There was another benefit to staying away an extra night: I was on the cusp of reaching 300 churches, which I had arranged with myself I would achieve by 11th April, the second anniversary of the start of my church tour. Having an extra day to visit churches now, a week earlier, meant I might reach the milestone sooner. There was no rush, of course, but I was excited about the prospect. I was on 296 and wasn’t completely sure I would manage 4 churches that day, but I would try. If I was successful, I would also have covered nearly all the churches on the Felixstowe peninsula; at least, all the villages, if not the town itself and its suburbs.
All Saints’, Waldringfield
Indoor temperature 9.7˚C, humidity 77%
Having established that our best option for lunch was the pub in Waldringfield, I met my friend Nick at Waldringfield church with a plan to visit two churches in the morning and go for a walk in the afternoon, if the weather was amenable. It was a chilly, grey day, and I had warned Nick he would have to suffer more cello practice than music: sometimes there is little resemblance between the two. But he wasn’t put off.
We went to look at the view from the churchyard first, which Nick had read was one of the church’s best features. At first I doubted there would be any view, so enclosed by trees were we. Reaching the east end of the churchyard, however, the landscape opened out over the Deben estuary. It was satisfying to become better acquainted with two estuaries in one trip.
St Martin’s, Nacton
Outdoor temperature: 11.9˚C; indoor temperature: 15.8˚C, humidity: 56%
I had booked two nights away at the beginning of April in an area of Suffolk that I barely knew: the Felixstowe peninsula. I hadn’t visited a single church there. It was an idyllic spring morning, and driving to Steve’s house accompanied by sunshine, blackthorn blossom, daffodils and one of my favourite Mozart piano concertos was almost too much for me. Heaven is on Earth, if only we would stop long enough to realise it.
Despite my best efforts to be punctual, the daffodils outside my front gate had distracted me on departure and I was 1.5 minutes late for coffee at Steve’s house. We both exclaimed this simultaneously when he opened the door. It was an ongoing joke between us, after he told me early on in our acquaintance that coffee was served at 11, which I found – perhaps unreasonably – hilarious. ‘Do you have a butler?’ I responded.
St Peter’s, Monk Soham
On the first Saturday in March I was due in Covehithe church for an evening concert. For this trip I had a travelling companion – Maureen from Monks Eleigh – whom I had warned in advance that I was planning to visit another church on my way there. Covehithe was nearly as far away from my house as it was possible to get without leaving the county, and I wanted to take advantage of the journey. She wasn’t put off, so we set off together in the middle of the afternoon.
The following morning was perfect and un-forecast. It was a day for walking in the marshes, and I set off for Blythburgh. Without any thought beforehand as to whether I would go inside the church – I had visited on a few previous occasions, the last accompanied by my cello – I found when I arrived that I had to. It is impossible to walk past such a building.
It was no less bright than on the May afternoon of my last visit. I sat down on the step of the font and absorbed my surroundings. This might be the only building I know that the same effect on me as a beautiful outdoor landscape. If any church could make me believe in God, I thought, this was it.
St Peter’s, Freston
Indoor temperature: 5.3˚C; humidity: 71%
Steve had arranged for us to pick up the key from a member of the Paul family: the owners, Steve told me, of most of this area of the Shotley peninsula. Tessa Paul’s house and garden overlooked over the estuary and pretty countryside, but any potential for envy was instantly dealt a fatal blow by the proximity of the Orwell Bridge and the A14.
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.
St Mary’s, Erwarton
Indoor temperature: 13.7˚C, humidity: 79%
For a whole year, Erwarton church had been at the back of my mind: a friend from pottery who lives in Holbrook nearby had offered to take me there. She had mentioned it was one of her favourite churches. Finally I got round to suggesting a date, and on the second attempt we made it happen. I had a friend staying with me, and so the two of us set off for the Shotley peninsula.
I had visited only one church there so far: Tattingstone. I’m not sure why it took me so long to go back. Perhaps because I didn’t fancy tackling the A12 around Ipswich. It was only a short distance, and didn’t involve crossing the Orwell Bridge – which must be my least favourite stretch of road in the whole county due to the scary side winds that sometimes blow over it – but nevertheless it was sufficient to delay my return. There was an alternative option of going through Wherstead, but the smaller roads are windy (of the other kind) and indirect, and I don’t feel confident finding my way. Not to mention the latter associations I have of the area involving locked church frustration and an upsetting encounter at Copdock. But recently I have discovered a third route: to head southeast directly to the Essex border (the Stour estuary) and take a left turn at Brantham. It might take a little longer to reach some churches closer to the Orwell estuary, but I think this is the best solution, especially as I have now found a ‘partner in crime’, a friendly bassoonist with a twinkle in his eye who lives in Stutton, near Brantham, and has offered to join me for duets in the remainder of the Shotley peninsula churches.
St Mary’s, Langham
Outdoor temperature: 19.4˚C; indoor temperature: 18.9˚C, humidity: 62%
I knew that Langham church was in the middle of a field, and I was fairly sure it was kept locked. I had wanted to visit for a while, but was putting off the inconvenience of trying to get in. Finally the perfect opportunity arose: I had an evening concert in Wattisfield church on the day of the Suffolk Historic Churches bike ride. I emailed the vicar to ask if it was acceptable for me to turn up at Langham with my cello (not realising he was the same vicar I’d meet later in the day at Wattisfield), and, given the go ahead, turned up at the field gate later than I intended but still with twenty minutes before ‘closing time’ at 5pm. The people at the gate knew to expect me and directed me across the fields, kindly allowing me to take my car.
St Lawrence’s, Lackford
I had once been to Lackford Lakes, and once to West Stow Anglo-Saxon village and country park, but that was the extent of my knowledge of this area north of Bury St Edmunds. When I was asked to give a concert in Lackford church by a member of the audience at Dalham, I was even more delighted than usual by the prospect: in the afterglow of that wonderful occasion, I felt I could never have enough of them.
Arriving at Lackford church was hardly less exciting than arriving at Dalham: turning off the main road and driving through a modern housing estate didn’t raise my hopes, but I soon emerged into open countryside with pretty views, and a perfect location in which to enjoy the late summer sunset.