Yep, deepest rural Suffolk, full of quaint pink cottages, gorgeous thatched churches, woodland glades white with snowdrops, vast rolling fields stretching to the horizon, and oh, so quiet all day, and all night. Idyllic.
Almost perfect. But not quite! Just don’t mention broadband speeds or mobile phone signals, or the lack thereof. See a person perched on top of a log-pile in a far corner of their back garden or leaning out of their bathroom window? Yep, they’re trying to send a text message or phone the neighbours. Ah yes, the reality of life in the middle of nowhere!
Such is Suffolk. A wonderful place, full of wonderful people. Life moves kind of slowly. Tomorrow will always do. No wonder it’s full of people who’ve retired to the countryside, or who come every weekend from London. Or who travel each day to work in Norwich, Ipswich, or even further afield. A chilling out kind of place after a hard week of work.
But for the locals, there’s rural isolation, lack of affordable housing and lack of job opportunities – ongoing problems going back decades. Cue Thornham ~ and check out this great story….
Lord Henniker and his wife Julia moved back to the family estate in Thornham Magna in the late 1970’s and set about trying to use their land, buildings and resources to help the local community ~ setting up a field centre and cafe (with eco-friendly toilets, no less), nature walks all over the estate, the walled garden for horticultural training for those with learning disabilities, welcoming local craftspeople and artisans to set up workshops and homes on the estate, and plenty more besides. An amazing place, truly inspirational. Charity and philanthropy at its best. Lord Henniker died in 2004 and Julia continues the work, and I had the honour of staying with her this past weekend, along with other family members who were visiting. Wonderful hospitality!
Spent at least an hour walking round the village taking photos of all the pink houses, and around the estate too. Even on a dull day Suffolk looks just so beautiful!
My connections with these 4 villages go back to 1988-1996 when my father was the vicar, living in Gislingham and running the 4 churches. These days the 4 have joined with another 4 to become 8, and all run by Rev. Julia Lall as the South Hartismere Benefice. Quite some undertaking. Imagine 8 (yes eight!) PCC’s! 8 ancient churches all needing taking care of. 8 churchyards. 8 everything. Some clergy would see it as their worst nightmare ~ but not Julia, she loves the challenge, but then having been a teacher must be a great help.
The South Hartismere Benefice is part of the Hartismere Deanery and I was invited to speak at the Deanery Synod on Thursday evening, held in Burgate Village Hall. Showed my ppt about life in Taiwan, and met lots of really interested and interesting people.
On Friday, off I went for 2 lovely school visits, firstly to Thorndon Village School for an hour of sharing about Taiwan with the children, and then to Gislingham Village School for lunch with the children and another hour of sharing about life on the mission field. Fascinating. And wonderful to see the fruits of a British Council project at Gislingham School twinning them with a school in India, and 2 teachers leaving that afternoon to visit that same school for half term…
On Friday evening, a meal with 5 lovely ladies from the 4 parishes at The White Horse in Stoke Ash, organized by Betty, who took such good care of me all weekend ~ and how we laughed together! Saturday lunch with the clergy ~ Julia and her NSM curate, Eleanor at The Black Horse in Thorndon, wonderful. And then to Mellis, to visit my favorite pen-pal, Mrs. Dorothy Dye, now aged 101 ~ she’s lived all her life in Mellis, written her own life story, and now outlived the whole village too ~ just amazing!
Also went to check out the Mellis telephone box, no longer in use, but still standing, and the windows filled with stained glass all designed and made by local people. The BBC even has an article about it here. Definitely worth checking out if you happen to be passing, it is spectacular!
This morning, Sunday, first stop was the 8:30am early service at Gislingham Church with its high boxed pews… fortunately the service was held in the chancel, so I didn’t need to climb up the high pulpit to speak!
Then onto the 10:30am service at Thornham Parva Church. Everybody’s favourite church building ~ stunning! A real thatched roof and a very famous retable on the altar. And in the churchyard is buried the famous architect of Coventry Cathedral, Basil Spence and his wife. We even had fresh coffee brewing in the church at the end of the service, the smell was, well, just heavenly!
So, 4 wonderful churches, 3 delicious pub meals, 2 lovely schools, 1 happy weekend, and lots of fantastic people ~ THANK YOU EVERYONE!
PS. Don’t wish to lower the tone of this post, but, well, the toilet in Gislingham Church is really quite something. Not the actual toilet of course. But its position. Built at the back of the church, where the floor is all old gravestones. So as you sit there and look down to the floor, well, there it is ~ a gravestone inscription with the words: “Here lieth the body of Thomas Sparrow M.A. who departed this life February 2nd, 1723, aged 72″…. so kind of bizarre, but I couldn’t NOT take a photo!
But just to balance things out a bit, Gislingham does have a churchyard full of beautiful spring flowers ~ gorgeous!
A Valentine’s Day weekend in Suffolk, ah, such a romantic place ~ so belated Valentine’s Day greetings to you all, and thank you for all your support!