December 9th, 2015, was a gloriously clear, sunny day in East Anglia so I pulled on my rapidly disintegrating boots to go out for a walk. I'd had this walk in reserve for a while, just waiting for the right day. It turned out to be a rich and varied walk, so won't you join me now for the first instalment?
It was dark when I left home to walk down to the railway station. A few stars and a thin sliver of moon showed that already the sky was clear. From the train window Addenbrooke's Hospital was lit up like an ocean liner moored on the outskirts of Cambridge. By the time I'd boarded another train and was heading out towards Newport (the place in Essex, not the one in Wales!) the sky was starting to lighten in the east.
Scarcely out of Newport, right next to the M11 motorway, I encountered the first wonder of the day. Not that many people would realise what this little barn in a field might be....
This is actually St Helen's Chapel, one of the oldest buildings in the East of England dating from the 11th, or possibly even the 10th century. Understandably it's needed a bit of patching up from time to time and has been neglected for long periods while being used as a barn. Nowadays it's a chapel once more and a service is held each year.
From the chapel I took a farm track through woodland and fields towards the church at Rickling. There's very little left of the village which presumably stood here in the past and the church stands in open country with just a few houses nearby.
I'd have liked to have seen inside but it was still only about 08:35 in the morning so it was without much hope that I went to try the door.
Open Sesame! The keyholder must either be a farmer or someone who has to commute to work; you don't usually find churches open before at least nine o'clock. It's so nice outside that I don't want to spend too long in the church, but lets have a quick look around....
A very nice window which an information board tells me was a memorial to a former vicar. But the thing that immediately caught my eye was the reredos, a carved panel behind the altar.
It depicts the adoration of the lamb and was carved in Belgium and brought here in the nineteenth century. I felt somebody was watching me...
There was also some wonderfully rustic carving on the screen which looked a good deal older than the reredos.
Then it was outside once more to continue my walk. A rather dull track alongside an arable field led me to a tiny footbridge, where suddenly the path changed character.
The other side of the bridge there were meadows, thick hedge rows and trees. Almost certainly this land was used for pheasant-shooting. Although the birds can live almost anywhere they thrive best in an "old-fashioned" sort of landscape. While I don't enjoy seeing defenceless birds being blasted out of the skies I can't deny that land managed for them is also beneficial to other wildlife.
And now I have to make my way to the next village of Quendon.
See you tomorrow.