St Mary’s, Badwell Ash
Outdoor temperature: 17.9˚C; indoor temperature: 11.4˚C, humidity 62%
I went back to the same area on my next excursion. I don’t often do this on consecutive outings, but it wasn’t too far away from home, and there were several churches in the vicinity that I hadn’t yet been to. The main reason for my choice, however, was instinctual not logical. Only with some thought have I worked out that the drive and the area have pleasant associations for me, of days out and adventures. With few exceptions, I have taken this route only for leisure purposes, so the journey itself feels relaxing rather than a chore.
Butterfly rescues: 3 As it turns out, there is an unexpected hazard involved in visiting churches in early spring – in fact, three. Who would have thought butterflies coming out of hibernation could singlehandedly create so many? The first is that instead of practising the cello, I spend my time trying to rescue butterflies fluttering helplessly in church windows. The second is that I risk ending up in A&E with some injury caused by less-than-sensible attempts to reach butterflies at high altitude: it’s all very well getting up there, but you also have to get down again with both hands in use as a butterfly trap. The third hazard is that, inevitably, there will always be butterflies out of reach, causing me no small amount of heartache. Perhaps I will have to invent the world’s longest extendable butterfly net specifically for rescuing butterflies trapped in churches…
St George’s, Stowlangtoft
Outdoor temperature: 11.6˚C; indoor temperature: 10˚C, humidity 53%
My first butterfly rescue of the afternoon was an easy one: it was on the floor of Stowlangtoft church. It looked sleepy but I thought a little sunshine and nectar might revive it, and I put it on a primrose outside the chancel door through which I had entered. I could do nothing to help the other butterfly which was fluttering at the top of a window.
St Mary’s, Wetherden
Outdoor temperature: 9.5˚C; indoor temperature 9.2˚C, humidity 56%
I was looking forward to returning to Wetherden: it seemed like a friendly village with a pretty church. This time there was no funeral, and the church was open to visitors. My aim for the day was 40 minutes of cello practice in each of 3 churches, for a respectable total of two hours: much more than I ever used to do in a day, but I have noticed that it takes my fingers a good half hour or more to loosen up, and often frustration only starts to subside after an hour or so. Therefore, the longer I practise, the more likely I am to go home feeling positive about my progress and my ability to fulfil the rather ambitious timetable of concerts I arranged in a fit of enthusiasm. Or recklessness.
Today marked a significant change in my church-visiting journeys around Suffolk; a change which had been taking place almost imperceptibly over recent months, and had finally reached a turning point. I found myself able to listen to music again, for the first time in years.
Holy Trinity, Barsham
Outdoor temperature: 4.1˚C; indoor temperature 6.1˚C, humidity: 51%
I hadn’t planned to visit another church in the morning before setting off for Stansted airport, via Bury St Edmunds to drop off my cello at a friend’s house. But before I went to bed the previous evening it occurred to me that it would be possible, if I was a little organised about packing up. 7 churches felt like a respectable total for a stay of less than two days.
St Andrew’s, Mutford
Outdoor temperature: 6.6˚C; indoor temperature: 7.1˚C, humidity: 51%
First thing next morning I left Beccles for Mutford, switching my ‘waterproof’ boots for my walking boots, hoping for slightly drier feet today. I arrived at a pretty round-towered church, which I was disappointed to find locked. But help was close at hand: I rang the first number on the noticeboard for the key, and Ivan – the churchwarden whose wife I had just spoken to on the phone – appeared a few minutes later to let me in. I offered to return the key afterwards, but he said he’d prefer to wait; so, feeling a little awkward, and guilty for interrupting his morning, I hastily took out my cello and played a couple of movements of a Bach suite. It was only the second time someone had waited for me in order to lock up afterwards, and the previous time was by prior appointment. By the time I left the church, however, I would have reason to feel thoroughly glad that our paths had crossed.
All Saints’, Ellough
Outdoor temperature: 7.8˚C; indoor temperature: 6.8˚C, humidity: 60%
The forecast of unrelenting rain led to a last minute change of plan: instead of spending two days walking in the Chilterns, I decided to choose a far-flung corner of Suffolk, stay two nights there and visit churches instead. Having characteristically left my decision till the last minute, my choice of destinations was limited. But I found pleasant accommodation beside the River Waveney in Beccles after a short search; so, without allowing myself any further opportunity for procrastination, I booked it and set off the next morning.
This particular trip had an added excitement: I had just bought an ultra-lightweight cello case made of carbon fibre – weighing 2.9kg in comparison to my previous 8.7kg – with rucksack straps enabling far more convenient and less back-breaking cello carrying. The idea was prompted by the prospect of taking my cello to London with me on the train for a chamber music session (I am not keen on long-distance driving); but once it was in my possession, I couldn’t believe I’d done without one for so long, and I was impatient to put it to the test.
I had a lunchtime appointment with Tiffer, the rector of the benefice which includes Hitcham, Brettenham, Rattlesden and Thorpe Morieux, to go up the rood stairs at Rattlesden church. With a comprehensive verbal disclaimer of course. I was excited: it was the first item on my church ‘wish list’ that I had managed to arrange.
It was a little vertigo-inducing, with no barriers or supports to provide reassurance. How anyone would dare to take a Henry Hoover up there is beyond me, and I had politely declined the offer of high-altitude music making, fearing both the cello’s fate and mine. But once I’d reached the rood loft, I was able to hold on to one of Jesus’s companions and enjoy my novel perspective without any wobbles, physical or psychological. Coming down again was another matter, but I made it safely to the ground, and after thanking Tiffer for his time and willingness, I left for Wetherden, the nearest church that I hadn’t yet visited.
St Nicholas’, Stanningfield
I had been looking forward to returning to Stanningfield church since passing by in late summer and finding it locked. I had forgotten how stumpy its tower was, but it looked sweet and suited the character of the church. For a moment I feared my second visit might also be unsuccessful, seeing that I had arrived before its advertised opening hours; but the door submitted when I turned the handle, and I was thankful that the timetable wasn’t obeyed too precisely.
St Andrew’s, Norton
Outdoor temperature: 9˚C; indoor temperature: 8.4˚C, humidity: 66%
My mind was on an imminent return trip to Woolpit and Great Barton for photographs. Thankfully I didn’t have to wait long for a sunny and mild afternoon when I had time to make an outing of it: I was keen to resume regular church visiting, and Norton and Thurston lay conveniently between the two; but I was also still slightly wary of the cold.