All Saints’, Frostenden
It was my third attempt to visit Frostenden. This time, having failed to note down the keyholder’s contact details on my last visit, I looked at my call history and phoned the number that I concluded must have been either for Wrentham or Frostenden. It didn’t much matter which: I wanted to visit both. It might sound odd to whoever answered that I didn’t actually know who I was calling… but it was my best hope of getting in, as I could find no information online.
A gentleman called Paul Scriven answered the phone, and told me he was keyholder of Frostenden church. It turned out he’d been at my concert in ‘Coovehithe’ in March, which made my church-visiting-cello-playing intentions thankfully devoid of suspicion.
All Saints’, All Saints South Elmham
It was time for a return visit to the South Elmhams and Ilketshalls. I had visited many, but by no means all, the ‘Saints’: they boast a total of 13 churches between them. And, so far, I’d found all of them open.
All Saints’ was my first stop. I drove down a track signposted to the church, until it stopped at the entrance to a house. Another signpost pointed along a field edge, and behind a high hedge I could see the church tower. Reassured that it was close by, I took out my cello, bag and music stand and walked along the footpath.
St Andrew’s, Walberswick
For some time, I thought there were only ruins at Walberswick church. I’m not sure why. Perhaps because I’d never walked, only driven, past, and when driving one’s eyes are drawn to the most obvious feature: ruins are hard to overlook. That was the only reason I hadn’t yet visited Walberswick church: I was waiting for a convenient sunny summer day. But after giving a concert at Covehithe, I read its history, in which a comparison was made to Walberswick: they were both small churches built within the shell of a larger church. The ruins of the large churches are in fact on the scale of Blythburgh. The newer, small churches are completely out of proportion with the enormous towers they join onto, but each is unique and beautiful.
St Mary’s, Tuddenham
The following Saturday I had a concert in Tuddenham – near Bury St Edmunds rather than Ipswich. This concert had been booked over a year in advance. I had never booked anything this far ahead before: I usually don’t get round to buying a new diary until midway through December. Serendipity stepped in, however, as a couple of weeks earlier I had been given a 2019 calendar as a present, and had been wondering what use I could possibly make of it.
I picked up Tim on my way – my friend Penny’s son who had kindly agreed to turn pages for my accompanist, James. As at Rede the previous weekend, having familiar, smiley faces in the audience made a huge difference to my feelings about the concert: not only Tim, but also Christopher, who was to accompany me the following weekend in Brundish and wanted to hear how one of the pieces should go. There the similarities ended: the church and the audience were significantly larger, and the acoustic wasn’t nearly as rewarding as at Rede – though I am aware this judgement was entirely relative. There was nothing objectively wrong with the acoustic, it is simply that I have been spoilt so often.
St Peter’s, Little Thurlow
It was the last day of my church-visiting break, and I thought I had plenty of time to pack and tidy up before meeting the keyholder at Little Thurlow church at 11am. And then suddenly I didn’t. I was ten minutes late arriving at the church, which I knew I should have made more effort to avoid, because of the lady’s brusque, slightly flustered manner on the phone the previous evening. As with Great Thurlow, I don’t think she was the keyholder listed, but either a member of the family, or a farm employee, or both.
She was waiting for me inside. My lateness didn’t improve our interactions: she was polite, but no more. I apologised and did my best to win her round with gratitude, friendliness and smiles, but my efforts were in vain: I would have been an inconvenience even if I had arrived on time. I guess I had interrupted her work. I offered to return the key afterwards, but she replied that she’d have to come back to lock up. Her tone implied quite clearly that I couldn’t possibly be left in charge of the key – despite the fact I knew, from Sue’s investigations the previous day, that there was someone in the village from whose porch I could have simply taken and returned the key, if anyone could have remembered which house it was. So I gave up and simply thanked her again for letting me in.
St Mary’s, Great Bradley
The following morning I decided to start from the church furthest north along the county boundary and work backwards in a line, allowing for a maximum of four church visits that day. The furthest church was Great Bradley, only minutes’ drive from Withersfield: they were so close together in this area that I didn’t have to travel far.
