With bed and breakfast guests from 27th December, I decided to book a short break to visit churches in the week before Christmas. It felt a little risky to book 3 nights away several weeks in advance, not knowing what the weather would be like. But, bar any blizzards, I knew that if I committed myself by paying for accommodation, I would go, and enjoy it even if the churches were freezing. And if they were really too cold, I could spend more time walking and writing instead.
So I found and booked the loft of someone’s outbuilding in Westleton, near the coast and a good area for both walking and churches. I was lucky with the weather: it was mild, with more than a fair smattering of sunshine. For the second time this autumn, however, my trip was preceded by an animal disaster which meant that I left home both with a heavy heart, angry with myself and doubting my competence, and feeling that distraction and having a break away from home would do me good.
24/12/2018 It seems only right that, having completed a year of weekly seasonal treasures, I should reflect on the reasons I began.
Rereading the introduction I wrote a year ago, I was surprised. I had almost forgotten that I planned to choose one subject for each week of winter only, and I can barely recognise the emotions I was experiencing then, so different do I feel now.
I started the project as a kind of therapy for winter, a way to help me live more in the moment and appreciate what was around me even when I was struggling, whether due to cold and dark, dealing with difficult circumstances or events, or my own inexplicable moods. I found the therapy so effective and enjoyable that I didn’t want to stop. No matter what time of year it is, there are always times when we are so bound up with our busy-ness or daily problems that we can fail to notice things in front of us; forget to be grateful for simple gifts. I found that forcing myself to stop to think and write about them was so beneficial to my mental health, regardless of how low or upbeat I was feeling, that the original purpose of the task was overtaken by a multitude of positive effects. In this way it reminds me of my church tour which I began in April last year, for just three or four vague reasons. The outcomes so far, perhaps ten times that quantity, have been beyond anything I could have imagined.
23/12/2018 It took me months to attract the first goldfinches to the garden with nyger seeds. When they did arrive, I would see one, and then have to wait several weeks to see the next one. Still, I was thrilled with the odd sighting, and wished I could tell my father they were here. Like kingfishers, they look too exotic for England; and also like kingfishers, it only takes a glimpse to know which bird you have seen.
20/12/2018 It very much still feels like autumn, and I’m glad about that. I can carry on enjoying walks and garden jobs accompanied by chickens and goats without having to brace myself too often to go outdoors. I know I will warm up soon enough with activity, but that doesn’t stop me putting off going out in the cold…
Autumn seems to be the quietest B&B period. More so than winter. I think once New Year has passed, people start needing to think about their next long weekend or holiday in order to get them through till spring. I don’t mind having a quiet period: it gives me a chance to catch up on all the long overdue tasks of mending, sorting, tidying (indoors and out), admin, getting myself generally a little more organised than usual, and even decorating. And this year I actually feel as though I’ve made the most of the time available, to the extent that three years after building work was completed, I am finally getting round to decorating the animal room and finding a way to permanently rodent-proof the wattle and daub walls, which are slowly but surely being transferred to the floor by chewing chinchillas and excavating rats… I am also well on my way to having a new bathroom (the last time it was done was likely in the 1950s) along with other smaller but equally essential renewals or additions, such as paving improvements and a proper fence for my rhubarb bed that I defy even Ilo and Felicity to breach…
17/12/2018 When I first heard reports from friends and neighbours of bluebells sprouting in December, I thought they must be mistaken. I have rarely noticed snowdrop shoots in December, and that seemed far more likely than bluebells. With a large dollop of doubt and no first-hand evidence to settle the matter, I soon forgot about it.
Until last year, when I actually paid attention to what was under my nose.
26/11/2018 I have noticed how many stunning sunsets we have had recently. I am sure it is because there have been so many clear days this autumn that they are more frequently visible than usual. I think it is also likely that I’m more often outdoors at the right time, often squeezing in a walk or a garden job before the light disappears. And the autumn colours certainly enhance their beauty.
But when I stopped to think about it, I concluded there was probably a more scientific explanation too: the angle of the sun is different, and a greater slant must contribute to greater scattering of light.
29/9/2018 Blackberry picking became a fixture in my calendar when I moved to Suffolk. To begin with, only simple enjoyment was involved. I revelled in the knowledge that this was my new life. Instead of crossing a city on the underground for the purposes of recreation, I could step out of the house and go for a walk in the countryside. I was finally ‘in place’.
There was no need to grow blackberries myself, as I could find them without even looking, and the hedgerow variety taste infinitely better. The individuality of each blackberry is startling: one soft, one slightly crunchy, one huge, one tiny, one too sweet, one so tart it makes me flinch, one tasting of autumn so much more strongly than the next…
5/9/2018 The approach of the end of summer is a sure way to bring into focus the things that you haven’t made the most of and don’t want to miss. This year I have noticed more of these things than usual. Luckily, though the much needed rain arrived in August, we have been blessed with a some idyllic days of warmth and sunshine at the beginning of September. After the summer rush I have also been blessed with a couple of quieter weeks in which I have the leisure to prioritise different activities: cello practice, writing, blackberry picking, jam-making and catching up with house and garden jobs that have been waiting for me most of the summer.
One of these jobs was mending bikes: one puncture, two malfunctioning brakes, and various rusted bolts that needed oiling and loosening for the adjustment of saddles and other moving parts. I am not much of a mechanic, but – aside from gears, which I do not understand at all and never seem to work properly, even after a visit to a bike repair shop – I am thankful that the mechanisms of bikes are generally simple, on view, and with observation and a bit of trial and error, most of their troubles can be fixed at home. And the satisfaction gained from such home repairs cannot be underestimated…
St Botolph’s, North Cove
Outdoor temperature: 16.9˚C; indoor temperature 19.9˚C, humidity: 67%
I had noted down the keyholder’s contact details for Barnby church the previous day so I thought I would try my luck there first. She lived in North Cove, down the road, and once I arrived at her house I thought to ask if she knew who had the key to that church. ‘Well, actually, I do’, she said, and kindly lent me both keys to drop back when I had finished. It felt like a great luxury to be in possession of not one, but two, church keys.
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.