A New Year’s Walk in East Finchley

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.

The holly and the ivy

In this part of the wood, though, it’s all about the holly and ivy, as few other plants apart from a few early flowerers like lesser celandine can tolerate the shade once the leaves appear.

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.

How green everything looks, after all the rain we’ve had! There is moss everywhere. The angels on the corner by the newly refurbished chapel look even more melancholy than usual.

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.

New commemoration area for cremations

Some gazebos. I’m hoping that something will be planted under them, but no sign of any beds yet

Planting (mostly euphorbias by the look of it)

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.

I was also taken by this statue of yet another angel, mostly because the pruned trunk behind her reminds me of a rather eager dog begging for a treat. What do you think?

On the way back to the woods, I am taken by the number of graves featuring an anchor as a headstone – this is a sign that the deceased was a sailor, either in the Royal Navy or as a merchant seamen.

In amongst the higgledy-piggledy headstones, there are the patterns of nature – Ivy making a ladder as it climbs a sapling, bracket fungus emerging from a dead stem/

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.

I find myself dizzied by the reflections. In photography as in life, it’s hard sometimes to work out which way is up.

The poor crows who normally bathe in the little stream here seem rather confused and disgruntled at all the changes.

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.

























15 thoughts on “A New Year’s Walk in East Finchley

  1. Anne

    What an interesting walk – and article referred – that contains many of my favourite kind of observations. In contrast to your waterlogged wood, I spent New Year’s Day in the Addo Elephant National Park which is almost bare of vegetation in the drought and drove through several ‘dust devils’ as the loose soil was whipped up by the wind. Your angel in the photograph looks disapproving of the ‘dog begging’ 🙂

    1. Bug Woman

      How lovely to spend a day in a National Park, but the drought sounds most alarming – I’m guessing that it isn’t normal for this time of year? So glad that you’re feeding and watering the critters in your garden, it makes all the difference during these crises….

  2. Alittlebitoutoffocus

    Whenever I had a problem that I couldn’t resolve in the office, (of the technical kind, not with a colleague or boss, that is), I would walk to the coffee machine and more often than not, an idea or solution would pop into my head. So I can vouch for the almost immediate benefits that walking brings to the brain at least.
    It’s also amazing what you can find on a walk such as yours. I loved the gravestones and their descriptions. Thanks for taking us along with you. 😊

  3. Sarah Ann Bronkhorst

    Re his gravestone, I think Gilbert Richard was a Betjeman, son of the one commemorated above him. And I wonder if there’s a connection with the poet John Betjeman, who grew up in Highgate, not far away. The anchor that turns up so often had a religious meaning, ie God is our ‘anchor’, but all that symbolism (urns, broken columns, doves, etc) is pretty much inaccessible today. Many modern graves are decorated with things like football scarves and Christmas baubles; I suppose we don’t have a shared iconography so we go for decorations that mean something only to that family.

    1. Bug Woman

      I think there is a whole book to be written about St Pancras and Islington Cemetery, there are so many fascinating graves and plants and people. Maybe when I retire….

  4. sllgatsby

    I very much enjoyed your pictures of the angels and old gravestones. I agree that the new area looks bleak and, well, dead. I like a cemetery that feels alive with plants and birds and other creatures; a reminder of renewal and continuity.

    I join you in a determination to walk more this year. I have let that habit get away from me, but I hope to revive it. Wishing you a happy new year and looking forward to your posts.

    1. Bug Woman

      Thanks sllgatsby – I rarely find old cemeteries depressing, but I must admit that this new area makes me feel downhearted. And yes, walking! My plan is to get out for (at least) 20 minutes every day – even the busiest day at work should allow for that. Happy New Year to you too!

  5. gertloveday

    What a lovely walk. I love a melancholy Victorian angel myself. A vast improvement on the last cemetery I visited here. One of the graves had the epitaph ‘ See ya later, Wimp’.

  6. Neville Young

    This is a lovely piece. Thank you for using my photos: I’m so glad that they were useful to you.

  7. Pingback: Bugwoman’s Annual Report Part Two | Bug Woman – Adventures in London

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