Flowers in the rain

18 May 2019

Another Saturday morning, another stroll through the Old Cemetery. As this morning was dull and drizzly, I was all too glad to get off the flats, where all the parkrunners were gathered, and into the relative shelter of the cemetery. There was no plan, no graves to search for, just a slow, peaceful wander with the pitter pattern of raindrops on leaves to keep me company.

The rhododendrons were putting on a beautiful show near the gate. A splash of pink to brighten the dullness. A solitary bee was slowly going from flower to flower, diving into the leopard spotted throats gathering pollen and nectar. Every time I raised my phone to take a picture though, he buzzed to the next flower, so I gave up and walked on.

A little way down the path I startled a squirrel. He froze mid bound, long enough to get a picture, but not a very good one. One slow step closer and he was off, shooting into the trees like a streak of lightning. On I walked, wondering how many squirrels were watching me from the branches?

Above me, through the leaves, there were patches of blue sky, but the drizzle kept falling all the same. A tunnel of hawthorn branches, bowed down with the weight of wet flowers, dripped gently on me as I passed. Hawthorn, the auger of spring, seemed to have somehow got it wrong because it looked and felt more like autumn. The flowers were pretty though.

The more open area beyond the hawthorn was dappled, not by sun, but by daisies. Each forgotten gravestone seemed to have its very own bouquet. Every flower was speckled with sparkling raindrops.

Off the main path, on a narrow trail, my feet brushed the wet flowers as I passed. Now and then I had to duck beneath low branches and sidestep precariously angled stones. Here I found buttercups, forget me nots and wild geranium, lapping up the moisture.

One section of the trail was all nettles to be carefully stepped over. The next all dandelion clocks, bedraggled by the rain. No amount of blowing would tell the time with these.

Further still another hawthorn grew so low across the trail I had to bend almost double to avoid it. The pretty white flowers, rimmed with pink dripped on me all the same but I forgave them because they were so lovely.

Heading back towards the gate now, the next hawthorn was brighter still. The branches arched across the trail were a mass of shocking pink. Each tiny flower seemed to shout, ‘look at me!’

Pink seemed to be the order of the day here. Even the horse chestnut had decided to get in on the act. Rather than glowing white, each candelabra of flowers was salmon pink, as if the flames were burning low.

Rain or no rain, I couldn’t wander amongst the graveyard flowers forever. The parkrun would soon be packing up and it was time to get back to reality. Spring maybe very late in coming this year and the rain just keeps on falling, but the flowers in the Old Cemetery know it’s May and summer will soon be on the way.

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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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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

Inspecting the damage

28 July 2018

This morning, while Commando was running round parkrun, I went back to the Old Cemetery for a closer look at the fire damage. According to the Echo, not always the most factually accurate of local newspapers, two Titanic memorials were damaged by the fire, along with a World War I grave belonging to Kate Trodd, a nurse who served in the Voluntary Aid Detachment. Whether I’d be able to locate any of these damaged graves remained to be seen.  Continue reading Inspecting the damage

Scorched earth in the Old Cemetery

23 July 2018

Unbeknown to us, while we were camping in the hot, dusty Catton Park field preparing for Thunder Run, a small disaster was unfolding on Southampton Common. On Saturday, a fire broke out in the Old Cemetery, caused, it’s believed, by the unrelenting sun shining on broken glass and setting fire to the desiccated and overgrown grass. Commando read about it in the local paper and, once we’d unpacked, rested a little and dashed around the supermarket to stock up for the week, we went to have a look.  Continue reading Scorched earth in the Old Cemetery

Happy New Year

1 January 2018

First thing on New Years Day all the sensible people are in bed sleeping off a late night, too much food and way too much alcohol. My warm bed was just a hazy memory as I strolled across Southampton Common, wrapped up against the chilly morning air. For some reason the parkrun organisers thought it would be a good idea to have an extra parkrun today. In fact there were two, one at Netely and one st Southampton, with the Netley one starting before the Southampton one so people could run both. Continue reading Happy New Year

Keeper of names

16 September 2017

For most of the summer Southampton parkrun has been using the winter course starting and ending near the Cowherds, due to a huge project to upgrade the paddling pool area. For me this has meant no time for wandering in the Old Cemetery while everyone’s running. Today it was back to the more usual start and finish near the Hawthorns, so, as soon as the runners set off, I marched across the grass towards the Old Cemetery gates.  Continue reading Keeper of names

Summer tales from the Old Cemetery

13 June 2017

For Commando, one of the hardest things about being ill, apart from the uncertainty about what is wrong with him, has been not being able to run. The consultant Rheumatologist he saw last week didn’t give him a definitive diagnosis but he did give him a steroid injection and told him he could begin to run again as long as his legs were pain free. In fact, he said exercise was a good thing. On Saturday he ambled around parkrun. It was far slower than he’d have liked but it was a run. This evening he decided to go to the Common and have another run on his own. CJ and I went along for a walk as there have been precious few of those lately. Continue reading Summer tales from the Old Cemetery