‘… and even now […] the summer mead shines as bright and fresh as when my foot first touched the grass. It has another meaning now; the sunshine and the flowers speak differently, for a heart that has once known sorrow reads behind the page, and sees sadness in joy. But the freshness is still there, the dew washes the colours before dawn. Unconscious happiness in finding wild flowers – unconscious and unquestioning, and therefore unbounded.’

Richard Jeffries, ‘Wild Flowers’ in The Open Air (1885) p.36

8/7/2017 I have a new-found appreciation for thistles: they flowered just in time to teach me a lesson. The day before Steve was due to arrive with his strimmer, I saw that the thistles, towering above my head and taller than I remember them in previous years, were covered in more bumblebees and butterflies than I have seen gathered together anywhere this year. The thistles were crowding over the path, so I would have to have them cut back a little for the welfare of paying guests, but otherwise, I decided, wherever they were not causing trouble, they were staying.

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Suffolk churches 13: Charsfield and Darsham (May 2017)

It was the day of the cello concert in Darsham for which I had been practising duets with Will, a cellist near Halesworth to whom I had recently been introduced. Without extending my journey by more than five minutes, I found I could pass through Charsfield on the way. Its significance to me was as the village of Akenfield, Ronald Blythe’s ‘portrait of a Suffolk village’, published in 1969. The evening before, the 1974 film of the same name was shown at the Arts Picturehouse cinema as part of the Bury Festival, so, never having seen it or read the book, I decided to go.

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Suffolk churches 12: Monks Eleigh, Brent Eleigh and Bradfield St George (May 2017)

During the week I decided to go to some local churches on my way to Lavenham and Bury St Edmunds. I have begun to find the varying contexts of my church visits and their accompanying states of mind fascinating: I often notice in myself some reluctance to visit local churches that I pass on a regular basis, or at least whose villages I have long been acquainted with. I can only assume this is because they lack the element of adventure: not exciting enough a destination for a day out, they are relegated to errand-running trips, mere cello practice necessity (still, more exciting than practising at home), or other humdrum contexts, with their relative dullness of mind compared to the excitement of the unknown and the prospect of a day’s adventure. However, on most if not all occasions, these local visits have transformed the mundane into something memorable and special, and given me new insight into places on my doorstep that I had never properly appreciated or perhaps even bothered to get to know. This week’s visits were no exception.

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Suffolk churches 11: Snape, Sternfield and Hemingstone (May 2017)

The following Monday I had arranged to meet a friend, Cristina, to visit the Alde Valley Spring Festival at Great Glemham before a rehearsal in Rendham church. I left home in high spirits: I had just heard the tit chicks cheeping in the kitchen ceiling for the first time– the nest entrance was a hole in a wall beam – and the first ox-eye daisies were coming into flower by the driveway.

Unfortunately the morning’s adventures did not start off so well, as neither of us had remembered that the festival was closed on Mondays. Annoyed with myself for not registering this important piece of information when I looked up the website the night before, we came up with an alternative plan to park at Snape Maltings and go for a walk on the marshes – it seemed a promising location to find somewhere to leave my cello for an hour or two.

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Suffolk churches 10: Stoke by Nayland, Nayland, Wiston and Bures (May 2017)

I love the Stour Valley. The steep hills and marshy ground near the river mean that more land is given over to small meadows for sheep and cattle than on the higher, flatter ground where I live. The hills also provide some of the best views in Suffolk. Of course, the river itself is the central draw: over the years I have felt an increasing compulsion to be near water, especially rivers.

As 10th May was my mother’s birthday, I decided that a church tour of the Stour Valley would be a fitting way to celebrate it for her. I also wanted to walk and enjoy the many bluebells– which grow in the hedgerows as much as the woodlands in this area – and so an overnight stay at a remote farmhouse I had discovered near Stoke by Nayland seemed the best and most enjoyable way to do both, especially as the weather forecast was good.

