Monday, 17 January 2022

I dread to think how yew trees called Devil’s Churchyard got the name

I dread to think how yew trees called Devil’s Churchyard got the name

ENTERING the Church of St Peter and St Paul in Checkendon, one is reminded of the sheer age of the building.

The scent of the past pervades the structure and also inhabits the surrounding churchyard.

However, my friend Matt Coome and I do not linger despite our shared love of treasures like this.

Instead, we make our way along a public right of way that runs between the old edifice and Checkendon Court.

To our right is open pasture populated by some lovely horses to the side of an ancient iron fence.

The path leads on, the ground strewn with the remnants of last year’s sweet chestnut leaves.

At a junction we head north to join the lane westwards to pass Hammond’s End and Wheeler’s Farm.

Turning left, the atmosphere turns a bit eerie with yew trees everywhere. We have entered the Devil’s Churchyard! I sometimes feel a sense of foreboding when traversing such ghastly named places. Thankfully, I have a companion in Matt who laughs it off. I still wonder though as to what gave rise to the place name.

Leaving behind the dark yew groves and emerging back into the light, I am happy to see the fresh leaves of honeysuckle or woodbine as it was once known. The sweet and heady scent of the flowers of this climbing plant in early summer evenings is something to cherish. It is a magnet for many species of moth.

As we make ground and ascend the hill, many ash trees are smothered at their base by the embrace of moss. Small saplings try to find a foothold within the tree’s cosy and welcoming bark. As the land begins to level out and before we reach the crest of Garson’s Hill, beech, cherry and rowan trees cast stark shadows between the shards of sunlight. In the dappled shade below little animals scuttle about — shrews, voles or woodmice perhaps.

Robins have been following us to harvest the few invertebrates that we have revealed as we march on, exposing the little creature’s hiding places. A gentle breeze wafts by and is most welcome.

This is high ground for the south Chilterns. The air is clear and the paths muddy but we feel miles away from the bustle of the big towns to our north and south and enjoy a sense of freedom.

Moving on and looking across to towards Garson’s Farm, we descend the aptly named Yewtree Brow. The ground becomes very muddy, dark and loamy. Ascending once more towards Three Corner Common, we turn right beside the Covert and towards Scot’s Farm. Lesser celandine (Ranunculus ficaria) is beginning to bloom in profusion. This little plant responds to the sun as if a mirror of its benefactor.

There are some veteran crab trees alongside the woodland edge. They exhibit a kind of stoop that makes you wonder whether the slightest wind defines their shape.

Blackthorn is now in full bloom and provides a welcome and sweet gift to the recently emergent bumblebees. It’s all give and take after all. Pollination must prevent starvation.

We head back to the old church and Matt’s car and are thankful once again that the day has been bright and sunny.

As I write back home, it is raining heavily. Another escape from the elements for me but maybe the earth needs it.

Vincent Ruane

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