I had a lunchtime appointment with Tiffer, the rector of the benefice which includes Hitcham, Brettenham, Rattlesden and Thorpe Morieux, to go up the rood stairs at Rattlesden church. With a comprehensive verbal disclaimer of course. I was excited: it was the first item on my church ‘wish list’ that I had managed to arrange.
It was a little vertigo-inducing, with no barriers or supports to provide reassurance. How anyone would dare to take a Henry Hoover up there is beyond me, and I had politely declined the offer of high-altitude music making, fearing both the cello’s fate and mine. But once I’d reached the rood loft, I was able to hold on to one of Jesus’s companions and enjoy my novel perspective without any wobbles, physical or psychological. Coming down again was another matter, but I made it safely to the ground, and after thanking Tiffer for his time and willingness, I left for Wetherden, the nearest church that I hadn’t yet visited.
My sole interaction with Wetherden was the collection of my first ever (rescue) chickens nearly four years ago – a joyful and lasting association – but I’d never actually seen the village. I found the church very much at the heart of it, and quite fancied a wander round on another, warmer, occasion; but I could see as I approached the church that a funeral was about to take place. I made two loops of the village before I finding somewhere convenient to stop and consult my map. I had two choices: to continue northeast towards Old Newton, or northwest towards Great Ashfield. I chose the latter, as there were many more churches in that area that I hadn’t yet visited, in case one or more visit attempts were unsuccessful.
All Saints’, Great Ashfield
Outdoor temperature: 4.2˚C; indoor temperature: 4.5˚C, 56% humidity
Today I was in luck: Great Ashfield was open. The church and its setting were delightful on this sunny afternoon. I crossed a small ford to reach the church car park, and from there walked along the quirky, kinked path to the handsome brick and flint south porch, admiring the snowdrops on the way.
The interior was just as attractive: I liked the feel of the church, the ancient chest at the back, the 17th century pulpit, numerous graffiti crosses, and carved bench ends. The carvings were all missing noses or beaks. I wondered if this was deliberate mutilation, or expected damage from centuries of use; it was impossible to tell. I couldn’t think why the animals would have incurred the wrath of the puritans, but the consistency of the damage did seem suspicious.
I carried out what was becoming my habitual warm up before attempting to sit down and play the cello: running up and down the church – facilitated in this instance by being able to run in a loop, down the nave and back up the north aisle– and jumping on the spot. It was as effective as always, and made my practice enjoyable. I didn’t realise until I checked the thermometer afterwards that it was my coldest church visit yet, by a couple of degrees. I have to admit to feeling quite smug. For a short while at least. Until I mentioned the fact to a musician friend, who asked how my cello felt about the experience, and I felt slightly ashamed of not having even considered my instrument’s wellbeing. It seems to have survived unscathed, however, so I hope I will eventually be forgiven.
Out of the blue, I have remembered the name a school friend once gave to my cello: Boris. It always made me laugh, and seemed inappropriate, not just because of the name itself, but because I think of the cello as a feminine instrument. Especially mine: it is beautiful, and rather small for a full size. I have never before considered naming my cello, but I found myself noticing something was missing: if I was to apologise for being inconsiderate, as I felt I should, the apologee ought to have a name. But I’ll have to think of a more suitable one than Boris.
St Michael’s, Hunston
Outdoor temperature: 8.8˚C; indoor temperature: 7.9˚C, humidity: 54%
My next church visit wasn’t until over a week later, on another bright day, and this time I went to an area not too far from Great Ashfield. I tried Stowlangtoft first, but finding it unexpectedly locked and the keyholder out, I continued along the road to the next village. I was under the impression that this was Badwell Ash, but I soon discovered it was in fact Hunston: a village of which, inexplicably, I had never heard, or noticed on the map.
I found the church down a long track next to a farm, beside a winding stream and a wooded area with a pond and snowdrops all around. It was an unusual-looking church, with what I have since learnt was a large south transept, almost as large as the chancel and built at right angles to it. I found the pretty timber porch on the western side of the transept, and to my disappointment, a locked door. But I was more successful in finding a keyholder this time, and the friendly lady I reached on the phone told me she was just down the road and would be there in a moment to let me in.
Before long she arrived and told me that I had come at a good time, because there had been a funeral in the church two hours earlier so the heating had been on. I wouldn’t have guessed if she hadn’t told me – apart from the presence of an enormous heater that rather alarmingly resembled a cannon – but I suppose it might have raised the temperature by a degree or two, so I felt duly grateful, despite (or perhaps due to) feeling rather cold. I didn’t manage to banish the chill as successfully as on previous occasions, so my stay was short.
I liked the church’s interior, but it wasn’t as interesting as I had expected. The acoustic was pleasant but not outstanding, and I think I preferred the exterior: the shape of the building and its setting were the aspects that appealed to me most, especially on such a lovely winter’s day. But I enjoyed my visit nevertheless, including the vase of daffodils at the front of the chancel, the unusual font, bench ends and quirky piscina – or possibly two – adorning the corner of the side chapel next to the organ.
I had intended to go to a second church that afternoon, but I had to go out again later in the evening, and by the time I reached the car I decided that my outing had done its job already: a change of scene, sunshine and a little adventure. So, after admiring the blue sky, the view and the snowdrops in the churchyard once more, I felt happy to return home well before the light started to fade.