Carol Trewin’s Funeral

Death occurs in many ways. Sometimes it is sudden like car crash but for others the process is long and drawn out. My partner Carol Trewin was well known as a writer, BBC Radio 4 producer and journalist. For many years she had worked as the farming and then food editor of the Western Morning News. She covered BSE and then Foot and Mouth Disease.

In early May 2006 Carol was diagnosed with acute Leukaemia. She had complained of a painful back and was unusually out of breath after a long walk on Dartmoor along the magnificent ridge known as Hameldown. Within a few days she was in hospital in Derriford, Plymouth. Carol and was soon told that without treatment she only she had three months to live. But with their excellent care, chemotherapy and cocktail of other drugs she was able to keep on working at home as a journalist for another three and a half years and even wrote two more books whilst battling with the disease.

Occasionally we talked about funerals and burials and what she really wanted. You have to. We were both realistic about her chances of survival and knew that there was no real prospect of a cure as she could not have a bone marrow transplant and anyway she was probably too old to have one. And any way there was no match for her. Once or twice she was in respite and then in remission and we really thought they had cracked it but their disease came back even more viciously and like many diseases it slowly wears you down.

About a year before Carol died we discussed what she wanted in the way of a burial and a service. She decided early on that she wanted a woodland burial and that it should be a communal affair almost like a Quaker burial with Buddhist overtones. I later found that she had written a page in her diary about the burial and what she wanted and in the end we carried it out almost to the letter. The wooden dacha or ‘scout’ hut at Crossways  is excellent for holding the readings particularly as it was raining some of the time. In fact we were able to decorate the hut as we wished and it had the personal feel of someone’s own sitting room. In fact in the end we exceeded Carol’s wishes and turned it into a really wonderful rolling event which lasted all day long and went on to encompass roast beef sandwiches and Dry Sack at the Dartmoor Inn, Lyford and then a Cream Tea Revel at the Horn of Plenty with a jazz band in a marquee which she would have loved.

To have a written document in advance is very, very useful and takes away a lot of the indecision. As it happened Carol was only in hospital for the last week of her life and I was able to tell her that I had found a woodland burial site near Cheriton Bishop on a working farm with a sheep dogs and spaniels and a good long view of Dartmoor. It was just what she wanted. And I was also able to show her a picture of the willow coffin that I had chosen from Musgrove Willows in Westonzoyland, Somerset. These things are actually very important and if you have time to settle the form of ceremony that you want in advance, it makes life ten times easier. 

I found Crossways Woodland Burials on the internet and with a phone call or two and a visit, to meet Martin Chatfield everything was settled. It could not have been easier and we found both Martin and Julie very understanding and practical, as all farmers should be. Down to earth…

On the day of the funeral I discovered that the grave had been dug with a small digger and the bottom lined with Jacob fleeces. People gathered from far and wide and the funeral directors from Tavistock were just as interested as we were to see how things went. Carol was driven across her beloved Dartmoor for the last time and the ‘service’ which consisted of a series of readings, poetry and some music was conducted by myself and arranged by close friends. It is an incredible freedom to be able to devise your own version of a funeral service and it therefore has a real sense of the person who has just died and is being buried. You have broken free of 2,000 years of tradition and it is therefore much more democratic and informal. But you have to be quite strong to do it yourself. It was a very moving occasion and six of her close friends including her brother, a GP from Uttoxeter, and myself carried the coffin to the graveside. Only wild and English flowers. A buzzard flew high and it then started raining. 

What is extraordinary about the woodland burial site is not just the informality of it, but the fact that when you re-visit Crossways is not like an ordinary graveyard or cemetery. And as it is near the A30 you can visit any time you are passing and I have had some excellent chats with other people whilst visiting the grave.

Later on we had a ceremony to plant a few daffodil bulbs and to lay the stone. Martin planted a chestnut tree. It is in a sense a voyage of discovery. I can recommend it to anyone.  Just have the courage to do it yourself and you then feel much more part of the landscape.