An Early Spring Walk in St Pancras and Islington Cemetery

Dear Readers, it really feels as if spring is gathering apace this week. From a few tentative flowers opening gently on the crab apples and cherry trees, there is now an abundance of fluffy blossom.

The chapel looks spick and span after its long renovation, although these days it only houses the (much-appreciated) toilets rather than holding any services.

The tree on the corner of the woodland burial area is looking very fine as well.

The primroses are emerging under the cedars of Lebanon.

And the daffodils are everywhere. I feel a bit of a Scrooge for saying it, but I am generally not a great fan of those big butter-coloured daffodils, though they are cheerful enough, I suppose. I like the paler, creamier ones that look more like the vanishingly-rare wild daffodils of Wales, and I have a fondness for the little miniature ones as well. And I’m fond of what I think of as ‘proper’ narcissi, like the pheasant’s eye ones with a small, red-rimmed trumpet. Paperwhites have their place, though Mum used to find their scent overpowering in a small space, and I must admit that they can make me feel slightly nauseous too. I’m becoming so fussy! Or is it just that I’m noticing my preferences more?

Little daffodils (Tete-a-tete I think?)

On a few of the sunnier graves there is a cheery outburst of red deadnettle.

And of course there are always daisies. I think you could find some in flower in the cemetery on every single day of the year. They always seem so modest and so hard-working to me.

There are some unexpected visitors resting next to the stream. I love the way that ducks appear to be asleep but always have one eye open to make sure that you aren’t up to any mischief.

A lady stopped her car to say she’d been seeing the ‘birds’ for a few days, but wasn’t sure what they were. Unfortunately she asked my husband, who, momentarily flustered,  could only say that they were ‘ducks’. I have more work to do, clearly, though if she’d asked me she’d probably still be sitting in her car listening to me pronouncing forth on the wildfowl of London, so she had a lucky escape.

More spring flowers are emerging: there are the first grape hyacinths

and some Loddon lilies, which seem to be a cemetery speciality. I’m sure all of them are planted rather than wild, but they are naturalising in some areas. At first glance you might think that they are just giant snowdrops, but the shape of the flowers is quite distinct.

A rose-ringed parakeet posed very nicely for the camera, unlike the two that were briefly on the suet feeder in the garden this morning. Whenever I see them I think of the one that visited the garden the day after Dad died. It’s funny how superstitious death can make a person: I almost believed that Dad had popped back to cheer me up, and with the two this morning I automatically thought of Mum and Dad together again. Of course, I don’t really believe that they have somehow been reincarnated as parakeets, but part of me wishes it were true. What complicated beings we are as we wrestle with the big, unsolvable questions of life. Or maybe it’s just me.

And as we head into my very favourite part of the cemetery, the overgrown, unpeopled area around Kew Road and Withington Road, I am struck yet again by the beauty of a blossom tree.

The early crocuses are almost over now, how glad I am that I caught them in their full glory! They rather look as if an elephant has trodden on them now.

On the other hand, the Dutch crocuses are just coming out.

And while the snowdrops in the sunny areas emerged first and are now dying back…

…the ones in the shady areas are still in full flower.

And, let me share a little story with you that made me gasp. One of the Facebook groups that I belong to is about plant identification. A person posted that they had been reading about sorrel (the lemony-leaved member of the dock family), and so when they saw the plant below they decided to forage some and eat it.

And of course, it’s cuckoo-pint/lords and ladies, and is poisonous. How you could mistake one for the other astounds me, but then it’s often difficult to judge scale and size from a photo, and I suppose that the leaves are a similar shape if you squint. Fortunately, the poison in cuckoo-pint expresses itself by making the lips tingle and the tongue swell up, plus it tastes extremely unpleasant, so you aren’t likely to eat a lot of it. But even so, this was a close escape. I guess it’s exactly how our ancestors learned, and the ones who didn’t learn ended up deaded, as my Dad would have said.

Cuckoopint (Arum maculatum)

I heard the buzzard but didn’t see it. It’s very frustrating – I have a feeling that there’s a nest in the cemetery somewhere, and it must be pretty big, but I can’t find it. Anyhow, instead I saw a pair of crows harassing the kestrel, poor thing. It’s very difficult to make out from my most excellent photo (ahem) but it’s the bird in the middle. Kestrels don’t take nestlings or eggs, but I guess the crows aren’t taking any chances.

I saw one of the feral cats looking very sleek and well-fed – the lady who used to travel all the way from Camden to feed them and the foxes and the birds every day manages to get in at the weekend now when she can get a lift, but I suspect that other people are doing their bit to make sure that the animals don’t go hungry. I caught a quick glimpse of a fox too, but not for long enough to see if it was the poor vixen who’d had an accident that I saw last time.

And in other news,  I had my first Covid vaccination on Wednesday (the Astra Zeneca one), and although I felt pretty rubbish for about 24 hours it really does feel now as if there is a glimmer of  hope for some return to a new ‘normal’. I am so grateful to the NHS and all the people who are volunteering to help with the programme, and to the scientists who have managed to perform this miracle. I just hope now that we find a way to distribute the vaccine more equitably than we currently are, because in this situation it really is true that none of us are safe until we’re all safe. As I have done right through lockdown I am counting my blessings fervently and hoping for a decent pay rise for NHS staff (rather than the derisory 1% currently on offer), for more recognition for our care home staff, for a complete review of the care system, for support and recognition for our teachers and for all the workers who continued to staff our essential shops and transport systems, who collected our waste and delivered our post. If nothing else, this last year should have taught us who really is essential, and who really does deserve to be rewarded.




10 thoughts on “An Early Spring Walk in St Pancras and Islington Cemetery

  1. Anne

    I remain suspicious of all mushrooms in the wild for lack of a positive ID, Friends of ours gaily collected mushrooms in a forest years ago, cooked them and were lucky to be found later by their landlord who stopped by to ask them something and ended up calling an ambulance instead!

  2. Alittlebitoutoffocus

    My dad had grape hyacinths in his garden and they spread like wild fire! The plastic sheeting, which he’d put down years before and covered with small stones, to save him gardening as he got older, eventually started to split and the little devils would find a way through. They would leave behind masses of leaves around 8 to 10″ long, which looked a bit of a mess. So every year I’d pull up huge clumps of them with bulbs attached, 10 to 15 at a time. Yet the following year there would just as many, if not more. They did look beautiful though for about 2 weeks of the year. I wonder if the people who bought his house are also trying to control or get rid of them. (I’ll have to ask my sister to pop round to see if they are still there this year).

  3. Alittlebitoutoffocus

    P.S. Our two neighbours behind get masses of primroses every year, some of which are coming up already (which shows how warm the sun has been) and we will be keeping an eye out for our daffodils which we’ve planted over the years. We have some mini ones along the front and by the side of the grass driveway. 😊

  4. tartanscarecrow

    I totally agree with your comment about the colour of daffodils. I think bulb producers are missing an opportunity, assuming we all want to see the bright yellow varieties, which don’t really fit in a woodland setting, to my eye.

    1. Bug Woman Post author

      Welcome, tartanscarecrow! Yep, those bright yellow daffodils are definitely cheerful, but they scream ‘municipal planting’ rather than woodland to me. Nothing wrong with them, just not everywhere….

  5. Rosalind Atkins

    Thanks for a lovely positive start to my Sunday! And I too have had the Astra Zeneca vaccination (on Friday morning) with similar short lived wretchedness – I couldn’t have got any more blankets and warm woolies on me in front of a raging fire and still felt cold ;0 Very well worth it, I say!


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