4/9/2017 This summer brought a record of 5 broody chickens all at once, causing egg-laying traffic jams, and challenged me to find an effective way to persuade them they were wasting their time (Dexter the rabbit had to rent out his pen for a few days). Apart from this, however, Dexter the Rabbit and Winston the Wood Pigeon (occasionally referred to as Winnie in case he’s a girl), have been having by far the most adventures this season. They are considering starting their own newspaper column, or perhaps clubbing together to write a children’s book… So I am handing over to them!
At the start of my churches tour, I discussed writing about it with Kim, a friend in Butley, who kindly agreed to read the first few instalments before I put them up on my website. She responded positively, and likened the project to travel writing about tours of England on horseback: an unusual way to explore the country, creating novel perspectives and adventures, but bringing its own demands and limitations to the journey.
The image appealed to me. Although the cello wasn’t alive, nor a mode of transport, it came to life in churches once I started to play, in turn making the churches come to life. It made me realise that, in contrast to Kim’s positive associations, the project conjured up for me a book I had once heard serialised on the radio about a man who hitchhiked around Ireland with a fridge. It was telling – and I don’t think the image originated purely with my white cello case. I decided then that I would make more effort to see my cello in terms of what it added to my explorations, rather than as an encumbrance.
It was the weekend of the Stoke by Nayland Arts and Literary Festival, and I had booked tickets for two talks. To my disappointment, both of them were cancelled. My friend Mark persuaded me to go to a different one, about a book on prehistoric Britain – more his line of interest than mine, but nevertheless I was easily persuaded, having heard and enjoyed the same person speak about oak trees a couple of months earlier in Norwich.
Both Layham and Shelley churches were on the way to Stoke by Nayland, via a slightly less direct route than driving through Polstead, but just as scenic, and, on balance, my preferred one.
With a busy start to June, and my challenging recital only two weeks away (the idea was still rather alarming to me), cello practice rather than church visiting was my priority. So, when I had time to leave the house to practise, I had no ambitions to visit more than one church, and looked for one near home or on my way to or from somewhere, and unlikely to be full of visitors. Bildeston was an obvious first choice.
St Mary’s, Bildeston
I realised only quite recently, on a full moon evening walk at New Year, that St Mary’s church is visible from the end of my garden: it sits on the next hilltop a little under 3 miles south of my house, and was floodlit that night.
I have always loved the location of St Mary’s. It is at least half a mile from Bildeston village, up the hill at the end of a lane, with views over the countryside. A newer, sunny graveyard across the lane seems a happy place to be laid to rest. This was my third attempt to visit the church: the first time it was locked, and the second there was an event, perhaps a wedding. This time I was glad to find it open and empty. A barn next to the church was being rebuilt or converted, and a very charming Liverpudlian builder greeted me as I was unloading the car. He seemed excited by the idea of taking an instrument to play in such wonderful buildings, and said he would try to stop the machines long enough to hear it.
As part of my project to play the cello in all of Suffolk’s medieval churches, I am giving fundraising concerts and playing at church fundraising events around the county (and a few just over the border!). If you would like a fundraising concert at your village church, or cello music for another church event, please contact me.
UPCOMING CONCERTS AND EVENTS
Sunday 5th November, 3.30pm. Bradfield St Clare church.
Informal afternoon concert (30 mins); Bach cello suite in C minor. Free entry, donations to church funds.
Sunday 5th November, 6pm. Liston church (near Long Melford).
Performance of Bach cello suite in C minor during Compline. Free entry.
Sunday 17th December, 2.45pm. Hitcham church.
Performance of Handel Trio Sonata for 2 cellos and keyboard before the carol service (3pm). With Will Bass (cello) and John Wilkin (piano).
I ended up at Hoo church in a rather roundabout way: via Kettleburgh, Brandeston and Cretingham. I went in search of lunch, and very nearly didn’t get any. At Cretingham, the only one of the three pubs to be open and serving food, I found the kitchen had officially closed two minutes before my arrival. But the lady at the bar took pity on me – she went to ask if they could make me a sandwich and came back with a much better answer: they hadn’t cleared up yet, and had kindly agreed to take my order.
After a somewhat chilly lunch (I was determined to stay outside although the wind had got up and drizzle was threatening), I continued down the road to Cretingham church. My excitement at approaching the light and friendly-looking church was short lived, as there were large pieces of wood lying on the grass outside the porch, by which I deduced that building work was in progress. Inside, the builders were having lunch, and I could see the tower was the subject of their attentions. Someone from the village – a churchwarden perhaps – was with the builders, and in answer to my query he informed me the work was bell-related. He started to direct me animatedly towards features of interest in the church, so I went in for a guided tour.
It was the morning of the annual plant sale at Thorpe Morieux village hall. I had never been with my friend Penny, only with her husband Jeremy and their boys, Sam and Tim, so I was feeling apprehensive at walking straight into an embodiment of Jeremy’s absence1. But I wanted to go, and was glad that Penny and Sam also felt able to; Tim had a more pressing engagement with his GCSE revision. I decided to take advantage to fit in some practice at the church before the arrival of guests in the afternoon.
Thorpe Morieux is near Brettenham, and only a few miles from my house. I have always been intrigued by its curious name (Morieux), which I have recently discovered is the name of a family who once owned the village manor, and taken from a place called Morieux in Brittany. Its associations for me are almost exclusively of childhood bike rides: we would stop there to visit the church and the llamas. I am glad to say the llamas (as well as the church) are still in residence.
Soon after my walk along the Alde estuary from Snape, I fixed a date to visit Iken church with my friend Mark, as I had promised not to go there without him. I very nearly left my cello at home, feeling it was an uncomfortable companion for a hot day out with another person and Bob the dog. But, in the end, it seemed to me the cello was the whole point: the idea of the trip originated with the cello, Mark had asked to come when I was going to play there, and I was reluctant to miss a day’s practice in the run up to my recital. So along it came.
St Botolph’s, Iken
Iken church looks isolated as you approach it along the estuary footpath, or even along the road, but once you reach it, it doesn’t feel very remote. There is a small settlement around it, and even a sophisticated roadside stall selling water, jam and other disparate consumables.
My church trips seem to bring luck. On several occasions I have found, heard or seen new things before leaving home, or on the journey. Today it was newts: I caught sight of one in the front pond as I was opening the driveway gate, the first since I had found two in the flowerbed wall more than eighteen months ago. A Sainsbury’s delivery driver had spotted another one crossing the same driveway after dark last autumn. He thought it was a lizard, but I knew it was a newt.
This excitement of course delayed my departure: I had to make sure I wasn’t mistaken, and watch for a while to see if there was more than one, and whether I could tell which kind of newts they were. After half an hour or so, I had spotted four newts in one little sunny patch near the edge of the pond. At least one of them was a great crested newt. I am hopeful this small sample area indicates a healthy breeding population.