St Mary’s, Tuddenham
The following Saturday I had a concert in Tuddenham – near Bury St Edmunds rather than Ipswich. This concert had been booked over a year in advance. I had never booked anything this far ahead before: I usually don’t get round to buying a new diary until midway through December. Serendipity stepped in, however, as a couple of weeks earlier I had been given a 2019 calendar as a present, and had been wondering what use I could possibly make of it.
I picked up Tim on my way – my friend Penny’s son who had kindly agreed to turn pages for my accompanist, James. As at Rede the previous weekend, having familiar, smiley faces in the audience made a huge difference to my feelings about the concert: not only Tim, but also Christopher, who was to accompany me the following weekend in Brundish and wanted to hear how one of the pieces should go. There the similarities ended: the church and the audience were significantly larger, and the acoustic wasn’t nearly as rewarding as at Rede – though I am aware this judgement was entirely relative. There was nothing objectively wrong with the acoustic, it is simply that I have been spoilt so often.
St Peter’s, Little Thurlow
It was the last day of my church-visiting break, and I thought I had plenty of time to pack and tidy up before meeting the keyholder at Little Thurlow church at 11am. And then suddenly I didn’t. I was ten minutes late arriving at the church, which I knew I should have made more effort to avoid, because of the lady’s brusque, slightly flustered manner on the phone the previous evening. As with Great Thurlow, I don’t think she was the keyholder listed, but either a member of the family, or a farm employee, or both.
She was waiting for me inside. My lateness didn’t improve our interactions: she was polite, but no more. I apologised and did my best to win her round with gratitude, friendliness and smiles, but my efforts were in vain: I would have been an inconvenience even if I had arrived on time. I guess I had interrupted her work. I offered to return the key afterwards, but she replied that she’d have to come back to lock up. Her tone implied quite clearly that I couldn’t possibly be left in charge of the key – despite the fact I knew, from Sue’s investigations the previous day, that there was someone in the village from whose porch I could have simply taken and returned the key, if anyone could have remembered which house it was. So I gave up and simply thanked her again for letting me in.
St Mary’s, Great Bradley
The following morning I decided to start from the church furthest north along the county boundary and work backwards in a line, allowing for a maximum of four church visits that day. The furthest church was Great Bradley, only minutes’ drive from Withersfield: they were so close together in this area that I didn’t have to travel far.
Judging it prudent to reserve a couple of days’ ‘sanity break’ in the first of two brief gaps in summer bed and breakfast bookings, I saw a good opportunity for a church-visiting holiday. A scan of my church map revealed a glaring gap in the far southwest corner of Suffolk. Searching for accommodation is not amongst my list of enjoyable leisure activities when time is short, so, having quickly found an attractive-looking converted outbuilding in Withersfield, near Haverhill, I booked it without too much further thought, besides checking the location and size of Withersfield: I didn’t want to stay in a suburb of Haverhill. What I didn’t realise, however, was that the building was right beside the main road through the village – something that wasn’t apparent from the photos or the description – and that the road through Withersfield is a commuter route into Haverhill and therefore suffers from rush hour. But these are things that require prior acquaintance with an area, and rush hour was not something I was used to anticipating in rural Suffolk. Except for the harvest time sort of rush hour, which also happened to coincide with my visit, and led to earthquake-like shocks every time a combine harvester (beetle-monster) passed my window late into the evening.
St Peter’s and St Paul’s, Clare
Before I made these unwelcome discoveries, however, I was able to fit in three church visits. My first stop was Clare, a church that I had tried to visit once before and was disappointed to find locked. I suspected that I was too late on that occasion, and that a lunchtime visit would be more successful, which indeed it was. I find it curious that Clare (which seems to me more a little town than a village) isn’t classified as a town, whereas Orford (which seems more of a village than a town) is. I am not sure of the criteria used for these classifications.
St Mary’s, Akenham
I was due at Akenham church, near Ipswich, to play at a cream tea and evensong on the first Sunday in August. Akenham was a Churches Conservation Trust church, and, I was informed, the evensong services in August are held there, the first of which was always preceded by a cream tea. I managed to rope in Steve to play duets with me during the cream tea; I felt solo Bach was suitable for the service but not for the jollities in the churchyard.
Getting there was an adventure. Despite being almost on the outskirts of Ipswich – only a mile from Whitton – it felt as though it was on a hill in the middle of nowhere. Along the lane before I came to the rough track leading to the church, I passed a tractor and baler that looked like two of the first mechanised pieces of farming equipment to appear in the countryside. They had an amusing charm about them, but looked somewhat impractical for the task in hand. Clearing a field of cut straw is a big job.
St Ethelbert’s, Herringswell
I had delayed visiting Cavenham, north of Bury St Edmunds, as I had spotted Cavenham Heath nearby on the map and wanted to combine my church visit with a walk there: it was a bit too far away to make a separate trip appealing. For nearly the first year of my church tour, having a cello with me made this impractical. This time, however, realising that Cavenham was in fact only fifteen minutes’ drive from my friend Penny’s house in Bury St Edmunds, and that I now had a cello case which I could happily carry on a walk with me, no further delay was necessary. An added benefit of stopping off at Penny’s house for a cup of tea was that she had a map of this small area of northwest Suffolk that I discovered was missing from my collection.
St Mary’s, Farnham
The only Farnham I was aware of, until I examined my church map closely, was in Surrey. I was just as ignorant of the fact there was an accessible church so close to Stratford St Andrew, which I attempted to visit once about two years ago, forgetting it had been converted into a house. It was a good job no one arrested me on suspicion of trying to break in. If I’d known about Farnham, I would certainly have been delighted to cross the road and leave the A12.
St Andrew’s, Boyton
The following morning I went back to where I had left off, on what Simon Knott – but no one else I have heard – calls the Bawdsey Pensinsula. Boyton was first. Driving around the little lanes of this sandy area of Suffolk is a pleasure: it feels truly rural. This makes sense, of course, as you would never be ‘passing’ on your way anywhere. There is nowhere to pass to. I met only tractors on my journey; thankfully no large ones or the roads would have struggled to accommodate us.
St Mary’s, Bawdsey
The following morning I decided to drive to the end of the peninsula and work backwards: Bawdsey was my first stop. I found the church within a park-like, dripping churchyard. It was a pity it was too wet to enjoy exploring thoroughly: it is difficult to choose clothing suitable both for outdoor wet weather exploring and practising the cello in churches. Bawdsey possessed an outsized, stumpy tower, and a body that clearly once used to be larger: the roof had been lowered and there was a series of blocked archways on the north and south walls, within which windows had been placed. According to Simon Knott, this church, similar to Covehithe, was a small church was built in the ruins of a larger one1. This would also explain the outsized – though shortened – tower, but I found no evidence of ruins.
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.