St Andrew’s, Rushmere St Andrew I set off for a rehearsal at Rushmere St Andrew without any thought that I might include it in my list of churches. I went without my camera, and took no photos on my recently acquired smartphone. I think it was partly that I had recently come back from holiday and had it in my mind simply as a rehearsal, and partly that I had played there before and so it wasn’t officially amongst my list of churches to visit, eager as I had been at the beginning of my tour to find any way at all to reduce the vast number of churches and make the goal feel slightly more achievable. By the time I got home, however, I realised that I had included all other repeat visits – they were usually for concerts – and so there was no reason not to include this one. Besides, if I actually reach the end of my project, I’d be so close to visiting all of them that a few more would make little difference to numbers, and a big difference to my sense of satisfaction.
I knew that St Stephen’s Chapel wouldn’t officially count towards my church total – perhaps because it was built as a private chapel – but I was determined to include it nevertheless, for its ancient atmosphere and unique setting. Located near the Essex border at Bures, it was consecrated in 1218 by the Archbishop of Canterbury and lies nearly half a kilometre from the nearest road, on the western edge of the Dedham Vale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It is also believed to be the site where the coronation of King Edmund took place in 8551, which makes me wonder why it was dedicated to St Stephen and not St Edmund2.
2/12/2017 Autumn began in a promising manner. On the equinox I boarded a train down to Cornwall for a holiday, and returned home two weeks later with some important resolutions: more writing and more walking. Felicity and Ilo (the goats) and the ratties all made their own resolutions: more mischief and more food. Dexter the rabbit decided on more relaxation. (They tell me it’s all about work-life balance). Winston the wood pigeon’s resolutions were to grow all his adult feathers and stay firmly at home – preferably sitting on my head – and the chickens, generally the most amenable of my fluffy friends except where broodiness is concerned, decided that a moult was the best solution to the problem of summer coming to an end. I am pleased to report that all of the Crossways Farm residents’ resolutions are either complete or still being followed religiously.
St John’s, Great Wenham (and a return visit to Raydon)
I had been invited back to Raydon church to play at a village fundraising event at the beginning of September, and Will kindly agreed to come along and play duets again. As we would be playing the same pieces we had played at Bungay, we decided a short rehearsal beforehand would be sufficient, and arranged to meet at Great Wenham before going on to Raydon. Great Wenham was only a few minutes down the road, but the rather depressing account of Simon Knott’s last attempt to get inside1 made me doubt that we would find it open. Still, a little glimmer of hope remained: it was two years since he last visited, and the vast majority of churches he’d found locked, I’d so far found open.
St Nicholas’, Little Saxham I had driven past Little Saxham church many times on a back route from Bury St Edmunds to Risby, but I had never noticed its round tower. From the churchyard gate, however, it was fully and marvellously visible, its ornate arches showing at a glance that it was a Norman tower – described, I later discovered, as ‘Suffolk’s finest tower, perhaps England’s’ by Simon Knott1; high praise indeed. I was excited to find such a church on a visit not in my mental category of ‘adventure’: it was the closest church, apart from the strange-looking Westley church which I had found locked, to my friend Penny’s house on the outskirts of Bury St Edmunds, where I had stopped off after running errands in town.
St Mary’s, Bungay
My visit to Bungay didn’t begin well. Before I played a note, I had driven four times round the one-way system in the town centre; inflicted a minor scratch on what should have been the bumper of a new sports car (nothing, I assure you, to do with my generally uncharitable attitude towards sports cars); and, after I was told I could in fact park outside the church, scratched my own car rather more severely on the metal churchyard gatepost. Amidst my concern not to run over any pedestrians on the wide pavement I had to cross, I failed to notice the gateway was only just wide enough – and only for an approach precisely at right angles.
All Saints’, Wetheringsett
Will and I arranged to meet the following day for a final rehearsal to resolve a few lingering issues before our concert in Bungay. Stopping at a church nearby seemed, as always, the most enjoyable way to warm up for the rehearsal, and so I headed for Wetheringsett – or, more accurately, Wetheringsett cum Brockford – just off the A140 to Diss.
It was the day of our tour of four west Suffolk churches in the Glem valley benefice. The tour had come about through Jane and Erica, musical residents of Hartest: they had heard about my church project through friends, and contacted me to express an interest in assisting me on my journey. After some discussion, we settled on an early September fundraising concert in Hartest church. Various obstacles, however, conspired to delay the concert until the following spring, so, wanting to make the most of the warm and long summer days in the interim, we decided to visit the remaining four churches in the benefice. Before long we had fixed a date, timetable, and picnic lunch location. Will kindly agreed to come along and play duets with me, to make the music on offer more varied and fun, and allow us a practice run of the pieces we were going to play in a concert two days later.
St Nicholas’, Gipping I was driving northeast out of Stowmarket with the intention of visiting Mendlesham church on my way to Winston, where I was meeting Will for our last duet rehearsal before the next day’s four-church tour in west Suffolk. I thought I knew which route I wanted to take, having looked it up in advance, but my satnav had other plans. Normally I ignore it if I know roughly where I want to go, for fear it will take me to a main road I am specifically trying to avoid; this time, however, I realised too late that I was ‘somewhere else’, and so decided to see where it would lead me. Before long I was on windy lanes that I didn’t recognise, and a little while later, without so much as passing through a village, I spotted a sign to Gipping church. It pointed down a farm track. Almost without hesitation, I found myself taking a left turn.