A Winter Walk in St Pancras and Islington Cemetery

Dear Readers, it was a bright, clear day today, and after all the chocolates that I ate for my birthday yesterday it felt as if a walk was a good idea. We were rewarded very quickly by views of the kestrel on the part of the cemetery closest to the North Circular Road – we’ve seen these birds there before, and I suspect that they might keep an eye open for road kill. There are lots of small rodents in the cemetery itself, though, and this bird spent a lot of time sitting in the ash tree and looking intently at the ground for signs of movement. At one point, a crow took exception to the kestrel and tried to chase him off, but he is astonishingly agile, outmanoeuvring the crow at every turn and even turning to chase him. I think that the crows are not quite as determined as they are in summer, when they have youngsters, though kestrels don’t generally hunt other birds. I imagine that the crow’s tactic is to mob first and ask questions later.

There are still flocks of redwings about, and the sound of great spotted woodpeckers drumming – at one point there was quite a duet, with two males clearly trying to out drum one another in different parts of the cemetery. We saw two woodpeckers chasing one another like miniature white and red rockets. It really is all kicking off, even though January is a bit early for any serious breeding attempts yet. In one tree, two woodpeckers were chasing one another round and round a horse chestnut while a pair of parakeets sat serenely, one in a hole in the tree, another on a branch close by, as if to say ‘aha, you should have been a bit earlier’.

The sunlight coming through the trees is so lovely at this point in the winter – the sun is so low that I’m careful when stepping out on to our local  zebra crossing, as I’m sure the drivers are having trouble seeing what’s going on.

And look at the snowdrops! They’re so nearly open. In some places, it’s clear that they were planted on a grave that has since disappeared, and now just the flowers remain. In other spots the snowdrops have naturalised across untrodden paths and neighbouring graves. They always feel so hopeful, the first real sign that spring is actually on the way.

And look, someone has given The Scotsman some carnations (although, looking at the photos I’m wondering if they might be artificial poppies).

And finally, as if to remind me that there’s always something new to see however many times I come here, there are some tree roots draped over these graves, rather like strangler figs in the tropics. How come I’ve never noticed them before? Maybe there was foliage in the way, or maybe I just wasn’t looking. I suppose that the ‘roots’ might be ivy, but if so it’s extremely robust. No wonder the Victorian graves often disappear underneath the sheer weight of nature, and are never seen again, and maybe that’s not such a terrible thing. After all, it’s what we all go back to, in the end.

1 thought on “A Winter Walk in St Pancras and Islington Cemetery

  1. Ann Bronkhorst

    Your report on the life going on in the cem nudges me to get out, despite the cold, and look around. Visitors have gone and next week should be warmer, they say.


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