Haldon Pet Cemetery: a re-visit 9th February 2022

A couple of weeks ago I realised someone had sent me a query on Messenger that I hadn’t noticed – because I don’t really use it, and have notifications turned off. It asked if I’d been recently to the site of the pet cemetery at the Haldon Hills, and if so whether it was still there. My original blog piece about the cemetery was dated June 2014 and you can find it here if you’ve not read it previously – it will give a context to what follows.

I confess I hadn’t been back in all the intervening time, and now I live in Chudleigh, it’s just a short drive up the delightful Old Exeter Street, through the forest, so I’d no excuse. I couldn’t contact the message sender to respond because their message and details had been deleted, but here, for those who might be interested, is what I found.

Lots of trees have been felled in the area near the site of the cemetery, and although there are now more (temporary) places to pull in and park, it looks very much like work in progress, and the first thing I noticed was that the wire fencing has been flattened around the site’s road-side perimeter.

I walked closer to the edge of the woodland of the site, and there seemed no restrictions on accessing the area at all. Would there be anything left to see, or had that been flattened too?

In no time at all I was walking on land I hadn’t been able to enter before. The locked gate that always prevented access was behind me, being the only thing holding onto a couple of stretches of fence that elsewhere was down. I could roam wherever I wished, but wasn’t sure how much there would be to see. But already, there were signs that at least some of the little graves remained, and that occasionally people were still tending them. I noticed that while Jeff had died 30 years earlier his ‘stone’ was clean, fresh and readable and his plot was cheered by some early spring shoots.

I looked around and realised there would be more to see than I expected, and also that the site was quite a bit bigger than I’d previously realised.

The light was bland and flat, almost colourless, but that did mean the details would be more clearly visible in my photographs, so here is a little gallery of some of the plaques, markers, stones, enclosures and messages still present at the cemetery. If you’re on a computer rather than a phone or tablet you should be able to view larger images by clicking on any of them, then use the arrows to scroll between the photographs at full size.

It seems mostly intact – for now. Some stones / plaques are difficult to read, many are breaking up and several of those I viewed with a long lens from the roadside last time seem to have fallen down the steep bank and are lost among the leaves. But a few are still clearly being maintained, more than 30 years after the pets died. Isn’t that remarkable? There were, of course, little markers I’d not seen previously, because I didn’t have so much access. Here’s a second gallery of some of those.

I found few graves dated later than the year 2000, but then surprisingly came across one from 2020. There was a new favourite I’d not seen previously, simply marked ‘Susie A Friend’. A favourite not only for its restrained sentiment but also because its words were lovingly formed by simply hammering dots with a punch into metal. It might have been steel or tin – perhaps even a baking sheet! – but it was effective, shiny, and affecting.

I circled around the site, and didn’t find very many more little ‘plots’ before returning near the entrance. Close to the perimeter nearest the roadside were the last few simple crosses that remained intact, somehow, but were sinking into the softened earth. They will probably be the first casualties if the work near the fence continues.

I’m glad I returned. I’ve had a re-visit in mind for some little time, but it was the Messenger prompt that made me go. I’m also glad to have seen some old favourites one more time, and to have added a few new-to-me favourites this time around. I do really doubt that much of this will still remain if I leave it another 8 years – indeed it may not last much longer at all. For those who are intrigued and wondering whether to visit, I’d encourage you to go; it’s now easily accessible, if you don’t fall over the fence, and it’s quite a peaceful, life-affirming, heart-warming place to spend half an hour – at least for now.

(If you have a query regarding anything on my site: photographs, blogs, etc., – please don’t use Messenger! Send me an email from my contact me page, and I’ll get back in touch very quickly! Alternatively you might like to leave a comment below this piece.)

Thanks for reading!

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