Ashwellthorpe Wood was like a great cathedral. Overhead greening branches were Gothic arches, the jubilant praise of birdsong filled the air, the floor was carpeted here with the bluebells, there with the white and green of wild garlic and along the way primroses, wood anemones, lady’s smock, violets, forget-me-nots, and early purple orchids.
I had come to see how Ash Dieback Disease was effecting things and been ambushed by the glory of the wood. There is a brief window, between the dark of winter and summer, when full leaved branches shade out the sun, in which woodland flowers blossom - each one with a beauty that takes one’s breath away. You might expect the woods to be crowded but no. No one else seemed to be in the wood that morning. No one saw me stretched out on the ground.
Later as I browsed around All Saints, Church I wondered about my experience. How do such intense experiences (quite common according to research sponsored by the Alister Hardy Religious Experience Research Centre) square with Christian faith? It was a magnificent tomb, described by Simon Knott on his Norfolk Churches website (http://www.norfolkchurches.co.uk) as “the most splendid alabaster tomb in Norfolk”, that helped me focus.
Back then in the wood, aware of the wonderful ecological cycles of life and death and new life being played out around me and of which I was part, I felt myself every inch a son of Adam. In the words of the funeral prayer, I was mindful of my beginning and my ending, the dust from which I come and the grave to which I move. A fine tomb would not suit me. At my end I want nothing better than to be laid to rest in the womb of the earth “in the firm hope of God’s love and purposes for us.”
Ashwellthorpe, Lower Wood is managed by Norfolk Wildlife Trust http://www.norfolkwildlifetrust.org.uk)
Since Simon Knott first visited St.Andrews it has become an open church and welcomes visitors during daylight hours.