All Saints’, Ixworth Thorpe
Ixworth Thorpe was worth the wait. I had been passed from one person to the next, each one saying they would let me in at 2pm on my way down from Norfolk; each one then getting in touch to say they couldn’t, or another person phoning me to say the previous person couldn’t. But eventually I arranged with Karen, the Rector of Ixworth and the countless other churches in the benefice, to stop off the following Monday on my way to Rushford, a village on the Norfolk border where I would be staying for three nights to visit the churches in northwest Suffolk.
I was running late, as usual when I have to get my animals and myself ready to go away. No matter how much time I leave for the job, it never seems to be enough. And on this occasion one of my Brahma chickens was coming along for the ride, in a dog crate. This would be an amusing novelty for me: Church Visits with Fluffy Chicken. I knew I would worry about her if I left her at home for more than two days without dedicated attention: she needs feeding and watering at least twice a day, and this is a time consuming business, as she is blind and keeps losing her food and water, even if it is right in front of her. So my travelling companion she would be.
All Saints’, Chelsworth
I hadn’t been inside Chelsworth church since long before the start of my church tour; 5 or 6 years perhaps. At the beginning, I didn’t plan to go back to the churches I’d already played in; but, as with town churches, I’d long since changed my mind because the number of churches left to visit is no longer daunting to me. I wanted a church near home, and Chelsworth was one of the closest. The exterior of the church has long been a favourite sight of mine as I drive through the pretty village, and I was curious to see inside it again after so long.
All Saints’, Chedburgh
One Saturday, I planned to visit Depden church, a locked church whose keyholder details I found online. But after she told me she was going out at 1.30 – I wasn’t quite sure I’d make it in time – and that I would have to walk ten minutes along a muddy field edge to get to the church (at this rate in the rain), I thought it might be more sensible to try Chedburgh. This poor church, by contrast, was right beside the A143. Luckily, she had the phone number for the keyholder there, and I had no trouble making alternative arrangements.
I picked up the key nearby and went back to the church, which, at first sight, wasn’t a very beautiful one: I found its grey brick tower bordering on ugly. It passed briefly through my head that perhaps this was in fact a Victorian church, not a medieval one. But once I managed to shift my gaze to the rest of the building, I concluded this wasn’t likely.
All Saints’, Mendham
I found Mendham church just after the turn-off from the A143 towards Halesworth, where I was due for a midweek lunchtime recital: I thought practising in a cold church would be a better warm-up for the recital than practising at home, as well as the fact it wouldn’t be cancelled out by a long drive afterwards. But I wasn’t quite prepared for how cold Mendham would be, and hoped Halesworth would be at least a few degrees warmer. I had to resort to my full-blown warm up: running around the church numerous times – it had two aisles, which made this easier – and jumping up and down. This did no more than begin the warming process, but that was sufficient: it continued successfully when I began to play in my fingerless gloves, which would now be a fixture of my church-visiting bag until spring at least.
St Andrew’s, Timworth
As soon as I arrived at the porch of Timworth church, I remembered my previous attempt to visit: it was the church with the strange porch gate, bird mesh and the most cumbersome and possibly hazardous contraption I had ever seen holding the two together. This feature of the church was not something you would ever be in danger of forgetting.
St Mary’s, Offton
I didn’t even bother to try the door this time. My last attempted visit was on a Sunday after a service, and even then it was locked, so this time I checked the noticeboard at the churchyard gate and saw that a key was available next door. There were lots of cars in the driveway, and I felt bad about disturbing what was obviously a party or Sunday lunch gathering. But not bad enough not to ring the doorbell.
Two young girls poked their heads through a door into the hallway and ran away again. Then a lady appeared at a side gate to the garden and I apologised for disturbing her. She was friendly and, to my relief, seemed entirely undisturbed. She went to fetch the key, and when I explained about my cello, said, ‘oh, what a shame! I would have loved to listen, but I have guests’. I very nearly replied, ‘feel free to bring them along!’ until I remembered Steve was joining me and might not appreciate my turning a no-pressure music ‘try-out’ session into a spontaneous concert.
St Mary’s, Mendlesham
It was my dad’s birthday, a recital was approaching fast, and I had little desire to practise at home: perfect excuses for a church excursion. I had also finally had an idea of how to start the book I intended to write about my church project, so a cafe stop on the way would provide an opportunity free of home distractions to turn my thoughts into writing.
St Mary of Grace, Aspall
I was due in Brundish for an evening concert. It was the day of the Suffolk Historic Churches Trust bike ride, so I decided to take advantage of the fact that usually inaccessible churches would be open on this day. Aspall church was at the top of my list: the Aspall of cider fame, and – for me – church notoriety. I had found my last attempted visit thoroughly depressing: there was nowhere obvious to park, no sign of the church being in use, and no keyholder notice. My depression was lifted only by the flock of chickens in the churchyard, and, a little, on emailing the vicar afterwards, who assured me that if I contacted her before my next visit, she would make sure it was open for me. For one reason or another, I hadn’t made it back there yet. But today it lay near my route to Brundish, and I was excited by the prospect of overwriting this memory.
All Saints’, Great Glemham
It was a beautiful, warm day, and the last day of my break in east Suffolk. After a perfect walk through all the habitats Walberswick had to offer, I set off homeward with enough time to visit two churches.
Great Glemham was my first stop, a village known to me only as the location of the Alde Valley Festival in spring, to which I had managed one failed visit with my friend Cristina, neither of us realising it was closed on a Monday. I will make it there one day, especially since there seems now to be an autumn festival as well.
I was surprised when I reached the village: it was not how I imagined it at all, especially after visiting Little Glemham church. It is true, that was a gloomy, rainy day, and today was sunny; but this seemed an altogether brighter and more welcoming place, regardless of the weather. Great Glemham didn’t seem so great, however, either in church or village. In size only, I mean, because I was thoroughly delighted by what I found: a little church in the centre of a small village with pretty rows of cottages on either side of the lane. Thankfully, the A12 seemed not to bother this place in the slightest.
All Saints’, Frostenden
It was my third attempt to visit Frostenden. This time, having failed to note down the keyholder’s contact details on my last visit, I looked at my call history and phoned the number that I concluded must have been either for Wrentham or Frostenden. It didn’t much matter which: I wanted to visit both. It might sound odd to whoever answered that I didn’t actually know who I was calling… but it was my best hope of getting in, as I could find no information online.
A gentleman called Paul Scriven answered the phone, and told me he was keyholder of Frostenden church. It turned out he’d been at my concert in ‘Coovehithe’ in March, which made my church-visiting-cello-playing intentions thankfully devoid of suspicion.