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.
31/5/2018 I have resorted to partial cheating again. May possesses so many treasures that I could only get round to writing about a few of them, a problem that was exacerbated by the late arrival of so much that ordinarily belongs to late winter and early spring. But then growth and flowering caught up, and many weeks of flowers and blossom were condensed into just a few. This year there were barely two weeks, instead of two months, between the last of the blackthorn blossom and the first of the hawthorn; a very strange state of affairs.
May isn’t only the month of cow parsley, but also of wisteria, laburnum, wild garlic and bluebell woods, all of which I love. Due to bad weather, time constraints and timing misjudgments, I didn’t make the most of the woods this year. Bull’s Wood is my favourite place to go for oxlips in late April and wild garlic from April to early May, but despite my good intentions, I didn’t manage to get there. Bluebell woods are to be found in many places in Suffolk: Priestley Wood in Barking, Captain’s Wood in Sudbourne and Dollops Wood in Polstead (photo right), to name just a few. This year I went to Dollops Wood, but I forgot that my garden’s seasons are usually at least a week or two behind everywhere else. My bluebells were at their peak, so I thought I would be in time to catch them in the woods, but as soon as I arrived I realised they were on their way out. There were still enough flowers for me to enjoy them, but the blue haze would have been far more luminous a week earlier.
St Peter’s, Nowton
Outdoor temperature: 16.9˚C; indoor temperature: 14.8˚C, humidity 66%
It is rare that a church visit makes me cross – at least, if I manage to get inside. Nowton did, however. It reminded me of my potential for extreme irritability with both locked churches and stained glass.
23/5/2018 On the radio the other day I heard cow parsley and nettles being referred to as the ‘thugs’ of the wild flowers. Apparently they thrive in the countryside and on road verges to the exclusion of other wild flowers due to added nitrogen from car fumes and agricultural fertilisers.
I was immediately indignant. On reflection, however, logic has permitted me to accept that this may be so. But it doesn’t stop me loving cow parsley. My garden, which has never been fertilised – except perhaps by goats and chickens in the last few years – has always grown into a jungle of cow parsley in May and June, reaching above my head as a child, and nothing makes me happier than seeing it everywhere in the May countryside. Without it, spring almost wouldn’t be spring.
Today marked a significant change in my church-visiting journeys around Suffolk; a change which had been taking place almost imperceptibly over recent months, and had finally reached a turning point. I found myself able to listen to music again, for the first time in years.
7/4/2018 My belief that spring might have arrived was premature. More than a week later, there is still barely a green leaf to be seen, barely a ray of sunshine to be felt. The meadows along the Brett Valley are flooded, and my garden pond is encroaching on the lawn. It hardly seems feasible that exactly a year ago I saw my first swallows of the season: I expect I will be waiting a good few weeks longer this year.
Perhaps the feeling of extended winter has been partially responsible for my slowness in choosing a second spring treasure. Busyness over Easter accounts for another part of the delay, and the remainder – the biggest obstacle – has been caused by at least five changes of mind over which particular spring wonder to settle on. The unusually slow progress of the season means that many delights of early spring, which usually take place consecutively, are coinciding this year, and choosing between them is nearly impossible. I feel like a bumblebee buzzing from flower to flower, too excited about the appearance of so many different food sources at once, and unable to decide which nectar I like best.
Last week I opted out, but I feel it is high time to commit myself. A sunny day finally arrived a few days ago – the first since I last wrote – and sitting on the terrace in the sun was more conducive to forcing myself into a decision.
I chose blackthorn. A blossom that I was half expecting to include in my late winter treasures, and the first to put some colour back in the hedgerows.