Yesterday I took a brief trip back to my childhood – to those warm and sunny days before the climate changed and someone invented speed cameras and drink-driving, and when you could motor down all the streets in my home town without worrying whether someone had closed them overnight.
Prompted by a photo feature in my local paper – yes, we still take a local paper – my wife and I travelled out into the Norfolk countryside, using only a map to guide us. It was as if satnavs did not exist. Happily we took a wrong turn at an early stage and went a different way instead. But we got there and parked by the church at Tunstall, which you may not have heard of.
It lies on the brink of the marshes that cluster round the River Yare as it wends its unhurried way from Cantley to Great Yarmouth. To reach Tunstall you have to travel through Halvergate – a village from which some of the marshes take their name – and venture up a lane that leads to nowhere, other than Tunstall. It is not on the way to anywhere, and to get back home you have to turn round and come back. Some people find this alarming.
The church was open to visitors. The ruins are open to the heavens, atmospheric and – like the former chancel that has been converted into a simple place of worship by bricking in the arch and inserting a solid door – without much adornment. To a simple soul like me, this is very much back-to-childhood. I was brought up in a free church which did not even permit flowers in case they were distracting.
I loved Tunstall Church, or St Peter and St Paul, to give it its full title. But I loved the countryside around it even more. This is quite surprising, in that my first love is mountains, and the countryside around Tunstall and for miles around has been described as flat. It is not quite flat: if it were sea, it might be described as gently rolling, but mountains or even small hills are conspicuous by their absence.
We walked on a path across a dry, ploughed field, then on a country lane that ended in – well, nothing really. It just stopped. You could park and try one of two paths, neither of which really seemed to go anywhere. It was the edge of the Broads National Park. The outer edge. The path I tried was soon overgrown. If I had gone far enough I might have found a stream, or a staithe. Or maybe that was somewhere else. We picked small blackberries, and ate them for supper.
We drove back across open country. There was no direct route: we followed the edges of the fields, turning left, right, left. I wanted to stop, just to look at the patterns of the sun, but I resisted the temptation. Eventually we hit civilisation. The only good thing about civilisation is that there are toilets. In this case there was also a hold-up, because they were digging up the road. Again.