Suffolk churches 71: Withersdale Street and Cratfield (April 2018)

St Mary’s, Withersdale Street
Outdoor temperature: 22.1˚C; indoor temperature 17.4˚C, humidity: 65%
WithersdaleKaren and Nick, at whose B&B I was staying, had told me the previous evening that there was a lovely church a mile or so down the road which was walkable via a footpath. Since then I had been tempted by the idea of my first ever cello hike. It was such beautiful weather, and I felt it was a short enough distance for a trial. So, after buying some lunch supplies at the village shop and sitting for a while in the sunshine, I emptied my bag of everything I didn’t absolutely need – including my music stand – and set off for Withersdale Street, in the knowledge that I could always abort the operation if it turned out I was being overly optimistic about the lightweight qualities of my new cello case.

Walking along footpaths and across fields of sheep with a cello on my back was an entirely new and wonderful experience for me: it brought together two important parts of my life that had always been somewhat incompatible. Reaching a stile – an obstacle I hadn’t planned for – I began to wonder if they were still incompatible after all. But I made it over with relatively little difficulty. Kissing gates proved to be the greater challenge, as I have found even when carrying a rucksack: they are not designed for luggage.

The only other worry this new activity threw up was that my new, black case (there was no choice of colour) heated up in the sun much more than my old white one. But this wasn’t just a problem for my cello hiking ambitions: I’d noticed it during car journeys too. My first thought was that I might have to drape a white sheet over it and risk being mistaken for a strangely shaped ghost. But this idea has since has since developed into a more sophisticated design: I have ordered a length of heat-reflective fabric in order to make a tie-on case cover, or perhaps an elasticated one, much like a waterproof rucksack cover, if that isn’t beyond my capabilities…

Withersdale bullsAfter 25 minutes I arrived at the church rather sweaty but, to my surprise, with no achy back or shoulders at all. It was an idyllic scene: daffodils lined the path and two bulls lazed in a sunny meadow opposite the church. It was hard to believe the road was just a few metres away. The church itself was tiny and no less idyllic; the bright interior reminded me of Letheringham church, though it was a great deal warmer than my visit there in early January.

Withersdale porch Withersdale font
Withersdale interior Withersdale interior 2

My poor cello, though not quite baked in its case, was somewhat out of tune when I took it out to play. The acoustic was just as lovely as at Letheringham, and I could have stayed there the rest of the afternoon. But I had arranged to meet friends at Cratfield church at 3.30pm, so I had to limit both practice time and dawdling.​ Nevertheless, I managed to fit in both activities relatively comfortably.

Withersdale bibleMy favourite feature of the church was perhaps the font, though my least favourite was the brick stand on which it sat. I also enjoyed the roof design and timber supports above the gallery. A notice informed me that the pew ends were almost certainly made from the original rood screen, and there was an old bible on the lectern, inside which its history had been written and added to by several people. There were a few gaps in the story, but I loved imagining the bible being passed from one person to another over the last two centuries.

Withersdale pews Withersdale gallery
Withersdale roof Withersdale door Withersdale window

As I arrived back at Metfield to retrieve my car, by now resolved that cello walks would have to become a more regular feature of my church tour, I bumped into a lady who had heard me play in the morning. ‘It transformed everyone’s day’, she said. It transformed mine, too.

St Mary’s, Cratfield
Indoor temperature: 15.4˚C, humidity 67%

When two musician friends nearby, Mandy and Nick, had suggested meeting at Cratfield church, I looked it up to find out what was so special about it. I couldn’t really tell from the photographs – it appeared to be a large, predominantly Victorian church – so I made my way from Metfield with no little curiosity as to why it was one of Mandy’s favourite churches.

CratfieldFrom the photographs of the church interior, I was led to expect that it would be located in the middle of a large village. I couldn’t have been more wrong. I pulled up at a rural church with a large and park-like churchyard, with neatly mown paths running between expanses of wildflowers.

I went inside to find Mandy and Nick. It was a bright and pleasant interior, warmer than I expected for a large church, and I asked Mandy what she liked so much about it. She explained that she had good memories of holidays in this area of Suffolk when her children were small.

Cratfield interior Cratfield interior 2

The acoustic was better than I expected for a church with two aisles, and for the second time in a day I had a too-early dress rehearsal, this time of the other Bach suite I was preparing. I didn’t play it from beginning to end, as I wasn’t sure I felt up to playing the rather long first movement straight away, but in the end I did play all of it. I was feeling quite achy now, from cello playing rather than cello carrying, but it was a pleasant achiness, of the sort that proves you must have worked harder than you realised.

It was more nerve-racking playing to two musicians than it was to a church full of ‘lay’ people, but it didn’t go too badly, and I think they enjoyed it. All we needed afterwards was a tea room with a garden in which to drink tea and chat, but sadly there were none nearby. So instead we had a leisurely wander round the church, enjoying the impressive seven sacraments font and the medieval ‘organ house’ in the tower.

Cratfield font Cratfield organ house Cratfield door

Cratfield wildmanStepping out into the church porch, I was happy for once to have company with whom to share the marvellous smell of spring. Mandy remarked that the church interior smelled equally good, and I couldn’t deny it. Perhaps it is the two in partnership that have such a glorious effect.

Cratfield tombThey took me to see the ‘wild man’ and dragon above the west door of the church and we made a tour of the churchyard. There appeared to be a collapsed tomb below ground, into which the stone top had fallen. I was surprised and curious, spending some time trying to work out what exactly had happened.

Cratfield churchyardIt was an idyllic afternoon and I returned to Metfield pleasantly tired and happy with my day’s efforts – and today, early enough to spend some time sitting outdoors writing before starting to think about supper.

The following day Mandy told me she’d decided to learn the piece I’d played, with the original tuning – she had been worried about the effect on her cello of tuning down the top string – and that not only had it given her just the spark she needed to get back into cello playing, but that it had given her cello back its old resonance. I was glad, and thought how lovely it was that the unexpected effects of my church tour have become some of its most rewarding.

Header photo: Footpath from Metfield to Withersdale Street

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