St Mary’s, Ashby
Indoor temperature: 18.1˚C, humidity: 56%
I reached the keyholder of Ashby church on my first attempt, and arranged a visit for 11am the following morning. I turned off the road down a dusty farm track, which – if it weren’t for the car I was travelling in – might have looked exactly the same when the church was first built. I saw the octagonal tower of the church hiding behind a bed of nettles and a hedge just beyond a crossroads in the tracks, which I later read was a medieval road junction1.
I headed east from Heckingham, planning to visit the first churches I came to across the county border. This was where my confusion began: according to my OS map, Fritton church was in Norfolk. But it was on the list for Lothingland on my church map. I decided to believe Ordnance Survey for now, and continued on to Herringfleet, which, to my disappointment, I found hidden beneath scaffolding and filled with builders. I didn’t have far to go, however, to reach the next church, Somerleyton.
St Mary’s, Somerleyton
Outdoor temperature: 22.4˚C; indoor temperature: 19.4˚C, humidity: 61%
I had planned to fit in a week’s walking in Cornwall in June. But while I was dithering, a B&B booking came in for mid-June, and soon after I realised that a cello-free holiday any later in the month was impossible, as I had two concerts on 30th June and a large pile of music to learn. So three days in a far corner of Suffolk with a large amount of cello practice on the agenda was the best I could manage. I found a lovely place to stay, at Heckingham on the Norfolk Broads, for added holiday feel.
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.
19/7/2018 The swifts arrive shortly after the swallows in spring. But for some reason, I associate swifts with hot, sunny days; weather such as we have been having for the last two months.
Perhaps this is partly because of an experience I had in the south of France in 2011. My father was performing a Mozart opera, La Clemenza di Tito, at the Aix-en-Provence music festival. It was the first opera I properly got to know, at the age of 11, and it has been my favourite ever since. The venue was the Archbishop’s Theatre, an outdoor theatre in the courtyard of the former archbishop’s palace that was converted into a theatre in 1948.
I had just arrived from the airport, sweaty and out of breath, having run all the way from the bus stop with a few unintentional detours. I sat down with great relief in time for the beginning of the overture of this deeply serious and emotional opera. There was a unique addition to the music, however, and one I would never have anticipated: screaming swifts circling high overhead in the dusk sky. It was an experience I will never forget.
16/7/2018 Until recently, I had almost forgotten the delights of blackcurrants. They are not a fruit I would ever think of buying in a shop (if indeed they are sold in shops – I have never looked for them), and many years passed between visiting ‘pick-your-own’ farms during childhood and tasting them again about five years ago, when a friend generously gave me a few of his small and precious crop. Putting one in my mouth instantly transported me back to childhood summers. Their flavour was uniquely wonderful; their sharpness sweat-inducing. In that moment I decided to grow my own.
10/7/2018 The only times I remember getting up in the morning and taking for granted that I would open the curtains to sunshine and warmth have been in Spain or the south of France. But during the last two months I have noticed myself doing just that. I get out of bed with a spring in my step, and I feel as though I am on holiday even if I have so much to do that I barely stop all day.
The grass is parched for the first time in a decade or more, and the words that I could never understand hearing my friends say, ‘it’s too hot for me’, have definitely passed through my head, if not my lips, on more than one occasion. I have been finding it preferable to embrace the sweat by undertaking some active job in the garden than to engage in futile efforts to stay cool by sitting still in the shade. And – unbelievably – I have found myself taking respite in the house during the hottest parts of the day. Which, admittedly, has proved of benefit to the decorating jobs required in my recently renovated bedroom, and my desire not to miss all of Wimbledon.
St Petronilla’s, Whepstead
Outdoor temperature: 22.5˚C; indoor temperature: 17.1˚C, humidity 65%
It was with some trepidation that I set out on my next church visit nearly a week later. I was heading in the direction of Bury St Edmunds and knew that in the area south of the town I was far more likely to encounter open churches than locked ones, but still I was dreading the next occasion when I might have to phone a keyholder.
While for many 19th May 2018 will be a day to remember, it is a day I will be happy to forget. It was the first time, and, I hope, the last, that I have walked away from someone who arrived to let me into a church, so upset was I by the treatment I received.
Of course, if I had realised that so many churches in the area around Ipswich are kept locked, even on weekends in May, and such is the distrust that no one will lend you a key to get in – they have to open it themselves, and, I expect, wait until you leave again – I would never have chosen this glorious Saturday morning to attempt visiting the area. But I didn’t suspect a thing. Until I got to Copdock church, found it locked, and was met with the rather aggressive question, ‘Who are you?’ three times on the phone to everyone I spoke to about acquiring a key. After the unpromising start to the first two conversations, the churchwardens did relent and became friendly, but they were both either watching the royal wedding or too busy to come to the church, and so gave me the phone number of another key holder.
St Andrew’s, Darmsden
Outdoor temperature: 23.8˚C; indoor temperature: 15.7˚C, humidity: 63%
Searching my map for churches near Barking – which I planned to visit in conjunction with Priestley Wood, a bluebell wood across the road from the church – I discovered a village I had never heard of: Darmsden. That was the first surprise. The second was when I reached the turn off to the village to discover it was a dead-end road, signposted ‘Darmsden: public footpath only’. It is the only Suffolk village I know of – yet – which is officially only accessible to the public on foot.