I am incandescent with excitement. After tea I start to get ready to go out. Ian eyes me warily.
‘What are you doing?’
I am pulling on my tartan holiday socks.
'Just popping out for a little walk.’
‘It’s going dark.’
I am hoping towards the door, tying my shoelace as I go; did you ever see Wilson, Keppel and Betty performing the Sand Dance? It is very like that.
‘I won’t be long.’
‘You’re going to the graveyard, aren’t you?’
As my reader knows, I do have form where graveyards are concerned.
‘Only to see if the masons here ever use Shap Granite...’
You may also remember that Shap Granite is my current favourite rock.
‘You’re going to look for the morthouse, aren’t you?’
‘...and to look for the morthouse, I was going to say that.’
‘You know you’re a little bit Not Right in the Head, don’t you?’
He is probably correct, but I don’t care. I’m afraid of living people not dead people; I’m afraid of living people and loud bangs; loud bangs terrify me, every time.
It was twilight when I arrived at the gated church. Huge crows hunkered blackly on the church roof and supplied mournful and atmospheric cawing.
The churchyard at Crail is an enchanted necropolis. Built into a tall shadowy wall to the west of the church are a series of mural monuments. These architectural structures date back to the 17th century and are gratifyingly decorated with emblems of mutability and decay, the hourglass, skulls, crossbones, grave digging tools.
The carvings range in quality, from a detailed deaths head like the one above from James Lumsden’s tomb to almost childishly incised representations of skulls and femurs.
Death’s heads have crossed bones behind them whereas the skull and crossbones have the bones underneath. I’m calling the one above a death’s head because I suspect that those gaps where the face joins the cornice once held stone-bones; I have no other evidence for my theory. But I do like it.
A number of of the skulls resemble turnip heads, which, in the twilight, was somehow even more chilling than the more meticulous work.
‘Here lyes interred before this tomb
The Christian convention is for dead people to be buried with their head in the west and their feet in the east; on judgement day the deceased wants to be able to sit up and face the rising sun. As a consequence, the posh people of Crail are interred along the, literally, monumental west wall.
So, Bruce of Symbister was clearly posh but when the trumpet sounds his headless armour is going to have to sit up rustily and turn to the right as he does so to get the benefit of the sunrise. He was 80 when he died and has been dead almost four hundred years. Well, I do Pilates. I’m still alive and I’m only fiftyodd and I can assure you he’s going to find that exercise veeery tricky. Trust me. I would like to be here on the day of judgement to see his resurrection though.
As the stygian dusk deepened, the distant clock in Crail Marketgate sounded, the desolate cries of the corvids intensified (thanks, Sound Effect Guys) and I came across the neo-gothic morthouse with its inscription:
There are morthouses all over Fife but it seems the parishioners’ response to the threat of grave-robbing baddies was hugely disproportionate to the scale of the problem. It’s a long haul for a grave-robber to cart a corpse from Crail to St Andrews or Edinburgh and graves were not routinely robbed in the area. In any case by 1832, in response to the Burke and Hare murders, an Anatomy Act was passed, which secured a legal supply of unclaimed bodies from hospitals, poorhouses and workhouses.
I take my last photograph in the gloom, nod to the Sound Effect Guys and return to Ian, delighted with my first mural monument and my first morthouse. I start to explain to him about watch houses.
‘Relatives, or more likely, lackeys, had to stay in a little house in the graveyard, watching.’ There’s a pause.
In my last post I wrote about Padre George Smith being buried in Preston Cemetery. It says on the Rorke’s Drift website that his headstone is light red marble. Well I’ve found it and his headstone is Shap Granite; I knew it would be; Fools.
See, the thing is, marble is metamorphosed limestone and granite is… oh, never mind.
On a lighter note, there’s also a labyrinthine Top Secret Bunker by Crail; it’s where central government and military commanders would retreat in the event of a nuclear attack. Obviously, the parishioners of Fife don’t want the trouble of a lot of Johnny Foreigner types hanging around the golf course in spy wear asking directions in broken English (and not understanding the reply because it’s in Scottish English) so the helpful authorities have supplied a sign.
ps nominations are now open for the the Manchester Blog Awards. You can nominate yourself and you only have to be nominated once to enter (my friend's done me). Good Luck. (No. Really!)