March 26 -Geocaching in South Suffolk with Charlie and Ruth

The first blossom of the year and an interesting trip home

Hello from 1066 – A Medieval Mosaic

Another geocaching trip, this time in South Suffolk, with Charlie and Ruth. Ruth works at the Royal Hospital School in Holbrook but they are on school holidays so she is able to join us today.

Our first cache of the church microing day was at All Saints in Little Conard but sadly even with four of us looking we could not find the cache. It is a small flint and brick church of the 14th and 15th-century and stands isolated in fields. The west tower is 14th-century, with a castellated parapet and an 18th-century open cupola with a weather vane. The south porch has a stone pointed arch and a castellated parapet. It is a grade 1 listed building for its architectural and historical value. There was a group of guys in the church rehanging the bells. It had a couple of nice stained glass windows. The window over the altar was very dark but the white and yellow around the head of Jesus made it stand out in a glorious way. There was also a modern window from 2008 which was rather lovely.

St Mary’s church in Bures had a wooden effigy of an unknown knight from the early 14th-century. I cannot believe it is so old and in such good condition. The stone reredos was lovely with two paintings, one on each side. The altar frontal was unusual in that it had five gold and coloured paintings. There were several tombs including one in the sanctity. The church’s list of rector’s date from 1150 with Withgar the Priest. It also had a lovely modern stained glass window from 2012.I quickly found the numbers to the multi and we were off to find the cache. Three of us arrived first while M moved the car but we were not finding it. Mike was there 30 seconds when he said ‘what’s this then’. A very sneaky hide.

When researching our route that Charlie had worked out, I found another church micro near Bures so we went to have a look for it. We drove past the entrance initially as it just looked like the entrance to a farm but luckily we turned around otherwise we would have missed something very special. When we arrived the parking was a long way away from the church so three of us walked so that we could find the cache while Mike drove down the lane to the St Stephen Chapel. Ruth found the geocache which was her first ever. When we arrived at the church Mike was already taking photographs. It is a tiny thatched roofed church but inside down the centre of the church are two amazing alabaster tombs with another at the back, all tombs of the De Vere family. The back one was Robert De Vere who was born about 1236 and died 1296. One of the other tombs was to Richard De Vere who died 1417. The church itself was consecrated on the Feast of St Stephen, December 26, 1218, by Cardinal Stephen Langton. This is reputed, by some, to be the traditional site of the coronation of King Edmund on Christmas Day 855. The church has had a chequered history as during the Reformation anything to do with St Edmund was particularly targetted and this chapel became a hospital in the plague of 1739, then was later converted to cottages and later to a barn even having a hole punched into it for farm vehicle. Another barn was also added to it which still remains today. In the 1930s, the Badcock and Probert families who owned it restored the eastern part of the building as a chapel, and it provided a home for some of the tombs of the De Veres, the Earls of Oxford, which had previously been at Colne Priory, just over the border. The De Veres were an important family of this border region. The Bishops that we met several days ago in Clare began this year’s Lent pilgrimage here.

As if that wasn’t enough, when you go behind the chapel there is a copse of trees with a seat that looks out over the valley to the sight and site of a chalk dragon on the hillside. Charlie and Ruth are Suffolk born and bred and did not know that either the chapel or the dragon existed. This was the highlight of the day for all of us.

The flint church of St Edmunds at Assington was closed but I found the cache eventually. I was definitely overthinking it. In the village is a pub called the ‘Leg of Mutton’. Charlie was the landlord here during the late 1070s and early 1980s. St Matthew’s in Leavenheath was quite a new church built in the 1830’s. The tapestry kneelers had a lovely dark red base colour. Even with all four of us looking for quite a while on a very busy road we still found nothing. The plantings in the driveway were very nice and well cared for.

We searched for the cache at St Mary the Virgin, Wissington after collecting the numbers for the multi but we never did find it. Pity as I hate having a DNF especially when I realised it was actually part of the church micro series even though it had a different name. The inside of the church was lovely with a 15th-century wall painting of a dragon possibly painted over an even older wall painting. There was a George III royal coat of arms, a 15th-century octagonal font and nice tiles in the sanctuary. In the churchyard is the headstone of Dr Jane Harriet Walker who was an English medical doctor who first implemented the open-air method of treating tuberculosis in England.

