Welcome to UK natural burial ground number three!
The third natural burial ground that we visited while in the UK was in South-East Cornwall – right on the edge of the famous Bodmin Moor, a place called Pentiddy Woods.
In true natural style, there was nothing imposing about this place, it was tucked away on a quiet road – very unassuming. There was a small car park area set aside across the road and as we parked there was only one other car there beside our own. We had made a time to meet with the owner a little earlier in the morning, as they were expecting a family for a burial in an hour and a half hence.
We arrived and approached the most beautifully secluded spot, lined with hedges and off to the side a stunning arch, covered in vine, spanning a gate that could only be described as having such a quaint country charm. We ventured in, the owner was not there yet and so we wandered around.
Eventually the owner arrived and started showing us around. You could see where the more recent burials had been, the soil still being raised a little from ground height and trees were planted at the head of these graves as well. The ground had a gentle slope to it and on the top side had been placed a small stone circle, with 2 larger stones forming a kind of natural alter style stand – flat enough for a coffin to be placed on while a ceremony took place.
Pentiddy Woods has been operating for 8 years. Officially. They had facilitated burial there before turning it into a public ground. It took them 2 years to get all of the permissions and authorisations required to begin as a natural burial ground but they have not looked back. In the last 8 years they have had over 90 burials and sold about 150 prepaid plots. Like the other places, they have an ‘at need’ interment and digging fee, only the right of burial is prepaid.
They mapped the land and bury by grids, which seems to be the most common method in non-woodland grounds and the calculations of bodies that are able to be buried there seem to be similar as well, working on about 600 bodies per acre. The really interesting thing here that we were so impressed by was the fact that they dig every grave by hand. No matter the rock content. We were lucky enough to be there on a day when a grave had been freshly dug and it was the first time we got to have a look at what a shallow depth grave looks like in real terms. It is such a different feel to those in Australia where you can nearly get vertigo standing at a graveside – its just so far down. The shallow depth felt warmer, kinder, less harsh. I could imagine a family lowering their loved one into the ground there and not being daunted by the visual impact.
The idea at Pentiddy is to turn the land into a woodland. They are planting trees native to the area as they perform burials with the idea of regenerating the paddock into a natural wild ecology for the community and the wildlife to enjoy. At the time of our discussions, he was in the process of getting another parcel of land approved and that was going to be a wildflower meadow.
Everything done to the land has been by hand. Even in his dual use of the land, he has been cutting, turning and baling the hay by hand. He has been grazing sheep but not using any machines or bikes to round them up or move them and as i said before, even the graves have been hand dug.
A little way off beyond the burial ground, within the grounds of his farm, he has an old store roundhouse which he has been making available to families for gathering, ceremonies or coming to spend time in remembrance. They do not allow markers in the ground there but as you go into the ground – through that lovely arch – there is a wooden stand on the right and on it are brass plaques – all with names and dates of those buried within. It is a beautiful ‘roll of honor’ style creation and it silently lets you know that the woodland being created before you is the legacy of all these people listed here.
What a gift it is as well.
Perfectly positioned with a picturesque pastoral outlook beyond, we sat on those rocks a while and drank it all in. One side of the ground was the most magnificent stone wall and the other 3 were hedge. Because of the slope of the land you could see beyond the hedge to pastures in the distance. Now if a view is a consideration for your final place of rest, there are certainly worse places than this.