Welcome to our third newsletter; it’s been a bit slow coming as a result of the challenges that we are all facing due to the current COVID 19 lockdown.  It’s worrying times for us all, but we are fortunate in many ways that most of us have access to gardens and that West Wight is a beautiful rural area where we can go out and enjoy nature for our daily exercise; a far cry from the more unfortunate who live in cramped apartments in cities.  Let’s hope that this crisis passes soon, and we can return to something more akin to normality.  Although I do hope that many of the changes in our behaviour will be remembered, I for one have noted the inverse relationship between the number of cars on the road and the cheery greetings from the larger number of walkers and cyclists as well as the reduced amount of litter.  Let’s not also forget the help being given to the less able by numerous support groups doing shopping and providing meals for those unable to do it for themselves. Long may it continue.

Of course, the current shutdown has meant that the church has not been open and work on the windows has been suspended. Maybe the easing of the restrictions will begin soon so that we can recommence the restoration of the east window.  Fortunately – or unfortunately, depending on your viewpoint – nature has not shut down with the rest of the country.  It has been glorious to have more time to watch the Spring coming on apace and to see the snowdrops and daffodils in the churchyard during February and March and to watch the huge variety of spring flowers coming out in April.  I have taken many of my periods of daily exercise in the churchyard listening to the sound of the birds (and mowers and strimmers, but more of that later) and savouring the relative peace due to the reduced traffic.  On the other side of the coin, Spring has meant that a lot of work is necessary in the churchyard.

Of course, the formal working parties in the churchyard have been curtailed by the lockdown, but this did not mean that we have been unable to tackle some of the necessary tasks at this time of the year.

Hilary and Ted, ably supported by Chloe, trimmed the hedge between the new churchyard and the meadow in front of the village hall.  The hedge contains a variety of native hedging plants as well as some trees that were specifically planted to provide a haven for the local wildlife.  The trimmings from the hedge were used to construct a ‘dead hedge’ along the western side of the orchard area.  ‘Dead hedges’ provide a valuable resource for insects and other wildlife, both as a habitat and a source of food as the material breaks down.  Chloe has also spent a lot of time clearing brambles and other spreading plants in the orchard, and we hope to be able to continue work in this area over the coming years so that we can re-establish this as a productive orchard.  I feel inspired by this after my experience in Somerset over the New Year, when we were out for a walk and saw a poster advertising a Wassail in the local community orchard.  A short piece of research using my ‘brain in the pocket’ came back with this definition:

The purpose of wassailing is to awake the cider apple trees and to scare away evil spirits to ensure a good harvest of fruit in the Autumn.

There was also a short rhyme associated with the event:

Wassaile the trees, that they may beare

You many a Plum and many a Peare:

For more or lesse fruits they will bring,

As you do give them Wassailing.

How could I miss this?  So we made our way down to the village through the misty rain at the appointed hour to be greeted by a happy band of locals with an accordion, lots of pots and pans, plenty of good wholesome cider, apple cake and a few slices of toast.  The orchard was relatively new so we were not graced with the presence of the traditional Wassail King and Queen, but sing and dance and make lots of noise to frighten away the evil spirits we certainly did, as toast soaked in the wassail from the ‘Clayen Cup’ was tied to the branches as a gift to the tree spirits.

I think the song went something like this:

Here’s to thee, old apple tree,

That blooms well, bears well.

Hats full, caps full,

Three bushel bags full,

An’ all under one tree.

Hurrah! Hurrah!

Who knows, Somerset now, Shalfleet in coming years?

Back in Shalfleet, we were also fortunate to gather together half a dozen willing volunteers at the end of March to tackle the southern side of the hedge along the northern boundary of the new graveyard.  The hedge had become very overgrown over the last few years and we had received a letter from Island Roads politely requesting us to trim it or they would do it themselves.  Jamie came to the rescue in early March to trim the northern side of the hedge so that it did not interfere with the traffic.  Our working party tackled the southern side, removing bramble and cutting back some of the lower branches to expose the graves that had become overgrown.  Wherever possible we replaced the cut material back into the hedge, following the principles of the ‘Dead Hedge’ and wove some of the longer branches back in to try and thicken it out.  It was far too late in the season to consider a full hedge laying exercise, but we hope to consult with Hilary, the tree warden, over the summer, and our course with our own newly qualified hedge layer Henry.  We will listen to what they say and decide whether relaying the hedge would be feasible or whether we should start by planting some new hedging plants next year to help thicken the existing boundary.

Chapel Nurseries also carried out a full cut of all the grass just before the main spring growth, but this is an expensive exercise, so we have been discussing options for the more routine maintenance.  We have developed an outline plan for the maintenance of the grass that will be beneficial to the local ecology whilst keeping the approaches to the church looking attractive and cared for.  To support this, the Friends Group have purchased a mower and strimmer to allow us to do some of the more routine tasks ourselves.  Both pieces on machinery have now been christened and we have carried out two cuts so far.  These have been focussed on maintaining the access to the south gate of the churchyard, the Garden of Remembrance and providing easy access to the new graveyard, particularly the routinely visited graves.

The objective is to keep access open to graves that are visited on a regular basis by maintaining a central path and then mowing side paths to the north and south where appropriate.  We will also be cutting the areas to the NE and NW of the north entrance to the church once the lovely display of Spring flowers has subsided.

At present I have been doing this task but would ideally like to set up a rota of volunteers who would be willing to take responsibility for certain areas of the churchyard.  This would allow us to work more independently and keep our church looking cared for.  Any volunteers please speak to me!

Many thanks for your continuing support and most of all keep safe during these troubled times.

Rhod Powell () or 07768 528213                               29th April 2020.