Friday 28 September 2012

Churches of the Arun Valley

The second of these two gems, St Mary the Virgin North Stoke pictured below St Michael Amberley, was belatedly added to the list, and our route diverted, as I sat on the train down to Sussex last Saturday scouring my Pevsner/Nairn. The intention had been to build on our 19-mile Norfolk churches walk with a heady loop from Amberley to Arundel around the glorious South Downs, both ends of which we know from two-day expeditions but not the middle. Churches, Amberley excepted (and possibly St Nicholas Arundel if we got there in time), were not the object of the exercise. The highly critical Nairn’s praise of North Stoke, however, was unusually warm – ‘delightful, outside and in’ – so I worked out a shorter detour around the Downs and a trail that would then take us along the meanders of the river Arun.

Amberley was always going to be our starting point, and a model village it is too, with its ensemble of castle, church and thatched cottages; all needs of the day-tripper helpfully provided with a tea shoppe, pottery, local store – helpful for assembling a a rather odd sort of picnic – and further refreshments in the village hall, where we succumbed to a cuppa and excellent home made cakes after a longer than expected time in the church. One-time inhabitants include Arthur Rackham and Arnold Bennett, visited by John Cowper Powys who walked over from Burpham to see him (later we met an American on the Downs coming from Burpham who might well been purposefully following in Powys’s footsteps).

At the time of Nairn’s writing, the wall paintings on the south side of St Michael's chancel arch had not been revealed, and he is extraordinarily rude about this splendid Norman arch’s ‘tragic’ scale of detail, its ‘finicky zig-zag ornament’. Well, I love that sort of zig-zagging, so my feelings about it are quite the opposite.

The 12th or 13th century paintings crudely yet clearly depict scenes from Christ’s passion.

The eye is drawn to this and the great arch, but probably first, as one enters through the south doorway, to the stained glass in the window of the north directly facing the visitor. It strikes me as a very beautiful combination of the lamentatory and the joyful. The main image of the deposition is taken from a painting by the local artist to whom the window was dedicated in 1919, Edward Stott.

The designer, quite a discovery for me, was Robert Anning Bell, who has framed the central scene with denizens of art and nature – farm animals along the bottom frieze

and what turn out to be characteristic Anning Bell angels around the arch.

There’s also a memorial plaque to ‘dear child’ Joan Mary Stratton by Eric Gill and his assistant Joseph Cribb

and more superior stained glass, this time from the 1930s, by Veronica Whall of St Edith and an angel.

We had to lift off a harvest festival arrangement to reveal the 1424 brass to John Wantele.

Otherwise, and despite a major Victorian restoration - from which time I assume the wacky floor patterns stems (thought-food for Sophie's floorcloth designs?) -

the impression remains resolutely Norman, including the font

and a west window giving out on to the belfry.

Having given a passing glance to the castle, more a retreat-home to bishops of Chichester in the Middle Ages

we retraced our steps along a shady lane

and walked a little along the South Downs Way, looking down on Amberley

before branching off towards Burpham. Clear views towards the south coast opened up, suggesting time for lunch (including an excellent local pork pie) and a steep sheep-filled valley offered a half-hour of total seclusion

after which we reluctantly left the Downs by taking a track down towards North Stoke, with the sea now very much in evidence.

The tucked-away church here has been lovingly, unfussily restored by the Churches Conservation Trust, not deconsecrated but left usable for the odd service throughout the year.

The beauty of St Mary is that it has hardly been changed since the early 14th century, and – apart from the altered east end – its windows range a century of even earlier design, from lancets of c.1200 to the two- and three-lighters introduced about 70 or so years later.

As with all the work of the excellent CCT, the bare interior highlights the basic colours on the stonework – in this case yellow, ochre and pinkish-red. They certainly enhance the pleasure of the cunningly constructed piscine and sedilia, adjusted to the chancel’s different levels.

Details are few but striking, like the hand which serves as a corbel to hold up a niche, and a sheep’s head in the south transept. Cursed be flash for flattening out the impact.

