A December Walk in St Pancras and Islington Cemetery

Dear Readers, so we waited for a gap between showers for our trot around the cemetery this week, and were blessed with some much needed sunshine after a week when it felt a bit as if the sun never really got above the horizon. Still, only two days to the winter solstice, and after that the light starts to creep back. Even so, there’s something wonderful about the long shadow at this time of year.

Today I was mostly noticing the ivy, which is bowed down with berries this year. They remind me a little of cat’s eyes at this stage, before they ripen and turn black. Every tree seems to be full of flapping woodpigeons gorging themselves on the fruit.

Ivy berries

In some places, such as in the first photo, the ivy has completely engulfed the grave, and I imagine that there isn’t anyone left to remove it. Families die out, or move away. You could see it as sad, but I rather like the way that nature is reclaiming some places, turning a human-made monument back into a habitat for bees and birds.

A bit more ivy encroachment

I took my usual walk through the woodland graveyard area to say hello to the swamp cypress, who is nearly bald now.

And I also had to say hello to the Tibetan cherry. That polished bark makes me happy every time I see it.

The cemetery was very busy today, as it always is in the run-up to Christmas, when everyone is intent on visiting the graves of their loved ones and making sure that they are neat and tidy. The shop outside was doing a roaring trade in holly wreathes and potted poinsettias. The cemetery itself is open right through Christmas, so I foresee a positive sea of red and green decorations by the end of it. After all, lots more people will be staying at home what with this blessed pandemic, and it is probably going to be easier and safer for many folk to visit their dead relatives than their living ones.

At this point, an angel seems appropriate.

I can already see the faintest stirrings of next spring – this silver birch has a magenta halo of new growth already brightening the outermost twigs.

And I was intrigued by this tree planted in a traffic island close to the exit onto the North Circular Road. I’m thinking it’s probably a Paperbark Birch (Betula papyrifolia) but feel free to tell me if I’m wrong! I’m never sure if I actually like the effect on these trees where the outer bark peels away – it always looks a little sore and unkempt to me. I do like the different shades of pink and green though.

On we go. I am seeing redwings, those little migratory thrushes who fly in from Scandinavia every year, but they are so shy that it’s difficult to get a photo. They seem to love the ivy, but I have a suspicion that their real favourite food is yew – in the other cemetery over on East End Road I have seen them systematically working through a huge yew hedge. Still, I did manage to capture this unique photo. Yes, I know it needs a little work but it does at least show that caramel underwing (‘redwing’ always seems a bit of an overstatement to me).

As we headed into one of the paths through the yew trees, we did a little dance with a lovely man who was tending one of the graves. The ‘dance of two metres’ has become second nature to us East Finchley folk since the lockdown, and I’d say that probably 80% of people are practicing social distancing most of the time. When we’d passed one another, I noticed this little chap in the fork of a tree. I’ve been hoping to see an owl in the cemetery for some time – a friend found a dead one a few weeks ago, and saw a tawny owl sitting on a gravestone a few years ago, so I’m fairly sure that they’re about. But until I see a real one, this will do. Looking at the photo now, I wish I’d had a closer look at what he was made of – he seems to blend into the tree seamlessly, as if made with lichen and bark. I love the way that he seems to be watching over the grave.

And finally, as we head towards the exit gate, I notice these for the first time, growing alongside the fence between the cemetery and the allotments next door. There is something magical about the seedheads of honesty as they rustle and twinkle in the breeze. When I was growing up no home was complete without a vase full of dried honesty seeds and I was always intrigued by them. Who’d have thought that this exotic plant was a member of the cabbage family? I have an envelope full of seeds given to me by a dear friend that I will pop into the soil when it warms up in the spring. I love it when plants are shared between friends, because every time I look at them it reminds me of how important relationships are, this year more than most.

And in even more excitement, it appears that the cemetery will be open right through Christmas, so I know where my Christmas Day walk will be.

4 thoughts on “A December Walk in St Pancras and Islington Cemetery

  1. SilverTiger

    I too have a special tree that I always look out for on our walks. I do not know what sort it is but perhaps when the leaves grow again in spring I can use them to identify it.

    I am in general woefully ignorant of the names of trees and plants and even birds. Your blog is heliping to educate me!

    1. Bug Woman Post author

      Glad you’re enjoying the blog, SilverTiger! And I am constantly educating myself as I write the blog, there’s always so much to learn….

  2. Pingback: A Winter Walk in East Finchley Cemetery | Bug Woman – Adventures in London

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