Suffolk churches 181: Ashfield-cum-Thorpe, Helmingham and Icklingham (April 2021)

St Mary’s, Ashfield-cum-Thorpe
Ashfield 2When is a medieval church not a medieval church? Or more accurately, when is a Victorian church actually a medieval church? I’ve asked myself this question many times, and have come up with the wrong answer maybe once or twice. Usually any dispute is eventually settled by Munro Cautley’s Suffolk Churches, unless I choose to disagree with him, but even then it’s often not straightforward. A Victorian church built on the site of a medieval church ‘counts’, since it is still a ‘church of medieval foundation’. But the difficulty in this case is that the two villages, Ashfield and Thorpe, kept swapping between their two churches depending which one was in the better state of repair, Ashfield organuntil finally Ashfield was rebuilt and Thorpe left to go to ruin.

My dilemma lies in the fact that the ruin of Thorpe church still exists: a round tower languishing in the garden of Thorpe Hall, and really my preference would be to play there, rather than in a Victorian church. But Ashfield is included in Munro Cautley’s list, whereas Thorpe is not. These days I am hedging my bets, including any church that is remotely in doubt; moreover, Ashfield is open every day, which is not to be sniffed at, especially in Covid times. I will certainly continue my detective work on the ruins of Thorpe, which are on private property and unlocatable using my OS Explorer map; but I needed an outing, and I needed not to have to make any phonecalls to arrange it. So I headed for Ashfield and Helmingham one unusually sunny morning in mid-April, an extra spark added to my planned excursion at the thought of treating myself to my first pub lunch of the year.

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Summer treasure 5: Floating on the Waveney

25/7/2018 Apparently Suffolk is the hottest part of the country at the moment. It certainly feels like it. I am in the Beccles area for two days and I sweated my way through four glorious church visits yesterday. Unusually, no relief was to be found inside any of them: lack of breeze and increased humidity only made the sweat flow more freely. Before the end of our rehearsal at Westhall church in the afternoon I asked my cellist friend Will if he knew anywhere in or around Beccles where I could take a dip in the Waveney, but he didn’t, and neither did I.

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Spring treasure 6: The Return of the Swallows

30/4/2018 I love swallows. I could tell you what I love about them: their chattering, aerial acrobatics, colours and streamers. I cannot think of their migration to and from Africa every year without a sense of awe – almost disbelief. I look forward to their arrival in spring, feeling that they carry the new season on their wings, regardless of the weather – and we are shivering in yet another cold and rainy spell.

But none of this really explains my feeling for them: they are far more than the sum total of their characteristics. They carry a whole world of delight and symbolism within their weightless bodies; they are the stuff of poetry and folklore. One day – if I can work out how to do it, and make my peace with libraries – I would like to create an anthology of swallow literature.

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Suffolk churches 23: Gislingham, Yaxley and Thrandeston (June 2017)

My plan to go north once more to visit Yaxley and Thrandeston churches via Gislingham was not entirely without ulterior motive: I would pass Thornham Parva on my way. I was itching to revisit that little treasure now that my ‘church eyes’ were sharper, and I was also on the hunt for a gravestone: I had found out not long before, by one of those curious coincidences, that one of my first cello teachers was buried there.

As I drove through Suffolk, I noticed the unmistakable yellowing of the countryside that had begun only in the last week. I was pleased by this confirmation that my chosen calendar, the astronomical rather than meteorological, was the more accurate one to follow: summer, as far as I am concerned, begins on the solstice. Of course, the reality is that seasons are constantly on the move and there is no sudden beginning or end to any season. In one year of early heat and dryness summer might seem to begin in May, and in another, it might seem to begin in July.

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Suffolk churches 10: Stoke by Nayland, Nayland, Wiston and Bures (May 2017)

I love the Stour Valley. The steep hills and marshy ground near the river mean that more land is given over to small meadows for sheep and cattle than on the higher, flatter ground where I live. The hills also provide some of the best views in Suffolk. Of course, the river itself is the central draw: over the years I have felt an increasing compulsion to be near water, especially rivers.

As 10th May was my mother’s birthday, I decided that a church tour of the Stour Valley would be a fitting way to celebrate it for her. I also wanted to walk and enjoy the many bluebells– which grow in the hedgerows as much as the woodlands in this area – and so an overnight stay at a remote farmhouse I had discovered near Stoke by Nayland seemed the best and most enjoyable way to do both, especially as the weather forecast was good.

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Swallows

7/4/2017 I put off going to my parents’ grave. I still rebel against the reminder that they are in the ground while spring is in the trees. And although I feel I should look after the flowers and shrubs on their tiny patch of ground with as much diligence and attentiveness as the larger version not two miles away, it is too painful and I cannot. A green slate headstone and small patch of ground honouring their deaths; a green slate worktop and large patch of ground honouring their lives.

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Autumn revisited

_DSC080316/11/2016 After last year’s wondering about whether autumn was hopeful, this year I decided to anticipate my reluctance at the change of seasons and try to embrace the autumn spirit in advance of its arrival. Towards the end of August I bought a newly published book, Autumn: An anthology for the changing seasons (edited by Melissa Harrison). Even admitting to myself before the end of summer that it would arrive was a big step forward for me, but I had been encouraged by a little surprise not long before: I had caught in myself a moment of rising excitement when I noticed just a hint of autumn on its way – I don’t remember whether it was a sight, smell, sound or feeling, but the reaction was instinctive and unexpected.

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