I had to make two trips in a day to the vet at Copdock to drop off and pick up my rabbit (thankfully nowhere near the scene of my Copdock church experience), and I thought this time I would finally visit Hintlesham church, which I had driven past countless times. My failure to do stop on any previous occasion had been caused, first, by the fact I hadn’t spotted anywhere to park (I should have looked right instead of left), and later by my experiences at Copdock and Bentley: I had been left with the impression that many churches in the vicinity of Ipswich kept their doors firmly locked to visitors.
I planned to visit in the afternoon, but decided to check if it was open on my way home in the morning, fully expecting it not to be. A sign in the porch stating, ‘this church is locked at night,’ raised my hopes, but it was not until I turned the door handle that I fully believed what the sign implied. I couldn’t resist a look inside, but I didn’t explore too thoroughly, wanting to leave the pleasure until later.
St Peter’s, Great Livermere
Outdoor temperature: 12.1˚C; indoor temperature: 15˚C, humidity 68%
The day after returning from holiday, I attended the Suffolk Historic Churches Trust annual dinner. My neighbour at dinner was Tony, the rector of the Blackbourne Team, or Ministry, a description that I had hadn’t come across before. Looking it up afterwards, I found it was something larger than a benefice: it includes 8 parishes, of which 3 consist of more than one village. Perhaps the most surprising of the parishes was ‘Ingham with Ampton, Great Livermere and Little Livermere’. Ingham and Great Livermere both possess sizeable churches, and Ampton, though small, seems very much in use as a village church. Little Livermere, I discovered, is now a ruin.
All Saints’, Stansfield
Outdoor temperature: 21.9˚C; indoor temperature: 20.4˚C, humidity 68%
Logistics had to play a part in my outing today: I was soon going on holiday and realised that there would be no further convenient opportunities to get to the farm supplies shop in Lavenham to stock up on animal food and bedding. Most churches in the southern part of west Suffolk are reached from my house through Lavenham, and so my destination was decided.
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 Mary’s, West Stow
Indoor temperature: 18.5˚C, humidity: 63%
I might have gone weeks thinking I visited Culford church, if I hadn’t met a lady there who, when we got chatting, asked me if I was from West Stow. After some bafflement on my part, eventually the penny dropped. What my friend Penny (unrelated to the previous) had told me a few days before about Culford church being within the school grounds finally made sense. She must have been even more confused than me when I said it wasn’t. I’d been there the previous week and found it locked.
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.
St Mary’s and St Lawrence’s, Great Bricett
Outdoor temperature: 22.6˚C; indoor temperature: 19.2˚C, humidity: 68%
August had been sadly short on church visits, and I wanted a change of scene for my cello practice, so at the end of the month I headed for Great Bricett. It was one of few churches remaining for me to visit fairly close to home, and I had been told it was open all the time.
I wasn’t particularly excited at the prospect of my outing, but I did wonder what I would find. Would Great Bricett church surprise me as much as the likes of Ringshall, Battisford, Nedging and Naughton, to name just a few? They were all local villages that I rarely had reason to visit, and my acquaintance with them was barely more than driving through on my way elsewhere. I thought they possessed little beauty until I met their churches, and now I think of them quite differently.
St Andrew’s, Little Glemham
On a Sunday at the end of July I was due in Aldringham church, near Aldeburgh, for an afternoon concert. After carrying out my morning’s B&B duties, I found myself so tired that I went back to bed, worried that I wouldn’t manage the drive and the concert. I only expected to have a short lie-down. To my surprise, however, it was noon when I woke up, and I realised that instead of having all the time in the world to visit another church on the way to warm up, I’d be in a rush.
I glanced at the map before leaving home to check there were plenty of churches near Aldringham that wouldn’t require more than a minute’s detour; I didn’t plan anything further. So, when I saw a sign saying ‘Church Lane’ shortly after entering Little Glemham, I took it without hesitation, hoping that I would come across its namesake sooner rather than later, and find it open. I wouldn’t have time to go searching for a key or looking for another church.
St Martin’s, Exning
It was the day of my concert in Newmarket, so I decided to make the most of the journey by practising beforehand in a church nearby. Exning was all of five minutes from St Mary’s, and I had already been told by its rector, whom I met at the concert I gave in Dalham, that it was open during the summer. A more convenient warm up location would be hard to find.
I intended to get home by early afternoon on Wednesday as a compromise for taking two nights away. I went partly in order to concentrate on cello practice, but primarily to prevent myself wrecking my hands with DIY before my concert in Newmarket on Thursday: my new bedroom carpet was being fitted on Friday morning, and I desperately wanted to get the hand-punishing and messy task of window frame stripping finished before then. But I also knew that there was no way I could do that and still be able to give a concert. The only sure way to prevent myself committing such a foolishness was to physically remove myself from the temptation, with a little concession: I could at least spend a bit of time on the more harmless job of painting walls if I got home in good time on Wednesday afternoon.