Suffolk churches 178: Bungay Holy Trinity and Beccles (December 2020)

Holy Trinity, BungayBungayTo celebrate the end of Lockdown 2, I planned a visit to two churches whose opening times were provided online: Holy Trinity, Bungay, and Beccles. It was a cold, drizzly day, but I wasn’t going to let anything so trivial put me off.

I was please to discover Holy Trinity felt more like a village church than a town church, in contrast to St Mary’s just across the road – where I had given a concert in August 2017 – due to its size and perhaps its round tower, which, now I think about it, I had never seen in a town before. A question of money, no doubt: towns were probably always able to fork out for their churches in a way villages weren’t, and square towers must have been more expensive to build because they require large cut stones not available locally.

Bungay interior Bungay interior 2

Bungay aisleDisappointingly, the south side of the church was mostly covered in scaffolding, but the knowledge that it was open offset any photographic inconvenience. This was my first opportunity to look at some Irish sacred music arranged for solo cello that I’d recently bought, maybe to assuage my lingering guilt about playing in churches that were open for ‘private prayer’, but also because it felt fitting for the run up to Christmas. I tried to take some audio clips, having recently become even more aware of the lack of any musical record of my church visits, but it was tricky with no one to hold the phone and I am not much into ‘selfies’, whether video or photo, so I settled for a view of an arch and stained glass window by propping it up on a pew.

It felt good to be alone in a church, and I stayed longer than I intended, in the knowledge that St Michael’s in Beccles would most likely be a different, less peaceful experience, though I didn’t realise then quite how different it would be. It was my numb feet, more than my hands, which finally urged me to move, so I took a tour around the church, glad to find the north side both free of scaffolding and rather patchy and beautiful.

(Music: an extract from The Spalpeen’s Lament, arranged for solo cello by Ilse de Ziah)

St Michael’s, Beccles
Beccles churchyardFinding somewhere to park more easily than I expected, I slowly made my way up the steep steps from Puddingmoor – surely one of the best road names in the county – to St Michael’s churchyard overlooking the River Waveney and Norfolk. The winter cherry was in flower, brightening up the dark, rainy day. I had forgotten that the tower was separate from the church – as at Bramfield – because the porch is so high it looks almost like a tower when you stand in front of it.

Beccles churchyard 2

Beccles porch Beccles tower Beccles font

The church interior was vast. Two men were sitting at a table at the back of the nave and asked if I was going to play them some music. I assumed they were ‘manning’ the church while it was open for private prayer, but before long they disappeared, to be replaced by two younger men who sat down in the north aisle and appeared to have come into the church simply to have a chat and shelter from the rain. Still, I thought I’d better play it safe and check they wouldn’t mind some music. Permission granted, I got out my cello and started to play some more Irish tunes.

Beccles interior Beccles interior 2

It was freezing. But I managed to play for a respectable amount of time before packing up and bumping into a couple of churchwardens who stopped for a chat and enquired as to my availability for concerts once things were back to normal or thereabouts. Both here and in Bungay I forgot to check the pillars for graffiti: I noticed that when I got out of practice of church visits, I would start to forget things that had become semi-automatic. I hope I didn’t miss any particularly exciting graffiti.

I was excited by the prospect of lunch in Beccles: my first meal out in a rather long time. Then I went for a walk along the River Waveney accompanied by my long-suffering cello, but the path soon turned into a puddle and I regretted wearing walking boots instead of wellies. Before long, the inevitable happened: I slipped while trying to avoid stepping in water, and was covered in mud. I could find no other way round and, disappointed, decided I would have to turn back. Still, I was so happy to have had a day out in a beautiful part of the county that the details hardly mattered. Mud, water, cold… I arrived back at the car feeling that old spark of adventure, hoping to make the most of it before we were all stuck at home again. Which was an inevitability, it seemed.

Header photo: St Michael’s churchyard, Beccles

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