Suffolk churches 19: Layham, Shelley and Long Melford (June 2017)

It was the weekend of the Stoke by Nayland Arts and Literary Festival, and I had booked tickets for two talks. To my disappointment, both of them were cancelled. My friend Mark persuaded me to go to a different one, about a book on prehistoric Britain – more his line of interest than mine, but nevertheless I was easily persuaded, having heard and enjoyed the same person speak about oak trees a couple of months earlier in Norwich.

Both Layham and Shelley churches were on the way to Stoke by Nayland, via a slightly less direct route than driving through Polstead, but just as scenic, and, on balance, my preferred one.

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Suffolk churches 18: Bildeston, Hasketon and Milden (June 2017)

With a busy start to June, and my challenging recital only two weeks away (the idea was still rather alarming to me), cello practice rather than church visiting was my priority. So, when I had time to leave the house to practise, I had no ambitions to visit more than one church, and looked for one near home or on my way to or from somewhere, and unlikely to be full of visitors. Bildeston was an obvious first choice.

St Mary’s, Bildeston
I realised only quite recently, on a full moon evening walk at New Year, that St Mary’s church is visible from the end of my garden: it sits on the next hilltop a little under 3 miles south of my house, and was floodlit that night.

Bildeston church

I have always loved the location of St Mary’s. It is at least half a mile from Bildeston village, up the hill at the end of a lane, with views over the countryside. A newer, sunny graveyard across the lane seems a happy place to be laid to rest. This was my third attempt to visit the church: the first time it was locked, and the second there was an event, perhaps a wedding. This time I was glad to find it open and empty. A barn next to the church was being rebuilt or converted, and a very charming Liverpudlian builder greeted me as I was unloading the car. He seemed excited by the idea of taking an instrument to play in such wonderful buildings, and said he would try to stop the machines long enough to hear it.

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Suffolk churches: concerts and events

As part of my project to play the cello in all of Suffolk’s medieval churches, I am giving fundraising concerts and playing at church fundraising events around the county (and a few just over the border!). If you would like a fundraising concert at your village church, or cello music for another church event, please contact me.

UPCOMING CONCERTS AND EVENTS

Friday 8th September, 7.30pm. St Peter’s Church, Monks Eleigh
Cello concert. Music including Bach, Fauré, Elgar and Granados. With Stephen Glaister (oboe), Alison Glaister (violin) and John Wilkin (piano).

Sunday 5th November, 6pm. Liston church.
Performance of a Bach cello suite during compline.

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Suffolk churches 17: Hoo and Brandeston (May 2017)

I ended up at Hoo church in a rather roundabout way: via Kettleburgh, Brandeston and Cretingham. I went in search of lunch, and very nearly didn’t get any. At Cretingham, the only one of the three pubs to be open and serving food, I found the kitchen had officially closed two minutes before my arrival. But the lady at the bar took pity on me – she went to ask if they could make me a sandwich and came back with a much better answer: they hadn’t cleared up yet, and had kindly agreed to take my order.

After a somewhat chilly lunch (I was determined to stay outside although the wind had got up and drizzle was threatening), I continued down the road to Cretingham church. My excitement at approaching the light and friendly-looking church was short lived, as there were large pieces of wood lying on the grass outside the porch, by which I deduced that building work was in progress. Inside, the builders were having lunch, and I could see the tower was the subject of their attentions. Someone from the village – a churchwarden perhaps – was with the builders, and in answer to my query he informed me the work was bell-related. He started to direct me animatedly towards features of interest in the church, so I went in for a guided tour.

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Suffolk churches 16: Thorpe Morieux and Little Whelnetham (May 2017)

It was the morning of the annual plant sale at Thorpe Morieux village hall. I had never been with my friend Penny, only with her husband Jeremy and their boys, Sam and Tim, so I was feeling apprehensive at walking straight into an embodiment of Jeremy’s absence1. But I wanted to go, and was glad that Penny and Sam also felt able to; Tim had a more pressing engagement with his GCSE revision. I decided to take advantage to fit in some practice at the church before the arrival of guests in the afternoon.

Thorpe Morieux is near Brettenham, and only a few miles from my house. I have always been intrigued by its curious name (Morieux), which I have recently discovered is the name of a family who once owned the village manor, and taken from a place called Morieux in Brittany. Its associations for me are almost exclusively of childhood bike rides: we would stop there to visit the church and the llamas. I am glad to say the llamas (as well as the church) are still in residence.

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Suffolk churches 15: Iken, Sudbourne and Chillesford (May 2017)

Soon after my walk along the Alde estuary from Snape, I fixed a date to visit Iken church with my friend Mark, as I had promised not to go there without him. I very nearly left my cello at home, feeling it was an uncomfortable companion for a hot day out with another person and Bob the dog. But, in the end, it seemed to me the cello was the whole point: the idea of the trip originated with the cello, Mark had asked to come when I was going to play there, and I was reluctant to miss a day’s practice in the run up to my recital. So along it came.

St Botolph’s, Iken
Iken church looks isolated as you approach it along the estuary footpath, or even along the road, but once you reach it, it doesn’t feel very remote. There is a small settlement around it, and even a sophisticated roadside stall selling water, jam and other disparate consumables.

Iken

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BBC Radio Suffolk church tour interview

17/7/2017 Click here to listen to this afternoon’s BBC Radio Suffolk ‘sofa guest’ interview on Lesley Dolphin’s ‘All about Suffolk’ programme (http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p058yj9t)

Suffolk churches 14: Gazeley and Moulton (May 2017)

My church trips seem to bring luck. On several occasions I have found, heard or seen new things before leaving home, or on the journey. Today it was newts: I caught sight of one in the front pond as I was opening the driveway gate, the first since I had found two in the flowerbed wall more than eighteen months ago. A Sainsbury’s delivery driver had spotted another one crossing the same driveway after dark last autumn. He thought it was a lizard, but I knew it was a newt.

This excitement of course delayed my departure: I had to make sure I wasn’t mistaken, and watch for a while to see if there was more than one, and whether I could tell which kind of newts they were. After half an hour or so, I had spotted four newts in one little sunny patch near the edge of the pond. At least one of them was a great crested newt. I am hopeful this small sample area indicates a healthy breeding population.

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Suffolk churches 13: Charsfield and Darsham (May 2017)

It was the day of the cello concert in Darsham for which I had been practising duets with Will, a cellist near Halesworth to whom I had recently been introduced. Without extending my journey by more than five minutes, I found I could pass through Charsfield on the way. Its significance to me was as the village of Akenfield, Ronald Blythe’s ‘portrait of a Suffolk village’, published in 1969. The evening before, the 1974 film of the same name was shown at the Arts Picturehouse cinema as part of the Bury Festival, so, never having seen it or read the book, I decided to go.

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Suffolk churches 12: Monks Eleigh, Brent Eleigh and Bradfield St George (May 2017)

During the week I decided to go to some local churches on my way to Lavenham and Bury St Edmunds. I have begun to find the varying contexts of my church visits and their accompanying states of mind fascinating: I often notice in myself some reluctance to visit local churches that I pass on a regular basis, or at least whose villages I have long been acquainted with. I can only assume this is because they lack the element of adventure: not exciting enough a destination for a day out, they are relegated to errand-running trips, mere cello practice necessity (still, more exciting than practising at home), or other humdrum contexts, with their relative dullness of mind compared to the excitement of the unknown and the prospect of a day’s adventure. However, on most if not all occasions, these local visits have transformed the mundane into something memorable and special, and given me new insight into places on my doorstep that I had never properly appreciated or perhaps even bothered to get to know. This week’s visits were no exception.

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