10/10/2018 For a few months in 2011 I lived next to a river near Pucón, in the temperate rainforest region of Chile. Large, evergreen shrubs that looked similar to box grew in abundance along the riverbank, and one day I saw a lady with her young son collecting buckets full of the red berries that grew on them. I asked her what they were, and what she used them for. ‘They’re murtillas’, she said, ‘I make jam with them’.
I picked some and ate them. The flavour was like nothing I’d ever tasted before, and I was excited. The next day I went back with a plastic bag to collect more, and so began my first jam-making attempts.
7/10/2018 For a number of years I have used walking as a therapy without really being conscious of what I was doing. I knew that it relieved stress, helped me solve problems and generate ideas, but I wasn’t aware that on occasions when I was at a loss as to how to cope with what I was feeling, particularly after my mother’s death in 2010, instinctually I turned to walking.
Early last year, something I read at the difficult start of a holiday on the Isle of Wight made me begin to pay attention to the physical, psychological and emotional effects walking had on me. Before the end of my holiday I had concluded that, as well as being a physical relief, it was one of the most effective remedies for emotional and psychological pain I have yet encountered1.
Of course, walking is not just an autumn gift. Thankfully it is a year-round one. But this specific walk – from St Ives to Penzance along the South West Coast Path – has been a particular gift to me, now, in autumn.
1/10/2018 I have never much liked ivy – except when it radiates sparrow chatter – and I don’t know many people who do. There is only one context in which I think it has any aesthetic appeal: growing, spider-like, up the outside of an old church wall or door. But I know those conserving the buildings must be at constant war with it.
Six years ago, when I first started walking along the South West Coast Path, I had an entirely new experience of ivy. Almost simultaneously I heard a loud buzzing and noticed a strong smell of honey. I looked ahead and saw a long stretch of hemispherical yellow-green flowers on both sides of the footpath. They were covered in bees, wasps, bumblebees and hoverflies. Butterflies were also fluttering about them.
29/9/2018 Blackberry picking became a fixture in my calendar when I moved to Suffolk. To begin with, only simple enjoyment was involved. I revelled in the knowledge that this was my new life. Instead of crossing a city on the underground for the purposes of recreation, I could step out of the house and go for a walk in the countryside. I was finally ‘in place’.
There was no need to grow blackberries myself, as I could find them without even looking, and the hedgerow variety taste infinitely better. The individuality of each blackberry is startling: one soft, one slightly crunchy, one huge, one tiny, one too sweet, one so tart it makes me flinch, one tasting of autumn so much more strongly than the next…
St Michael’s, Framlingham On the first Saturday in December, I had an appointment at Framlingham church to play music at their Christmas Tree Festival. They had asked me months in advance, but it wasn’t until a few weeks earlier that I had come up with a suitable plan for providing seasonal, fun ‘background’ music for their event: solo cello music wouldn’t work, nor cello accompanied by piano. Finally, I had an idea: it occurred to me that several cellos might be the answer. Carols are usually harmonised in four parts, and if I could get hold of a book of carols (first port of call: the Hill Music Library, ie. my friend Penny’s house), and two or three other cellists, it might just work out.
I mentioned my idea to a cellist friend, Mandy, and she kindly agreed to play. She managed to rope in an ex-pupil of hers, and Penny gave me not only the music but the contact details of a cello-playing colleague; and, bingo! We had a cello quartet. I had only met one of the players, but I was confident we would have no trouble playing carols together.
St John’s, Elmswell
I heard about the theft of roof lead from Elmswell church from a friend. It happened shortly before Remembrance Sunday, and the rain got in. My friend suggested I contact the church and offer to play the cello there, to help with their fundraising efforts or simply for moral support, and within a couple of days I had fixed with the rector that I would go and play something at a comedy, poetry and music evening which was taking place the following week. It was unrelated to the roof incident, but it sounded fun, and I hadn’t been to Elmswell before.
St Mary’s, Haughley Outdoor temperature: 14.3˚C; indoor temperature: 12.2˚C, humidity 66%
It was a warm day, and I thought I should take advantage of it. Haughley church was one of few churches left within a fifteen minute drive from home, and for some reason I thought it was located some distance along the high street, which isn’t on my usual route to north Suffolk. As soon as I looked at the map, however, I realised that it was in fact at a junction that I pass every time I go through Haughley, and – inexplicably – I hadn’t noticed it. It never ceases to amaze me the things that you see regularly but never see.
All Saints’, Hopton Outdoor temperature: 12.1˚C, humidity: 92%; indoor temperature: 9.3˚C, humidity 56% I could see Hopton church was unusual at first glance: its clerestory – the upper part of the nave with a series of windows – was the only part built of brick. Entering the church, its full glory struck me at once. The roof (see header photo) and clerestory were built in the late 15th century, and paint was only added to the roof in the late 19th century1 – though in the absence of a church guide, I only found out these facts afterwards. The painting was done by the five daughters of the rector at the time. They were braver than I would be.
In the middle of November, a friend, Simon, came to stay. He expressed an interest in visiting some churches with me, and I was delighted. I hadn’t suggested it, for fear of inflicting my personal project on an innocent bystander, but a change from solo outings was certainly welcome. My indecision as to a suitable destination was finally resolved when I remembered the Dancing Goat Café in Framlingham: we would have to go there for lunch, as Simon is a goat fan. (The fact there aren’t actually any dancing goats at the café is neither here nor there, since he could have his fill of such silliness at my house.) There were various churches in the vicinity that I hadn’t yet visited, and a brief search online suggested they were all worth a visit.
St Andrew’s, Kettleburgh Outdoor temperature: 11.1˚C; indoor temperature: 9.4˚C
After sampling the café’s unusual and delicious lunch menu, Kettleburgh was our first stop out of Framlingham. We found the church at the end of a lane, next to a farm. The car park seemed to be a little distance away, so I pulled in at a gateway beside the churchyard to send Simon on ahead with my cello. As I was figuring out how to reverse out without ending up in the ditch, I met two friendly dog walkers, who resolved a doubt of mine regarding the correct pronunciation of the village name: it is ‘Kettle-bruh’. They also assured me that the white geese nearby, which were causing me a little concern due to an incident of intimidation that I had undergone at the beaks of some farmyard geese a few years previously, weren’t within reach of the church car park.
I thought it would be fitting to play in a church or two on Remembrance Sunday. Knowing that many more churches than usual would have services on this day, I used the Church of England’s ‘church finder’ website to look up church services in the local area. Discovering there was an evensong service at 3pm in Little Finborough church, which I had tried to visit once before and found locked, I emailed the rector to enquire whether the church would be open during the day or if I might come after the service. Before long, to my delight, I received a reply saying that if I arrived at 3.45pm I would be able to get in, and as Combs church was not far away, I decided to go there first.
St Mary’s, Combs Indoor temperature: 9.5˚C
I didn’t leave as much time as I should have – or intended to. I didn’t really expect to find Combs church locked on this Sunday, but locked it was. I didn’t have time to go to another church, and I barely had time to go looking for a key – but for want of a better plan, I decided on the latter. I found details of a keyholder on the noticeboard, and though the lady was friendly and helpful, by the time I had found her house in the depths of Combs Ford – as I thought, a separate village from Combs, but apparently a suburb of Stowmarket – and returned to the church, I had only ten minutes in which to play. Photographs would have to wait: at least I had found out that the church was regularly open on Saturday and Sunday mornings, and so I could plan my return visit more easily.