An Autumn Walk in St Pancras and Islington Cemetery

Dear Readers, today’s walk in the cemetery, snatched before the rain started, was a positive feast of fungi. Have a look at these sulphur tufts (Hypholoma fasciculare). I love the way that in one small patch we have fungi that are newly emerged, in their prime, starting to fade and some that are positively melting away.

I suspect that they are growing along the root line of some of the horse-chestnuts and oaks nearby, as they are strongly associated with deciduous woodland. Alas, they are also poisonous, so they will not be accompanying anyone’s cooked breakfast.

Further along I see this large round leathery fungus. It looks puffball-ish but the flesh is orange rather than white. It’s always difficult to identify these organisms, but even more so when one has absolutely no clue.

And then there is this chocolate-brown fungus with its slightly pimply top.

I love the way that the fruiting bodies of fungi just appear as if from nowhere – there’s none of the slow emergence of buds that you get with a plant. I remember when we moved from Stratford in the East End to the leafy streets of Seven Kings in Essex, we had a fairy ring in the lawn that popped up literally overnight. It was almost as exciting as our first hedgehog, or the day the apple tree fell over, but I digress. I found mushrooms magical then, and I still do today. I just wish I knew more about them.

Still, as we’re now in Tier Two lockdown in London I should have plenty of time to learn. This is undoubtedly the strangest year of my life (so far). 2020 saw my 60th birthday, an extraordinary trip to Borneo where we were surfing just ahead of a wave of lockdowns, the death of my Dad, the pandemic, and the start of a whole new challenge with my Open University degree. It has been a time of extraordinary anxiety and grief for me, but also a time for reflection, for considering what really does make a life worth living. More than anything, though, it feels like a hiatus, a liminal time between what was, and what will be. I would love to know how you are all doing in these peculiar, stressful times.


It’s fair to say that the holly and the ivy are both doing very well this year.

The woods are full of jays, and the inevitable squirrels.

And look at these fantastic trees! These are a variety of ash called ‘Raywood’ (Fraxinus angustifolia ssp oxycarpa), introduced from Australia in 1925 and now commonly planted for that stunning autumn colour.

Let’s hope that it has some resistance to the ash dieback disease which is killing native ash trees in the UK. I always have a good look at the ashes in the cemetery to see how they are doing, and to wonder at their strange, scarred trunks.

Further along the path, I hear a distinctive mewing sound – if you ever watch ‘Midsomer Murders’ you’ll hear it whenever there are shady goings-on in the woods, even though the bird that makes it is a buzzard, more a creature of open fields in my experience. I am always surprised that birds as magnificent as this make such a meek little call. And then I realise that there are two buzzards! They seem to be becoming established in these parts, which is very exciting. However, sure enough, within a few minutes a whole platoon of crows is up and in full-on harassment mode. You’d have to feel sorry for the poor old buzzards.

Buzzards (right) harassed by crow (left). It’s all go in East Finchley, I can tell you!

And then we wander uphill to where the Japanese Knotweed forms an impenetrable barrier between the cemetery and Muswill Hill Playing Fields, at least to humans. The little birds seem to love the plant, with dunnocks and robins all popping in and out, and I notice little tunnels at the base where the foxes are weaving through. It clearly isn’t all bad. And there’s a lovely patch of Michaelmas daisies which, even on this cold, grey day, is a buzz with late Common Carder bees and a rather splendid bee-mimic hoverfly.

Common carder on Michaelmas daisy
Bee-mimic hoverfly (Poss Eristalis horticola)

These bee-mimic hoverflies are extraordinary – they fly like bees, they feed like bees and some even move their abdomen in a particularly bee-like way. Alas, they cannot disguise the fact that they have only two wings when bees have four, and also flies have very short, stubby antennae, while bees have ‘elbowed’ antennae that bend in the middle and are clearly visible. Still, this late in the year I am cheered up by the site of any flying insect, and these Michaelmas daisies are delightful too – I love the way that the centre of the flower changes from yellow to red as it gets older, something I’d never noticed before.

And then, as the sky darkens and we head to the exit, I hear the familiar sound of a parakeet and see this chap perched at the top of a conifer, yelling his head off. Goodness only knows what he wanted, but he wasn’t shy about asking for it. There is still something so strange about seeing a parrot in North London, even though I see them every morning at 8 a.m. sharp as they fly over the rooftops en route to Hampstead Heath. They do cheer me up though, with their vibrant colour and air of always being slightly over-excited. Good luck to them!

3 thoughts on “An Autumn Walk in St Pancras and Islington Cemetery

  1. Anne

    I find fungi fascinating in terms of their shape and colour – and the way they pop up out of ‘nowhere’. That tree trunk looks as though it has survived a major operation. Your description of the buzzards made me smile, as have the beautiful photographs of the daisies.

  2. Ann Bronkhorst

    I think the chocolate-brown fungi are earthballs, a bit like puffballs but inedible and, if you cut them open, dark inside, not white, and full of very dark spores that they eject from the top.


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