We visited St James church in Nayland next and there we saw a fabulously painted pipe organ originally from Canterbury Cathedral in 1777. It was rebuilt by Henry Jones in 1865.  There were two royal coats of arms, a William IV painted on wood and a three-dimensional casting for the sovereign of 1816 – 1837 by Joseph Wallis of Colchester. We found some impressive monumental brasses under the carpets and even more, have been lifted up. The dado screen on the wall had eight saints and there were small pottery stations of the cross dedicated to Arthur Cloudsley-Smith who was one of the headstones we had to find for our last geocache in Wissington. The stone reredos had a decalogue and a painting of Jesus, that looks three dimensional, by John Constable. Constable only painted three religious works, this is one,’ The Ascension’ is in St Mary’s in Dedham and the other is in Brantham church. There were also some lovely stained glass windows including one by C.E. Kempe. We walked around the block and down the road to a footpath and Charlie soon found the cache. Hence the “Conard Walk”.

At Stoke-by-Nayland I found the clue for the multi on the ground outside the church and had soon worked out the coordinates. Charlie made a quick find. St Mary’s church had an amazingly old intricately carved wooden door with saints and decoration all over it. It was very old and grey but I bet it would have looked even more amazing when it was new. There were several alabaster tombs including one to William Mannock and another to Lady Anne Windsor who died in 1615. There were many wonderful stained glass windows by Clayton & Bell, O’Connor & Taylor and J.B. Capronnier. There was also a great collection of monumental brasses including a special one to Lady Catherine Howard who was the great-grandmother of Catherine Howard, fifth wife of Henry VIIIth. The choir stalls had lovely wooden carvings on them and the carved poppyheads were fascinating. The 15th-century font has symbols of the four Evangelists and on the base was the rose and the sun emblem of Edward IV.

St Mary’s Church in Polstead is a delightful church dating originally from 1160 but with major alterations in the 1400’s and 1500’s. It retains some Norman clerestory windows and its stone spire is the only remaining one of its kind in Suffolk. The interior has rare Norman brick arches and much reused Roman material. There are a 13th-century font and a 16th-century remnant of the painted oak roof. The church was lovely with five hatchments, some wall painting and there were shields at the ends of the pews. The altar rails went around three sides of the altar and the wooden reredos. There was a lovely range of mid-blue kneelers and a cross stitch of the Last Supper. We sat outside in the Spring sun on two benches near each other and ate our picnic lunch. What a great view. Then we walked across the field to get the cache quickly while Mike drove around to pick us up at the bottom of the field. The grave of Percy Edwards is in the churchyard. He was famous for his bird and animal impressions both on the radio and on the TV. Polstead is famous for its ‘Polstead Black’ a variety of sweet, black cherry local to the village, its large ponds, and its Red Barn Murder. Ruth Rendell, a thriller writer used to also live in the village.

The Domesday Book mentions the existence of a church in Higham and parts of the Saxon and early Norman church still remain.  St Mary the Virgin, Higham has a lovely reredos with a Decalogue in red and brown tile. We saw a similar one the other day in blues and greens. There were two particularly nice windows, one with Faith and Charity and another with St George and Richard Coeur de Lion.

St. Mary’s Church, Dedham was built in 1492 but there was probably an earlier church on the site of the south aisle from around 1322. We have crossed into Essex to this church with its wonderful wall monuments and its medieval tub font mounted in a 14th-century pier base. There was a gentleman on duty to greet visitors and he explained that we are in Holy Week. The church has very many beautiful stained glass windows including six C.E. Kempe windows in the chancel. I had recognised that they were all by the same maker and then Mike saw golden garb or wheatsheaf, which is C.E. Kempe’s trademark. There was a wonderful stone reredos with five angels and a fantastically embroidered applique altar frontal. There was a tomb with a brass removed and a fantastic painted pipe organ. There was also an original “Constable” on the wall. ‘The Ascension’ is one of only three religious works by John Constable and we saw another one in Nayland earlier in the day.
St Mary the Virgin church in East Bergholt is another amazing church with two painted pipe organs. It also had an octagonal font, various wall monuments and a wooden carved lectern. In the south chapel, there were two early 18th-century chest tombs to the Chaplin and Parker families and three stained glass windows by Lavers & Westlake from 1892. The really fascinating feature was the ‘Bell Cage’ outside the church. The bells are at ground levels and kept upside down until they are rung. Then the bellringer leans into the pit and moves the blue part of the bell so that it rings. This looks like a particularly dangerous and super noisy way to ring the bells. The Bell Cage was erected as a temporary measure in 1531 and the bells have been in regular use ever since and are still rung to this day. Although other Bell Cages exist, this one is the only place where the bells are swung by pure force of hand-applied directly to a wooden headstock and not by rope and wheel. What makes this more remarkable is that they are the heaviest set of five bells that are currently being rung in England, with a total weight of 4.25 tons or 4,318 kilos. 

St Mary’s church in Raydon was a plain church with a small painted organ and a recessed tomb. The list of rectors dates from 1308 with John Alunday. There was no church micro here so we went on to Great Wenham. St John the Evangelist church had a decalogue on the reredos and a George II royal coat of arms. The unusual thing is the set of steep steps that go down and under the organ at the back of the church.

