Bright Floodplain Lights 1. The Graveyard Behind the Woods
I’d sit on this round boulder down in the culvert between the field and the heath. No one could see you there if they passed by, the long grass and the hawthorn trees that grew overhead would block the view of anyone more than a few feet away. I’d go up there in the autumn and winter, a little before it got dark and when the sky was clear to watch the night fall and the first stars come out. Over the fields, about twenty miles away across the fields that covered the floodplain the firth of the river went out to the sea and the distant lights of the docks would begin to shimmer in the haze of the refinery fires. One by one the stars would appear between the twigs of the hawthorns and I would sit there until I was too cold to stay any longer. The first time I saw a satellite was over that field though it hadn’t moved in a straight line and I wonder sometimes if that’s really what it was.
I’d go walking in those woods years before with my dog, several hours a day through every part of it but never beyond it. The farmland seemed like too long and boring a walk. Now when I was on my own I’d spend less time in the woods and more finding other ways out of it. That’s when after more than fifteen years I found the path to the graveyard.
I had known the graveyard was there for years, my father’s grandparents were buried there and I’d been taken to see the grave of my great grandmother, a woman I had met once when I was three but was so shy I hid underneath the table. I looked for the headstone, though there might never have been one, I knew she at least lay under a tree and perhaps her husband with her. There were trees with no marker but I never knew if any were the right one. The graveyard had been created for officers killed in the Great War, whether there were bodies beneath the stones I don’t know.
No pavement leads to the graveyard and you have to cross a lot of often-boggy grass once you leave the farm tracks out of the wood. As such there aren’t many people there. There is a road that goes past to the new cemetery which is itself built next to a far older one with stones carved four hundred years ago, but neither of those come into this story. Outside the wrought iron gates is a little house with a paddock in front and a few horses, This was the only building anywhere nearby until the new high school was built across the field.
It’s isolation allows it to be quiet and the lack of recent dead mean it has been entirely spared the disquiet and racket of modern cemeteries; garish headstones, knick knacks and God knows what else. The layout is harmonious, it’s bushes and trees well kept; created when graveyard landscaping was still taken seriously, overall there couldn’t be a better place for it. Though it rises on a mound and is exposed every part is silent and private, shrouded by black green yew trees and bounded by a black iron fence; a market village of the dead amidst the flat fields.