St Mary’s, Rickinghall Superior
Unusually, I’d had some extended trouble trying to gain entry to Rickinghall Superior: it was kept locked, with a keyholder address given on the door. But with no postcode and no phone number, I was relying on the road name, which was to be found neither on my OS Explorer map nor on Google Maps. I had no luck acquiring help on this matter until I was contacted by a CCT Local Community Officer hoping to arrange a few concerts, and I managed to get Rickinghall Superior on the list. In the wake of the season’s concert cancellations, I asked if it might be possible to go alone instead. To my delight and surprise, I was informed that the church was now open on weekends, so after arranging a visit on the same afternoon to its neighbour, Rickinghall Inferior, I drove northwards on another bright day feeling satisfied at the prospect of being able to tick off the two remaining churches in the area.
I took great pleasure in seeing inside this Churches Conservation Trust church nearly two years after my first attempted visit: it was typically ancient-feeling, bright and plain. It surprises me that even where there are no particularly outstanding features, CCT churches possess, with few exceptions, the kind of atmosphere I am most attracted to. Perhaps it is simply their uncluttered feel, and their lucky escape from the dark wood and stained glass of Victorian renovations.
Beside the door I found a poem which I stopped to consider. Did it refer to the effect of the virus, or the fact the church is redundant? Both, I concluded. I also considered whether the poem might be good, bad or indifferent, but with my customary poetry blindness, I could come to no conclusion on that count; only that I particularly liked the last line, and that I aimed to contribute something little to filling it with joy. In fact, perhaps this was one of the goals of my whole church tour.
I sat in the high chancel and played gentle Irish Airs: it felt the most fitting music for my physical limitations and the need for music that carried no reminders of my recent past or emotions. It was beautiful and a little melancholic, appropriate for the character of the year. Beside me, a desiccated bat lay on the floor. I wondered what it died of. I was sad to see it, but glad to know they lived in the church. The church could also be filled with life, if not with faith of the religious kind.
St Mary’s, Rickinghall Inferior
The strange names, Superior and Inferior, relate not to quality or snobbery but the fact that Rickinghall Superior is on higher ground than Rickinghall Inferior, which is located in the centre of the village across the Bury to Diss road.
I arrived earlier at Rickinghall Inferior than the estimate I had given the rector – hoping, based on his reply, that the church might already be unlocked. But it wasn’t, so I went down the road to the Co-op, whose existence I had discovered when I visited Botesdale chapel. The two villages run into each other, and you can’t tell you’ve left one for the other. When I returned, the church was still locked. Assuming the rector must have been delayed, I walked around the church and then sat in the porch, where I was soon joined by an elderly lady with a walking frame visiting her husband’s grave and getting in a little exercise around the churchyard. I thought she was simply glad of the opportunity to chat, but before leaving she expressed her disappointment that no one had come to open the church, as she had been hoping to hear me play.
By this time it was 4pm, and, having left a message on the rector’s phone, I realised my choices were either to play in the porch, or to go home. The beauty of the porch and the warmth of the afternoon made the decision for me, and I got my cello out of its case, not at all worried about the lack of door and the chance of music reaching the ears of villagers. What a change from the early days of my tour!
I am fairly sure it was my first ever play in a church porch. It was a particularly lovely and bright porch, admittedly, but I came away thinking I should make a habit of it. Something rather wonderful and unexpected had happened: my C string – the bottom string of the cello, which is the only aspect of my cello’s sound that I am often disappointed by, with a lack of the boomy quality most decent cellos possess – resonated in a way it never had before. The lower register sang. Perhaps there was some aspect of the porch size, shape or material that matched the frequency of its vibrations; otherwise I suppose it could be just one more of the many mysteries surrounding acoustics. I played for half an hour or so, revelling in the sound that rang out around me. I would still have to go back to play inside the church, but I was mighty glad I didn’t just go home.
It wasn’t until the evening that the rector phoned me back and I found out what had happened. He had unlocked the church as planned, well before my arrival, and had informed various keyholders in order that no one would lock it again before I arrived: this had happened on at least one previous occasion, he told me. Clearly someone didn’t receive the message.
Header photo: Stained glass, Rickinghall Superior
Total churches to end September: 435 + 3 chapels