Remembrance, flowers, graves and grass cutting

15 June 2019

Yesterday, after Commando’s Running School appointment we drove into town to get something from the bike shop in Cumberland Place. There was a coffee in it for me so I didn’t much mind. It was also a chance to walk through East Park and have a look at the Cenotaph.

Over the last couple of weeks there has been a great deal of online griping about Southampton Council not organising a 75th anniversary event to remember D-Day. As a massive event was planned a few miles away on Southsea Common with heads of state from all the nations involved, including Germany and a controversial visit from Donald Trump, I kind of understood why. Even so, Southampton was the embarkation port for British and Canadian troops and two thirds of the entire British assault forced passed through the port en route for the Normandy beaches. It was also the embarkation port for reinforcement troops over the following weeks. It seemed a shame not to have some kind of ceremony, albeit small, in the city where so many of the soldiers departed never to return.

On 3 June a gentleman called Bill Reynolds took matters into his own hands. Instead of grumbling he did something. He cleaned the area around the cenotaph and posted online urging all the moaners to fill the empty space in front of the cenotaph with flowers from their gardens to honour all the lost men. It was a beautiful idea. It also galvanised the powers that be into action and a small remembrance service was hastily organised. Sadly, I wasn’t able to attend but I’d seen photographs of the floral tributes and knew people were changing them regularly to keep the idea going. Yesterday was the first chance I’d had to see the flowers and I was delighted at just how beautiful they looked, even in the hot sun.

This morning I found myself looking at flowers of a different kind. While Commando was running parkrun, I took my usual Saturday morning stroll around the Old Cemetery. It was a breathtakingly beautiful riot of wildflowers and greenery. At least at first…

Every week I try to walk along different paths, stopping now and then to look at interesting graves, read an inscription or two or just see what Mother Nature has been up to. Today, as I approached the oldest part of the cemetery, I realised something looked very different. It took me a little while to realise what it was, probably because of the early hour and the lack of caffeine.

The cemetery was opened in 1846 and is one of England’s earliest municipal cemeteries. The majority of the graves are very old and, as many of the occupants have no one left to remember them, remain largely untended. There are still a handful of burials in family plots each year but, today, the cemetery is part graveyard, part historical curiosity and part nature reserve. It covers twenty seven acres and is maintained to preserve the diversity of wildlife and wildflowers. Grass cutting and other general cutting back are carried out at different times of year and varying frequencies in different areas depending on the species prevalent in each part. The oldest part of the cemetery appears to have had its turn to be spruced up and trimmed fairly recently.

Those who like to moan and grumble can often be heard complaining about the overgrown state of the place. Personally I love that is is partly wild. There is something comforting in seeing the way nature reclaims everything eventually. Yes, it does mean that some graves are hard to find, as I discovered last summer when I tried to find photographer Francis Godolphin Osbourne Stuart’s grave. It took weeks of searching and, when I did find it, it was so overgrown by brambles I had a terrible job getting close. Patience is a virtue in this case though, as is a little persistence. As each area has its turn to be cleared previously hidden graves reappear. Today Stuart’s grave was one of them.

With no brambles to trip me and no long grass to hide potholes, ruts and mounds it was a simple job to walk between the graves. When I reached the photographers grave I found I could easily get right round it and frame just the shots I wanted. It was even possible to get a close up shot of the inscription.

In terms of grave hunting the trimming back and bramble clearing is a great success. Having said that, I think I prefer the wildness to the cut back look any day. Still the wildness will soon return and I suppose things do need a little taming from time to time or we would probably not be able to find the cemetery at all, never mind walk the paths.

Despite getting my long awaited pictures of the photographer’s grave I was glad to get back to the unmown area. The chapel, at least from the front, looked stunning with pink roses clambering around its green doors. The ground around was sprinkled with fallen petals like confetti after a wedding.

The owners of the graves in this oldest of cemeteries may be long forgotten but Mother Nature is happy to provide flowers to cover them. At this time of year, especially after a cold, wet spring, those flowers are a joy to behold.

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Light and shade

11 May 2019

Wandering aimlessly around the Old Cemetery is one of my favourite ways to spend a Saturday morning, especially when the sun is shining and the sky is blue. This morning the light was perfect, bright sun and deep shade to create wonderfully atmospheric photos and spring flowers to add splashes of colour. The bees were buzzing, the birds were singing and there wasn’t anywhere else I’d rather have been.

The graves, many overgrown and forgotten, impart a tinge of sadness but there is also serenity here. The dead may be long gone but nature is everywhere in rich abundance rambling over the stones as if to say ‘life always goes on.’

