21/1/2018 Most of my chickens are hybrids, bred to lay eggs all year round – except for a few days or weeks here and there, when they are moulting, broody, or think it’s too cold and dark to consider such a thing. They generally lay slightly fewer eggs in winter, but I still have a daily supply.
I have a few pure breed chickens that are less regular in their laying habits, however; and two of them – called Cream Legbars – lay blue eggs. They are just over two years old, and each year they have stopped laying in September or October. I was mighty disappointed the first time they didn’t lay a single egg the rest of the year. I had no idea when they would start laying again – my best guess was early spring – but this year I was better informed. I hadn’t made a note of the date, but I thought it was roughly around the end of January to the middle of February.
St Mary’s, Haughley Outdoor temperature: 14.3˚C; indoor temperature: 12.2˚C, humidity 66%
It was a warm day, and I thought I should take advantage of it. Haughley church was one of few churches left within a fifteen minute drive from home, and for some reason I thought it was located some distance along the high street, which isn’t on my usual route to north Suffolk. As soon as I looked at the map, however, I realised that it was in fact at a junction that I pass every time I go through Haughley, and – inexplicably – I hadn’t noticed it. It never ceases to amaze me the things that you see regularly but never see.
All Saints’, Hopton Outdoor temperature: 12.1˚C, humidity: 92%; indoor temperature: 9.3˚C, humidity 56% I could see Hopton church was unusual at first glance: its clerestory – the upper part of the nave with a series of windows – was the only part built of brick. Entering the church, its full glory struck me at once. The roof (see header photo) and clerestory were built in the late 15th century, and paint was only added to the roof in the late 19th century1 – though in the absence of a church guide, I only found out these facts afterwards. The painting was done by the five daughters of the rector at the time. They were braver than I would be.
In the middle of November, a friend, Simon, came to stay. He expressed an interest in visiting some churches with me, and I was delighted. I hadn’t suggested it, for fear of inflicting my personal project on an innocent bystander, but a change from solo outings was certainly welcome. My indecision as to a suitable destination was finally resolved when I remembered the Dancing Goat Café in Framlingham: we would have to go there for lunch, as Simon is a goat fan. (The fact there aren’t actually any dancing goats at the café is neither here nor there, since he could have his fill of such silliness at my house.) There were various churches in the vicinity that I hadn’t yet visited, and a brief search online suggested they were all worth a visit.
St Andrew’s, Kettleburgh Outdoor temperature: 11.1˚C; indoor temperature: 9.4˚C
After sampling the café’s unusual and delicious lunch menu, Kettleburgh was our first stop out of Framlingham. We found the church at the end of a lane, next to a farm. The car park seemed to be a little distance away, so I pulled in at a gateway beside the churchyard to send Simon on ahead with my cello. As I was figuring out how to reverse out without ending up in the ditch, I met two friendly dog walkers, who resolved a doubt of mine regarding the correct pronunciation of the village name: it is ‘Kettle-bruh’. They also assured me that the white geese nearby, which were causing me a little concern due to an incident of intimidation that I had undergone at the beaks of some farmyard geese a few years previously, weren’t within reach of the church car park.
13/1/2018 By the front pond is a giant crack willow. The tree is magnificent; and its magnificence is greatest in winter. The twigs turn bright orange and its luminous canopy is the highlight of my garden on a sunny winter’s day. I watch it with curiosity every spring, thinking, surely its twigs can’t actually change colour; it must be an illusion created by the branches becoming gradually invisible beneath the growing leaves. But I swear that as soon as the buds start to break, the twigs lose their glow.
Friends and tree surgeons have all expressed their concerns about this tree and have urged me to either have it cut down completely, or pollarded. One large branch has already snapped off, a few years ago in a gale, and every time a new storm arrives I go outside the next morning to check it is still in one piece. Pollarding is a more acceptable option to me (in any case, cutting it down ‘completely’ would only turn it into a labour-intensive coppice), but despite the perennial anxiety it causes me, I cannot yet bring myself to lay a hand on its splendour.