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Suffolk churches 9: Dennington, Sibton and Blythburgh (May 2017)

Since starting my churches tour, I had been longing to get back to Blythburgh church, my first ‘floor church’. I had failed to see the angels on the roof the first time I visited, and now I was curious about them. But, more importantly, although I suspected Blythburgh possessed the best floor of all, I couldn’t remember exactly what it looked like. I had searched online, thinking that someone, anyone, must have noticed the floor as well as the roof, and put up some photos. But no, it seemed I was the only church floor addict. I found a few references to Blythburgh’s ‘brick floor’, but I knew the description was neglectful: it was like calling one of the insane, ancient oaks in Staverton Thicks ‘a tree’. I found a small part of the floor just about accidentally included in a few photos of the church, but not enough to see it properly. These frustrating glimpses only increased my desperation to get back there.

So, on my next free day I set out for northeast Suffolk, with the intention of reaching Blythburgh in the afternoon, after stopping at other churches on the way. I was anxious to practise the cello, having managed very little the previous few days, and I wasn’t at all sure I would be able to practise in Blythburgh church, let alone get out my cello. I had chosen a cloudy, chilly Monday in the hope that it would be less favourable for tourism, but still, it was May, not January, and with the superlatives to be found on the Blythburgh page of the Suffolk Churches website1, I thought I would be lucky to have the building to myself even for five minutes.

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Suffolk churches 8: Clopton, Otley and Ashbocking (May 2017)

It was a little over a week since my walk in Captain’s Wood, and a visit to see the bluebells at Staverton Thicks was becoming more urgent. This time it wasn’t difficult to find an opportunity to combine a walk with church touring: my cello had developed an annoying buzz and I would need to leave it in Woodbridge for half a day to be glued back together. I arranged to drop it off one morning when I had time to continue to the Thicks, only 15 minutes beyond Woodbridge.

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Suffolk churches 7: Buxhall, Shelland and Semer (May 2017)

St Mary’s, Buxhall
The next morning I decided to try some local churches as I was only free until lunchtime. I had passed Buxhall church several times already since starting my project, but for some reason that I cannot now understand, I had been putting off stopping there. Perhaps it was precisely because of ‘passing’: I hardly ever thought of Buxhall as a destination, except occasionally to visit the dining pub, mostly when my parents were still alive, or once to buy a mower, which was not exactly on my list of exciting outings. Today, I decided, that would change.

Buxhall church

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Suffolk churches 6: Chattisham and Washbrook (May 2017)

There is a vet at Copdock, not far from Ipswich, that I like to use when I am not in a rush. As well as being small and friendly, I enjoy the pretty drive from Hintlesham, down a single-track road with woodland, meadows and steep hills. The surgery is in a converted barn on a country lane, difficult to find unless you know where it is.

There is one part of the route that I particularly love, where the road feels very remote and runs through a valley. The summer before last, I found a very large grass snake in the middle of the lane there – the biggest I’d ever seen, and the first in many years. I got out of the car, thinking it was sunbathing, but still it didn’t move. I crouched down to examine it: shiny, soft and in pristine condition, but lifeless. It must only just have died. I could not imagine what had happened – there was not a mark on its body. It bothered me for a long time afterwards: the moment of delight and excitement had turned so quickly to sorrow. Thankfully, the sighting a year or so later of another equally large grass snake, this time slithering off into the bracken at Staverton Park, was all the more joyful for overwriting the earlier memory.

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Crossways Farm Spring Update

siberian squill

30/5/2017 Spring started early this year, and then thought better of it. The first ducklings in the garden hatched in the first week of April, the day after I spotted the first swallows of the season, at least two weeks earlier than usual. Bluebells in south Suffolk were already putting on an impressive show by Good Friday, with a cuckoo joining in the celebrations; and the cow parsley was in flower well before the end of April. But the weather reverted back to winter around Easter and everything was put on hold. Even the ducklings disappeared after a week and I’ve seen no more since.

Strangely, I didn’t mind in the slightest. I am always wishing that spring would hang on just a little bit longer… and this year my wish came true. If the price to pay is cold weather, I think I’m happy with the trade-off. Though perhaps my guests weren’t. By the time the hawthorn blossom appeared in the hedge, bang on time on the 1st of May, there were still daffodils out by the front pond.

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