I was visiting friends in Totnes recently and decided to go and look at the Sharpham Meadow Natural Burial Ground. It forms part of the Sharpham Trust estate on a hillside overlooking the River Dart. The location is stunning and there is a simple round rustic cob building which provides a sheltered space in which to hold a funeral service if the weather is inclement. I was very impressed. I also really liked the willow arch that has been created at the entrance to the Natural Burial ground which you walk through on your way in.
Natural Burial Grounds
Natural Burial grounds vary a lot in where they are, what they look like and how they are run. Not all involve woodlands or the planting of trees. Some are more expensive than others and have more facilities. Their general ethos, however, is to offer people a natural and ecologically aware way of being buried which is very different from burial in town and city cemeteries.
At present, some areas of the country have more choice than others. Here in Frome, I would love there to be a Natural Burial ground close to the town. The nearest ones for us are in Midford, near Bath and Somerton.
Burial or Cremation
When thinking about a funeral the first question we have to answer is whether we want to be buried or cremated. Being cremated offers a well defined and orderly route which many people follow. It involves more paperwork than a burial. But the funeral takes place inside a building where we can be safe from the weather, listen to recorded music, use a microphone for the speakers and even watch a slide show of photographs.
However there is seldom much room for manoeuvre in how the funeral can be staged and unless we book a double slot, there is a significant time constraint. Burial offers more freedom, flexibility and informality. Burials can also be, or at least feel, more hands-on and, excuse the pun, down-to-earth.
Cemetery or Natural Burial Ground
Although not everyone wants to be buried, I believe that it is a choice we should all have. For those of us who are not church goers or who do not live in a village with a churchyard still accepting new graves, the choice is limited to cemeteries. Personally, I am not keen on cemeteries even when I like their location.
Interestingly when I visit my parents’ grave in a country churchyard, what moves me is not the grave itself and the headstone but the place – the lime trees, the snow drops in Spring, the church tower, the view of the adjacent fields and the fact that I know many of the other people buried there. Although I haven’t lived in the village for forty years, I retain a sense of belonging.
Two considerations matter to me when I think about where I would like to be buried. First, the place has a natural beauty and second, I have a personal connection with it.
Setting up a Natural Burial Ground
Setting up a Natural Burial ground is a big commitment. Once suitable land has been found or bought, there are various planning criteria which have to be met in seeking permission for a change of use on the land: traffic and access issues, ecological and environmental considerations, archaeological surveys and, last but by no means least, local objections from people living nearby. But once set up, they are straightforward to run. The main legal requirement is to keep a record of the location of all the graves.
For myself, I want to be buried in a meadow where there are no grave stones, just grasses and wildflowers, hedgerows and trees, cows or sheep in neighbouring fields, and a distant view of hills. This is why I like the Westcombe Hill Nature Reserve Burial Site near Somerton. It ticks all my boxes except the one of being close to where I live.
So if there is anyone out there wishing to create a natural burial ground near Frome, please do! You will be offering the people of Frome and the surrounding villages an invaluable service.