St Martin’s, Exning
It was the day of my concert in Newmarket, so I decided to make the most of the journey by practising beforehand in a church nearby. Exning was all of five minutes from St Mary’s, and I had already been told by its rector, whom I met at the concert I gave in Dalham, that it was open during the summer. A more convenient warm up location would be hard to find.
11/9/2018 It is the first time in my life that I have been given a fright by a tiny ball of fluff.
I put out my hand to turn on the kitchen tap, and pulled back in alarm. There was something behind it, moving ever so slightly. It was spherical, and for a moment I couldn’t tell what it was. Then I saw a few tail feathers sticking out at one end and realised it was a baby bird.
But it wasn’t any baby bird I had seen before. Part of my confusion as to the identity of this apparition was caused by a bright yellow-orange streak amongst the grey, gold-green and black. Indignant, it took its head out from under its wing when I picked it up, and I saw that the colour was on its head. It was almost weightless.
9/9/2018 The discovery of an exquisitely beautiful wasps’ nest hanging in a cedar tree in my garden yesterday prompted me to think again about these much destested creatures. I wouldn’t exactly put wasps at the top of my list of favourite animals, and I admit they make a nuisance of themselves towards the end of summer when, unemployed and in a drunken stupor, they wander about looking for sugar. But I become extremely angry when I see people killing them.
I have lost count of the times when, forbidding a visitor to kill a wasp in my garden, I have been asked, ‘but what is the point of them?’ To my shame, the only answer I have been able to give is, ‘if wasps disappeared from the planet tomorrow, you’d know about it. And not in a good way’. The truth is, though I was certain wasps did have a point, I was only guessing at their ecological importance. I believe there is no creature on the planet that has no purpose; it wouldn’t exist if it didn’t. Certainly no insect, anyway. I am not always so sure about humans – except perhaps as the only creature capable of appreciating the miracle that is our planet. We have a funny way of expressing it though, so intent do we seem on destroying our only home…
It is time to extol the virtues of these poor creatures, beyond that of providing a free cleaning service for my fences and garden furniture. My love for hornets is greater than for wasps – they are, after all, regal in their size and colour, and don’t bother humans even in late summer – but I feel more urgency in expressing my support for wasps.
I intended to get home by early afternoon on Wednesday as a compromise for taking two nights away. I went partly in order to concentrate on cello practice, but primarily to prevent myself wrecking my hands with DIY before my concert in Newmarket on Thursday: my new bedroom carpet was being fitted on Friday morning, and I desperately wanted to get the hand-punishing and messy task of window frame stripping finished before then. But I also knew that there was no way I could do that and still be able to give a concert. The only sure way to prevent myself committing such a foolishness was to physically remove myself from the temptation, with a little concession: I could at least spend a bit of time on the more harmless job of painting walls if I got home in good time on Wednesday afternoon.
5/9/2018 The approach of the end of summer is a sure way to bring into focus the things that you haven’t made the most of and don’t want to miss. This year I have noticed more of these things than usual. Luckily, though the much needed rain arrived in August, we have been blessed with a some idyllic days of warmth and sunshine at the beginning of September. After the summer rush I have also been blessed with a couple of quieter weeks in which I have the leisure to prioritise different activities: cello practice, writing, blackberry picking, jam-making and catching up with house and garden jobs that have been waiting for me most of the summer.
One of these jobs was mending bikes: one puncture, two malfunctioning brakes, and various rusted bolts that needed oiling and loosening for the adjustment of saddles and other moving parts. I am not much of a mechanic, but – aside from gears, which I do not understand at all and never seem to work properly, even after a visit to a bike repair shop – I am thankful that the mechanisms of bikes are generally simple, on view, and with observation and a bit of trial and error, most of their troubles can be fixed at home. And the satisfaction gained from such home repairs cannot be underestimated…
2/9/2018 I have been waiting since the spring for a sighting of this beautiful creature. In early summer I caught a glimpse of that orange-brown glow fluttering past at a distance, but too briefly and too far away for me to get a proper look – though I was fairly certain it was a comma. No other butterfly shares its rich colour. But finally, a few days ago, one came onto the terrace, and sunbathed on the window long enough for me to get a photo on my phone.