There are also four fragments of medieval glass, both pairs seeming to indicate the coronation of the Virgin (though some say the male figure here is King David, who knows?). The more finely executed of the two is sited in the east window.

The chancel arch in this instance, so the model guide produced by the CCT tells me, is ‘mainly built of chalky clunch’; seen here from the font.

Around it are fragments of medieval wall-painting - this time purely decorative, flowers and birds.

St Mary is shy of revealing herself, at least from our approach, and only as we walked down a field towards South Stoke did she become briefly visible.

We crossed a surprisingly elaborate bridge across a meander of the Arun, restored with gurkhas’ help in 2009

And made a brief detour to another well-hidden church, well away from any proper road, at South Stoke. The tower of this essentially 11th century building has what Nairn calls a ‘frilly C19 cap to it'.

Otherwise, nothing much to report about the interior. Harvest festival here was clearly not to be the feast of plenty Amberley’s display indicated: in South Stoke's case, cereal packets on the altar and apples lined up beneath the windows, which had a certain piquancy.

We were now tracing the meanders of the Arun, heading towards Burpham

where the church was resolutely shut. It probably would have been anyway after 5, but I took agin the tenor of the notice on the door, which apologized for lockup and alarming owing to recent theft, but gave no hint of where a dedicated visitor might find the key.

And so along the water meadows to Arundel, past a boatwreck which looked like it was grounded in a dried-up Sea of Azof

and with the meanders causing the castle to advance and retreat.

Way too late for an Arundel investigation – we’ll make it the starting point next time - we had a quick drink in an unlovely hotel and then hobbled to the station for the train back to London. The afternoon's sun was now all blurred over in early evening grey skies, and sure enough this was the abrupt end of an Indian summer: on Sunday, originally earmarked for our walk, quite a bit of the country was under water from a month’s worth of rain in a single day.

Tuesday 25 September 2012

A Warsaw childhood

Our friend Jasia Reichardt, whose acquaintance we are so proud to have made through her partner Nick Wadley and his Cole Porter Choral Society, has written a unique and haunting book about growing up in the years 1939-1946. She counterpoints her own lucid, unsentimental prose with letters from her mother, Maryla Chaykin, and grandmother, Łucja Weinles, to her aunt, Franciszka Themerson, most of them taking a roundabout route from the Warsaw ghetto to London before Jasia’s mother and father were transported to the death camps. Jasia’s escape from the same fate, playing the part of a Catholic orphan, is the story of 14 out of the '15 journeys’, most of them short, around various hospitals and convents in the Warsaw region, until she is reunited with Franciszka and her husband Stefan in London after the war

The first journey, to the Warsaw ghetto, marks the departure from a normal life which Jasia describes in objective, simple but often piercing sentences, beginning with a detailed tour of the apartment. It feels so real, this ‘quiet and pleasant’ childhood in a civilized household where father works on his architectural designs, mother gives piano lessons and illustrates children’s books – inspiring her daughter to draw so well from an early age -  and grandfather’s oil paintings hang on the walls (Maryla’s drawings for Living Letters and Płomyk punctuate the text).

Visits to the Themersons’ modern flat open up a new world, full of everyday wonders illustrated by these influential avant-garde artists and film-makers: ‘no mermaids, no angels or witches, no Aladdins, just what we can see, use and touch’. The Themersons leave for Paris in 1938, the war begins the following year; in 1940, Jews are prohibited from leaving home without a permit between 9 and 5, from walking certain streets, entering certain squares, sitting on public benches, riding in taxis, making public calls from telephone booths…the list is preposterous and chilling. Maryla writes to her Franka, ‘Do you walk about town at 8 in the evening? Are cinemas and parks open to everyone? It will be a pleasure to even read about it.’ In October Jasia moves with her mother and grandmother to a three-room flat in the ghetto, shared with seven other friends and relatives.

