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.
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.
5/9/2018 The approach of the end of summer is a sure way to bring into focus the things that you haven’t made the most of and don’t want to miss. This year I have noticed more of these things than usual. Luckily, though the much needed rain arrived in August, we have been blessed with a some idyllic days of warmth and sunshine at the beginning of September. After the summer rush I have also been blessed with a couple of quieter weeks in which I have the leisure to prioritise different activities: cello practice, writing, blackberry picking, jam-making and catching up with house and garden jobs that have been waiting for me most of the summer.
One of these jobs was mending bikes: one puncture, two malfunctioning brakes, and various rusted bolts that needed oiling and loosening for the adjustment of saddles and other moving parts. I am not much of a mechanic, but – aside from gears, which I do not understand at all and never seem to work properly, even after a visit to a bike repair shop – I am thankful that the mechanisms of bikes are generally simple, on view, and with observation and a bit of trial and error, most of their troubles can be fixed at home. And the satisfaction gained from such home repairs cannot be underestimated…
There have been one or two of those inexplicable gremlins at work. Almost simultaneously, I discovered that my photos of Hartest church were nowhere to be found on my camera, and that my phone had suddenly decided to delete all the photos on it. Dalham and Great Finborough churches were the only two churches I took photos of on my phone instead of camera. I have only one photo remaining, of the view from Dalham church, which I sent to a friend. I haven’t yet had time to revisit these three churches, but photos will be added here as soon as I do.
All Saint’s, Hartest
A concert in Hartest church had been on the books since last summer, and I was looking forward to it. I had resisted going inside before, even though I had driven through the lovely village of Hartest several times. Perhaps Cavendish is the ‘postcard’ Suffolk village, but to my mind, Hartest village green is far lovelier: smaller and therefore more intimate, and lined with mismatched, leaning old houses of many different colours. The church is on one corner of the green, next to the pub, where I enjoyed a good lunch during one of my previous outings to west Suffolk churches.