St Mary’s, Akenham
I was due at Akenham church, near Ipswich, to play at a cream tea and evensong on the first Sunday in August. Akenham was a Churches Conservation Trust church, and, I was informed, the evensong services in August are held there, the first of which was always preceded by a cream tea. I managed to rope in Steve to play duets with me during the cream tea; I felt solo Bach was suitable for the service but not for the jollities in the churchyard.
Getting there was an adventure. Despite being almost on the outskirts of Ipswich – only a mile from Whitton – it felt as though it was on a hill in the middle of nowhere. Along the lane before I came to the rough track leading to the church, I passed a tractor and baler that looked like two of the first mechanised pieces of farming equipment to appear in the countryside. They had an amusing charm about them, but looked somewhat impractical for the task in hand. Clearing a field of cut straw is a big job.
St Ethelbert’s, Herringswell
I had delayed visiting Cavenham, north of Bury St Edmunds, as I had spotted Cavenham Heath nearby on the map and wanted to combine my church visit with a walk there: it was a bit too far away to make a separate trip appealing. For nearly the first year of my church tour, having a cello with me made this impractical. This time, however, realising that Cavenham was in fact only fifteen minutes’ drive from my friend Penny’s house in Bury St Edmunds, and that I now had a cello case which I could happily carry on a walk with me, no further delay was necessary. An added benefit of stopping off at Penny’s house for a cup of tea was that she had a map of this small area of northwest Suffolk that I discovered was missing from my collection.
St Andrew’s, Boyton
The following morning I went back to where I had left off, on what Simon Knott – but no one else I have heard – calls the Bawdsey Pensinsula. Boyton was first. Driving around the little lanes of this sandy area of Suffolk is a pleasure: it feels truly rural. This makes sense, of course, as you would never be ‘passing’ on your way anywhere. There is nowhere to pass to. I met only tractors on my journey; thankfully no large ones or the roads would have struggled to accommodate us.
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.