Holy Trinity, Middleton
Outdoor temperature: 10.9˚C; indoor temperature: 8.9˚C, humidity: 78%
It was another glorious morning. Middleton was the neighbouring village to the south of Westleton, which I had left until now because there were fewer churches in the vicinity, and I had visited most of them already. Today, I only had time for two church visits on my way home. I was looking forward to it: I didn’t know Middleton at all.
So I thought, but when I arrived, it looked familiar: I must have driven through once or twice before. It is odd that I didn’t remember its name, because it is a distinctive and friendly-looking village, with pub, church, and many houses clustered around a village green of just the right size to give a sense of both space and community.
Two days ago I heard of the unexpected death of Mandy, a cellist friend with whom I visited Wenhaston church shortly before Christmas, and whom I last saw on the day of the church visits I have written about below.
I first met Mandy and Nick over five years ago, after an introduction from a friend of my father’s, when we played together in the Lavenham Sinfonia. But our friendship developed more recently, and has been a hugely important part of my last two wonderful years. This has been largely due to my church project. Their encouragement and enthusiasm, as well as joint church visits, have been truly wonderful aspects of my tour. Music, gardens, turtle doves, chickens, Suffolk churches, cello, baking, knitting, books and home grown fruit and veg are just some of the subjects we have chatted about. A borrowed book on my bedside table bears Mandy’s name inside the front cover. How little did I think, even three days ago when I picked it up to start reading it, how poignant a simple glance in its direction would soon become. Arriving at their beautiful cottage in Sibton Green has been the closest I have felt, since my parents died, to the embrace of a safe and affectionate home where I could forget about the outside world for a while, chatting and drinking tea by the fire with a cat stretched out on my lap.
My mind continues to circle round the fact of her death, half baffled, half disbelieving, unwilling to touch it and yet unable to leave it alone. And my thoughts travel constantly to her family, whose pain will be great.
All Saints’, Blyford
Indoor temperature: 8.7˚C; humidity: 78%
From Holton I continued along the road to Blyford: all of the churches were very close together in this area, and it felt good not to have to drive more than than 15 minutes from Westleton all day. I found the church opposite a pub – as it should be, I always think – on a little green at a junction with the main road. It must have been a main road (by rural standards at least) as it was signposted in one direction to Halesworth, and in the other, to Blythburgh. But I was very aware that my unfamiliarity with this area of Suffolk made it feel remote, no matter how much traffic might be passing, or how many people might be visiting the pub. On a Wednesday mid afternoon in December, however, neither the road nor the pub were frantically busy, and mine was the only car parked on the green.
St Peter’s, Wenhaston
Indoor temperature: 11.9˚C, humidity: 72%
I arranged to meet my friend Mandy at Wenhaston church the following morning after a walk on Westleton Common. I had heard a lot about the church and its famous doom painting, though it took me a while to match up the name I was hearing with a name on my church map, due to its pronunciation: Wena-ston, rather than Wen-haston.
With bed and breakfast guests from 27th December, I decided to book a short break to visit churches in the week before Christmas. It felt a little risky to book 3 nights away several weeks in advance, not knowing what the weather would be like. But, bar any blizzards, I knew that if I committed myself by paying for accommodation, I would go, and enjoy it even if the churches were freezing. And if they were really too cold, I could spend more time walking and writing instead.
So I found and booked the loft of someone’s outbuilding in Westleton, near the coast and a good area for both walking and churches. I was lucky with the weather: it was mild, with more than a fair smattering of sunshine. For the second time this autumn, however, my trip was preceded by an animal disaster which meant that I left home both with a heavy heart, angry with myself and doubting my competence, and feeling that distraction and having a break away from home would do me good.
St Peter’s, Stutton
Indoor temperature: 10.2˚C, humidity: 78%
I had made a Saturday morning appointment with Steve, a bassoonist with whom I had played recently in two orchestral concerts, to visit his village church. I had first met him a year or two previously in his official capacity as a woodwind instrument repairer: I went to his house to meet a friend of mine, Joost, who had just come up on the train from London to drop off his bassoon at Steve’s house. Joost had raved about both Steve and his vegetable garden, and had asked if I could have a tour. I was kindly invited to coffee and cake as well. His vegetables were indeed impressive, as was his baking, and he was quite as friendly and lively as Joost had led me to believe.
So, when we met again, we quickly got chatting about all sorts of things, including, of course, churches. I was delighted when he offered to join me at Stutton church, and I was impressed that he was up for the challenge of church playing at this time of year: any rural musician will be partially used to playing in cold churches in the run up to Christmas, but I think not many would choose to do so just for the fun of it.
St Peter’s, Theberton
Outdoor temperature: 9.7˚C; indoor temperature: 9.9˚C, humidity: 71%
I was back on the east coast the following weekend for a concert at Snape Maltings. My friends in Sibton Green kindly offered me a bed again to spare me a late drive home after the Friday night rehearsal, so I had the luxury of a whole morning on Saturday to explore.
Heading towards Aldeburgh to visit a friend for late morning coffee, Theberton lay along my route. I had a treat in store. Its round tower and thatch were only the beginning: inside, I found an impressive hanging quilt made by the ‘Theberton and Eastbridge village stitchers’, showing scenes of village life. I turned right to walk towards the chancel and saw that the south aisle and its columns were painted. I read afterwards that this painting dates from the 1846 rebuilding of the south aisle1. While I admired it, however, I didn’t really question its age or design, I simply thought how cheerful and bright it made the already lovely church.
St Mary’s and St Peter’s, Kelsale
The following morning, after a blissful night’s sleep in the epitome of rural Suffolk cottages, I went for a walk in the sunshine and then set off in the direction of Saxmundham. Before the afternoon concert in Darsham church, I was due at Aldringham Court nursing home at 2pm to play to the bed-bound elderly mother of an acquaintance, and I intended to fit in two churches on the way. Although all the music I was playing today I had played before, I hadn’t spent quite long enough on them lately to feel comfortable performing them, so I was glad of some practice time.
St Mary’s and St Lambert’s, Stonham Aspal
Outdoor temperature: 10.3˚C; indoor temperature: 12.8˚C, humidity: 72%
It was the weekend of the CelloAid concert in Darsham church: an all-cello concert, all ages and all standards, in aid of Suffolk Refugee Support. I was heading to Sibton Green the day before for a rehearsal, and had arranged to spend the night there with friends, as Darsham was only a few miles away.
I had driven past the ‘church open’ sign outside Stonham Aspal church many a time on my way coastwards. The sign seemed the most enticing thing about it: the church was tucked back behind some trees, looking rather cramped and dark in the middle of the village. Driving past west to east, its tower was invisible to a car driver, so that I didn’t realise it had one until I stepped into the churchyard.
23/12/2018 It took me months to attract the first goldfinches to the garden with nyger seeds. When they did arrive, I would see one, and then have to wait several weeks to see the next one. Still, I was thrilled with the odd sighting, and wished I could tell my father they were here. Like kingfishers, they look too exotic for England; and also like kingfishers, it only takes a glimpse to know which bird you have seen.