Maryla’s and Łucja’s letters are matter of fact, repetitive, coded. Jasia has taken the brave decision to include them all, reasoning that:

Each letter, whatever its content, is primarily proof that the writer is, or was at the time of writing, still alive. The letters have their own texture and pattern. The entire correspondence resembles a chain-stitch that goes back over itself, progressing slowly. With every stitch there is a small change, a new item of information, a nuance of mood that casts increasingly dark shadows.

Through all this we learn that Jasia continues to have a childhood, to play, to roller-skate, to exercise as far as possible, to grow tomatoes on the balcony. But the mood of ‘growing despair’ can be detected in the change from the habitual stoicism of phrases like ‘we are in good health and have enough for our modest needs’ to increasingly plaintive lines such as these: ‘until recently we had a lot of help…We didn’t lack anything. The last three months however we’ve lived almost entirely thanks to your help’ This is August 1941; Franciszka has continued to risk sending food parcels from London despite warnings against doing so from the ‘Trading with the Enemy' Branch of the Treasury and Board of Trade, one of the many topsyturvydoms of war.

Eventually the inevitable happens. Telegraphic messages trickle out of the ghetto until the last card of 28 May 1942. Nine-year-old Jasia, in the premature growing-up of her many journeys, intuits that her grandmother and great-uncle are going to commit suicide, that her parents are dead. Somehow Jasia’s prose conveys the business of shutting out these thoughts, getting on with life. That Maryla and Łucja disappear from the narrative of the girl’s subsequent life is more devastating than their presence could be. The prose remains 'unencumbered by emotional baggage', as one close to Jasia describes it. Yet we know throughout that her mother, whose letters she only came to face after Franciszka left them to her on her deathbed in 1988, is the heart and soul of this most singular memoir.

Nick, Jasia’s partner, published the latest book of his remarkable drawings earlier this year, Man + Doctor. It stems from his extended confinements to hospital beds between 2004 and 2010 and, in his words, ‘record man’s many and various attempts to avoid the scalpel, and his eventual confrontations with and recoveries from surgery (colon cancer, lumbar discs, and the heart)'.

Black humour punctuates a different sort of dark journey, from diagnosis to admission and operation (I particularly like ‘anaesthetic’, with a blue bird perched on a windowsill from which the patient is precariously hanging). Most of the medical professionals involved take on a comic-sinister aspect, or so I imagine.

I asked Nick to choose an image, and he wrote: 'I think one that stays in my mind as poignantly "true" is the man in the blue gown, just at the moment he loses his identity and becomes a patient with a number, and signs the consent form, and disappears into the grande machine of hospital life'. Posy Simmonds described this at the book launch as 'the abattoir look'.

For the rest, see for yourselves. I should only add that both books are beautifully produced by Dalkey Archive Press, with artistic care taken over the selected illustrations that punctuate Jasia’s narrative.

Stop press, 3/10: A photo of Nick and Jasia taken at their home last Sunday. The painting behind them is by Franciszka Themerson.

Wednesday 19 September 2012

The great Martinů divide

The Moravian genius still splits opinions into fierce pros and cons, as testified by reviews (mine for The Arts Desk included) of Richard Jones’s ENO Julietta*, pictured above and below for English National Opera by Richard Hubert Smith. Many of us – a majority, it would seem -  love Martinů’s music to the point of the irrationality it seems designed to provoke. Others find it ‘not very good’, ‘superficial’, ‘anonymous’ and derivative, lacking ‘dramatic immediacy or distinction’.

I won’t single out the critics who number among the dissenting third, but the more I get to know Julietta, the more moving and coherent I find it, so naturally I want to challenge them. Of course surrealist treatment of someone else’s dream spread across three acts and nearly two hours of music has the potential to become one colossal, not to mention dated, bore. But protagonist Michel’s sleepwalking attempt to find the woman he heard singing at an open window surely provides the meaningful anchor one of those writers finds missing in the score. There’s an important ritornello in each act when he remembers and tries to bring to life that vision: music of heartache and pathos which stuck in my mind the first time I ever heard it (so much for unmemorability) and culminates in the fabulous cadence of the two ‘Julietta chords’**, rooted in Janáček’s Taras Bulba and going on to pepper Martinů’s six masterly symphonies of the 1940s and early 50s. I first quoted the chords here, musing on the Third Symphony; no harm in reproducing them again.

