The History of Leith

September 30, 2006

On a churchyard bench

My cottage overlooks a very old graveyard – some Pictish remains. Saint Ninian visited this spot when it was a monastery in the fifth century. Visitors remark that our hamlet enjoys a peaceful ambience – benign vibrations. Recently a group of boys camped in the next field – they were on a John Muir conservation course. These were street-wise lads from Glasgow schemes, but there was no nonsense -good fun, with courtesy and respect for their surroundings. I showed some of
them the graveyard – the old graves with proud trade emblems: the mason’s hammer; the baker’s loaf; the blacksmith’s anvil. Several graves carried a skull and cross bones, and someone remarked, impressed, “There’s lots of pirates buried here.” “No”, I smiled, “ that’s not a Jolly Roger – it means they died of the plague.” He looked disappointed. Sometimes on a clear gusty winter’s night I’ll wrap up, sit on a churchyard bench, watch the moon over the ancient yew trees. Bleak, ghostly, eternal – but so beautiful. Churches are disappearing but there’s a part of human experience that seeks “a serious house on serious earth.” Philip Larkin, a non-believer, understood this: “and that much never can be obsolete, since someone will forever be surprising a hunger in himself to be more serious, and gravitating with it to this ground, which, he once heard, was proper to grow wise in, if only that so many dead lie round.”


(Editor-Not to spoil a nice piece. However Senscot was mistaken about the meaning of the Skull and Crossbones on gravestones.)

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