Despite the weather and warnings against travel, we went out for an afternoon in the Suffolk countryside. The rain was never too hard, but even in our compact car, I could feel the gusts. Later, walking in the drizzle, I could hear trees moaning with the strain of them. We drove through flooded sections of road on single-track lanes. By mid-afternoon, sunshine occasionally shown through the grey until wiped dark by sunset.
The land was gentle in its slopes and dips, crops and trees, quite likely idyllic in better weather. Bildeston is no longer as coherent a town as it certainly once was. A convenience store is the only business left on the town square. We passed three pubs, one of which doubles as a brewery, so the town is still doing decently well. The church was half-a-mile out of town; in that weather, it wasn't worth the walk.
By the time we made it to Lavenham, it was fully dark. The town is more sheltered and the weather had cleared. Its dense streets of often-whitewashed leaning half-timber buildings were a marvel, with bare-beamed glimpses within comfortable homes within. One was so precise and elegant that I wanted to find its hotel or restaurant name; but it was a house, not a business. The town came of age with the late medieval wool-trade and has one of the best preserved collections of fourteenth and fifteenth century domestic architecture. It's still thriving, or at least, thriving again, with a Co-op grocery store, a good variety of shops, if a little heavy on antique stores and galleries of artwork. At least they were the sorts of antique stores and galleries of artwork which looked accessible and affordable. The church closed at four, with the darkness, so I could only admire its grandeur from a distance.
It was the first time I was back to Lavenham since I was ten, and my family spent Christmas in the Swan Hotel, an enormous rambling conflation of half-timbered buildings. It snowed, and the countryside was beautifully picturesque. And so I have only ever been in Lavenham when daylight hours were scarce.