St Martin’s, Nacton
Outdoor temperature: 11.9˚C; indoor temperature: 15.8˚C, humidity: 56%
I had booked two nights away at the beginning of April in an area of Suffolk that I barely knew: the Felixstowe peninsula. I hadn’t visited a single church there. It was an idyllic spring morning, and driving to Steve’s house accompanied by sunshine, blackthorn blossom, daffodils and one of my favourite Mozart piano concertos was almost too much for me. Heaven is on Earth, if only we would stop long enough to realise it.
Despite my best efforts to be punctual, the daffodils outside my front gate had distracted me on departure and I was 1.5 minutes late for coffee at Steve’s house. We both exclaimed this simultaneously when he opened the door. It was an ongoing joke between us, after he told me early on in our acquaintance that coffee was served at 11, which I found – perhaps unreasonably – hilarious. ‘Do you have a butler?’ I responded.
Nevertheless, I was kindly admitted to his house, and after coffee I followed him over the Orwell Bridge to Nacton church, which was located beside Orwell Park School on a quiet country lane. We met an elderly man on a bicycle in the churchyard, and enquired whether the church was open. ‘It’s locked,’ he said, ‘but I grew up here and was christened in the church. I’ve come to visit some old school friends’. From the way he said it, I assumed he meant in the graveyard.
I phoned the keyholder, who was surprised that the church was locked. I told her I’d check the door again just in case, but she insisted on coming straight over without waiting. She was just as friendly and welcoming in person as she had been on the phone, and when I exclaimed how warm it was inside, she told us there had been 3 services the day before.
The exterior was not one of Suffolk’s most attractive, either in shape or dull render, and inside it was rather Victorian and dark. But with the sun reaching the nave interior, it was pleasant nevertheless. Steve and I started playing the last in our book of six Boismortier duets and worked backwards. We decided we liked the last one best, and chose it for our concert in Raydon in June.
St Peter’s, Levington
Indoor temperature: 13.2˚C, humidity: 69%
Simon Knott describes The Ship Inn at Levington, next door to the church, as one of Suffolk’s best pubs. Once I had worked out it was the closest pub to my accommodation, I was looking forward to paying it a visit. But when I got there, I found a building site. It took me a while to realise what had happened: the remains of burnt thatch were being removed from the roof. It wasn’t until later in the day that I found out the fire had occurred only a week earlier.
But most of my attention was directed elsewhere. I had arrived in the most beautiful place: the church was on a hill overlooking the Orwell Estuary, and the church itself was as lovely as the view, with its brick tower, buttresses and window frames contrasting with cream painted walls. I took in my equipment first, and found an equally stunning church interior with possibly the most steeply sloping walls I have yet encountered – but I decided to delay the pleasure of exploration and have a quick picnic outside on the bench first. I was sorry Steve wasn’t there to enjoy both the picnic and the church with me.
I spent most of my visit practising a Bach sonata I was learning – it seemed the perfect building for it and the acoustic was as lovely as I expected. While I was playing, a man came in who told me he was the janitor. He seemed happy to hear me playing. While we chatted, I noticed he was wearing a sweater that said ‘IAPS Music Courses’ on it. This led to a conversation about the music courses he used to help run for children at prep schools, when he was a teacher. I offered to go back to give a concert, cheekily volunteering Steve to join me, and within a week we had fixed a date.
The church and its surroundings were so delightful I stayed an age. Theoretically there was still time to visit another church afterwards, especially with the extra hour of daylight we had just acquired, but my experience at Levington was one I wanted to savour until the following morning. Besides, once I’d unloaded the car at my destination, the estuary footpaths visible from my window proved too much of a temptation.
The mystery (given the state of the pub) of all the disobedient cars parked in front of ‘no parking’ signs outside Levington church was soon cleared up when I went out exploring with my OS map: walkers (mostly dog owners) must have crossed the meadow in front of the church to go on a circular walk to the estuary. It was one of the loveliest walks I have been on in Suffolk.
My day out, beginning with the drive to Steve’s house, and ending with the estuary walk, had completed the job of forming a conviction in my mind that taking – making – the time and space to appreciate spring is about as urgent and important an activity as work or any other item on my never-ending to-do list. I need to accept the fact that I will never reach the end of my list of tasks, no matter how many hours of every week I dedicate to them. I suppose no one ever does. So I need to give up that ambition, do what I can in a set number of hours and then take time off without feeling guilty, and know that this is time well spent. Better spent, perhaps, and crucially replenishing my energy. It is easier said than done, but I know I am extremely fortunate in having more control over my time than many people do.
I am starting to feel, in fact, that I was put on this planet to appreciate spring. If I achieved nothing else in my life but to feel that I have done spring justice in the attention I have paid it and the love and awe it has inspired in me, I would be satisfied that it was worthwhile. At least, far more worthwhile than if I had rushed through life being busy and anxious and seeing nothing.
Header photo: View over the Orwell Estuary from Levington church