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.
St Mary’s, Cavendish
Indoor temperature: 19.5˚C, humidity: 69%
I had an appointment in Glemsford to pick up some relatives of Badger the Rat who were coming to live with me, and I thought I’d take the opportunity to visit Cavendish and Clare churches on the way. They are two contrasting villages along the upper reaches of the Stour much frequented by tourists, and rightly so. Cavendish possesses one of the most picturesque village greens in the county. I knew the main route through the village well, as this was my father’s preferred driving route from London, and I had made a couple of visits to the cane furniture shop, from which he bought a few chairs. Although it’s likely I must have visited the church at least once during my childhood, I didn’t remember it, nor its location.
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.
5/6/18 Last night I went on Ipswich Community Radio to talk about my church project on Get Classical with FJ. You can hear the interview here: www.mixcloud.com/ICRfm/04-06-18-get-classical-with-fj/
It was my first church outing since my Badley concert the previous Sunday, and I was feeling achy – probably more from my week’s gardening efforts than any residual concert tiredness – but I went out for the day with the aim of ‘tinkering’: it felt like a pleasant change to be able simply to have a quick play through a few pieces that I would be preparing over the coming months, in order to establish what needed most work, rather than having to sit down with the intention of practising seriously in each church. It also meant I could enjoy more church visits with rather less effort than in recent weeks.
St Mary’s, Earl Stonham
Outdoor temperature: 22˚C; indoor temperature 13.8˚C, humidity 61%