Dear Readers, on New Year’s Day I decided to go for a walk in Coldfall Wood and the adjoining Islington and St Pancras Cemetery. I don’t usually make New Year’s Resolutions, having a less than perfect record of achieving them (ahem), but this article from The Guardian got me all fired up about the power of moving. Walking is something that is easy to incorporate into my life, and I enjoy it, so there’s a good chance that I’ll keep doing it. Let’s see.
Anyhoo, it was off to the woods, and as usual my eyes were drawn to the strange shapes of the hornbeam trees. Once upon a time they would have been coppiced for firewood every year (cut right back to the ‘stool’), but since this stopped they have grown in the strangest, most tortured ways. You’ll notice how bare the understorey is as well – in the parts of the wood which were coppiced a few years ago, there is much more plant diversity, as seeds that were in the ground for decades finally felt the warmth of the sun and germinated.
We turned off the path and sneaked through a hole in the fence, much beloved by dog-walkers, into St Pancras and Islington Cemetery.
It looks bleak at this time of year, but it’s already full of birdsong – jays chase one another, magpies rat-a-tat-tat and every hundred metres a new robin appears. I can hear great tits (‘teeeecher!’), the irritated twitter of blue tits, and the soft contact calls of long-tailed tits. I even hear the high-pitched call of a goldcrest in one of the big conifers. Sadly, I couldn’t get a single photo, so you’ll have to trust me.
We head down to the ‘forest burial site’ which has had an almighty tidy-up – at one point it had docks seven feet high, burdock, and a wide variety of interesting weeds. Not at the moment, however, and even the big sad cedar, which looked to be on its last roots, has been subject to the chainsaw. At least it’s still standing, though – maybe one of the many woodpeckers than I heard drumming in the wood will use it.
What I wanted to investigate, though, was the new part of the cemetery, which has been under development for several years. Once upon a time, this area was used as a nursery to grow plants for the Borough, but the greenhouses fell into disrepair, and for a long time it was the haunt of foxes and birds. Now, however, the animals have been evicted and the area is pristine and rather disheartening. Hopefully once the planting grows up it will be a bit more welcoming. I am guessing that the blank plaques will be used to commemorate loved ones who have been cremated – there is a similar area at the other end of the cemetery. I know it’s a matter of personal choice, but give me a melancholy Victorian angel any day.
So, let’s hope that the area will get a bit softer once the plants get going. The quality of the paving and brickwork is impressive at any rate.
On the way out, I spot this wonderful gravestone, commemorating one Gilbert Richard who fell through a snow bridge in Grindelwald, Switzerland, in 1896, and who was apparently of an ‘amiable disposition’. I am also moved by the death of Matilda Rose Dafforne, though she seems to be something of a paragon of the various virtues, and was probably completely terrifying as a result. I do think we should be told more about the lives of those who have passed, so we can get an idea of their personality – elsewhere in the cemetery someone is described as ‘a force of nature’, and I think we all have a fair idea of what that means.
And then, we climb back through into Coldfall Wood. The rain this year has caused the ‘Everglades’ to become less of a wetland and more of a lagoon. Here are some shots from just before Christmas, courtesy of Neville who regularly walks his dog in the woods. Thank you Neville!
By New Year’s Day the level of water has dropped, but I still fear that the boardwalk and some of the bridges will need some work in the spring. There is obviously a drainage problem somewhere, and the Friends of Coldfall Wood group will be talking to Haringey Council to see what can be done.
And then it’s time to head home, for a cup of tea and some of the leftovers from yesterday’s New Year’s Eve meal. I made the rice pudding with almonds and cranberry compote that I used to make for Mum and Dad, and very nice it was too. Just as well, as I seem to have made enough for about twelve people, and I sense rice pudding for breakfast in my immediate future. All in all, it’s been a very satisfactory start to the New Year. I hope that yours was as much fun as mine was.