A country churchyard – a place to find yourself

March 24, 2023

This article was written for Annabel & Grace, which is now part of Rest Less.

Sitting in a graveyard might seem a depressing thing for some people, but I love it. You can’t beat a good country churchyard where history literally collides with the here and now and where the seasons call out to us completely unapologetic and brazen, their voices loud and brash. The thing about a churchyard is the noisy silence, the apparent peace and quiet disguising the clamour of sounds as spring bulbs poke up their heads through the moist, crumbly earth. Robins sing, competing with blackbirds, and leaves rustle, moving infinitesimally as they decay and break down to feed the worms and spiderlings. Leaves pop as tiny buds on barren twigs, the trees waking up as the sun, bright against the crisp, biting chill warms their roots, bringing them back to life as they wake and take their first breath after the long sleep of winter.

I scour the gravestones greeting their recumbent occupants so that they know they are not forgotten. I feel them thronging around me, chattering excitedly to each other. Though they may no longer have relatives to call out their names, we are here to honour their lives, to remember them, if only in this moment.

I have a secret love affair with Victorian tombstones in particular. I love the names; Ezra, Mabel, Ida and Henry, names that even now are experiencing a resurgence of popularity but here, speak of a time when they were first fashionable. Though many simply give names and dates, some provide an insight into past lives. There are beautiful phrases like: ”Always loved and deeply missed” or “Beloved husband and father” prefaced by poetic references like: “So once was I” and “ Remember me as thou pass by”, and I do. I feel a deep kinship. And if only in that second, I think about who they were and how they lived.

I love the monuments that you find in unloved corners. Urns, winged angels, a skull and crossbones, all symbols of life and death and sometimes a veiled lady, or a sleeping dog, guarding his master, physical epitaphs to a lost life. Such grandeur is rarely found in country cemeteries, but if you’re observant, you can always find something, a little gem, something hidden in plain sight to make your heart beat just that little bit faster.

When I lived in London, I was a regular visitor of the Victorian ‘London Cemetery Company’, the ‘Magnificent Seven’. Abney Park, Highgate, and Nunhead to name just three. In Highgate, you can find one of the first LGBTQ-recorded graves. As it was non-denominational, Radclyffe Hall could be laid to rest with her lover Mabel Batten. Then later joined by Una Troubridge, her subsequent relationship.

In Nunhead, if my memory serves me correctly, there is a beautiful life-size woman in white marble. She sits in her long skirt on a chaise, her plait wrapped neatly around her head. With her elbows on her knees, she rests her chin and her head lightly tilted in the heel of her hand, looking out into the distance. On a low plinth, you are tempted to simply step up and sit beside her, so lifelike is she. This beautiful woman is not famous, just a dearly beloved wife, a stunning celebration of her husband’s love of her.

Moreton churchyard

Of course, these cemeteries are exceptional, but the country churchyard is just as wonderful. I like to take a picnic, even in Winter, load Arthur into the car and find a churchyard to visit.

Sitting quietly in that place, surrounded by my ghostly friends, I notice a small circular path through the brambles. Clearly, small animals have created their own interlocking highways. There are fungi and mushrooms, their capped and domed heads in muted creams and browns. Some formed in circles where faeries, once the night has drawn in, will meet to weave their magic. Everywhere there are tall clumps of strong, upright green leaves with neatly wrapped yellow heads. The daffodils waiting to burst forth. Alongside snowdrops, already in the green, dropping bright, white, tiny heads in patches of delicate familiarity. My finger traces the lichen and algae. They spatter the stones in irregular, raised lace-edged circles of bright yellow, red and cream. A kind of forest semaphore informing us that nature is and does, gradually reclaim, regardless of our ministrations.

For me, these places are a gateway into our own understanding of life and death. A sacred place where we can soak up the beauty and timelessness of life. Though we can no longer look upon its occupants, we can converse with them and share our thoughts and secrets. A place of mindfulness and beauty, a place where we can centre ourselves. Where we can find our feet in a world where everything seems to be getting faster and faster.

Mind and body restored in this place of perfect peace, I nudge my dozing companion. I bid my unearthly friends a fond farewell and make our way back to the car. Once removed, I imagine I hear a soft sigh emanate from the musty soil as bleached bones, their solitude restored, turn over quietly, their heads rested on hands in sleep as my car drives away.

Did you read The Dog Lady’s last post? Click HERE, for A Moment in Time.

Get the latest ideas, advice and inspiration

No spam. Just useful and interesting stuff, straight to your inbox. Covering jobs, finance, learning, volunteering, lifestyle and more.

By providing us your email address you agree to receive emails and communications from us and acknowledge that your personal data will be used in accordance with our Privacy Policy and Terms and Conditions. You can unsubscribe at any time by following the link in our emails.

Enjoying Rest Less? Help us reach more people like you

Leave us a rating Want to tell us something?