St Mary’s and St Peter’s, Barham
Barham, near Claydon, was my aborted 4th church visit from a few days earlier. Like Claydon, this church was also up the hill on the east side of the A14, but from this churchyard there were clear views across the Gipping Valley. It was a lovely setting, but the noise of traffic was unrelenting, and I knew that everything between here and the opposite hill was road, rail or housing, mostly new developments. It was not as rural as it appeared at first glance.
A lady was getting out of her car as I pulled into the car park.
‘Is there an event on in the church, do you know?’ I asked her. ‘There seem to be a lot of cars here’.
‘I don’t know,’ she replied. ‘They might be in the meeting room at the back. It’s unusual for there to be so many cars. I’ve just come to do the flowers’.
We both went up to the church, and found it empty, so I went back to fetch my cello. When I returned, the lady I had arrived with was talking to another lady.
‘You’re welcome to play your cello,’ she said. ‘We’ve had communion in the other room and we’re having tea now. Please do join us if you’d like’.
St Peter’s, Baylham
It was another sunny day, and my destination was the road running between Needham Market and Ipswich: a prime location for churches I hadn’t yet visited. I didn’t know what to expect of Baylham; the only thing I knew of it was the Rare Breeds Farm, which was north of the village and on the other side of the railway, so not really in Baylham at all. The main road was as anonymous as I expected, but soon I came to a right turn signposted to the village. The church was up a hill, with stunning countryside views. There is little better than the quality of light on a sunny winter’s day, whether in the morning or the afternoon, and I stood gazing across the meadowed valley for a contented few moments before entering the church.
All Saints’, Easton
I thought I hadn’t been to Easton village before – and Easton Farm Park has long been on my list of places to visit, with or without accompanying children – but when I pulled up near the picturesque pub and miniature village green, I knew I’d driven through it once before, and could even remember the conversation I was having at that moment with my friend Mark, who was sitting in the passenger seat.
A little over a year ago, I completed my year of weekly ‘seasonal treasures’. I started the project as a form of self-medication: I suspected that I had some form of Seasonal Affective Disorder, and that winter would always make me feel low, even though I had learned – consciously – to like it. Now I am not sure I was right. I wonder if it was in fact a combination of difficult circumstances for several years running that formed unconscious, bodily associations of winter with physical and emotional difficulties, and that these associations required a concerted effort to break, by replacing them with more positive ones. Whatever the problem was, my self-prescribed concoction of daily walks, a daylight lamp, more frequent social and musical engagements and, perhaps most importantly, weekly writing about highlights of the season, was more successful than I ever could have hoped.
I enjoyed the writing so much that I continued my seasonal treasures through the whole year. It wasn’t only the process of writing that had such a positive effect: it was the necessity of noticing, and dwelling on, the beauty around me, in order to choose something to write about. In fact, I ran out of weeks to include everything I wanted to. So the following year I thought I would continue, if less frequently, in order not to leave out anything important. But my intentions didn’t materialise. As time went on, I realised that without a self-imposed schedule, my more pressing writing engagement with Suffolk’s churches took over, and the seasonal writing was left by the wayside.
St Botolph’s, Culpho
After Grundisburgh, I drove down the road to Culpho. It was a pleasant change to find churches all within five minutes’ drive of each other, after my tour of north-west Suffolk before Christmas, which has the most spaced out parishes of the whole county. I have forgotten the reason for this, and haven’t managed to track down the information I once read about it. I also had to look up again the strange village name: apparently it is derived from Old English and means ‘Culf’s spur of land’ – from ‘hoh’, the same origin as the word ‘Hoo’, as in Sutton Hoo and Dallinghoo.
A change in my church-visiting mentality had taken place over the previous few weeks. In the spring, James – my accompanist – suggested that a concert to celebrate my very last church visit would be a great way to end the tour. He thought it should be a church that I hadn’t yet played in, and since I had already played in over 300 churches, it required some mulling over. We finally settled on Orford, for its size, location and musical associations.
In the autumn, I finally got round to investigating the feasibility of our plan. ‘Yes’, came back the reply from the churchwarden responsible for bookings, ‘but it would be sensible to find a date sooner rather than later as we get quite a lot of bookings’. Yikes, was my internal response. How could I anticipate when I would finish my tour? I didn’t want to risk running out of time, but the winter months wouldn’t be suitable for a concert, so it would either have to be autumn 2020 or spring 2021, neither of which was strictly ideal: I expected to finish well in advance of spring, but the previous autumn might be a push. In the interests of caution, however, I finally settled on a date in May 2021, and James agreed.
St Mary’s, Stratford St Mary
After a weekend of rehearsing a challenging cello duet programme, I managed to persuade my sister, Sheida, into a brief stop off on her way home, to play in a church with Steve and me. The plan was to meet at East Bergholt, but although I had made sure it was open and there were no services that afternoon, it hadn’t occurred to me to check for events. On arrival, I saw a banner outside the churchyard advertising a concert that day, but it didn’t say at what time. Then I found a message from Steve on my phone saying there was a rehearsal already underway for a concert at 4pm.
I was annoyed with myself for the oversight, but at least there was another church close by: Stratford St Mary. Reaching it involved a one-junction run on the A12; and there it was, only a few seconds from the turn-off. Its tower is a Suffolk border landmark, a welcome sight from the main road. But this proximity benefits only the A12, not the church. Still, the fields behind the churchyard and a farm shop and café next door made its location feel more pleasantly rural than it might otherwise have done.
St Peter’s, Monk Soham
On the first Saturday in March I was due in Covehithe church for an evening concert. For this trip I had a travelling companion – Maureen from Monks Eleigh – whom I had warned in advance that I was planning to visit another church on my way there. Covehithe was nearly as far away from my house as it was possible to get without leaving the county, and I wanted to take advantage of the journey. She wasn’t put off, so we set off together in the middle of the afternoon.
St Michael’s, Woolverstone
Outdoor temperature: 14˚C; indoor temperature 10˚C, humidity 78%
It was a glorious February afternoon when Steve and I headed to Woolverstone, the only remaining church for us to visit on the Shotley peninsula. I had forgotten it was in the grounds of Ipswich High School for Girls, and couldn’t quite believe what I saw: it was the estate of a country boarding school, not a day school, and certainly not one bearing the name of Ipswich. A greater contrast to Ipswich School, the other private secondary school in Ipswich itself, was hard to imagine.
Mandy’s funeral was fixed for the following week in Darsham church. It wasn’t many weeks since I was there playing in a cello concert she had organised. Darsham was just down the road from Westleton, where I was staying, and I thought it would make things easier if I paid the church a visit in advance, to check the acoustic and to have time alone in the space where I would be doing my utmost to play perfectly for her and her family.