I've just returned from a wonderful day out on a 'Mystery Trip' organised by Enid Lambert from Mendlesham Chapel. Amazingly Enid managed to fill a coach with people who were prepared to take the risk, by being taken to places where they had no inkling, and putting their trust in her knowledge of Suffolk and what would appeal to her fellow companions for the day.
I thought I knew Suffolk well, having explored fairly extensively while living in Clacton, and more so since arriving in Stowmarket five years ago. Yet, we were soon taken off the beaten track, along some narrow country roads that I was amazed the coach could negotiate, and with each turn discovered some incredible sights, from crops growing, some delightful Suffolk villages, beautiful churches, as well as gateways and drives that led to amazing properties.
Our first destination appeared to be in the middle of nowhere, yet revealed a wonderful church called St. Mary the Virgin in Huntingfield. Looking on their website afterwards they admit 'It's not easy to find Huntingfield; even the signposts do not bear its name until you are within the parish boundary. Yet this shallow valley, divided by the infant river Blyth, with church and parsonage on one bank and manor house on the other, has been owned by some notable families in England's history'.
The church is in a delightful setting and made for a lovely photo, but it's on the inside that one's breath is taken away, through its amazing Victorian painted ceiling with is painted from one end to the other in brilliant colours, with carved and coloured angels, banners, crowns and shields. We were told that the ceiling had been painted by the Rector's wife to relieve the boredom of Parish life in the 19th century. I gather the church had to be closed for eight months from September 1859 to April 1860 while she painted the chancel roof. Tradesmen provided scaffolding and prepared the ceiling for painting but there is no record to show that she had any help with the work, and legend has it that she did much of it lying on her back, while, much to the horror of Parishioners, wearing trousers!
There are twelve large panels in the chancel ceiling each showing an angel holding either a scroll with the words of the canticle 'Blessed be the Lord God of Israel', or the emblems of the Passion: the cross, the hammer and nails, the scourge, the lance, the crown of thorns and the reed. I gather she got her inspiration from travelling extensively with her husband in Europe and beyond, and wherever they ventured, she would always take her sketch pad and draw extensively. She was self-taught!
Well satisfied, we ventured from there towards the East picking up the A12 (I was on familiar territory!) only to turn off and once again negotiate some narrow lanes, eventually being brought out at a property in the middle of no-where but near Sutton (how does Enid find such places I wonder?!). It turned out that this was the only property in Suffolk that is owned and run by the ladies of the Women's Institute. Again extremely old, it had originally been three separate properties but made into a hall with kitchen and other facilities. Here we were afforded wonderful hospitality and a chance to chat around the table and enjoy a delicious afternoon tea.
We came home in the early evening well satisfied from the day's experiences and encounters, extremely grateful to Enid for organising and providing us with an insight to parts of Suffolk that we never knew existed, and wondering how she could provide so much for so little cost.
I'm reminded of the Israelites who put their trust in Moses as he led them on a 'Mystery Trip' which would eventually lead them to a destination only known by God. The account suggests that their way was full of blessings, including God revealing Himself and His purpose at regular intervals. But, more than that, He made sure that refreshments were supplied each and every day so that they might be sustained in their journey together.