Though I didn’t know it until shortly beforehand, I was in for a special treat: my next church visit would be accompanied by the London Symphony Orchestra bassoon section.
I had already fixed the date for a church outing with Steve when my friend Joost got in touch to arrange a visit. After discussing a few possibilities, he suggested the Saturday I was meeting Steve, who then mentioned that Joost’s colleague, Dan, was due to pick up his bassoon: Steve had been performing surgery on it. Dan was persuaded to join us for one church in the morning, and I picked up Joost from Manningtree station on the way to Steve’s house, where we all met for coffee.
I set off from home on an absurdly mild Sunday morning in January, intending to visit Flowton church near Ipswich, which I knew to be kept open. I had planned to approach from the west, along the Hadleigh to Ipswich road, until I thought to consult Google maps. I found it was marginally quicker to approach from the north. Though requiring a slightly reluctant change in mindset – driving routes seem to be more of an influencing factor in my choice of destination than I realised – I decided this was actually quite convenient, taking me through an area with several churches I hadn’t yet visited. There was a reason for this, however, apart from the route: I had been led to believe that Offton, Somersham and various other churches nearby were kept locked. After a little online research, I was pleased to discover that this information was only partially correct, and that I ought to have a choice of open churches: Somersham, Nettlestead and Bramford, as well as Flowton.
Holy Trinity, Middleton
Outdoor temperature: 10.9˚C; indoor temperature: 8.9˚C, humidity: 78%
It was another glorious morning. Middleton was the neighbouring village to the south of Westleton, which I had left until now because there were fewer churches in the vicinity, and I had visited most of them already. Today, I only had time for two church visits on my way home. I was looking forward to it: I didn’t know Middleton at all.
So I thought, but when I arrived, it looked familiar: I must have driven through once or twice before. It is odd that I didn’t remember its name, because it is a distinctive and friendly-looking village, with pub, church, and many houses clustered around a village green of just the right size to give a sense of both space and community.
23/12/2018 It took me months to attract the first goldfinches to the garden with nyger seeds. When they did arrive, I would see one, and then have to wait several weeks to see the next one. Still, I was thrilled with the odd sighting, and wished I could tell my father they were here. Like kingfishers, they look too exotic for England; and also like kingfishers, it only takes a glimpse to know which bird you have seen.
17/12/2018 When I first heard reports from friends and neighbours of bluebells sprouting in December, I thought they must be mistaken. I have rarely noticed snowdrop shoots in December, and that seemed far more likely than bluebells. With a large dollop of doubt and no first-hand evidence to settle the matter, I soon forgot about it.
Until last year, when I actually paid attention to what was under my nose.
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.
18/3/2018 It is the penultimate day of winter. This year the equinox falls on 20th March instead of 21st. You wouldn’t know it though: the arctic conditions have returned. The temperature dropped from 16˚C to -2˚C in 24 hours and the ground is covered in snow and ice.
But my winter therapy seems to have worked: I don’t mind if the cold weather lasts a little longer, and my list of winter treasures has grown so long that I will have to resume the project next year. In fact, I have enjoyed the challenge so much that I am thinking of continuing it for the remaining seasons of the year; and, contrary to my initial assumption, I think I might find it more difficult to choose 13 spring treasures than I did winter ones. After all, how do you identify the most important elements in a bombardment of euphoria?
13/3/2018 Everyone loves snowdrops. They are the first ubiquitous flowers that signal the lengthening days and slow approach of spring. They are pretty and delicate, and their colour is fitting for the time of year.
I love them too. I was thrilled to spot my first snowdrops of the year in a churchyard in the middle of January, though the ones in my garden were barely above ground yet: they didn’t come fully into bloom until a mild, sunny spell in the middle of February. A month later, they are still going strong, and the daffodils show no signs of taking over from them.
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.