Suffolk churches 28: Edwardstone and Groton (July 2017)

St Mary’s, Edwardstone

Edwardstone gatehouseI always wondered where the grand brick gateway led, on the bend of a country lane apparently in Edwardstone, wherever Edwardstone is. I have recently somewhat tentatively concluded that perhaps Sandy, my pottery teacher, lives in the middle of the village. Although her house is next to the mobile home-like village hall, it is one of just a handful of houses at a three-way junction of small lanes, which I reach after passing a sign to tell me Edwardstone is in this direction, but none to inform me that I have arrived.

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Suffolk churches 27: Whatfield and Aldham (July 2017)

I have found myself increasingly referring to the Suffolk churches website in advance of my church visits, to find out whether I might find a church open or locked. At the beginning of my tour, it wasn’t so important: if one church was locked I could simply carry on to the next, which was unlikely to be more than five minutes’ drive away. I have tended to use local churches for convenience, on days when I am busy, so, as my list of local churches diminishes and I have to travel further to visit new ones, it is becoming useful for planning purposes to know in advance if I am likely to be able to get in.

I scan the first paragraph or two of the church entries as quickly as possible to find the information I’m looking for, trying not to notice much else, in order to see them with fresh eyes when I visit and not to be swayed by what other people deem to be interesting features. This of course means that on some occasions I have missed features that I would like to have seen. But I would rather return later, than to have my first impressions unconsciously dictated by someone else.

A pattern that has started to emerge in my search for opening information is that the majority of churches Simon Knott has found locked in the past are now regularly open. Whatfield is one such church. And there has been only a single example of the reverse: Lindsey. It seems to me a positive, hopeful pattern, suggesting that attitudes towards churches and their role in the community are changing for the better.

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Suffolk churches 23: Gislingham, Yaxley and Thrandeston (June 2017)

My plan to go north once more to visit Yaxley and Thrandeston churches via Gislingham was not entirely without ulterior motive: I would pass Thornham Parva on my way. I was itching to revisit that little treasure now that my ‘church eyes’ were sharper, and I was also on the hunt for a gravestone: I had found out not long before, by one of those curious coincidences, that one of my first cello teachers was buried there.

As I drove through Suffolk, I noticed the unmistakable yellowing of the countryside that had begun only in the last week. I was pleased by this confirmation that my chosen calendar, the astronomical rather than meteorological, was the more accurate one to follow: summer, as far as I am concerned, begins on the solstice. Of course, the reality is that seasons are constantly on the move and there is no sudden beginning or end to any season. In one year of early heat and dryness summer might seem to begin in May, and in another, it might seem to begin in July.

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Suffolk churches 20: Cockfield, Raydon and Holton St Mary (June 2017)

At the start of my churches tour, I discussed writing about it with Kim, a friend in Butley, who kindly agreed to read the first few instalments before I put them up on my website. She responded positively, and likened the project to travel writing about tours of England on horseback: an unusual way to explore the country, creating novel perspectives and adventures, but bringing its own demands and limitations to the journey.

The image appealed to me. Although the cello wasn’t alive, nor a mode of transport, it came to life in churches once I started to play, in turn making the churches come to life. It made me realise that, in contrast to Kim’s positive associations, the project conjured up for me a book I had once heard serialised on the radio about a man who hitchhiked around Ireland with a fridge. It was telling – and I don’t think the image originated purely with my white cello case. I decided then that I would make more effort to see my cello in terms of what it added to my explorations, rather than as an encumbrance.

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Suffolk churches 15: Iken, Sudbourne and Chillesford (May 2017)

Soon after my walk along the Alde estuary from Snape, I fixed a date to visit Iken church with my friend Mark, as I had promised not to go there without him. I very nearly left my cello at home, feeling it was an uncomfortable companion for a hot day out with another person and Bob the dog. But, in the end, it seemed to me the cello was the whole point: the idea of the trip originated with the cello, Mark had asked to come when I was going to play there, and I was reluctant to miss a day’s practice in the run up to my recital. So along it came.