That refrain’s last playback leads to the ambiguous ending: to pursue his goal again, Michel must be lost to the real world, where others before him have gone insane. But is it worth it for sounds like this? Martinů’s painfully nostalgic musical resurrections of the past convince you (sorry, me) it might be. The three Julietta visions take place in three very different dramatic contexts. Jones and his fabulous designer Antony McDonald have taken the cue of the sentimental tune which kindles memories in an amnesiac dream-community to render a giant piano-accordion and to deconstruct it in various ways. I’m taking the liberty of giving the three stage pictures (dreamville, as I like to think of it, up top; the forest of Act Two below; accordion as filing-cabinet for the Office of Dreams further down). As in all of Jones’s work, design and production are hauntingly fused.

The wistful, very Moravian strains which the accordion conjures for the memoryless add a further layer of something to hold on to, akin to the impact of Ann Trulove’s lullaby on the tormented inmates of Bedlam in Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress. Again,  Martinů offers respite from the fidgeting absurdity of dreamville, a lyricism which in my view is far from ‘stubbornly earthbound’ (one of the dissenters again). I can’t imagine Georges Neveux’s original play being anywhere near as rooted; Martinů’s music,when it briefly settles, is balm for troubled souls. As for ‘its manifold derivations failing to cohere into a greater whole’, the composer's stylistic thumbprints transfigure every debt, from Debussy to Stravinsky. I need a whole chapter to show how, but the symphonic example at the foot of this post gives a taster of his unique musical world.

Dramatic incoherence? Up to a point: the non-sequiturs of the somnambulent world demand it***. But I’m always surprised by the urgent twists and turns of the longest act, where Michel meets up with his dream girl again in the wood at night. The act constantly seems to have reached its logical conclusion, but the music goes on eluding expectations, above all by settling not to the hectic brilliance of the orchestral passage which Jones and his movement director Philippe Giraudeau choreograph as a queasily humorous crocodile ballet, but to the serenity and beauty of a quiet musical curtain as Michel heads for the deep waters only.

Insubstantial subject-matter? I think not. The opera, begun in 1936, seems weirdly prescient for the fate in store for Martinů, a wartime exile from the country he loved so deeply and a lover constantly trying to revive in memory the times of happiness he shared with Vítězslava Kaprálová, the talented composer who died aged 25 in 1940. His own words on the opera written seven years after that clarify what it’s all about better than I could. The following would have been useful material for the ENO programme:

The whole story…takes place neither in reality nor in illusion, but on a very thin line between them, so that everything real seems to be fiction and all fictions have the appearance of reality. The whole network of unforeseen situations and illogical conclusions has one unifying theme, namely the human mind, memory, on which the history and actions of our lives relies. Here, however, a world is presented to us in which memory is abolished, displaced; here everyone longs to gain it back, to renew it, to retrieve reminiscences of the past as well as to acquire reminiscences of other people and accept them as one’s own, in order to be able at least to touch the past – to catch the irretrievable moment of time. Situations, however, become absurd; there is a sort of continuum of time and space, from which time, however, i.e. the past, has vanished. The world appears here only at the given moment, which is replaced by the next moment, and so everything rushes into emptiness. It is in essence a psychological problem and really a very old human problem: ‘What is man, what am I, what are you, what is truth?’

