4/6/2018 Almost two years ago I wrote of a sound that I associated with childhood summers in Suffolk, but that was now missing from my garden: the purring song of the turtle dove. I read, then, that their numbers had decreased by more than 90% since the 1960s; now, I have found a figure of 93% since 1994 . Forgetting momentarily that these are migrating birds that spend their winters in Africa, I thought it was yet another indication of the devastating effects of the changes in our farming practices in the last half century. These may have caused some of their problems, but clearly they are not the whole picture.
I have been listening out for the turtle dove ever since I became aware of its absence. Every time I thought I might have heard one and stopped to listen, I realised it was actually a wood pigeon: they also ‘purr’ sometimes, in addition to their usual cooing song.
Last year I may have seen a juvenile turtle dove. I couldn’t be 100% sure, but I did eliminate every other possible dove or pigeon from my enquiries. It was too far away to photograph, but I spent a long time examining it through binoculars and comparing it with photographs, and it seemed the only likely candidate. I didn’t hear any though, and adults are usually only heard, not seen.
It was my first church outing since my Badley concert the previous Sunday, and I was feeling achy – probably more from my week’s gardening efforts than any residual concert tiredness – but I went out for the day with the aim of ‘tinkering’: it felt like a pleasant change to be able simply to have a quick play through a few pieces that I would be preparing over the coming months, in order to establish what needed most work, rather than having to sit down with the intention of practising seriously in each church. It also meant I could enjoy more church visits with rather less effort than in recent weeks.
St Mary’s, Earl Stonham
Outdoor temperature: 22˚C; indoor temperature 13.8˚C, humidity 61%
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.
St Margaret’s, St Margaret Ilketshall
Outdoor temperature: 22.5˚C; indoor temperature: 18.1˚C, humidity: 62%
I was starting to struggle with the Ilketshalls and the South Elmhams. I wasn’t entirely sure which I was in, as my map, road signs and the church sign simply said ‘St Margaret’. I found out eventually though, from the various documents posted on the church noticeboard. It was a round-towered church, my first since my trip to the Beccles area in February. White doves were sunbathing in the gutter.
St Michael’s, St Michael South Elmham
Outdoor temperature: 21.7˚C; Indoor temperature: 14.4˚C, humidity: 73%
I was greatly looking forward to the day’s church visits. I was spoilt for choice: within a fifteen minute drive I could have chosen any of about twenty churches, perhaps more. I had arranged to meet my cellist friend, Will, at Rumburgh for a late morning rehearsal, so I settled on St Michael South Elmham nearby. My decision involved some confusion around village and church names, as I found another church named on the map as ‘St Michael’s Priory church’. Having trouble finding out any further information about it, and feeling distrustful of its public access precisely due to the fact it was labelled, I decided to avoid it until later in the day, when I would be passing anyway and could investigate without causing myself any inconvenience.
St Mary’s, Withersdale Street
Outdoor temperature: 22.1˚C; indoor temperature 17.4˚C, humidity: 65%
Karen and Nick, at whose B&B I was staying, had told me the previous evening that there was a lovely church a mile or so down the road which was walkable via a footpath. Since then I had been tempted by the idea of my first ever cello hike. It was such beautiful weather, and I felt it was a short enough distance for a trial. So, after buying some lunch supplies at the village shop and sitting for a while in the sunshine, I emptied my bag of everything I didn’t absolutely need – including my music stand – and set off for Withersdale Street, in the knowledge that I could always abort the operation if it turned out I was being overly optimistic about the lightweight qualities of my new cello case.
St James’, St James South Elmham
Outdoor temperature: 19.3˚C; indoor temperature: 12.5˚C, humidity: 77%
I had arranged to play at Metfield church at 11am, in order to have time to warm up in another church beforehand. Consulting the map, I decided to make a start on ‘The Saints’, the 12 villages of South Elmham and Ilketshall all named after saints, of whose churches 11 are still in existence. I hadn’t realised they were all so close to Metfield.
The drive outside the church was busy: the noise of chainsaws and a wood chipper accompanied the sight of tree surgeons in their customary orange hats, and a truck full of gravel was parked by the churchyard gate. Two men were laying it on the church path, and the chancel was missing its roof. It appeared to be raining, but it wasn’t water coming from the sky. I couldn’t tell what it was; I thought perhaps it might be ash from a nearby bonfire.
I had missed a weekend over Easter, and I was also in desperate need of some serious cello practice for a concert in less than two weeks’ time, so I decided to treat myself to two nights away visiting churches. A friend’s parents who had recently moved from Felixstowe to Metfield – about an hour’s drive from my house, near Harleston on the Norfolk border – had asked me to let them know when I was planning to visit Metfield church as they wanted to come along to listen. I didn’t realise until later that they had moved to, and were going to run, a B&B in the village. What could be better than combining a stay there with church visits, I thought; so after lunch on a Tuesday, I set off, intending to visit Athelington on the way. It was a church which I had planned but failed to visit after Redlingfield the previous week.
St Mary’s, Horham
Outdoor temperature: 18.1˚C; indoor temperature: 12.8˚C, humidity: 62%
St Michael’s, Occold
Outdoor temperature: 12.7˚C; indoor temperature: 11.1˚C, humidity: 63%
In hope of inspiration for an afternoon’s destination, I scanned the photocopied map of Suffolk churches stuck on my fridge door. It took me only a few seconds to choose Occold, simply because I thought it had an odd name. It was in an area near Eye that I didn’t know, and there were plenty of other churches to visit nearby. I have now just looked up the name and discover that it simply means ‘oak wood’. Not so strange after all.
16/4/2018 Richard Jeffries suggested the skylark should be considered a representative of winter: instead of cold and darkness, he thought, why not ‘a sign of hope, a certainty of summer?’ It was his essay that helped me to think of winter in a different way.
I half expected to include the skylark in my winter treasures; after all, I have heard skylarks sing over the fields around the Hobbets on many a clear, mild day in February. It just happens that I didn’t hear one until April this year. It is likely I simply wasn’t in the right place at the right time; but the longer wait and the circumstances of my first skylark song were part of what made it so special.