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.
St Nicholas’, Little Saxham
I had driven past Little Saxham church many times on a back route from Bury St Edmunds to Risby, but I had never noticed its round tower. From the churchyard gate, however, it was fully and marvellously visible, its ornate arches showing at a glance that it was a Norman tower – described, I later discovered, as ‘Suffolk’s finest tower, perhaps England’s’ by Simon Knott1; high praise indeed. I was excited to find such a church on a visit not in my mental category of ‘adventure’: it was the closest church, apart from the strange-looking Westley church which I had found locked, to my friend Penny’s house on the outskirts of Bury St Edmunds, where I had stopped off after running errands in town.
St Mary’s, Bungay
My visit to Bungay didn’t begin well. Before I played a note, I had driven four times round the one-way system in the town centre; inflicted a minor scratch on what should have been the bumper of a new sports car (nothing, I assure you, to do with my generally uncharitable attitude towards sports cars); and, after I was told I could in fact park outside the church, scratched my own car rather more severely on the metal churchyard gatepost. Amidst my concern not to run over any pedestrians on the wide pavement I had to cross, I failed to notice the gateway was only just wide enough – and only for an approach precisely at right angles.
All Saints’, Wetheringsett
Will and I arranged to meet the following day for a final rehearsal to resolve a few lingering issues before our concert in Bungay. Stopping at a church nearby seemed, as always, the most enjoyable way to warm up for the rehearsal, and so I headed for Wetheringsett – or, more accurately, Wetheringsett cum Brockford – just off the A140 to Diss.
It was the day of our tour of four west Suffolk churches in the Glem valley benefice. The tour had come about through Jane and Erica, musical residents of Hartest: they had heard about my church project through friends, and contacted me to express an interest in assisting me on my journey. After some discussion, we settled on an early September fundraising concert in Hartest church. Various obstacles, however, conspired to delay the concert until the following spring, so, wanting to make the most of the warm and long summer days in the interim, we decided to visit the remaining four churches in the benefice. Before long we had fixed a date, timetable, and picnic lunch location. Will kindly agreed to come along and play duets with me, to make the music on offer more varied and fun, and allow us a practice run of the pieces we were going to play in a concert two days later.
St Nicholas’, Gipping
I was driving northeast out of Stowmarket with the intention of visiting Mendlesham church on my way to Winston, where I was meeting Will for our last duet rehearsal before the next day’s four-church tour in west Suffolk. I thought I knew which route I wanted to take, having looked it up in advance, but my satnav had other plans. Normally I ignore it if I know roughly where I want to go, for fear it will take me to a main road I am specifically trying to avoid; this time, however, I realised too late that I was ‘somewhere else’, and so decided to see where it would lead me. Before long I was on windy lanes that I didn’t recognise, and a little while later, without so much as passing through a village, I spotted a sign to Gipping church. It pointed down a farm track. Almost without hesitation, I found myself taking a left turn.
All Saints’, Hawstead
One of my favourite lanes in Suffolk is Hawstead Lane. I sometimes drive along it on a back route home from Bury St Edmunds, to avoid rush hour queues at the large roundabout joining the southbound A134. It leads to Hawstead at its west end, and Sicklesmere at its east end. I once went to look at the church, my curiosity aroused by something I had read in one of Ronald Blythe’s books from his ‘Wormingford series’. He seems to know so many churches, I would be tempted to use his books as a third church reference, alongside Cautley (Suffolk Churches and their treasures) and the Suffolk Churches website, but the obstacle to such a use is that there are no indices, and the chapter titles rarely give any clues. I wanted to look up Hawstead church again to remind myself what he wrote about it, but I have no idea in which book it appeared.
St Andrew’s, Cotton
I’d never taken a detour off the road from Bacton to Finningham before, though I had often passed a village sign telling me I was in Cotton. It felt like a little adventure. I was due at Wickham Skeith for a cello duet rehearsal with Will later in the afternoon, so decided to practise at another church beforehand. I came to Cotton church on a junction between three lanes. I was a little disappointed at first to find a tarmac path through the churchyard – it never seems right for a rural church – but there was a bench under an old cherry tree just to the left of the path that looked like an inviting place to sit and enjoy the peace. I walked up to the church to see if it was open, and on my way greeted a lady who was busy with plants outside the porch.
St Clare, Bradfield St Clare
Bradfield St Clare was one of various churches I had ‘saved’ for journeys to Bury St Edmunds. It was a windy, rainy day, and I was relieved to take shelter inside the church, although today I wasn’t particularly pleased to have an appointment with my cello. Church visits are useful for such days too, however: I needed to practise, and if I’d stayed at home I probably would have found an excuse (or many) not to get round to it. Will and I had decided to take on the challenge of performing a rather difficult but enjoyable two-cello suite by Julius Klengel (a 19th century cellist and composer) in our Bungay concert in less than two weeks’ time, and I still had doubts about whether we would pull it off.
St Mary’s, Rougham
It was a challenge to find Rougham church. My satnav couldn’t locate it, and using a map required me to stop at every junction to check my location amongst the maze of lanes. It was perhaps a mile north of the village. I don’t think I had ever driven past it before, and it felt as though it was in the middle of nowhere, despite having Rougham’s primary school as its neighbour.
Two men were trimming a hedge at the entrance to the rectory driveway next to the churchyard. One came to talk to me as he saw me unloading my cello: he seemed pleased that someone should take an interest in the church, and want to play music in it. He took my contact details for possible future concerts, and said he might come in to listen when he and his companion had finished replacing a gatepost which was resisting any appearance of straightness – partly, he observed, because the fence next to it was leaning backwards, rendering their efforts almost futile.