In a contemporary world where so many of us are grappling with the problem of Alzheimer’s somewhere in the family, the theme of memory has disturbing new resonances. Is Martinů’s music worthy of it? In its fleeting beauty and tenderness, I think it is. To conclude, and to meet one critic’s objection that the composer’s many threads never cohere, here’s the start of the symphonic adventure with No.1, and the essence of Martinů’s personal style - the chromatic bloodrushes, the syncopated dance music, even the Julietta chords - in the nutshell of the first minute. There are other movements from other symphonies I might have chosen, but the performances on YouTube don’t come up to the mark of Neeme Järvi’s great Bamberg cycle, of which this is the first instalment.  

*Plenty of ticket offers available, or at least there were before first night; the generally warm critical reception may have changed all that. One ENO 'special' entails phoning up the box office and saying the magic word 'dream'.

**If you want them parsed beyond 'Moravian cadence', Thomas D Svatos outlines 'a kind of plagal cadence from a dominant 13th chord on the subdominant to the tonic'

***28/10  Here's another contrary view I've just come across: the music 'proceeds in fits and starts'. Didn't they used to say that about Janáček? And actually it strikes me there's a very strong parallel with another dreamlike opera which only makes sense at the end: Janáček's Osud, where protagonist Zivny finally pieces it all together - at greater length, admittedly, than Michel, but to similar effect.

Tuesday 11 September 2012

Norfolk churches: Ingoldisthorpe to Thornham

It’s that time of year when a long, long blog entry doubles as an illustrated begging-bowl for our annual church walk in aid of the Norfolk Churches Trust. Last Saturday we covered 19-plus miles and 12 churches, Methodist chapels and ruins (not the more usual 16 owing to a scheduling hitch which I’ll explain later). Numbering from the first walk back in 2002 marks them down as 111 - 122. There's still some way to go, since as Pevsner notes 659 churches in Norfolk date from before 1700 alone.

The hand of Victorian restoration lies heavy or helpful, according to taste, over all the still-functioning buildings we visited. Multitalented Frederick Preedy, cousin of the le Stranges who were the local big cheeses based in Old Hunstanton, added plain chancels and/or self-designed stained glass in every case. Though by no means hostile to all Victoriana, I can’t be as enthusiastic as the gentleman who has a huge online picture gallery devoted to Preedy’s work throughout England. Let’s remember, though, that without the resurrections of the 19th century many of the churches would have quickly become ruinous, and the grandest we saw is unquestionably the better for the late Victorian salvation of its 1430s steeple.

Peer close enough and there seems to be an anomaly in the top two photos: the clock at All Saints Thornham stands at 10.40, yet I’m claiming it was the end of our trail. So it was, but well after dark, when we knew this rather well-stocked interior would have been locked for at least three hours. So King’s Lynn friend Jill left the car outside Thornham’s Lifeboat Inn, our ultimate destination, and we took a look around the church before catching coasthopper buses to Ingoldisthorpe and the proper start of the walk back.

Inside All Saints we found the lady who was to sign us in sweeping a week’s worth of bat droppings from the sheeted stalls (to see the extremes to which the priority of endangered species over endangered buildings can be taken, see the Toftrees section in last year’s entry). She took some persuading that we were indeed on foot, or about to be, and not velociped-bound, but now there's proof on the form that the original ‘sponsored cycle’ has at last become ‘Ride and Stride’ in honour of our peculiar minority. The bus timetable meant we only had ten minutes to look around, which explains why among medieval poppyhead + figure benchends like this

I missed the poetically carved unicorn and headless mermaid depicted on Simon Knott’s quirky and detailed Norfolk churches site, referenced after the event. Pevsner, Linnell and Wilhelmine Harrod, sketchy guides, had at least alerted me to look out for a post mill – the sails are on the side -

and three survivors from a seven deadly sins sequence, each with a transgresser about to be engulfed in the jaws of hell: here’s gluttonous imbibing.

The late 1400s painted dado of the rood screen, with its sixteen slightly mutilated but well executed figures, merits an upgrading in the revised Pevsner from ‘not without merit’ to excellent; maybe the John Miller (d. 1488) who gave it inspired nameplay in the form of the windmill benchend.

