Travel at a Natural Pace; Enjoy the Journey

St Botolph's Church, Iken, Suffolk 2015

Iken, near Snape, Suffolk is somewhere you could easily drive through without noticing you had done so. Although the name is marked on a signpost, the houses and farms that are left are very scattered, and there is no longer any obvious 'village'. Such places intrigue me, as I was brought up in a village that had replaced an earlier Norman settlement in the North-East (see Whorlton, Abandoned Village)

After leaving Snape in the direction of Orford, you take a left turning immediately after the Maltings. The road to Iken is narrow with passing places, so speeding along isn't an option, and this enforces slow travel! Several houses and the occasional farm are passed. We booked to stay at a certificated site whose location was identified by the name of the property and its grid reference on the Ordnance Survey map.  Driving slowly meant that we could easily read the name signs of the houses, which was helpful, as there were few other landmarks. 

The excellent site is at the back of one of four houses around a T junction, with a couple of farms further along the road. On a local footpath map that I bought this junction is described as Swallows Corner.  The properties appear to have some age, were well maintained, with evidence of active gardening and produce production. At the entrance to the site there was a stand where one could purchase locally produced eggs, honey, marmalades and some salad leaves - with an honesty box for payment. During our stay we bought some eggs and marmalade - both of which were so good they didn't last long!

Roadsign, Sandy LaneI'm always interested in Sandy Lanes, as we live near one, so during the stay walked a short way up the one signed at the T junction. My local map names it as Blacksmith's Lane at this end, and it becomes Sandy Lane at a right angled bend further along. Shortly after passing the house just past the corner there is a single storey building set back off the road. A sign at the roadside confirms that it is Iken Village Hall, suggesting that within recent times the area had enough population to support its own hall. It doesn't look unmanaged, and the area around it was tidy, although when I saw it the grass hadn't been cut for quite a while. There were a few formal notices in the glass covered notice board, but no evidence of regular events or activities,  and some meetings that were coming up were to take place at Snape Village Hall.

My footpath map also shows that past our site,  on a right angled bend, there is a cul-de-sac named as High Street, with Poplar Farm Road in brackets underneath. This is a clear indication that there once was a larger settlement in the area.  A footpath leads from the end of this road to the river, and follows the river round to the end of the promontory, and the edge of the map! The reference to a ferry causeway would also bear further study, although there is no longer any working ferry. It's certainly a footpath that I would like to explore further, as there may be further evidence of what was in the High Street at one time.

As villages developed throughout history, the church has played a key role in the communities they served. Iken Church is a well-known landmark on the Alde estuary, at the northern most edge of the parish. The church and its history support the evidence that the area was once more populated. I am familiar with another community in the North York Moors where church is now some 3 miles (?) from the thriving village it serves, and reflects the movement of the population as farming practices changed, in this case with the coming of the railways.

St Botolph's Church, Iken is well worth taking the time to visit.

As we walked back along the quiet road towards Snape that we had arrived on, we turned right at the first junction  signposted to Iken Church. It was a beautiful Spring morning, with clear blue skies. We could hear birdsong in the periods when the agricultural machinery being used in the fields we walked past was quiet.

The church lies at the end of a cul-de-sac lane. There are a couple of farms close to it, it is surrounded by fields on 3 sides, and the river and marshes on the other. An impressive building, The Anchorage, stands next to it and used to be the Rectory, but is now clearly in private hands.

The leaflet about the church describes it as ' an ancient, sacred and very special place', with 'craftmanship spanning a thousand years … and on a site sanctified by thirteen hundred years of Christian worship and activity'. 'Icanhoh', as it was known in Saxon times, is one of Suffolk's earliest Christian sites. St Botolph began his ministry in the area in 654 CE with the building of a minster on the site. In Saxon times it was used as a base for Christian worship, learning and teaching and a base for spreading the faith over a large area. The existence of a significant number of churches with his name (or once had his name) in the surrounding counties and England can be said to support this.

What strikes you as you approach is its dramatic setting on the edge of a wooded promontory, its tower rising out of the trees and forming a landmark across land and water. Almost moody and could be forbidding from a distance.

As you enter the churchyard you notice the evidence of changes of building materials and styles of construction that have taken place over the years: the part thatched roof, the Norman Nave, the 15th century porch - all detailed in the very informative booklet purchased within the church. The church was severely damaged by a fire in 1968 and has clearly been lovingly restored in keeping with its history and the needs of its modern congregation. The gravestones in the churchyard show the clusters of names of families who lived in the area, and patterns of age of death and causes of death can be glimpsed.

The first impression when entering is that of light and space  - and quickly, admiration for the efforts of what the booklet describes as 'a tiny community' - in restoring the church after the fire. A lot of effort has clearly gone into conserving what could be saved of the old, while St Botolph's Church, Iken, Suffolkincorporating modern craftsmanship where necessary. The 15th century font has been restored, and in its traditional place near the entrance, to welcome the baptised into the 'family of the church'.  A Saxon cross-shaft lies in the north-west corner of the nave, commemorating St Botolph and his ministry after the destruction of the original minster by the Danes. The altar, reredos and panelling are carved in English oak, and were dedicated in 1959, some of the carving reflecting the local rural crafts and activities. It feels like a church that is well supported by its followers, who take real pride in it.

We found the diversion from our planned trip to Snape to visit Iken church was well worth the time.

The reasons for the demographic changes are outside the scope of this article, but I find it interesting to wonder about the impact on the area of social changes such as the two world wars, and the changes in farming practices in  ancient and more recent times. It is also likely that as Snape has expanded, (possibly because of its closer access to the road to Aldeburgh from the A12 and the development and activity of the Maltings as and arts and cultural centre), Iken declined.

Part of The Winding Way philosophy is that we do not prepare in too much detail before a trip, so that we can be open to making connections ourselves, and following up lines of study that interest us at a later time, if we chose to.

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