St Botolph’s, Iken
Iken church looks isolated as you approach it along the estuary footpath, or even along the road, but once you reach it, it doesn’t feel very remote. There is a small settlement around it, and even a sophisticated roadside stall selling water, jam and other disparate consumables.


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Suffolk churches 13: Charsfield and Darsham (May 2017)

It was the day of the cello concert in Darsham for which I had been practising duets with Will, a cellist near Halesworth to whom I had recently been introduced. Without extending my journey by more than five minutes, I found I could pass through Charsfield on the way. Its significance to me was as the village of Akenfield, Ronald Blythe’s ‘portrait of a Suffolk village’, published in 1969. The evening before, the 1974 film of the same name was shown at the Arts Picturehouse cinema as part of the Bury Festival, so, never having seen it or read the book, I decided to go.

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Suffolk churches 12: Monks Eleigh, Brent Eleigh and Bradfield St George (May 2017)

During the week I decided to go to some local churches on my way to Lavenham and Bury St Edmunds. I have begun to find the varying contexts of my church visits and their accompanying states of mind fascinating: I often notice in myself some reluctance to visit local churches that I pass on a regular basis, or at least whose villages I have long been acquainted with. I can only assume this is because they lack the element of adventure: not exciting enough a destination for a day out, they are relegated to errand-running trips, mere cello practice necessity (still, more exciting than practising at home), or other humdrum contexts, with their relative dullness of mind compared to the excitement of the unknown and the prospect of a day’s adventure. However, on most if not all occasions, these local visits have transformed the mundane into something memorable and special, and given me new insight into places on my doorstep that I had never properly appreciated or perhaps even bothered to get to know. This week’s visits were no exception.

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Suffolk churches 11: Snape, Sternfield and Hemingstone (May 2017)

The following Monday I had arranged to meet a friend, Cristina, to visit the Alde Valley Spring Festival at Great Glemham before a rehearsal in Rendham church. I left home in high spirits: I had just heard the tit chicks cheeping in the kitchen ceiling for the first time– the nest entrance was a hole in a wall beam – and the first ox-eye daisies were coming into flower by the driveway.

Unfortunately the morning’s adventures did not start off so well, as neither of us had remembered that the festival was closed on Mondays. Annoyed with myself for not registering this important piece of information when I looked up the website the night before, we came up with an alternative plan to park at Snape Maltings and go for a walk on the marshes – it seemed a promising location to find somewhere to leave my cello for an hour or two.

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Suffolk churches 10: Stoke by Nayland, Nayland, Wiston and Bures (May 2017)

I love the Stour Valley. The steep hills and marshy ground near the river mean that more land is given over to small meadows for sheep and cattle than on the higher, flatter ground where I live. The hills also provide some of the best views in Suffolk. Of course, the river itself is the central draw: over the years I have felt an increasing compulsion to be near water, especially rivers.

As 10th May was my mother’s birthday, I decided that a church tour of the Stour Valley would be a fitting way to celebrate it for her. I also wanted to walk and enjoy the many bluebells– which grow in the hedgerows as much as the woodlands in this area – and so an overnight stay at a remote farmhouse I had discovered near Stoke by Nayland seemed the best and most enjoyable way to do both, especially as the weather forecast was good.

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Suffolk churches 8: Clopton, Otley and Ashbocking (May 2017)

It was a little over a week since my walk in Captain’s Wood, and a visit to see the bluebells at Staverton Thicks was becoming more urgent. This time it wasn’t difficult to find an opportunity to combine a walk with church touring: my cello had developed an annoying buzz and I would need to leave it in Woodbridge for half a day to be glued back together. I arranged to drop it off one morning when I had time to continue to the Thicks, only 15 minutes beyond Woodbridge.

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