On Thursday the GFG donated an entire day to the Natural Death Centre — an act of generosity which has earned us the highest self-praise. We agreed to deliver People’s Awards winners’ certificates to those owners and managers of natural burial grounds upon whom the People had bestowed them. As our 54-seater luxury executive coach vroomed away from the GFG-Batesville Shard, we were filled with a keen sense of adventure.
First stop was Upper Bryntalch Farm, Montgomeryshire, Wales, on which is situated Green Lane Burial Field. We were shown round by Ifor and Eira Humphreys and daughter Delyth. The burial ground occupies just an acre towards the top of a swooping slope that runs down to the Severn flood plain, and it commands, as you can see, wonderful views. The site is managed as a hay meadow. Graves – just £500 each – are set comfortably apart from each other, and only a small proportion of the whole site is earmarked for burial. Everyone wants a plot at the top of the hill, but there’s too much shale up there. The site is bounded by woodland, and we particularly liked the green oak obelisk to which families can affix a plaque bearing the name of their person who’s died. It really does mark this place out as a sacred space. Graves are designated by a single cobblestone with a number — you hardly notice them. The house you can see in the slideshow was once lived in by the composer Peter Warlock, an attraction for musicians. Many families hold their funeral at the graveside in the fresh air. Some come on from church or their village hall.
Verdict: a natural burial ground that keeps it simple, occupies a sensationally beautiful site, provides access and parking that does not scar the ground, and is run by very, very nice people. Our score: 10/10
We celebrated being in Wales by stopping off in the county town, Montgomery. It’s an idyllic place glowered over by one of those (now ruined) castles built to subdue the revolting populace, a symbol of historic minority-abuse that makes English people feel prickly guilt when they visit the Principality. We browsed the market and, as a gesture of appeasement, bought some leaks. We marvelled at the ironmonger’s, one of those old-fashioned establishments that stocks everything.
Next stop was Westhope, some ten miles north of Ludlow. This is a seriously remote place whose approach reminded us of John Betjeman’s line: ‘By roads “not adopted”, by woodlanded ways’. You wouldn’t necessarily want to be a freshly polished hearse motoring to a funeral here. By the time we got through, rain had set in with some vim, but this was not something that our hosts, Andy Bruce and his daughter Fay, seemed to be aware of in the least. That’s countryfolk for you.
The burial site is an old orchard. It’s been an orchard since time out of mind. In it stands a Victorian estate chapel built on the foundations of an earlier chapel dating back to the thirteenth century. You can hold a funeral here, if you like. It doesn’t have an especially churchy feel, probably because it does not host a lot in the way of regular worship. The site is grazed by Castlemilk Moorit sheep, a rare breed, now. They were bred to be decorative, and so they are, especially the lambs. Andy likes eating them. The apples are highly spoken of, too.
The sheep keep the grass down when it’s growing. They overwinter indoors and have their lambs there. When it’s time to let them out, the abundant spring flowers, daffodils and crocus especially, have begun to die back.
Verdict: Unique, mildly eccentric. Simple and natural. Very beautiful and agreeably remote. Andy and Fay are lovely people and they look after you really well. No website, which greatly enhances the sense of discovery. 10/10.
Finally, on our way back, we called in at Ludford Park Meadow of Remembrance in Ludlow, which had not won a prize but deserved to. How Lin and Roger Dalton came to own it by accident is a long and twisting story. Briefly, the church cemetery is now full, the townspeople still want to be buried there, so the strip of land adjoining was bought and made into a natural burial ground thanks in great part to the perseverance of Lin and Roger.
It doesn’t appeal to the sort of folk who want the sort of away-from-it-all burial ground characterised by Green Lane and Westhope. Ludlow people want to visit their dead often, so they’re allowed a 15″x15″ stone plaque at the head of the grave – scarcely detectable when we looked round. (The rain was now falling profusely, by the way.) And there’s a gravelled area with vases where people can bring their flowers, rather than place them on the graves.
What Ludford Park manages to pull off very well indeed is its relationship with its regimented, headstoned neighbour. Its special magic is that it doesn’t feel unkempt.
The burial ground has been so popular that it is now three years off being full. Lin wants to buy a strip of land from the farmer over the fence, but he won’t sell. This doesn’t dismay Lin at all. She has set her sights.
Verdict: A burial ground which has its own distinctive identity, yet rubs along very happily with the cemetery next door. Trees at the far end add to its beauty. Admirably and sensitively adapted to the particular needs of its clients. Run by very, very nice people. 10/10.
I thank you God for this most amazing day, for the leaping greenly spirits of trees, and for the blue dream of sky and for everything which is natural, which is infinite, which is yes. ee cummings