The approach is along a rough old track of potholes and rubble, a dusty coloured affair in stark contrast to the endless fields of bright green beet on either side, the shiny leaves adding a glossy lustre to an otherwise uninspiring scene. At the brow of the hill, two ugly lines of pylons and electricity cables run from left to right – this is not what I was expecting. Nonetheless, it still represents a horizon of sorts and I have high hopes of finding something better on the other side. And I surely do – the beet gives way to golden barley, a far better companion to the blue blue July sky, and the track curves away enticingly down into a wooded valley. I have come here looking for quiet, and it looks like I may have got lucky.
I don’t have long here – this is just a snatched half hour, carved out of my ridiculously busy day, but plenty enough to find sanctuary and replenish flagging spirits. I am looking for Badley and St Mary’s church. “Unutterably lovely” in the words of Simon Knott, of the excellent Suffolk Churches website – and I am not disappointed. I don’t see it at first – the tower is hidden by two enormous pine trees. Behind it is a cluster of farm buildings and that, it would seem, is all that is left of Badley as a village. I park up and stretch – I’ve been on the road for three hours already this morning so it is good to get out and enjoy the sun’s heat on my skin. We have had a week of apocalyptic weather – the hottest day on record last week, and then a two day downpour. So this is more like it – a delicious cool morning, freshened by all that rain, and now the July sun is warming things up. With a spring in my step I head over to the church.
The gate is nestled in an overgrown hedge, alive with small unseen birds, and the daft cooing of pigeons accompanies me as I walk into a gorgeous graveyard. There is a sea of glorious yellow flowers, which might be one of the Hawk’s-beards (after my recent trip to a wildflower meadow, I felt it was time to get a book) but rough, smooth or beaked, I couldn’t say. The church itself is a plain thing, but no less beautiful for that! It is no longer in use and is locked during the week. I guessed that it would be, and briefly consider going to get the key, but that can wait for another visit – to be honest, I am more than happy just being here. Far from anywhere, quite alone and no sounds other than the wind in the trees and the chatter of birds.
The lovely wooden porch, inscribed with Victorian graffiti, offers a seat and an unexpected view into the church through a tiny grill in the door. I peep in and see that somebody has tied bunches of lavender to the end of each pew. It may be out of use, but somebody is coming here and looking after it, and I am suddenly overwhelmed by the power of that gentle act. From the little I can see of the inside, it is clear that this is a rather special place – this is not a gloomy church, but one of calm light. I make a vow to come back.
I mooch around outside for a while, reading the inscriptions on the stones. One of them, marking the resting place of Nellie and George, with Nellie preceding George by 8 years, has the achingly sad “reunited with Mother” carved under George’s name. Closer examination, and some quick sums, would suggest that they were the same age – it seems that George’s pet name for Nellie was Mother. He was 87 when he joined her and I find myself hoping that his last years weren’t spent pining. There are some ripe old ages here, including two that died in their hundredth year! No telegram from the Queen for them, but I think ending up in this place for all of eternity would more than compensate.