Thornham also boasts an octagonal 15th century font emblazoned with cusped shields

and (you can just see it behind the font to the left) a slice of Elizabethan moralizing on the wall.

The second of our two buses crawled through the straggle of Heacham, where I’d rather hoped we would catch the church’s monument to Pocahontas; some time after her famous rescue of John Smith, she married the local squire, became plain Rebecca Rolfe and lived nearby for a while. Still, this would have been unattractive walking, and our route for the first stretch lay further inland. St Michael Ingoldisthorpe (pronounced ‘Inglethorpe’) is tucked away in the middle of an outlying group of relatively recent houses which must have been built on sold-off church land. We received an ever more ecstatic welcome from the reception committee as not one, not two, but four of us emerged from the trees – the first visitors at 11.45.

Knott waxes lyrical about both the tlc still lavished on the church – by no means ‘redundant’ as the revised Pevsner claims – and the quality of the late 19th and early 20th century glass. There’s certainly a curiosity in the tracery of one chancel window, which depicts local boy Thomas Beckett at his desk before sailing to Canada at the age of 21 where he died in a wood, an unexpected source tells me, after tripping over a log and breaking a kneecap. This bloody silly way to die is discreetly hinted at in the central panel, where young Tom lies asleep rather than dead under a tree clasping his rifle. Knott has better details than my inadequate pocket camera can provide, but this will have to do for a fuzzy hint of the sequence, which ends in a New Brunswick harbourscape with ships.

The objects of antiquity in Ingoldisthorpe Church are a wooden screen, a brass of a sharp-featured Jacobean family and  another octagonal font, this time originally square in its Norman incarnation but altered a century or so later.

We made our way across fields and a farm full of rare breeds, at which point the soaring spire of Snettisham, rebuilt in 1895, joined the body of the church.

Pevsner declares St Mary ‘perhaps the most exciting Dec parish church in Norfolk’, though the competition is limited, and laments the demise of its 40 foot long chancel, demolished in the 17th century; 300 or so years later Preedy did a tidy job on the east end, which had to be pieced together yet again after a zeppelin attack in 1915. A fairly precise Gothic revival replica of St Mary stands tall in Fredericton, New Brunswick, where as we have seen Beckett Junior of Ingoldisthorpe so prematurely expired. Here’s the real thing in its full glory.

The west front with its six-light window is supposed to be the glory; not having the book with me, I didn’t take as much note of that as I should have done. Here sits the great window beneath the nave roof with its ‘sweeping arched braces up to the collar beams’ (Pevsner).

Of the monuments, a late brass to John Cremer, who died in 1610, his wife and seven children, shows the fashion of the times, especially in the big breeches of father and sons

and there’s a fine alabaster effigy of Sir Wymond Carye (d. 1612) recumbent.

The greatest treasure of Snettisham, or Snesham in optional local parlance, is of course lodged not here but in the British Museum – the Iron Age (c.75 BC) hoard of gold, silver and bronze artefacts crowned by the neck ring which has had a magical sound to me since childhood, the ‘Snettisham torc’. Fellow blogger Will Fregosi may be amused to know that it has been fancifully attributed to Boudicca, subject of his latest post, and the hoard assigned to her Iceni. This photo courtesy of Johnbod on Wikimedia Commons.

Walking to the next two churches was sweaty work in the heat of what felt like a blazing August day. There was little shade as we followed the edges of fields, some of them poppy-fringed,

a disused railway track and a stretch of the Roman Peddars Way. The plunge into the cool of St Mary Sedgeford, hidden away in a hollow, was specially welcome, and all the more so since another welcoming lady had ice creams on offer, left over from a village celebration. This was a bonus to the usual offerings of Robinson’s fruit drinks and biscuits. As I mentioned last year, one day we’ll find a Norfolk church where someone has baked a cake or a pie, but that’s ungrateful of me.

Knott warmed especially to Sedgeford Church with its Norman round tower crowned by an octagonal top storey, and so did we. Here was another interior apparently given the stamp of Preedy’s saving hand, but its uncluttered look was more reminiscent of a deconsecrated building looked after by the Churches Conservation Trust. The square Norman font dominates the west end.

