St Margaret’s, Sotterley
I had delayed visiting Sotterley church more than once: this was a church to enjoy in warm, dry weather, as it was a mile’s walk or so from the road, in the middle of the Sotterley estate. I would have gone in winter, had a bright day presented itself while I was in the area, but it didn’t, and so I waited.
The start of the path was obvious; after that, I had to scan the oak trees and field edges for white signs with black church symbols to find the next section of my route. I felt the thrill of a child on a treasure hunt. Before long I saw the grand house through a gap in the hedge on my right, across a pond, or perhaps more likely a moat (see header photo), and I knew I was nearly there. Sure enough, at the next sign on a small bridge across a ditch – the River Blyth, apparently – I could see the tower of the church poking above a dense cluster of trees. I’d stopped a couple of times to give my shoulders a rest, but yet again I was glad of my lightweight cello case: it was worth every penny I’d spent on it, and made walks such as these not only possible but delightful.
I suppose I expected the church itself to be the least interesting part of my visit, perhaps a heavily Victorianised affair thanks to restoration money poured into it from the wealthy family occupying the Hall. I don’t know whether this impression is based on the majority of estate churches I have visited, or a minority, but in this case I was completely wrong. Sotterley felt old, and had many beautiful details: medieval rood screen, glass and brasses. Cello practice was never going to be the focus of this visit; I just played long enough to feel I had ‘communed’ with the church and with the cello, and then I packed up to admire the unexpected beauty and enjoy my walk back.
St Andrew’s, Ilketshall
It was time to visit three Saints churches nearby. Ilketshall St Andrew was both a surprise and a huge delight: if Sotterley felt old, this church felt ancient, with its round tower, sloping, uneven walls, Norman doorway and wall paintings. Of course the acoustic was also a treat. The paintings, I afterwards read, weren’t (re)discovered until 20011.
I sent a text to my friend Mark to tell him how wonderful the church was. It was too good not to share with anyone. Mark, however, likes to keep me on my toes. I can never be sure whether his replies to my excited news-sharing, whether about churches, great crested newts or bee orchids, will be enthusiastic, sarcastic, or just plain silly. The response came back:
‘The world’s falling apart and Yalda’s mooning around in churches’.
‘What else can one do?’ I replied. ‘Buy bog roll? I know which is more helpful. And where there’s less chance of catching Corvid.’
This was what Mark had called the virus when they first started calling it Covid-19 instead of coronavirus and he couldn’t remember the name. I much preferred his version, though I’m sure the crow family might disagree.
Of course, soon visiting churches wouldn’t be possible either. I may be allowed to resume next week – nearly 3 months after my last visit. It doesn’t feel that long. But while I was allowed, I saw no harm in it. Church visiting has mostly been a solitary sport for me, and I knew its days were numbered. So my visit to St Andrew’s was particularly special, and my cello practice there was blissful.
St John’s, Ilketshall and St Lawrence’s, Ilketshall
It wasn’t yet 2pm and I was already beginning to feel tired, and to curse the horsey people who woke me up sometime after 5am, feeding the horses or cleaning out the stables or whatever it is horse owners feel the need to do at that hour of the day, even if they are not going out to work. Whatever equipment or hay they needed was right outside my window. There’s almost always something fairly important about your booked accommodation that you don’t discover until you are staying there… A point, I am discovering, very much in favour of official B&Bs over Airbnb, despite the additional facilities and lower prices often available at the latter. Official B&Bs seem to feel under more pressure to put guests first, and arrange their daily routines, or guest bedroom locations, accordingly.
But I was still set on visiting four churches today – I wanted to finish the Saints before going home the next day – so I decided to make the remaining two visits shorter. My right wrist was also hurting so I thought it best not to overdo the practice.
Nothing could quite match up to St Andrew’s church, but by any other standards, St John’s and St Lawrence’s were lovely, simple rural churches, entirely to my taste, both aesthetically and as cello playing locations. I drove home from St John’s accompanied by the image of abundant churchyard primroses and narcissi blooming happily amongst last summer’s dead grasses.
Header photo: Sotterley Hall