Judging it prudent to reserve a couple of days’ ‘sanity break’ in the first of two brief gaps in summer bed and breakfast bookings, I saw a good opportunity for a church-visiting holiday. A scan of my church map revealed a glaring gap in the far southwest corner of Suffolk. Searching for accommodation is not amongst my list of enjoyable leisure activities when time is short, so, having quickly found an attractive-looking converted outbuilding in Withersfield, near Haverhill, I booked it without too much further thought, besides checking the location and size of Withersfield: I didn’t want to stay in a suburb of Haverhill. What I didn’t realise, however, was that the building was right beside the main road through the village – something that wasn’t apparent from the photos or the description – and that the road through Withersfield is a commuter route into Haverhill and therefore suffers from rush hour. But these are things that require prior acquaintance with an area, and rush hour was not something I was used to anticipating in rural Suffolk. Except for the harvest time sort of rush hour, which also happened to coincide with my visit, and led to earthquake-like shocks every time a combine harvester (beetle-monster) passed my window late into the evening.
St Peter’s and St Paul’s, Clare
Before I made these unwelcome discoveries, however, I was able to fit in three church visits. My first stop was Clare, a church that I had tried to visit once before and was disappointed to find locked. I suspected that I was too late on that occasion, and that a lunchtime visit would be more successful, which indeed it was. I find it curious that Clare (which seems to me more a little town than a village) isn’t classified as a town, whereas Orford (which seems more of a village than a town) is. I am not sure of the criteria used for these classifications.
St Mary’s, Akenham
I was due at Akenham church, near Ipswich, to play at a cream tea and evensong on the first Sunday in August. Akenham was a Churches Conservation Trust church, and, I was informed, the evensong services in August are held there, the first of which was always preceded by a cream tea. I managed to rope in Steve to play duets with me during the cream tea; I felt solo Bach was suitable for the service but not for the jollities in the churchyard.
Getting there was an adventure. Despite being almost on the outskirts of Ipswich – only a mile from Whitton – it felt as though it was on a hill in the middle of nowhere. Along the lane before I came to the rough track leading to the church, I passed a tractor and baler that looked like two of the first mechanised pieces of farming equipment to appear in the countryside. They had an amusing charm about them, but looked somewhat impractical for the task in hand. Clearing a field of cut straw is a big job.
This summer has been full of excitement and activity, and, sitting in a sunny garden listening to bird song while I write, I am glad to feel it is not yet over.
With only a few small pauses between B&B bookings – all of which were occupied by visits from family and friends or short musical trips away from home – and averaging 5 concerts a month since April, I feel happy to have made it to mid-September without having to hide in a darkened room (more than once or twice, at least).
There have been so many highlights it would be hard to choose between them. One, of course, must be the many lovely people I have met and the joy with which they have shared my house, garden and creatures during their stay. Many of the other highlights are of course creature related. A kingfisher flew over my pond – I’m not sure what he was doing here as there are definitely no fish in it, but I was very happy to see him all the same – and I have seen hares in my garden almost daily. One crossed the bridge recently, which I as a result I now consider a magic bridge. Leia the chinchilla, who sadly lost her friend Solo earlier in the year, found a new friend and it only took a few days before they were snuggled up together. Malteser and Dusty the rabbits… well, cute, fluffy and funny pretty well sums them up. The goaties have, surprisingly, refrained from too much mischief this season but continue to rule the garden and the chickens with their usual self-assurance.
St Ethelbert’s, Herringswell
I had delayed visiting Cavenham, north of Bury St Edmunds, as I had spotted Cavenham Heath nearby on the map and wanted to combine my church visit with a walk there: it was a bit too far away to make a separate trip appealing. For nearly the first year of my church tour, having a cello with me made this impractical. This time, however, realising that Cavenham was in fact only fifteen minutes’ drive from my friend Penny’s house in Bury St Edmunds, and that I now had a cello case which I could happily carry on a walk with me, no further delay was necessary. An added benefit of stopping off at Penny’s house for a cup of tea was that she had a map of this small area of northwest Suffolk that I discovered was missing from my collection.