The ordinary lay side by side with the extraordinary here. Graves with names worn away, small stones tumbled and fallen beside the rich and famous. Today I stopped for a moment beside a monument to Henry Bowyer, Southampton’s mayor in 1912, when the Titanic sank. The white cross and anchor caught my eye. Henry was a Justice if the Peace, Lieutenant Commander of the Royal Naval Reserve, a Pilot of the port and a man of compassion. After the tragedy he organised the Titanic Relief Fund, the charity that helped all the widows and orphans of lost crew members. He died in 1915, aged just forty eight.

On I walked, one moment in sunshine, the next in deep shade. One step in any direction and the light changed completely, creating a different scene with every turn.

Ironically for a place dedicated to the dead, every corner of the cemetery is bursting with life right now. Pink hawthorn flowers tumble across the paths and branches form green tunnels dappled with sunlight.

There are those who feel this Cemetery is too wild and overgrown. They would prefer neatly clipped hedges and manicured grass. Personally I feel the wildness is an asset. The keepers of the cemetery clear and mow on a rotational basis, keeping nature in check to some extent but letting it have its way at the same time. This makes for some interesting walks with graves, hidden by the greenery, suddenly reappearing when their turn to be cleared comes along. Even though I walk here often and some of the stones feel like old friends, there is always something new to see.

Today the grass was high and sprinkled with wildflowers. The old trees, some ivy covered, some no longer living, cast long shadows and echoed the wild common outside the cemetery walls. My morning wandering took me on a wide loop around the perimeter of the cemetery, although I wasn’t really thinking too much about where I was going, just following the path thoughtlessly watching squirrels dashing up trees and admiring flowers. The sight of the chapel gave me my bearings but there was no hurry to get back.

Instead I kept on wandering, not really looking at the names on the graves, just enjoying the calm and the greenery. I took a path I rarely walk and stumbled upon the grave of another Southampton mayor, Hector Young. He was mayor between 1929 and 1930 and, in 1962 he commissioned a new west window for St Michael and All Angels Church In Bassett in memory of his wife Ethel who died in the Southampton blitz.

By now I had completely lost my bearings again but I didn’t much mind. I kept on walking enjoying the changes from light to shade and back again. Today the graves and their stories were secondary, extra adornments to the bounty of nature all around.

Somehow I found myself back at the place where all the rhododendron petals had fallen, creating a pink carpet. A woman walking her dog had stopped to admire them too and we exchanged a few words about the beauty of this place and the joy of walking through it.

It was hard to tear myself away but I knew I had to head back so I slowly strolled towards the gate, stopping every now and then to look at a flower. The wildness of this place is a joy to behold and I’m glad nature is given free reign here. If I had to lay in a cold grave I couldn’t think of a better place to spend all eternity.

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Walking with friends

23 April 2019

Walking is an everyday thing for me. Sometimes it’s just a march up the hill for supplies or a wander into town to meet a friend for coffee. Other times there is a real purpose to it, searching for boundary stones or Titanic crew houses, walking the walls or the Navigation, uncovering history. Some walks are filled with photo stops, others are about just drinking in the sights, smells and sounds. A lot of the time I walk on my own but CJ likes to tag along when he can. Today’s walk was completely different.

My lovely friend Rachel is recovering from major surgery. She can’t run like she usually does but she’s now allowed to walk. As I’d undergone something similar myself many years ago, I offered to join her for a walk. Kim said she was free, so then there were three. We agreed on a time and said we’d meet at The Feather.

When I left home it was all blue sky and the scent of Mexican orange blossom from my garden. The walk to Woolston was uneventful and unphotographed. As always, I was early so I sat in the Millennium Garden for a bit just enjoying the sun on my face. Kim was early too. She’d run all the way from the top end of the Avenue and been quicker than expected. Rachel was on time and looking very good all things considered.

We set off in the general direction of the Shore. None of us were sure how far Rachel would be able to walk and, if it turned out not to be very far, we could stop at Metricks for coffee. There were still no photos because we were so busy chatting.

We chatted our way past the coffee shop and on towards the Rolling Mills. We could stop at the café there if needs be. We didn’t need to though. Rachel was still feeling good and we kept on going, along the promenade past all the little beach shelters to the far end of the shore.

Of course we couldn’t not have an ice cream. It’s almost a rule to stop and sit on the bench by the no longer standing dead tree and eat ice cream, or, in Rachel and Kim’s case, ice lollies. Usually I take a photo of the sea and the tree. Today I took one of my friends enjoying their treat and then, because I am rubbish at selfies and hate having my picture taken, one of my friends and my ice cream, just to prove I was there too.

