8 December 2015
Yet again there had been rain and there’d been a fair bit of sitting about talking about Katie and worrying how Maggie and Alan were coping. Messages and cards had been sent. What there hadn’t been was walking, apart from up the hill and back again trying to beat the showers. Commando was going slightly stir crazy, missing his runs so, when the rain eased up in the late afternoon, he decided to go for a run on the Common and asked if I wanted to come along for a short walk.
It beat sitting around brooding so I grabbed my coat, hat and phone. By the time we got there the light was just beginning to fade but at least the rain had stopped. Commando disappeared along Cemetery Road in the direction of the Hawthorns Cafe and I marched off in the opposite direction with no real plan. The deepening blue of the sky made a beautiful backdrop for the bare trees and I was glad to be out enjoying it even if my runny nose and tickly cough were irritating.
When I came to one of the cemetery gates some fungi on a rotting log caught my eye. A closer look had me thinking these might be coprinopsis but it was hard to be sure. If I had any intention at all it was to head for Cemetery Lake rather than enter the cemetery but the gravestones in the fading light drew me in.
I strolled along the avenue of yews, stopping now and then for a closer look at a grave that seemed interesting. A stone cross, made to look like two logs tied together caught my eye but there was no name that I could see so the story behind it remains a mystery. Then there was the cross with what looked very much like a Boer War helmet an urn of some kind and possibly a gun beneath it. It was almost certainly a soldier’s grave but if there ever was an inscription it was long gone.
The next grave that called out to me did have an inscription and, with some difficulty, I was able to read it. The story told of a young lad born in Portswood and lost at just seventeen on the hospital ship Essequibo in January 1917. The anchor on the grave told me young Percy Ellaway was probably a sailor and he either fought in World War I or was a crew member on the hospital ship. Twenty four years later Percy’s father, James, was also buried in the grave and, as if this wasn’t enough tragedy, a month later another son, Harold was killed in action in World War II.
On I walked thinking about Mabel, Percy and Harold’s mother and James’ wife. Did she walk along the avenue of yews to visit the grave and stoop to lay flowers before she too joined them? Then another crop of mushrooms caught my eye, possibly mycena and I stopped for a photo or three. Somehow fungi seem to fit very well in a graveyard amongst the decaying stones.
The light was fading fast and I felt I’d walked far enough along the avenue of yews so when I spotted a meandering track leading off between the graves in the general direction of the perimeter wall I thought I’d follow it then find the nearest gate. Of course I could have simply turned back and walk the way I’d come but I’m not keen on backtracking when there’s an alternative route even if it was slightly eerie with the sun going down.
The track took me in a semi circle back to the path close to a decorative copper standpipe. The tap was dripping slightly, soaking the stone beneath. All the untold stories of the Old Cemetery had distracted me long enough, it was time to go back to the open common and head towards Cemetery Lake.
Before too long the lake was in sight. Peeking over the low fence I could see a swan and a couple of cygnets but they were too far away for clear photos. A group of gulls sat on the bank and a few ducks were swimming around lazily. My first thought was to walk around the perimeter of the lake, even though it’s mostly surrounded by trees so there’d be little chance of a view across the water. When I came to the trail though it was thick, squelchy mud and I knew Commando wouldn’t be best pleased if I traipsed it back to the car.
For a moment I thought about following the main path but I didn’t really know where it came out and I’d promised to meet Commando back at the car in half an hour. A little at a loss as to what to do next I turned and began to walk back the way I’d come. When I came to the fence where I’d stood watching the swans a flash of red caught my eye. A little Robin redbreast was sitting watching me, as still as a statue. Slowly I raised my phone, sure he’d fly off before I could snap a photo. He stayed exactly where he was, his beady eyes fixed on me. Very carefully I took a step forward, keeping my phone raised, and took another picture. The Robin cocked his head but stayed put. One more step, one more photo. The third step proved to be a step too far and my little round friend flew off.
Smiling to myself, I walked on until I came to the track leading to the observation area. This too was boggy mud so my plan to head that way ended before it began and I carried on along the path towards Cemetery Road. Perhaps I’d have better luck if I walked back to The Avenue and headed the way Commando had gone.
On the corner, as I turned towards the Hawthorns Cafe, I was surprised to see flowers still clinging to the rhododendron. They were so waterlogged the petals were almost translucent, like wet pink tissue paper, but there were lots of them. The wet anthers looked like golden beads. They reminded me of the brave little rhododendron in the enchanted park that bloomed all through the winter the first year I worked for Silver Helm.
In the west there was a pink glow in the sky and in the east the bare branches had turned to spun sugar. Ahead of me I saw a figure running down the path. It was Commando, heading back to the car. It had might have been a short walk but it had reminded me there is always something to smile about.