Hauntingly beautiful walk – so near and yet so far

I’ve just come back from the Rosary again. During the covid restrictions, I have become well acquainted with this hilly Norwich cemetery where my parents and grandparents are buried. It’s only just round the corner and makes an easily accessible walk, even at my age.

It’s also hauntingly beautiful, with ancient gravestones buried in brambles, a tangle of paths leading nowhere in particular and the resting place of city dignitaries gone by marked with quiet signposts.

As well as my parents and my father’s parents, it holds two uncles, three aunts, the church leader who ministered in a mission hut that stood on the site where I now live, and the pastor of Surrey Chapel, the church I attended in my youth.

It also holds many of those half-remembered men and women who worshipped in and ran that undenominational Chapel, which once loomed large over the space between Ber Street and Surrey Street but became dwarfed by the incongruous Norfolk Tower. It was then demolished, its striking structure in the proportions of the Old Testament Tabernacle giving way to a department store car park – another kind of tabernacle.

It rose again in a different form in the shadow of Anglia Square, and is now to be demolished again whenever a plan for the Square and the refurbishment of the area gets the go-ahead. Another incongruous tower? Almost certainly.

But what of the Rosary? It continues in its semi-wild state while being carefully tended by council workmen, one of whom we have got to know in the past months.

I have seen it in all kinds of weather. It is a place to relax in warmth of spring and summer; to explore gently in autumn and to set a brisk pace through in winter. I have seen a deer there, and magpies and jays are frequent, as are squirrels. There is the occasional cat, but happily no dogs: it is one of the few places you can walk without being pestered by “friendly” or noisy canines.

There are many stories here, a large number of them untold. There is the rail crash, the fairground accident and the premature death of two teenage lovers. Many other premature deaths too, but a surprising number of people who lived to a ripe old age – people who had never heard of coronavirus, or Spanish flu, or even a world war. So near, and yet so far.