I thought it would be fitting to play in a church or two on Remembrance Sunday. Knowing that many more churches than usual would have services on this day, I used the Church of England’s ‘church finder’ website to look up church services in the local area. Discovering there was an evensong service at 3pm in Little Finborough church, which I had tried to visit once before and found locked, I emailed the rector to enquire whether the church would be open during the day or if I might come after the service. Before long, to my delight, I received a reply saying that if I arrived at 3.45pm I would be able to get in, and as Combs church was not far away, I decided to go there first.
St Mary’s, Combs Indoor temperature: 9.5˚C
I didn’t leave as much time as I should have – or intended to. I didn’t really expect to find Combs church locked on this Sunday, but locked it was. I didn’t have time to go to another church, and I barely had time to go looking for a key – but for want of a better plan, I decided on the latter. I found details of a keyholder on the noticeboard, and though the lady was friendly and helpful, by the time I had found her house in the depths of Combs Ford – as I thought, a separate village from Combs, but apparently a suburb of Stowmarket – and returned to the church, I had only ten minutes in which to play. Photographs would have to wait: at least I had found out that the church was regularly open on Saturday and Sunday mornings, and so I could plan my return visit more easily.
On my second return visit to the Debenham area to take photos of Winston and Debenham, I rectified my previous mistake and executed my photographic duties before going to any new churches. Afterwards I decided to pass by Aspall church, although I had little hope of finding it open, having read the rather discouraging Suffolk Churches site entry. But more often than not, churches that in the past were kept locked, I find open, or at least with a keyholder notice.
Sadly, this church was not one of them. I would go so far as to say it was my only wholly depressing attempted church visit so far. I ended up parking on the edge of a field outside one of the churchyard gates next to a ‘private property’ sign, finding nowhere else to stop, and the only hint that the church might not be derelict was a rug I could see inside the locked porch. There were no notices anywhere to indicate to the visitor that the church was still in use, and the only aspect of my visit that gave me cause to smile was the presence of a colourful flock of chickens making full and joyful use of the churchyard.
Later in the day I managed to find a contact email for the rector of the benefice, and wrote to enquire if the church was still in use. I received a friendly and apologetic reply, and was assured that if I wrote again prior to my next visit, it would be unlocked for me. I was relieved and grateful, but after a few moments’ hesitation, decided I would be neglecting my moral duty if I did not at least suggest that a keyholder notice might be put up on the porch door…
6/1/2018 Staverton Thicks is one of two places in Suffolk that I like best in winter. Part of the reason may be that my first visit was in December, and the memory of that exhilarating discovery will always stay with me. But there is also a stillness about it in winter. It is not just that fewer people walk there, as I have barely ever encountered anyone in Staverton Thicks, at any time of year. Rather, the stillness is of a wood in hibernation.
The main reason for my preference, however, is that its beauty lies greatly in its quality as a quite extraordinary, walk-in, living sculpture. Its shapes can be appreciated better in winter when the ground and the branches (apart from holly) are bare: more light reaches the woodland floor, and the tall, dense bracken has died back, allowing a clear view of the weird and wonderful forms to be found everywhere in this truly unique woodland.
St Andrew’s, Great Saxham Great Saxham church was located to the south of the village on what seemed to be estate land, characterised by plentiful oak trees and meadows with grazing sheep. I found the church itself in a wooded area full of pheasants, a little uphill from the road. A brick wall enclosed both the churchyard and a couple of paddocks beside it, with a rectangular gravelled area that I guessed might be for horse jumping.
31/12/2017 I wondered if this should be the first item on my list – after all, according to the astrological calendar, it is the first day of the season. But it is not the first sign of winter; and this year, oblivious of our prescribed arrival and departure dates, winter appeared well before the solstice.
I have a particular connection to the winter solstice: it is the meaning of my name. Yalda, meaning ‘birth of the sun’, is a Persian festival celebrated on the longest night of the year with poetry and food – in particular pomegranate and watermelon, whose colours symbolise dawn and the glow of life. Interestingly, I have only just learnt that the origin of the name, literally meaning ‘birth’, was the Syriac Christian word used in a religious context to mean Christmas. There are obvious parallels with the idea that the date of Christmas may have been adopted from the Pagan festival of the winter solstice.