All Saints’, Easton
I thought I hadn’t been to Easton village before – and Easton Farm Park has long been on my list of places to visit, with or without accompanying children – but when I pulled up near the picturesque pub and miniature village green, I knew I’d driven through it once before, and could even remember the conversation I was having at that moment with my friend Mark, who was sitting in the passenger seat.
This time I decided immediately that a return visit to the pub would be necessary: it looked so lovely. I also remembered that I was in the presence of the longest crinkle crankle wall in the world, so I had read. But it had sections missing and replaced with straight brick wall, so I wasn’t entirely sure if that counted. In any case, the crinkle crankle resumed in the churchyard: unusual – perhaps even unique – though a pity that it led right up to the tower, making it impossible to circumnavigate the church.
The church interior was rather dark, but otherwise attractive, and the mild day meant it didn’t take long to warm up. I noticed with curiosity and amusement the physical sensation of my body building up heat, and this heat finally descending down my arms to my hands. The warmth in my hands was rarely retained until the next church, which was the only disadvantage of my half-hour-in-each-church practice strategy; but concentration was more important, and on this front I had no difficulty. Focus on practice meant I paid somewhat less attention to my surroundings, but it was a fulfilling experience nevertheless.
All Saints’, Hacheston
Hacheston, a village name I always muddle with Hasketon, further south towards Woodbridge, was just down the road. This church, though its exterior was plain, was more to my taste than Easton inside: lighter, older feeling, and with a charming little gallery. Its old rood screen had been placed at the back of the nave against the wall, near the font, which looked rather lovely. It also possessed one of many Jacobean pulpits I have seen recently. But nothing could outdo the acoustic: it was delightful, and I would have been happy to stay there for the rest of the day. Reminding myself that I was currently on a mission, however, I dragged myself away after the designated time, sad that the door to the gallery was locked, so I would simply have to enjoy looking down the nave from the ground.
Before I left the church, I made arrangements via text message to meet a friend, Kate, in Wickham Market church, which was to be my last destination of the day. I’d texted before leaving home, realising belatedly how close I’d be to Framlingham, where she lived. Trying to keep to my estimated timings is always an interesting endeavour, so I left in a hurry to visit Marlesford so as to maximise my chances of succeeding…
St Andrew’s, Marlesford
It appeared to be possible to drive through the churchyard gates and park beside the church. Possible, that is, with somewhat better spatial awareness than I possess when negotiating driveways, gates, gateposts, bollards and supermarket parking spaces next to trolley shelters. Despite proceeding at approximately 0.5 mph through the metal churchyard gate, I managed to inflict a two-foot-long dent and several large scratches in the side of my car, and had to reverse back out in order to extract myself from the jam. As my friend Mark remarked afterwards, in despair at my ongoing car abuse, ‘forget your planned book, you should write “A History of Suffolk’s churches in 100 car dents”’.
Luckily I have no aesthetic sensibility where cars are concerned apart from general shape and colour, so as long as it works and keeps me safe, it can have as many dents as it likes. Or more precisely, as many as I fail to avoid. I will fix them only if an MOT demands that I do. I will use my car till it is deemed by the experts to be undriveable or unrepairable, anyway, so I don’t need to worry about the effect on its value.
Once I finally reached the parking space and determined that my left back door still opened and closed perfectly, I sighed in resignation at my hopelessness and turned my attention to the church and its exceptionally wide porch. As I passed through it, I noticed an overwhelming and somewhat sickly smell of flowers. Looking at a display to my left, I saw winter jasmine and viburnum, probably slightly gone over.
The church itself was not dissimilar in feel and character to Hacheston: with south aisle, dark wood roof, grey brick floor rather than pamments, and a gallery at the back, this time housing the organ. The most astounding thing about it was a plaque I found in the chancel. At first I couldn’t quite believe what I was reading: Flora Sandes, born in 1876 and daughter of the Rector of Hacheston, was made Sergeant Major in the Serbian Army during the First World War. According to the plaque, she was the first woman ever to hold a commission in the Serbian Army; but more remarkable, I thought, was what I read afterwards on the BBC website: that she was the only British woman to fight in combat as a soldier in the First World War.
I decided to cut my practice at Marlesford slightly short so as to arrive a few minutes early at Wickham Market with time to take photographs before Kate arrived. I had an ulterior motive: I thought there might just be enough daylight left (taking into account dusk chicken duties at home) for us to find a tea or coffee somewhere afterwards.
All Saints’, Wickham Market
Wickham Market always struck me as a rather sad little town. I had driven along one of its road many times on my way to Aldeburgh or other places in that general direction. I had only driven through the centre of the town on a couple of occasions; I thought it barely larger than a village. However, its being my destination on this occasion made me see it differently, as did the fact I was looking out hopefully for a café – without a huge amount of expectation, I must say. But I was pleasantly surprised, spotting one across the road from the church, and seeing that it would be open until 4.30.
I managed to park – without any further injury to my car, despite the shin-high planters – near the churchyard gates, and approached the church thinking it extremely Victorian-looking. I had to check the information in the church to make sure it was in fact medieval. The interior of the church did nothing to convince me: it reminded me of the Victorian church in Islington where I had given a concert in June. Apparently the Victorian pews had recently been removed as part of its renovation. It looked modern, apart from the south aisle, part of which was taped off due to an ‘unsafe roof’. But this church had its advantages too: first, it was open and welcoming, and second, its relative lack of interest meant that it wouldn’t take me long to photograph, and I wouldn’t want to stay long; therefore we could easily fit in a visit to the tea room…
I started to play, and was pleasantly surprised: the acoustic made up for the church’s other shortcomings. Kate arrived after a few minutes, and I played her the slow movement of the Haydn concerto. She was surprised when I started to pack away afterwards. ‘I’ve had enough, and there’s a tea room across the road!’ I said in response. I wanted to walk around the outside of the church too, where I found some cherry blossom and saw that the brick south aisle of the church was old and attractive. By far the most attractive aspect of the church, in fact. The octagonal tower was interesting too, but I am not a fan of church spires.
The café was delightful; much nicer than I expected. So much so that I think it should be called a tea room, not a café. The cake was good, the atmosphere cosy, the ladies behind the counter jolly, and Kate’s company in such a setting made my day out and visit to Wickham Market far more memorable and enjoyable. I might even decide to pay the town a return visit on account of its tea and cake…
Header photo: Plaque to Flora Sandes Yudenitch, Marlesford church