There are faint traces of a Saint Christopher wall painting, and fallen corbels rest on window ledges. The literature would have us believe they’re medieval, but they look distinctly Victorian to me; whatever the case, they add character.

18th century headstones dot the churchyard; here’s Old Father Time as a memento mori.

Having interrupted the next overheated slog for lunch in the shade of a hedge, we finally came in sight of Ringstead, a rather attractive village with the church of St Andrew at the top of the hill.

Knott’s amusing tirade against the locked door which most visitors encounter here has a note at the bottom to the effect that his words are ‘not in any way endorsed by the parish’. We had no cause to complain, for this much restored church was open on Ride and Stride day, and a local ancient gave us a lively  commentary on the 15th century brass. More intriguing, perhaps, were the ledger stones to various Fish (or Fysh) wives and husbands, their characterful arms featuring three interlaced, sharp-toothed pike.

Ubiquitous glass by Preedy has at least the interest of St Peter and St Andrew holding the two Ringstead churches.

Only the round tower of St Peter now stands, in the garden of a former rectory. We passed it but – tell it not in Gath, nor to those who sponsored us per church  – couldn’t see it; I suspect trespass would have been necessary. Another ruin, St Andrew, was unspectacularly in evidence at the end of our best walking stretch up to that point, the bird-loud valley of Ringstead Downs. I can give you photographic evidence of the remains, but I’d rather post proof that ‘very flat, Norfolk’ is not always true.

By now our late start was giving us problems. It was well past 5, pumpkin time for Ride and Stride church closure, when we reached St Mary Old Hunstanton, another Preedified edifice in the heart of le Strange territory, and the church was decidedly locked.

What did we miss within? Chiefly a very elaborate 16th century brass to Sir Roger le Strange, but its illustration in the old Pevsner has to be more impressive than the actuality, as we know from the hard-to-make-out masterpieces in St Margaret Kings Lynn.

Moving on, around 6pm we hit Hunstanton proper, Norfolk’s only west-facing seaside resort cannily constructed by the Victorian le Stranges, and duly observed a wall of St Edmund’s Chapel just beyond the lighthouse. ‘Not one motif of any eloquence’, writes Pevsner sternly, and he’s right, but this time I guess it should be shown to prove that we gave at least the outskirts of  'sunny Hunny' a nod.

We were now faced with a dilemma. Should we traipse another half mile into the churchy town centre and the same distance back for the sake of ticking off the exterior of Preedy’s entirely Victorian ‘New’ Hunstanton church along with Methodist, Roman Catholic and Unitarian specimens, or should we proceed directly to our last five-mile stretch along beach and saltmarsh? The consensus was that we only had another hour or so of light, and so long as we found water supplies – which we did, just before the beach – we should press on.  A bathe would have been ideal, but the tide was so far out, and time was against us. So press on we did, leaving Hunstanton behind and heading for Thornham via Holme-next-the-Sea.

A spectacular sunset was promised, and duly materialized, the sun descending as we walked along the sands

and properly setting as we headed into the saltmarsh

until finally it departed, leaving skies and water incarnadine, as we took off our boots and waded a creek to reach the final stretch.

The only sounds were the distant breaking of the waves and the cries of oystercatchers. Finally we negotiated more or less in the dark the mix of boardwalk and sandy path with which the Peddars Way winds through the marshland, having clocked the solid tower of Holme's unexciting St Mary. Then we collapsed into the capacious gastropub interior of the once humble Lifeboat Inn for a generously-portioned fresh fish supper before the drive back to Lynn.

Previous instalments in the church walking saga: 2011 (around East Rudham) here, 2010 (Nar Valley) here, 2009 (Walpoles to Wiggenhalls across the Fens) here and 2008 (King's Lynn and beyond) here. Earlier walks dating back to 2002 were BB (Before Blog).