We drove up a narrow track to St Lawrence’s church at Little Wenham with a barrier arm across the road which was a surprise. We did not realise until we got there, looking for the cache, that this geocache had been archived. However, we found the cache on the ground and picked up all the pieces so we logged the find to see if we get away with it. This church though closed is a lovely isolated church near the remains of a castle and deserves to have a geocache. We could just see the castle but could not get close to it. It was lovely to be able to visit one of Suffolk’s secret places.  Little Wenham Hall is one of the oldest houses in England. It was built in the 13th century, and its bricks are among the earliest known English ones, that is, they are not reused Roman bricks.

St Mary’s church at Capel St Mary was closed but I found the cache easily. It is a pity that the church was not open as it looked like a good one.


At All Saints, Sproughton Michael, Ruth and Charlie went to see if the church was open. It wasn’t as it is 5 pm. I found the cache easily with a good hint and we all arrived back to the car together.

The cache at St Mary the Virgin, Bramford took a few minutes to find because it had really good camouflage in an ivy coloured tree. The church was open and had an unusual 16th-century cupboard style font cover with opening doors which seemed over-sized for the font. It had a stone rood screen with a wooden and gold reredos. On finding this cache we completed the Planetary Pursuit challenge that we have been part of for the last few weeks. Each year devise a challenge to compete. For every geocache or trackable found you receive points and with every so many points,  you get a souvenir for each planet. By finding this cache we received our last souvenir, planet Pluto and completed the entire challenge.

At St Peter’s, Baylham I signed a brand new log. The GPS was spot on but I couldn’t figure out the hint. The church had an early 17th-century wall monument, lovely tiling from 1870 and a tapestry of the Last Supper. There was also a 15th-century octagonal limestone font with panels on the bowl bearing roses, lions and angels.

We were surprised that St Andrew’s church at Darmsden was still open and it had a nice carved reredos and Decalogue. It took us ages to find the cache with all four of us searching and visiting the church alternately. We talked to a lady walking her dog and Charlie asked if we could drive down the track through the field which would cut off a long drive. She said that she had done it in the past and that we could always turn around and come back. We set off but there would never have been anywhere to turn around. Charlie was very excited as he had always wanted to go down this way and Mike was pleased that our car was up to it. Smiles all around!!

I cannot believe St Mary’s church in Barking was still open. The lovely wooden rood screen had a dado but all the pictures were worn off. There were two other screens around a chapel on each side of the church. One was partially painted and the other was well painted in red and green. There was also a wooden reredos with a lovely quilted altar cloth. The church had two wall monuments, a hatchment and a Charles II royal coat of arms. There were no stained glass windows except for a very small amount at the top of the window in one chapel. The 15th-century octagonal limestone font had lions and woodwoses around the base, alternating angels and evangelists on the bowl and a wooden cover. We found the cache but it was really well wedged into a tree and it needed quite an effort to remove and we couldn’t remove the lid without getting the container out. We got it in the end!

Our last church of the day was St Peter’s at Milden and this one was open too despite the fact that it was about 6.30 pm. The church had some wall painting and an alabaster tomb with an effigy on top but the poor chap had lost his feet. The churchyard was full of daffodils and primroses and we also saw our first blossom on trees today. Our last find of the day and a nice easy one. That is twenty caches with only 2 DNF’s. A great day!

We shared a nice tea with Charlie and Ruth chatting about the day.

Our trip home was very interesting. We drove straight down towards A14. As we approached the off-ramp to the A12 we saw a sign saying that the exit was shut. Hmmm. We drove all around the roundabout and sure enough, it was closed for resealing the dual carriageway. We have seen this three times at this time of night on the opposite side of the road to the one we were on and I have often wondered what would happen if they closed our side. Well, tonight we found out. We headed towards Ipswich following the GPS on the cell phone and she soon had us back at the same roundabout. Sometimes she just won’t take no for an answer. So with the aid of the GPS and my knowledge of the lay of the land we headed around West Ipswich only making one wrong turn. I was heading towards the Kesgrave road only to find that entrance was also blocked off. OK head through the countryside to Playford. By now we were following another car. Suddenly there were more road closed signs, he came to a stop and was obviously checking maps for alternatives too. We went passed him so that we could turn around and headed to Grundisburgh instead. Finally, we arrived at the A12 and we were on track for home. A trip that was supposed to take 50 mins ended up taking 75 mins but a real adventure in the middle of the night. A bit much for Mike after a day of driving but I am glad that I had a good knowledge of the area plus the help of the lady on the phone’s GPS.