All Saints’, Chelsworth
I hadn’t been inside Chelsworth church since long before the start of my church tour; 5 or 6 years perhaps. At the beginning, I didn’t plan to go back to the churches I’d already played in; but, as with town churches, I’d long since changed my mind because the number of churches left to visit is no longer daunting to me. I wanted a church near home, and Chelsworth was one of the closest. The exterior of the church has long been a favourite sight of mine as I drive through the pretty village, and I was curious to see inside it again after so long.
Parking was difficult, as access to the churchyard was through someone’s driveway and front garden, and the driveway was located on a bend in the road. I drove down to the pub to park, and walked back with my equipment, hoping that my confidence in its being open wouldn’t jinx my luck.
The approach to the church was as beautiful as ever, with the timber-framed farmhouse in the foreground and the church in the background. It was, thankfully, open. I barely remembered the interior at all: it was Victorian, with a nave wider than it was long due to its two aisles. Incredibly, the acoustic was nevertheless stunning. Clearly my theories about building shapes and how they affect acoustics don’t quite hold water… Strangely, my hands were warm from the start: I can’t imagine this church was much warmer than any others I’d visited recently, but it didn’t feel so cold. Practice therefore felt more productive from the outset, although my muscles were still nowhere near up to the job of playing the Haydn C major concerto. Serious training would be required…
After practising, I enjoyed looking around the church. A greeting card on sale at the entrance alerted me to the presence of interesting glass in the south porch, but there appeared to be no access to it. So I enjoyed the impressive stained glass inside the church instead: drawings on paper, one of which I didn’t realise wasn’t real stained glass until I looked up close. I was far more impressed once I realised it was drawn by hand and attached to a clear window.
During the rest of my wanderings inside and out, I thought how good it felt to go back with ‘new eyes’. There was so much I didn’t notice about churches before. There still is, of course, but slightly less. Being more observant and a tiny bit more knowledgeable now, I think I am more likely to remember individual churches than I was. Perhaps not if someone picked a village church name out of thin air – after 360 odd church visits, I can’t always remember which is which – but once I entered the church I feel I would remember it. It is the difference between remembering someone’s name and remembering the person when you meet them again.
Soon it was time to leave: I was due at my friend Steve’s house with a couple of friends for a walk along the shore of the Stour estuary. I was greatly looking forward to spending the remainder of the afternoon sunshine in such a special, peaceful place.
St Peter’s, Fakenham Magna
Wanting to take advantage of a 24-hour trip to Norfolk to see a friend working in Thursford, I planned to visit Ixworth Thorpe on the way there and Fakenham Magna on the way back. I thought I was armed with the necessary information to have a good chance of accessing both. But when I arrived at Ixworth Thorpe, I found that the key was apparently no longer available at the farm office across the road. I tried both phone numbers provided, in vain, and then looked up the church on the Blackbourne Team website, and found two more numbers. On the last number, a lady picked up. Unfortunately she was unable to let me in, but we arranged that I would come on my way back the next day at around 2pm.
I had already tried phoning the keyholder at Fakenham Magna without success, so I headed northwards, resigned to the idea that I wouldn’t be able to visit any churches today: I had been to Fakenham Magna before and found it locked. But as I was passing, I stopped to check, thinking there might be another keyholder phone number on the noticeboard.
To my surprise and delight, I found the church open. I didn’t know whether this was an anomaly, but I wasn’t about to question my good fortune. I went back to the car to retrieve my cello.
It was freezing inside. At least there was some sunshine in the chancel where I set up to play, but the faint warmth of the sun didn’t do anything for my numb fingers. I found a heater on the wall nearby, and switched it on to see if anything happened. This may sound odd, but it isn’t uncommon for churches to have their electricity turned off at the mains, which are sometimes located behind a locked door. I was glad to find the switch had an effect – though slowly, as it was some kind of ceramic heater I hadn’t encountered before. I thought warming my hands in front of this heater a couple of times would take the edge off; and indeed, they eventually warmed up enough for me to practise Haydn and Bach and feel that my stamina and thumb strength were improving slowly…
I left later than intended, mainly due to the delay at Ixworth Thorpe. I had wanted to make the most of the beautiful afternoon by going for a walk on the North Norfolk coast. I didn’t get there until shortly before 3.30pm, after dropping off my cello and bag at my friend Ben’s place on the way, but this turned out to be a blessing. Everyone was going home just as I was heading out. Instead of a freezing, blustery coastal walk, I got still air – which made it feel almost warm – a calm sea, countless seals watching me from the water little more than 10 metres away, a beautiful sunset, and the beach all to myself.
Header photo: Chelsworth church