Round tower churches in the Waveney valley
The perfect way of getting to the heart of this unsung and unspoilt area is to seek out some of the ancient round tower churches deep in the countryside but open to visitors daily.
Centuries ago, the building stone most easily to hand in East Anglia was flint but, being knobbly and hard to cut into corners, the early towers tended to be round. Norfolk has 126 round towers, the most found anywhere, and Suffolk 42.
St Mary the Virgin, Blundeston is a good place to start with its tall and narrow tapering tower dating back to around 988. You’ll be struck by its steeply-pitched roof and lopsided appearance; the nave being hugely extended in the 14th Century.
As you stroll up the aisle you’ll see lots of decorative carving on the Victorian pew ends and the 15 th Century chancel screen. At the altar, admire the gilded angels with torches, placed there in the 1920s to reflect the traditional arrangement for altars dating from Saxon times.
There are plenty of memorials to study including one to George Steward of the East India Company ‘killed in a gallant attack on the pirates of Borneo’, in 1844. Don’t miss the delightful 17 th Century Flemish glass in the porch, including a physician wearing glasses!
Your next stop is at the tiny village of Lound, with a duck pond called The Mardle and a pub called The Village Maid where you can stop for lunch. But first a visual feast at the Church of St John the Baptist.
Stepping inside, you will immediately see why this is known as ‘The Golden Church’, lavishly painted and gilded to the instructions of the 20 th Century architect Sir Ninian Comper. High altar, rood screen and font cover all have the Midas touch and, looming large in the west end is an organ case in which gothic and baroque extravagantly combine.
Look closely at Comper’s St Christopher on the north wall to which he has cheekily added a sketch of himself driving his Rolls-Royce. A further witty touch came in 1964 with the inclusion of an aircraft.
Back to earth, it’s time to head off to our final church. St Edmund’s Church, Fritton takes us back to the Saxon era and a possible link with King Canute although no-one knows for sure.
What we do know is that the stonework on the Saxon apse – the rounded east end of the church – is the only example in Norfolk. Admire the wall murals inside the church of the martyrdom of St Edmund, uncovered in 1967, and one of the earliest depictions of St Christopher in East Anglia.
And King Canute? Well, nearby Fritton Lake was known as Gunhildés Mere, from Gunhilda, the Christian sister of Sweyne, the Danish pirate and father of the King himself.
All three churches are open dawn until dusk and have guides available for visitors to take away.
Numbers of round tower churches taken from The Round Tower Churches Society