A Mellow Walk in St Pancras and Islington Cemetery

Dear Readers, for once the elements were with us for this week’s walk in the cemetery. Things are so bad with the pandemic in London now that we wore our facemasks along the High Road until we were actually in and had room to social distance properly. Not all the pavements in East Finchley are wide enough to avoid getting closer than two metres to other people, and with the hospitals fit to busting, and the new variant apparently anything up to 70% more transmissible than previous ones, it seemed sensible to take every precaution we could think of. The last thing we want to do is to catch the virus ourselves or to inadvertently pass it on to anyone else, and I have to say that the vast majority of people are being extremely careful at the moment. I’m sure there are still a few folk who think that they are immortal, or don’t care enough to protect other people, but they really are few and far between around here.

But to get back to the walk – as we approached the entrance, I noticed that there were bits of car all over the place, and as we rounded the corner it became clear that a vehicle had gone bang into the wall of the cemetery. It’s been very icy around here, but this is a straight road so goodness only knows what happened. I just hope that nobody was seriously hurt.

Once we’re into the cemetery, I make a beeline for the chapel. My friend A told me that she’d spotted an interesting fungus growing from one of a group of plane trees, and her directions were excellent – it only took me about two minutes to find it. Having had a conversation with the experts on the British and Irish Fungi Facebook group, we think it might be the Spectacular Rustgill (Gymnophilus junonius),  and what an apt name that is! Apparently it tastes bitter and turns green when you cook it, but I’d have thought that the former fact precluded anyone doing the latter. Anyhoo, this is a very fine fungus, and I’m glad to have made its acquaintance.

Spectaccular Rustgill

The crows, squirrels, parakeets and jays were all in abundance today, gathering food and chasing one another. The crows in particular were very evident. The chap below seemed to be about to peck over one of the mourner’s wreaths that has been left out after a service. When he saw me, he folded his wings and hustled away as if to indicate that there was nothing to see here.

There are already primroses in flower in the woodland burial site, which always cheers me up.

And how I love the sunbeams coming through the trees.

The sun is so low that there are places in the graveyard that the sun doesn’t touch at all. I loved this icy stone with its hieroglyphics of fern and moss and seed.

And there is another crow, pecking over the leaves of a conifer to see what s/he can find. Maybe there are some tiny insects trying to hibernate amidst the needles.

And I do love a good reflection in a pothole. Isn’t that what they’re there for?

Last week, someone asked me about people in the cemetery who were buried following the 1918 flu epidemic, and it got me to thinking. I feel as if I haven’t noticed many non-military graves from this period: I found the one below today, but my husband assures me that the worst of the flu would have passed through by November 1919, so probably this person died of wounds or from the effects of gassing. It’s a very interesting question though, and one that I shall think on further.

I love the way that the melting frost lights up every blade of grass, as if each one was holding up a candle at a rock concert. Remember them?

And then, on the way home, I notice this wall.

Look at the moss! The cracks and crevices between the bricks are positively furry with the sporangia, the reproductive bodies. The moss must have found this spot to its liking, and multiplied like billy-ho (this is a relatively new wall). I loved the green and red of the moss against the terracotta stonework. It just goes to show how nature will colonise even the most unpromising of habitats.

12 thoughts on “A Mellow Walk in St Pancras and Islington Cemetery

  1. SilverTiger

    Any post that mentions crows will garner my interest because those highly intelligent corvids are among my favourites. (OK, along with gulls, pigeons, parakeets… but they come high on the list!)

  2. Anne

    Beautiful – and interesting – photographs all. The sunbeams through the trees is particularly lovely. The moss colonising a fairly new brick wall is fascinating and goes to prove how nature looks after itself.

  3. Claire@ the cow parsley diaries

    Happy new year to you, and what uplifting sunbeams. I had a question for you – can you recommend a good mosses id book/website? I decided to sharpen up on my mosses for new year as we have some lovely damp woodlands here in Sheffield, then instantly confused myself when my sample looked like five different varieties depending which website I consulted!

    1. Bug Woman Post author

      Hi Claire, mosses are really difficult, so I admire your endeavour! I confess to having ‘Mosses and Liverworts of Britain and Ireland – a field guide’ by the British Bryological Society – I went to a talk at the Natural History Museum and was so inspired that I shelled out, but I suspect it’s expensive (though you can often pick up second hand copies). it looks as if the Field Studies Council also do some short guides: they have ‘Mosses and Liverworts of Towns and Gardens’, ‘Mosses and Liverworts of Woodland’, ‘Sphagnum Mosses in Bogs’ and a whole heap of guides on lichens should you wish to branch out :-). If I had my time again I think I might start with the FSC guides (the one on woodlands should be perfect for you) and then branch out into the ‘proper’ book once I’d got my head around the various groupings a bit more.

      1. Claire@ the cow parsley diaries

        Yes, I suspect it may be a fruitless exercise but maybe I will learn 3 and see where it takes me. I will have a look at the FSC guides thanks. I get a bit hung up on the Latin names – I am fine to learn the Latin once I have a common name but need that hook to hang it on in my memory, otherwise it just washes around!

      2. Bug Woman Post author

        It’s always good to look more closely at the world around us, even if we don’t always get the ID right – in fact, I learn a lot more by getting it wrong!

  4. FEARN

    That’s got to be a lime loving moss growing like that! (Are they all? I associate them with acid conditions but maybe that’s the effect they have on their environment)

    1. Bug Woman Post author

      Good question! The rain is probably at least mildly acidic, I wonder if that makes a difference? Certainly lots of moss in the cemetery which is relentless clay soil…

  5. Sarah Ann Bronkhorst

    I’ve got a large paperback (Pan, 1980) by the excellent Roger Philliips, called Grasses, Ferns, Mosses and Lichens, and it includes liverworts. Good photos, too.


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