This was where I thought we’d turn back but Rachel was still raring to go. She wanted to walk in Westwood. I have been lost in Westwood more times than I care to admit but Rachel is a qualified run leader and she’s run in these woods many times. Perhaps, just for once, there would be no going in circles wondering where I was.

It started well. The first part of the path was awash with green alkanet. I even stopped to take photos. Rachel was confident she knew where she was going and we followed, chatting and laughing as we slowly wandered amongst the trees,

It all went a bit wrong when we got distracted by the bluebells. There were great drifts of them painting the woodland floor blue. We meandered down one path after another gasping at their beauty.

Then we realised we didn’t quite know where we were. After a bit of walking in circles (probably anyway), we found what looked like one of the main paths. We seemed to be close to the end of it. In theory the Shore should have been nearby. Westwood is a maze of paths though and it’s full of tricks. We kept walking but, just in case, I opened the map on my phone. It was a good thing I did. We were almost in Netley, heading away from the shore not towards it!

As we turned around and began walking back, Rachel admitted she’d regularly got her running group lost in these woods. I’m glad it isn’t just me Luckily the extra walking didn’t do Rachel any harm and we made it back to Woolston in one piece, laughing all the way. Next time I think I’ll plan a route I know won’t get us lost.

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September in the Old Cemetery

22 September 2018

It was one of those dull mornings, with a uniform layer of steel grey cloud blotting out the sun. The air held the first autumn chill and, for the first time in ages, my coat and hat came out for our early morning trip to the Common. The parkrun team were setting up when we arrived but, after a brief chat, I set off for the Old Cemetery. Today there was no particular mission, just a need to be alone with my thoughts. Continue reading September in the Old Cemetery

On a mission

13 September 2018

Today CJ and I were on a mission. In August the renovations on the Royal Victoria Country Park chapel were finally completed. Although we were both itching to go and visit, we both agreed it was best to wait until the school summer holidays were over and the initial burst of visitors had subsided before checking it out. This was not something we wanted to rush around in a crowd. So, we set off bright and fairly early for what would be the longest walk I’ve taken since my back troubles began.  Continue reading On a mission

Southsea rock garden

2 September 2018

There was no sign of the fast boys by the Pyramids when I got there. It was still a little early and running is not an exact science so I wasn’t overly worried. Knowing they’d be back fairly soon, I didn’t want to stray too far but, right next to the Pyramids, is Southsea Rock Garden, the perfect place to while away the time.  Continue reading Southsea rock garden

Slip sliding to the final running school 28 August

28 August 2018

Today was my final Running School session and I wasn’t sure whether to be relieved or sad. The previous sessions had all been extremely tough, pushing me to my limits but there was something almost enjoyable, in a masochistic way, about being tested and getting through it. Maybe enjoyable isn’t the right word and maybe the joy part when they were over was more about having survived. Either way, I set off this morning with mixed feelings. For once there was a good chance of getting wet along the way and I was actually wearing a thin raincoat. Continue reading Slip sliding to the final running school 28 August

The Running School part five and a bit of a dilemma

21 August 2018

Today was my penultimate Running School session and it was yet another very hot, humid day. Luckily, as it was a later appointment, Commando was picking me up so I’d only have to walk one way. Due to Paul being on holiday it had been two weeks since my last session but I’d been practicing like mad trying to keep my fitness up. So far, it seemed to be working. The pain in my leg has been much diminished and walking feels much less of a chore and more of a pleasure. This didn’t mean I was looking forward to a work out with Paul though. Continue reading The Running School part five and a bit of a dilemma

The hottest walk and a bad descision

7 August 2018

My fourth Running School appointment fell on what felt like the hottest day yet. The temperature was in the thirties when I left home and the humidity level was off the scale. In my rucksack a big camelback water bottle was slowly defrosting. When I got up this morning I filled it and put it in the freezer. Somehow I didn’t think it was going to last the whole walk so I was desperately trying to ration my sips.  Unlike my previous two sessions, which were both early afternoon, this one was at midday so I was going to have to walk home too.  Continue reading The hottest walk and a bad descision

Killing time in Winchester

5 August 2018

When I left Winnal Moors it was well after ten o’clock. Commando was due back from his run at around eleven. This didn’t really give me time to explore much further although I didn’t want to just go back to the car park and wait around. Basically I had time to kill and, in Winchester, this is never a bad thing. Dawdling, I walked along Durngate Terrace, stopping to admire the painted bollards at the end of the street, then I headed along Eastgate Street towards the centre of the city.  Continue reading Killing time in Winchester