I think we all know that butterfly numbers have taken a nosedive in recent decades. When I was a child, our lavender bushes were almost invisible beneath the clouds of white butterflies enjoying the flowers. The buddlejas were always covered in tortoiseshells, peacocks, cabbage whites, brimstones, red admirals and the odd painted lady, comma or fritillary, if we were lucky. I am now sadly privileged to welcome only the occasional visitor to my garden. The small whites are the most numerous, but sometimes large whites, meadow browns, skippers, gatekeepers and common blues, amongst all the previously numerous buddleja frequenters, come too. Now, instead of the buddlejas, patches of head-high thistles around the garden – though proving somewhat problematic in their seemingly infinite spreading capacity – seem to provide the most attractive food source to my insect friends. I am torn between attempting to prevent them taking over entirely, and wanting to provide for as many creatures as possible in my little oasis.
It was almost a month since my last church visit. I thought it was simply due to lack of time, but I wonder now whether a reluctance to accumulate more churches to write about played a part. Writing wasn’t flowing, and I was making very slow progress. It was partly my fault: I had failed to write any notes on the churches I visited in Lothingland, and visiting ten churches in three days is a sure way to forget which one is which. I had photos to remind me, but still it was hard going. I have learnt my lesson, and have vowed to make writing up notes a priority, though this in itself is no guarantee of success. Mercifully, however, the flow picked again just before I embarked on my next trip to the northeast, allowing me to resume my tour with unambivalent enthusiasm.
All Saints’, Worlingham
Outdoor temperature: 27.4˚C; indoor temperature: 23.9˚C, humidity: 69%
After considering my accommodation options and being tempted by a shepherd’s hut near Bungay, I eventually settled on a room in Beccles. The idea of not having to drive anywhere for supper in the evening was the deciding factor. I like Beccles very much, for its size, atmosphere, proximity to the Broads and position on a river – and on an unexpected hill, with views over the river into Norfolk from St Mary’s churchyard in the town centre (see header photo). There is also a huge number of churches nearby, providing me with plenty of excuses for future visits.
30/8/2018 Far too late in the season, I have got round to camping in the garden. A few years ago I spent nearly half the summer sleeping in the garden. This year I should have done so during the heat wave, but the season has been my busiest yet and I worried about depriving myself of sleep when I was already exhausted. By mid-August, dawn was back to the relatively late time of 5am. I had a few quieter days, and deemed that the risk of sleep deprivation was minor, and taking advantage of any remaining mild, dry nights was becoming more urgent.
The trick was to get everything prepared before dark and before I was so tired I couldn’t be bothered to make the effort. But I had to pick the right weather too: sleeping in a tent wasn’t what I had in mind. I wanted to see the sky above my head, and feel the air. Sometimes I think sleeping in a tent hardly qualifies as sleeping outdoors…
St Botolph’s, North Cove
Outdoor temperature: 16.9˚C; indoor temperature 19.9˚C, humidity: 67%
I had noted down the keyholder’s contact details for Barnby church the previous day so I thought I would try my luck there first. She lived in North Cove, down the road, and once I arrived at her house I thought to ask if she knew who had the key to that church. ‘Well, actually, I do’, she said, and kindly lent me both keys to drop back when I had finished. It felt like a great luxury to be in possession of not one, but two, church keys.
St Mary’s, Ashby
Indoor temperature: 18.1˚C, humidity: 56%
I reached the keyholder of Ashby church on my first attempt, and arranged a visit for 11am the following morning. I turned off the road down a dusty farm track, which – if it weren’t for the car I was travelling in – might have looked exactly the same when the church was first built. I saw the octagonal tower of the church hiding behind a bed of nettles and a hedge just beyond a crossroads in the tracks, which I later read was a medieval road junction1.