I’ve never done anything but dream. This, and this alone, has been the meaning of my life. My only real concern has been my inner life. FERNANDO PESSOA

Friday, 5 August 2011

God's Acre

I like that ancient Saxon phrase, which calls
The burial-ground God's-Acre! It is just;
It consecrates each grave within its walls,
And breathes a benison o'er the sleeping dust.

God's Acre HW LONGFELLOW

I do have a soft spot for English country churches and churchyards, and I've dallied in many of these on my pilgrimage along the Viking Way. Below is the church of St Nicholas at Carlton Scroop. I met a feisty lady hacking at ivy in the graveyard, and we passed the time of day.

She told me about the God's Acre projects all over Britain, which treat churchyards as conservation areas, protecting their unique heritage, and encouraging and preserving their wildlife. She showed me the apertures in the recently restored roof allowing bats access to their roosts. And she led me round her proudly managed plot, this divine yet earthly acre of wild grasses and sweet-smelling herbs, this small portion of paradise.

Dodging mossed headstones and lichened urns, she pointed out a biodiversity of wildflowers, and recited a litany of names: knapweed, teasel, yarrow, scabious, wild carrot, goat's beard, lady's bedstraw ...    




After Carlton Scroop I trod the margins of yet more cornfields fringed with bindweed and poppies ...




... until I came to another, even more impressive God's Acre surrounding St Swithun's church in Long Bennington ...




Here were horse chestnuts and ancient yews, big swathes of feverfew and marjoram, blue stands of viper's bugloss, lush carpets of yellow archangel, golden clumps of medicinal St John's wort.

Some of our most colourful butterflies depend on the humble nettle for the growth of their larvae: the Comma, the Red Admiral, the Small Tortoiseshell ...




... and the Peacock ...




Let's all cultivate a nettle patch in our gardens and help preserve these beautiful, transient creatures ...

8 comments:

The Weaver of Grass said...

We leave nettle patches here and there in our fields for that specific reason Robert. I do agree about churchyards - the manicured ones seem to be going out of fashion now thank goodness.

George said...

Great little post, Robert. I'm looking forward to visiting some of these charming little churchyards on my upcoming trip.

Anna-Marie said...

That's a beautiful idea ... and wonderful photos to go with it.

am said...

Lovely places to be walking. Lots of nettles in the woods here. Lots of butterflies, too. Now I see the connection. Thanks so much!

Friko said...

I too love churches and churchyards. They are so much more natural here than they are on the continent, where they are tended and beribboned and planted up and the grass is cut short.

A churchyard is my favourite place for meditation.

Goat said...

Just read the part in Roger Deakin's 'Wildwood' in which he describes the moth fanatics. I'll definitely have to get some kind of lightweight guide to the plants and trees over there before I come. And maybe one for birds...

I remember reading in Japan that shrine & temple grounds were havens of biodiversity in built-up areas - usually a copse of very old trees and shrubs underneath survive behind and around the buildings.

Ruth said...

There is a churchyard at Tara in Ireland with some mother beeches who adopted me . . .

I wonder if our stinging nettles do the trick for these beautiful butterflies?

It's wonderful that churchyards are being preserved this way.

The Solitary Walker said...

Thanks for all these comments.

I find these wilderness churchyards such a benison, so calming and good for the soul. Wish more churchyards were like this. But, as Weaver says, I think they are on the increase.