St Peter’s, Carlton Colville
For once, I should have trusted my satnav – or at the very least reminded myself of the exact location of Carlton Colville in relation to Lowestoft before I set off. I thought I had plenty of time, but my decision to drive through Herringfleet into Lowestoft made the journey nearly half an hour longer than it should have been, in part due to a single-track-road delay caused by an astonishingly large herd of farm machinery. But thankfully there were no serious consequences: only a few people had stayed on after the service, wandering about the church in no rush for anything to happen, as far as I could see. Which was a relief, as I felt pretty rough this morning. My church appointments had to be kept, but it had occurred to me that I didn’t actually need to get home today. I didn’t fancy a long drive after my church visits were over, and I hadn’t yet managed a walk in Loddon, where I was staying – which seemed a grave omission – so that morning I’d arranged to stay an extra night to enjoy a leisurely Sunday afternoon.
The church interior was decidedly ordinary, not helped by the tape stuck to the floor; but the acoustic was good. I started playing to an almost empty church, and gradually it filled as those attending the 10.30am service arrived, some perhaps early on purpose to hear the music. I played three movements of the Bach G major suite instead of the whole thing, and the usual two Irish airs – an abridged version of the previous day’s programme, of which I was glad, as my performance stamina left something to be desired. It was a friendly, understated visit, which entirely suited my Sunday morning physical and mental capacity.
St Peter’s, Gunton
I was on to my last Lowestoft church: Gunton. The first and only roundtower church, and the oldest, so I was told by the churchwarden. I was glad to end on this lovely little church, with its Norman arches and doorways. I arrived at the end of the service to play to a number of people who chose to stay on to listen, and answered a few questions about my project afterwards.
While I was packing up and taking photos, the churchwarden told me about the history of the church: that it was the Hall church, and was derelict for a while, until a new family bought the Hall and did up the church. A field was left to the church – I imagine as a potential source of income – some of which is now used as a woodland burial park. I’d seen the sign for it at the end of the road. I haven’t yet managed to form an opinion on these places, having been to only one before, and having found it not exactly matching the description of woodland. I’d be interested to see some more, at the same time as finding myself reluctant to become acquainted with them. A feeling, I notice, that also extends to cemeteries, but not to churchyards.
Gunton church, I was informed by the churchwarden, was now open three days a week, and I’d seen on the noticeboards of Kirkley and Pakefield that they were open every day. I’d been led to believe by the Suffolk churches website that all I could expect to find in Lowestoft was locked churches. It was a hopeful sign, I thought, and I was glad to know one might visit Lowestoft now and happen upon an open church. It makes all the difference. What better way is there to get to know a town than by its medieval churches?
St Andrew’s, Flixton (ruins)
I’d long ago removed Flixton (near Lowestoft rather than Bungay) from my list of churches, having read the description on the Suffolk churches website and decided I didn’t need to go looking for ruins buried under a hedge in some field. But, hundreds of churches on, I found them marked on my OS map, reread the description, and wondered why on earth I had dismissed them. It is amazing how nearing the end of what once seemed like an impossible number of churches can change your perspective. So, taking advantage of my extra night in Loddon, I stopped off on my way back, not quite knowing where I’d park or what I’d find.
But it wasn’t so difficult to find a convenient spot to park on the lane up to the farmhouse, or to find the location of the ruins. A large clump of ivy gave them away. I walked around them, finding a number of beehives on the far side. I would give the bees a concert, I thought. After all, they must be musical: I’d learned at Kew Gardens a few years back that they hum in C major. Perhaps I should play to them in C major. Perhaps C major was bee language.
But first I had some exploring to do: I knew the ruins must be under the ivy, but I wanted to find some stone. So I entered the gap between the ivy clumps, and soon found the remains of three walls and one window. It was a narrow space, and I wondered what this particular bit of the church must have been: it was too small for a nave, despite Simon Knott’s claims. It could have been an aisle, I suppose, but there were walls on each side. I also couldn’t distinguish any other parts of the church as described by Knott; but there was no doubt I was ‘inside’ some part of the church, and I was also in the shade. So here I would play. Thankfully I’d already had the bright idea that I could use my cello case as a chair. How it had taken me until church number 474 to realise this, when I was in need of it at church number 2 in Thornham Parva (with a much more sturdy case to hand), is really quite remarkable. I suppose I should at least be grateful that the idea had occurred to me near the beginning, rather than end, of visiting all the ruins, most of which I had left till last.
I had brought only the essentials with me, which excluded music, so I played the C major, G major and E flat major Bach Sarabandes, which I had no trouble recalling. My memory, incredibly, didn’t stretch beyond the first few bars of the D minor one – I’d played it too long ago.
I began thinking I was playing to the honey bees, and wondering what would happen if anyone walked by on the public footpath; but very quickly I realised that I was playing only Sarabandes because I was in mourning: what I actually felt like I was doing was playing a funeral service for the church. I wondered how long it had been since it last had music played to it. Perhaps more than three centuries – it was left to go to ruin after its roof came off in a hurricane in 1703.
I wondered whether it would ever have music played to it again.
I took my time, and wandered around the ruins again afterwards, with my cello on my back. Just as my thoughts were turning homeward, a man in a pick-up truck turned up, I assumed to tend the bees. He didn’t stop to speak to me, despite my unusual luggage. I wondered what would have happened if he’d turned up ten minutes earlier.
Header photo: View from St Andrew’s, Flixton