St Pancras and Islington Cemetery – A November Walk

Leaf of Norway Maple (Acer plantanoides)


Dear Readers, today was such a perfect autumn day – cold but not too cold, bright sunshine, not a breath of wind – that I wanted to share it with you all. My weekly walk in the cemetery, normally taking the same route, is like taking a snapshot every seven days – it’s extraordinary how quickly things change. The Rayford ash trees that I photographed a fortnight ago have faded, but the silver birches and the maples are coming to the height of their beauty.

Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum) (I think!!)

Silver birch (Betula pendula)

There were redwings in the yew bushes, too fast for me to photograph (this time), and crows everywhere.

The damp soil has enticed down this Herring Gull (Larus argentatus), who is digging for worms, though not doing the version of ‘River Dance’ that you occasionally see (have a look at the one that I spotted in Dorchester below).My Crossley Bird Guide tells me that today’s gull is a third-year one – you can tell by the amount of black on the bill, the ‘eye makeup’ and the dark feathers in the tail. I am always impressed by birdwatchers who specialise in gulls – they have quite the job, what with all the variations between ages and subspecies. Incidentally, the name for a gull enthusiast is a larophile. Just so you know.

We skitter up the hill beside the stream quietly, because I once nearly tripped over a dozing fox here. The ground falls away to a part of the cemetery that is very difficult to access, being bordered by water on one side, and a steep escarpment plus some Japanese knotweed on the other (and you’d definitely need a machete to get through that lot, though it looks rather pretty as it gets its autumnal colour).

Japanese knotweed in autumnal glory

The Michaelmas Daisies that I noted last time have almost gone over, but there’s still some bristly oxtongue to keep this massive queen bumblebee happy. She is probably taking advantage of the sunshine to top up her sugar reserves, and I’m so glad that there’s something for her to eat.

And while there are no foxes, I notice that one of the gravestones is absolutely covered in little dusty foxy footprints. I wonder if cubs play here when no one’s looking?

We walk on along Harwoods Path, where spider silk is streaming from the trees, and little winter gnats are rising from the grass to mate.

The ginkgo has lost all its leaves. Whether they dropped simultaneously or over the whole week I shall never know.

And for some reason I have never noticed the Lombardy poplars before – they are planted in a few places in the cemetery, and certainly have a kind of austere uprightness that reminds me of a Dutch landscape painting.

I noticed a buzzard flying overhead, and then notice that it’s being harried by a crow. I’m under the trees by now so getting a photo is difficult, especially when my camera battery chooses this moment to expire. Photographer friends, why is that do you think? I almost think there is a camera-battery-elf with a mischievous nature. By the time I’m reloaded, the buzzard, now harried by half a dozen crows, has disappeared over the horizon. This the third time in as many weeks that I’ve seen one, though. I wonder if they are roosting in one of the big trees?

Today, my eye has been caught by so many things that it’s been difficult to choose what to show you. For example, I finally realised that the tree that I’d been curious about is a sweet chestnut (hardly Sherlock Holmes levels of deduction, you might think, but then it has been a very, very long year). I am pleased to see that the leaf-miners that are wreaking havoc with the horse chestnuts opposite don’t seem interested in this species.

Sweet chestnut leaves. Like horse chestnut leaves, but not quite.

And finally, I would like to leave you with this little tree, glimpsed through the yews on Harwood’s Path. Just a little maple, I think, but backlit it looks as if its leaves have been hammered out of copper. There is such a variety of plants and animals in the cemetery that it almost deserves a naturalist-in-residence, but then I fear that such a person might not want the wild bits to be dug up to accommodate more graves. I noticed that the grass where I found the fungi last week has been mown, and all the mushrooms (or at least the fruiting bodies) are gone, but then this is a place that is primarily for the mourners, and I suppose that care of the ecosystem must be some way down the list. Still, on balance this is an amazing place, with plenty of room for all its inhabitants, living and dead, plant and animal. Let’s hope that it’s able to stay that way.

5 thoughts on “St Pancras and Islington Cemetery – A November Walk

  1. leo smith

    That was a “gem” of a day – we probably “shared” the Buzzards. Gulls can be awkward but I struggle with warblers !

  2. ringg1

    I love the paw print of the fox on the grave. I also enjoy walking in cemeteries. It’s great to find urban sites that are less-subjected to continual disturbance, and I’m interested in how, and when, these places were planted with trees. They look timeless, but often are more recent than I imagine.
    On the subject of trees, I think your Norway maple leaf is a plane leaf. See the swollen petiole base? (This is in my mind as I’ve just done your leaf-bud quiz.) Also, I think the Other maple is probably a silver maple (Acer saccharinum). I distinguish between these species by leaf shape; sugar maple leaves are broader than long, whereas silver ones are longer than broad. Also, silver maple is more planted in UK and I look at the base to check for suckers – it often sends some some up. (I hope you don’t mind me pitching in with unasked for advice.)

  3. Ann Bronkhorst

    Such a pleasure to virtually-walk this cemetery with you, on a glorious day for light, leaves and all those details. You cover a lot of ground in a place that’s huge but full of distinctive mini-habitats.


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