St Mary’s, Dallinghoo
It was the week of my solo cello concert in London, and having anticipated both being in a panic about it, and needing some quiet time after a non-stop 10 days of B&B and 2 concerts, I had booked myself 3 nights in Orford to visit churches and practise the cello. While looking at my map to decide which churches to stop at on the way, I remembered a recent conversation in which Dallinghoo was mentioned. The ‘Hoo’ villages fascinate me simply because of their amusing names, and so no more consideration was needed: I located it on the map and found it conveniently near my route.
St Edmund’s, Hargrave
Due in Gazeley church for a concert the next evening, I decided to visit one of the churches in the area to practise beforehand. My intention was Denham, as I had checked it was likely to be open. But somewhere along the way the names got muddled in my head, and I thought I was looking for Depden. I only realised my mistake once I arrived in Chedburgh, where I decided to stop, on the offchance, not really expecting to find it open. It wasn’t, and since I was now so close to Depden, it seemed silly to turn around without trying that too. Soon I found myself at the end of a narrow driveway with a list of keyholders, which provided enough evidence that Depden, too, would be locked. Frustrated, and realising now that Hargrave was now closer than my original destination, I set off for that village instead, thinking the likelihood of my getting into any church now was slim.
Nearly an hour after leaving home, ready to give up if Hargrave was locked, I drove up a grassy driveway with a sign stating, ‘no cars: please park on the grass’. My disobedience was due as much to the fact I couldn’t determine on which patch of grass I was supposed to park, and had run out of patience, as to the diminishing number minutes I had left in which to practise the cello.
To my great relief, I found the door unlocked. It was a lovely little church: quite Victorian, but with a proper atmosphere of a small village church. I decided immediately that I wouldn’t take any photos today: I knew I would feel better if I used all my time on practice.
St Margaret’s, Cowlinge
On a cold and drizzly bank holiday Monday, I set off westwards cross-country to Cowlinge church, near the border with Cambridgeshire. But this was a special, somewhat surreal journey: beside me was not my cello, which had been relegated to the back seat, but Carolina, a Belizean friend whom I had known for 20 years, since she was 8, but she had never been to England before. I had been dreaming of having her to visit almost since I first knew her. Her older sister, Gloria, had been over twice, but circumstances had prevented Carolina from coming. I stayed with her family – four girls and three boys – for two months while helping at her village primary school on my gap year. I got to know the girls best as the boys were already teenagers doing their own thing. Their house had no electricity or running water and we used to walk down to the river every day after school.
All Saints’, Acton
Indoor temperature: 11.1˚C, humidity: 62%
I had arranged in advance to visit Acton church after going to try out a newly restored cello in Great Waldingfield, having agreed to give a concert on it. Christopher, the keyholder, said he’d leave the church open for me and would return after his meeting to give me a tour of the church.
I had tried to visit Acton church early in my tour, when I didn’t know it was kept locked. I hadn’t tried to visit again until now, nearly two years later. The warmth with which my request was received on this occasion immediately banished from my mind any lingering reservations caused by its state of lockedness. This warmth continued on my arrival, despite the church being empty: I found a chair set out for me in front of the chancel, with a welcome note on it. It made me smile.
19/6/2019 Last time I looked it was April: I’m not sure where this spring has disappeared to. I have been willing it to rain so that the irises in my rapidly drying pond might have the chance to flower before the goats ate them all. My wishes were in vain: but somehow a few flowers managed to escape their jaws nevertheless. The rain came too late for the irises, but the vegetables and fruits are thankful, as am I, for having far less watering to do than last year. And for the absence of moral dilemmas: my water butts are being filled regularly, so the hose is rarely called for.
After a slow start with bookings, this spring has been all about B&B, vegetable gardening and music, to the neglect of my new bathroom which has been waiting several months to be painted. But that is a winter job, and it will just have to wait: I have learnt that ruthless prioritising is the only way forward in spring. Meanwhile, the vegetable beds were mended and cleared in February with the help of a friend, and I finally got round to repairing, cleaning and goat proofing the greenhouse – only two years late. So both are in full green swing, prompted and encouraged by my friend Steve, who has been passing on spare seeds and plants and acting as my vegetable growing consultant. ‘What do I do about the potatoes which have been squashed by a crow that got stuck in the vegetable enclosure?’ ‘Will my Brussel sprouts recover after having nearly all their leaves broken off?’ (The rabbits and goats were happy with their dinner after that mishap.)
