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.
6/8/2018 It is a simple fact that mulberries are the most delicious summer berry in existence. No arguments. But, of course, there are many poor souls who have never eaten one, which I consider a grave deprivation.
Part of their charm is that – in contrast to other berries – instead of giving way when you bite into their juicy flesh, the centre of the berry puts up some resistance, and the seeds add a little crunch.
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.
25/7/2018 Apparently Suffolk is the hottest part of the country at the moment. It certainly feels like it. I am in the Beccles area for two days and I sweated my way through four glorious church visits yesterday. Unusually, no relief was to be found inside any of them: lack of breeze and increased humidity only made the sweat flow more freely. Before the end of our rehearsal at Westhall church in the afternoon I asked my cellist friend Will if he knew anywhere in or around Beccles where I could take a dip in the Waveney, but he didn’t, and neither did I.
19/7/2018 The swifts arrive shortly after the swallows in spring. But for some reason, I associate swifts with hot, sunny days; weather such as we have been having for the last two months.
Perhaps this is partly because of an experience I had in the south of France in 2011. My father was performing a Mozart opera, La Clemenza di Tito, at the Aix-en-Provence music festival. It was the first opera I properly got to know, at the age of 11, and it has been my favourite ever since. The venue was the Archbishop’s Theatre, an outdoor theatre in the courtyard of the former archbishop’s palace that was converted into a theatre in 1948.
I had just arrived from the airport, sweaty and out of breath, having run all the way from the bus stop with a few unintentional detours. I sat down with great relief in time for the beginning of the overture of this deeply serious and emotional opera. There was a unique addition to the music, however, and one I would never have anticipated: screaming swifts circling high overhead in the dusk sky. It was an experience I will never forget.
16/7/2018 Until recently, I had almost forgotten the delights of blackcurrants. They are not a fruit I would ever think of buying in a shop (if indeed they are sold in shops – I have never looked for them), and many years passed between visiting ‘pick-your-own’ farms during childhood and tasting them again about five years ago, when a friend generously gave me a few of his small and precious crop. Putting one in my mouth instantly transported me back to childhood summers. Their flavour was uniquely wonderful; their sharpness sweat-inducing. In that moment I decided to grow my own.
10/7/2018 The only times I remember getting up in the morning and taking for granted that I would open the curtains to sunshine and warmth have been in Spain or the south of France. But during the last two months I have noticed myself doing just that. I get out of bed with a spring in my step, and I feel as though I am on holiday even if I have so much to do that I barely stop all day.
The grass is parched for the first time in a decade or more, and the words that I could never understand hearing my friends say, ‘it’s too hot for me’, have definitely passed through my head, if not my lips, on more than one occasion. I have been finding it preferable to embrace the sweat by undertaking some active job in the garden than to engage in futile efforts to stay cool by sitting still in the shade. And – unbelievably – I have found myself taking respite in the house during the hottest parts of the day. Which, admittedly, has proved of benefit to the decorating jobs required in my recently renovated bedroom, and my desire not to miss all of Wimbledon.
2/7/2018 Since the appearance of the first shiny, translucent lime leaves in April, which I considered including in my spring highlights, I have had no thought of writing about lime trees. But when I walked along a country lane during a short break in the Norfolk Broads last week and passed under a lime tree in flower, it stopped me in my tracks.
I heard it first, and then smelled it. Only then did I look up to see what was above my head. They are not the most eye-catching of flowers – except when lit up by the evening sun – and I find it hard to use the word ‘blossom’ to describe them, though strictly speaking it is the correct term. I associate this word with colourful clusters of small flowers covering a tree, such as fruit tree blossom, which differs greatly from lime flowers. But the bees love them, and the smell is heavenly.
St John’s, Great Wenham (and a return visit to Raydon)
I had been invited back to Raydon church to play at a village fundraising event at the beginning of September, and Will kindly agreed to come along and play duets again. As we would be playing the same pieces we had played at Bungay, we decided a short rehearsal beforehand would be sufficient, and arranged to meet at Great Wenham before going on to Raydon. Great Wenham was only a few minutes down the road, but the rather depressing account of Simon Knott’s last attempt to get inside1 made me doubt that we would find it open. Still, a little glimmer of hope remained: it was two years since he last visited, and the vast majority of churches he’d found locked, I’d so far found open.