A Borrowed Arboretum

Novelist and short story writer Wendy Metcalfe finds an unexpected haven in which to get some work done.

One of my quests during lockdown has been to find beautiful quiet places to sit and write in the outdoors.

All through the spring and early summer I’ve taken my writing outside. I think better with the wind on my face and the sun to lift my mood. I spend a fair bit of time sitting in my front and back gardens, but I’ve also been seeking out other places to go.

I’ve started walking to a local cemetery to write. This serves two purposes. It’s ten minutes’ walk each way, so gives me an easy exercise win. I also have to climb a railway bridge to get there, which is good for the heart.

It might sound strange to go and sit in a cemetery, but it’s more of an arboretum than a graveyard. The oldest graves are over two hundred years old, and many have been colonised by the natural world.

You enter the flint-walled space down a wrought-iron gated driveway, passing beneath four sentinel yew trees. Further in, near where two seats are placed, is another huge yew, and standing next to it an even bigger horse chestnut. There are lime trees lining the boundary walls, and copper beeches to provide dots of darker colour.

On days when the wind is strong it whistles through the assorted canopies, rustling the leaves furiously. There is something awesome about the sound of a strong wind roaring through the canopy of fully-leafed summer-clad trees. I close my eyes and listen to the rush and rustle, and it transports me to somewhere else. The world falls away, and all there is is the rushing, swaying, and roaring.

On calm hot days I visit the oldest part of the graveyard, which has been left to grow wild as a meadow. There are purple cranesbills, robust cow parsley, tall yellow daisies, and on the path one small intense blue scabious. The grass is still dominant and far too tall, but I did spot a couple of patches of yellow rattle. In time it will parasitize the grass and reduce its vigour.

Birds flit constantly from tree to tree, and on some days a cheeky grey squirrel will descend to the ground and study me with its dark eyes.

Sometimes writing in this borrowed arboretum is hard. Many days I am dazzled by the presence of the trees and just sit, watching. But that is a small price to pay for borrowing such life and age.

I have long walked past the cemetery on my way in to Havant, and without the pandemic I would not have stopped to explore it. This time has forced us all to look again at what is around us, and for me it has brought a new place of natural beauty to visit.

Inspiration: In lockdown I needed a larger horizon than my tiny garden. I found sitting in the shade of the yews and horse chestnut in the cemetery allowed me to shut out the pandemic for a while.

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