Meanwhile Dusty and Malteser have been specialising in cuteness; Winnie the Wood Pigeon is as gorgeous as ever and will soon celebrate her 2nd birthday; the goats took full advantage of their one opportunity (and I shall ensure it is their last) to break into the beautifully fenced rhubarb bed and leave a scene of devastation behind them; and my new rescue chickens, Cheeky and Monkey (Monkey is below centre) – no need to say more – have settled into Crossways Farm life as though they never knew anything else.
There was another benefit to staying away an extra night: I was on the cusp of reaching 300 churches, which I had arranged with myself I would achieve by 11th April, the second anniversary of the start of my church tour. Having an extra day to visit churches now, a week earlier, meant I might reach the milestone sooner. There was no rush, of course, but I was excited about the prospect. I was on 296 and wasn’t completely sure I would manage 4 churches that day, but I would try. If I was successful, I would also have covered nearly all the churches on the Felixstowe peninsula; at least, all the villages, if not the town itself and its suburbs.
All Saints’, Waldringfield
Indoor temperature 9.7˚C, humidity 77%
Having established that our best option for lunch was the pub in Waldringfield, I met my friend Nick at Waldringfield church with a plan to visit two churches in the morning and go for a walk in the afternoon, if the weather was amenable. It was a chilly, grey day, and I had warned Nick he would have to suffer more cello practice than music: sometimes there is little resemblance between the two. But he wasn’t put off.
We went to look at the view from the churchyard first, which Nick had read was one of the church’s best features. At first I doubted there would be any view, so enclosed by trees were we. Reaching the east end of the churchyard, however, the landscape opened out over the Deben estuary. It was satisfying to become better acquainted with two estuaries in one trip.
St Ethelbert’s, Falkenham
Indoor temperature: 10.8˚C, humidity: 72%
The perfect weather wasn’t expected to continue, but the sun was still shining when I got up, so I took advantage of it. My afternoon’s walk the previous day was so delightful that I decided to do the same walk again but in reverse.
Afterwards I drove through the suburban Trimleys near Felixstowe to reach narrow country lanes leading to the villages on the Deben side of the peninsula. My first stop was Falkenham,. It was an odd little church, with a grey brick nave and no chancel to speak of. But I liked its diminutive size, view over the estuary and lovely acoustic. Already the sky was gloomy, but it soon brightened up sufficiently to improve the light inside, and I was glad: not for the first time, the light switches had eluded me.
St Martin’s, Nacton
Outdoor temperature: 11.9˚C; indoor temperature: 15.8˚C, humidity: 56%
I had booked two nights away at the beginning of April in an area of Suffolk that I barely knew: the Felixstowe peninsula. I hadn’t visited a single church there. It was an idyllic spring morning, and driving to Steve’s house accompanied by sunshine, blackthorn blossom, daffodils and one of my favourite Mozart piano concertos was almost too much for me. Heaven is on Earth, if only we would stop long enough to realise it.
Despite my best efforts to be punctual, the daffodils outside my front gate had distracted me on departure and I was 1.5 minutes late for coffee at Steve’s house. We both exclaimed this simultaneously when he opened the door. It was an ongoing joke between us, after he told me early on in our acquaintance that coffee was served at 11, which I found – perhaps unreasonably – hilarious. ‘Do you have a butler?’ I responded.
All Saints’, Laxfield
A windy but delightful walk with Nick at Covehithe a week later redeemed my failure to explore the area on the day of my concert. I was introduced to the coastal plant ‘Alexanders’ – a strange name in both its first and last letters (a capital A, and an ‘s’, even in the singular). Nick told me its name, and I told him it was edible, having heard it mentioned in the context of foraging. I couldn’t remember enough about its edibility to suggest picking some; but now, having done my homework, I will certainly not walk past it again without doing so.
Our walk was followed by a heavenly vegetable lunch at Darsham Nurseries café, and then we decided on Laxfield for an afternoon church visit, after passing by Nick’s house to pick up my cello. I had driven through the village various times, but it always seemed to be late afternoon or early evening when I had run out of stamina and wanted to get home. It had obviously never made enough impression on me to include it in my day’s plans, probably because it was in the centre of the village and looked large, with a cramped churchyard, none of which qualities particularly attract me. But this is simply because I’ve been spoilt with tiny and remote churches. In the grand scheme of England’s church settings, Laxfield’s is a lovely one, and its interior soon had me feeling ashamed of my prejudices.