and chancel, but they seemed to have migrated northwards: clearly that was the part of the church used for services. Where we had been sitting seemed to be set up more informally for meetings.
When we left the church the temperature had dropped noticeably, although the sun was still shining. Tea awaited at Steve’s house.
St Peter’s, Bruisyard
Outdoor temperature (shade): 15.6˚C, (sun): 25.6˚C; humidity 39%
Steve had a concert in Aldeburgh the following weekend, which I was attending with Nick. I was keen to take advantage of the bizarre February heat wave which we were experiencing, so I planned to stop at Bruisyard church on my way to Nick’s house at Sibton Green, and asked Nick if we might also fit in a beach walk at Aldeburgh before the concert.
I had tried to visit Bruisyard in December, but found building works in progress, which I was informed would be finished in a few days. This time I was confident of finding it open, but to my disappointment, I found a sign attached to the churchyard fence saying that the church was currently locked due to unforeseen repairs. Still, I tried the door in the hope that it might by chance be open on a Sunday.
It wasn’t. And I didn’t have enough time to go to another church. But my disappointment lasted a very short time: a moment later it occurred to me that it could possibly be the perfect weather for playing outdoors. It would have been cold and dark inside despite the warm weather, but now I had an excuse to stay out in the warm and light.
I found a bench by the tower, where I could conveniently stick my cello spike into the path instead of having it sink into soft ground. My practice location overlooked the churchyard, facing away from the only neighbouring house, so I hoped I wouldn’t disturb anyone – except for the white doves residing on top of the tower, coming and going and joining in with the music with their cooing. I was glad of their company.
Outdoor playing in February! What an idea. But it wasn’t only mild, it was warm, becoming hot in the sun, and within a short space of time I had to strip off my many layers of clothing right down to shirt sleeves. It was heavenly to play in the sunshine with the sounds and sights and smells. My cello probably didn’t appreciate being in full sun, but I thought there was no danger of roasting it so early in the year, so I behaved selfishly and stayed where I was.
As I practised facing many gravestones, I noticed how many long-lived people seemed to have resided in Bruisyard through the centuries. A black cat appeared when I stopped playing, wanting a fuss. He wove round my legs and then jumped on the bench beside me and demanded strokes. I indulged him for a while, and then picked up my cello again. As soon as I started to play, he ran off and eyed me suspiciously from the edge of the churchyard, ignoring all my reassurances. Music wasn’t his thing, I guess.
Eventually I tore myself away. I will go back to play inside the church, of course, but I couldn’t have asked for a more wonderful and unique winter church visit.
Header photo: Woolverstone porch floor detail
Total churches to the end of February: 283 + 3 chapels