Skip to content

North and East Yorkshire’s Best Churchyard 2022

Dr. Morris Charlton
By Dr. Morris Charlton
27th September 2022

This year’s competition was enhanced by the inclusion of Churchyards from East Yorkshire – some wonderful visits and interesting conversations. Some churchyards were formal and majestic and of great scale whilst we also had some edgy “guerrilla garden” type churchyards.  All rich with wildlife and providing a quite spot for contemplation. The entrants exemplified the diversity and scale that we can find in and across Yorkshire churchyards.

The winner of the 2022 Best Churchyard Competition is…. St. Catherine, Barmby Moor

'What a privilege to be one of the judges again for this year’s competition.'
Dr. Morris Charlton

A commonality for all churchyards was the passion and commitment evident of local people, to make them a special place. I appreciated the shade and shelter the great trees offered from phenomenally hot weather. This is perhaps an underappreciated aspect of the peace and solitude in the churchyards. Managing historic and standard trees is costly but they are a quintessential aspect of our landscape and churchyards.

All the Churchyards I visited, as above picture highlights, were living and thriving and this is what puts them into the exceptional category in an exceptionally warm year.

It is always interesting to observe the challenges some churchyards have. Being on a busy main road has issues of noise and pollution but this assuaged by hedges and trees absorbing noise and fumes. Some church and churchyards are down tight little tracks or on packhorse routes making access difficult – fortunately the ford to arrive at Grosmont was not too deep! It has been a complex aspect of judging the last two years removing the churchyard from its context and focussing just on the churchyard.

Escrick was joy to start the day with, superb trees and well managed churchyard with allotments close by. The churchyard is accessible and safe with a healthily large compost heap and a “resident” Sparrowhawk breakfasting as I entered the wooded area.

Nearby and across country was Barmby Moor, an area I know well, having dug many soil pits in the area many years ago. This is a well-managed and beautiful churchyard with good signage and information boards. There is a stark contrast with the “conservation” area and the well curated Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) area. This gave an addition to the mosaic of habitats – in spite of the wilded areas there were more bees in the CWGC area!

Across country lay Upper Helmsley church, this was a move from busy roads to country lanes and I was worried I was going to miss the church. This is hidden away and is what I would term our guerrilla churchyard as it is bush and exciting and surprising, to say the least.

It is rich on conservation and as a meeting spot – multi use churchyard. It does have gravestones in as well!

It was unfortunate I arrived on a day and time when coffee and biscuits were not for sale – a nice yard to write up your notes and take in the myriad of different projects.

Back onto the busy road and a long travel to Grosmont on the North Yorkshire Moors. Fantastic views on the approach and an unusual split churchyard with a rich flora sited in a popular tourist node. The nearby beck added atmosphere as well as a Dipper. In times of old this Church and Churchyard would have been the focus of the community. It still is and is magnificent and resplendent.

Well managed species rich Hedgerow – Grosmont

From Grosmont, if anyone wants to follow the route I travelled, to Seamer and Hutton Buscel. This is a lovely route to follow on the coastal road. Seamer is a busy village with a great village churchyard, good standard trees, well managed compost and a good balance of conservation and churchyard. The Gravestone arrangement, which is unusual is excellent habitat for invertebrates and mammals.

Hutton Buscel was the great disappointment for the day until I found out I had entered from the back gate so to speak. When I was on the main entrance, what an absolutely splendid churchyard it is, with a lengthy avenue of trees – is there another such avenue?  The trees were occupied by at least one curious Tawny Owl.

From Hutton Buscel down the coat road to the magnificent Bridlington Priory. This a conservation churchyard that is enhanced by scale and ornamentation and though slightly ”urbanish” is an outstanding site to visit.

There are many and numerous features to explore in Bridlington Priory – it enhances a visit to the seaside!

From Bridlington to Sproatly and a surprise meteorite – keeping up the tradition of unexpected astronomical features in churchyard visits.

Again, a well curated rural churchyard sympathetically managed and carried out to great effect. A good spot to stop on a long journey and appreciate the trees and the grasses.

A factor impacting on all the yards visited was the impact of the record temperatures – plants had finished blooming and gone to seed or grasses bolted. Identification was tested at times, but all churches visited had a rich flora.

From Sproatly back to the north to visit Kirkburn. I really appreciated the hard work and planning that was ongoing in this churchyard – fantastic to see species lists that were developing and the only church visited with a Pipistrelle dropping on the church door. This is an ongoing project given that the information boards are being revised. This is an excellent community project with the project extending beyond the yard – Guerrilla Gardening!

What was interesting to have a rationale / context explained – this is a churchyard surrounded by intensive farming. Great that the group have linked in with the Wildlife Trust.

Finally, after 334 miles in total the final church to visit was Walkington. Beautiful just before twilight. As said on the submissions form – tranquil and peaceful on the edge of the village. Great trees and a brief sighting of a Sparrowhawk having fed on Pigeon flighting down the edge of the yard. The attached wildlife paddock looked great and will be even better as it matures.


So, who is the winner?

After a lengthy discussion, the judges found Barmby met the criteria for this Year’s Best Churchyard for is style, majesty, simple signage and interpretation, Conservation work and gentle management.

We would however highly commend Upper Helmsley – this is different and thoroughly enjoyable experience – We look forward to a return trip to see how it develops.

Bridlington Priory Highly commended for sheer scale and majesty along with Kirkburn for the sheer hard work and effort managing a beautiful churchyard.

There have to be winners in competitions but some many of the features described above will stay in my memory for some time!

Many thanks to all you hard working volunteers for all the work you do to make our churchyards havens of conservation and tranquillity.