St Mary’s, Cavendish
Indoor temperature: 19.5˚C, humidity: 69%
I had an appointment in Glemsford to pick up some relatives of Badger the Rat who were coming to live with me, and I thought I’d take the opportunity to visit Cavendish and Clare churches on the way. They are two contrasting villages along the upper reaches of the Stour much frequented by tourists, and rightly so. Cavendish possesses one of the most picturesque village greens in the county. I knew the main route through the village well, as this was my father’s preferred driving route from London, and I had made a couple of visits to the cane furniture shop, from which he bought a few chairs. Although it’s likely I must have visited the church at least once during my childhood, I didn’t remember it, nor its location.
I took a side lane off the village green and soon came to the churchyard entrance opposite a pub. The church itself was larger and grander than I expected; the churchyard smaller. Perhaps the latter expectation derived from the vastness of the village green, and the former from the fact Cavendish nevertheless feels like a small village, quite unlike the market town proportions of Clare nearby.
The church interior was pleasant and well kept, but not of the kind that really appeals to me. It was large, Victorian and urban in style. Despite the spaciousness of the chancel, I decided to sit in the nave: Cavendish may be the only church so far in which I have encountered a step down into the chancel, and I thought sitting below floor level would feel a little strange.
I didn’t expect a quiet practice session at Cavendish church, as I thought visitors would be coming in and out. But I played undisturbed until I stopped to pack up, when someone came in, walked past me, unlocked the vestry and went inside. I believe he would have said nothing at all if I hadn’t greeted him and common courtesy demanded that he say ‘hello’ in reply. I suddenly felt as though I was in London.
To my great disappointment, after a rather long winded attempt to find a parking space, I found Clare church locked. It seemed inexplicable on a day like this. For a few minutes I dithered between the idea of taking advantage of the fish and chip shop across the road – which my parents and I used to stop at once in a while on our way to Suffolk, when my Iranian mother’s inexplicable attraction to that very English concept got the better of her – and using the small amount of time I had left before I was due in Glemsford to look for another church in the area. In the end I decided my heart was set on cooking supper and enjoying it in my sunny garden when I got home, so I consulted my map and decided to try Poslingford church.
That too was locked. For the sake of twenty minutes, it wasn’t worth the trouble of trying to acquire a key, so with a little reluctance (due only to insufficient cello practice having been achieved this afternoon), I abandoned my mission and turned back towards Glemsford. My reluctance was soon overcome, however, by the fast approaching prospect of cuddly rats…
St Stephen’s, Higham
Outdoor temperature: 15.1 ˚C; indoor temperature: 16.9˚C; humidity: 75%
I have only just discovered that I inadvertently included a Victorian church in my tour. I wasn’t in the least suspicious when I was met with the question, ‘you do know Higham is a Victorian church?’ by the keyholder, because it wasn’t the first time someone had said this to me. My reply was always, ‘I mean of medieval origin – I know some of them are mostly Victorian rebuilds’.
But on this occasion it turns out I was wrong. I had no suspicion, because Higham was listed on the church map I had photocopied from Cautley’s Suffolk Churches. But, of course, now I realise with a sense of my own stupidity that I already knew that the map included non-medieval churches; after all, I knew right from the start that Leavenheath wouldn’t be on my list of medieval churches to visit despite being marked on the map.
Nevertheless I will leave Higham on my list, otherwise some fifteen odd of my church numbers visited since will be wrong. And my 200th church would in fact be my 199th, and I couldn’t possibly allow that; it would be like taking a medal away from someone on a technicality. So Higham is staying, and deserves a little prize for sneaking past me.
Acquiring the key took a little time and effort, but I was glad to meet Belinda, the keyholder. As I pulled up at the gate, I could tell she would be my kind of person. There was a sign outside indicating I had arrived at the premises of a charity, ‘Our Special Friends’. I didn’t know exactly what this referred to, but I started to guess when I heard dogs barking. Belinda came out with the key and I enquired after the activities of the charity. She explained that it provided support for people and their animal companions during illness, bereavement and other crises, so that both the animal and the person could continue to benefit from their relationship. This sounded like a wonderful idea to me, and not something that I had come across before. I asked for some information, wondering if there might be a way for me to get involved one day, and thanking her for the key, I went back to the church.
It was dark inside, but the interior was pleasant and the acoustic good. I was sorry, once again, not to have longer to practise; I consistently underestimate how much time it takes to locate, fetch and return a church key, not to mention how much time it takes to set up and pack away. I had thought I would have an hour and a half to practise, and ended up with little more than half an hour. But, even knowing now that it wasn’t a medieval church, I’m glad I went, and glad I met Belinda.
After dropping back the key I made my way towards the A14, looking forward to reaching Hertford where friends awaited my arrival in time for lunch.
Header photo: Cavendish chancel roof detail
Total churches to end of May: 188 + 3 chapels