Suffolk churches 123: Waldringfield and Hemley (April 2019)

All Saints’, Waldringfield
Indoor temperature 9.7˚C, humidity 77%
Waldringfield 2Having established that our best option for lunch was the pub in Waldringfield, I met my friend Nick at Waldringfield church with a plan to visit two churches in the morning and go for a walk in the afternoon, if the weather was amenable. It was a chilly, grey day, and I had warned Nick he would have to suffer more cello practice than music: sometimes there is little resemblance between the two. But he wasn’t put off.

We went to look at the view from the churchyard first, which Nick had read was one of the church’s best features. At first I doubted there would be any view, so enclosed by trees were we. Reaching the east end of the churchyard, however, the landscape opened out over the Deben estuary. It was satisfying to become better acquainted with two estuaries in one trip.

Waldringfield viewWaldringfield was my kind of church: though largely a Victorian restoration, there was no doubting it belonged in the countryside. It was small and simple, and the acoustic was a pleasure to play in. After a little practice, I decided to offer Nick something in the way of music to make the morning more pleasant for him. It was his and Mandy’s wedding anniversary today, he’d told me, so I suggested he choose a piece for me to play in their honour. He chose the Gigue from the Bach C major suite: a cheerful piece. I would soon be playing the whole suite at a concert in Mandy’s memory in Thornham Parva church.

Waldringfield interior Waldringfield interior 2

Waldringfield fontWaldringfield lionTurning my attention afterwards to the other, less familiar, piece of Bach – the Viola da gamba sonata – I was at the stage of learning that required a pencil and rubber to start writing in fingerings and bowings. I had managed to leave mine at home, but fortunately Nick was better equipped, and lent me his pencil with an unusually effective rubber on the end of it. After working through half the piece, leaving the other half for the next church, I packed up and we looked around. Our favourite features were the font and the lion face on the pulpit.

We left Nick’s car at Waldringfield church and went together to look for Hemley church down the lane, a little further southeast along the estuary.

All Saint’s, Hemley
Indoor temperature: 10.9˚C, humidity: 70%
Hemley church also overlooked the river; it seems that most churches on this peninsula do, whether the Orwell or the Deben. Its Tudor brick tower looked to me almost identical to Waldringfield’s. I turned the door handle and exclaimed, ‘Yes!’ as the door gave way, in a particularly enthusiastic reaction to finding the church open. Immediately I heard a woman’s voice say, ‘Don’t get a fright, there are people in here!’ She and her husband, I assume, were standing by the font in front of us. I laughed, not at all affrighted, but thinking how odd my exclamation must have sounded from inside the church. We chatted briefly before the couple left the church.

Hemley interior Hemley interior 2

Hemley fontHemley’s other similarities to Waldringfield were its size, shape and acoustic, and its possession of a lovely font. This was as far as the font’s similarity went, however: its design was plain, squat and square rather than decorated and hexagonal. It was obviously a lot older.

I finished practising and marking up the rest of the Bach sonata, and spent a little time on the Debussy sonata, the final piece I was preparing for a recital in Walsham le Willows two weeks later. It was proving stubborn and seemed to get worse rather than better. When I ended up with cramp in my left hand, I decided it was time to stop. I have finally learnt from experience that finger memory settles when you leave it alone for a while, so, I thought, hopefully if I came back to it in a few days it would be much improved.

From now until the end of the summer I would be on a tight practice schedule, learning new pieces and reviving old ones just in time for the next concert. I still hadn’t got round to planning it on paper and was beginning to suspect I never would. A ‘to-do list’ or schedule for cello practice always feels rather at odds with my intention to enjoy it, turning it into yet another list of jobs to be completed in order of urgency. There it is a good chance, however, that it would remove some of the anxiety of trying to hold all the necessary information in my head, so I haven’t yet quite given up on the idea.

Hemley wallWe admired the colourful exterior of the church – with little of the medieval structure left, apparently, but it was certainly attractive – and then walked a little way toward the river to get a better feel for the lie of the land.

When we arrived at Waldringfield pub we were surprised –  on a cold Wednesday in early April – to find the car park full. After finding a space in the public car park instead, we went inside to find it no less full of people than the outside was full of cars. Clearly this was the place to be. The view was indeed special, but it takes more than a view to fill a pub: the food and atmosphere must do the job too.

We ordered baked brie as a starter, and fish and chips as a main course: both dishes Nick thought Mandy would have chosen. We raised a glass to her, and enjoyed our lunch greatly – so much in fact that we discovered when we got up to leave that it was 3.30pm.

My plan to sweet-talk someone at the pub into storing my cello while we went for a walk along the estuary was unsuccessful: there was nowhere to put it, the waiter said. So the only option was to take it on the walk with us. I would venture to suggest that this might be the first Deben marshes-cello-walk ever, if not the first marshes-cello-walk in the world.

The raised path was eroded away in several places, and were warned by signs that we would have to return by the same path, but still we were able to walk for nearly 45 minutes before we reached a wide channel that had washed through the flood barrier to recreate salt marshes on the land side of us. It was treat to feel we were in the middle of a wild landscape. Perhaps the only truly wild landscape in the country, as no one tries to farm, graze or manage salt marsh – only to banish it, and efforts to do so here had finally, rightly, failed.

The weather had improved and warmed up instead of worsened  – as the forecast had promised – through the afternoon, making our walk thoroughly enjoyable. On the way back, Nick, being chivalrous, offered to help me over one narrow, muddy crossing between channels. Once I had crossed without assistance, I walked a few steps ahead, and no sooner it did occur to me to turn around to check his crossing had gone smoothly than I saw him disappear down the bank into the mud. He was soon retrieved – I couldn’t help laughing even while I helped him up – but we were both fairly thoroughly covered in estuary mud by the time he was back on the path.

We reached the car park rather dirtier than we left, but happy with our day out. I was exceptionally pleased to have managed to carry my cello for nearly an hour and a half over uneven ground: my shoulders ached, but not unbearably. My light-weight cello case had finally been put to the ultimate test, and had passed. With a rucksack-style fixture and a belt, I could easily carry it all day.

We said goodbye and went our separate ways, Nick homewards to prepare for his holiday in Italy, and I feeling again my fortune in having acquired an extra night of relaxation in Levington.

Header photo: Hemley wall detail

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