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North Yorkshire’s Best Churchyard 2021

13th September 2021

We launched our first ever Best Churchyard competition in this year, to celebrate the pivotal role of churches of all denominations in communities across North Yorkshire and the unique part churchyards play in our cherished landscape – as peaceful havens for wildlife and people.

The winner of the 2021 Best Churchyard Competition is…. St. Mary’s Church, Kettlewell

We all know that 2020 has been an extraordinary year, an year like no other, and we really valued the number of entries submitted especially as it is our first every Best Churchyard Competition; fully understanding the restraints imposed on those trying to adhere to management plans and grass cutting regimes.

'It’s been a real privilege to be the judge’s panel for this competition and visit some really outstanding Churchyards throughout August. Congratulations and much appreciation to all the volunteers, who have worked so hard, during exceptionally difficult times to ensure that these little havens are so beautiful and tranquil to visit. All of these churchyards have conservation at their core and all should be on a visit list'
Trustee, Dr. Morris Charlton said

Spofforth Church just off the busy main road provides peace and tranquillity for visitors in the extensive churchyard. It has numerous mature trees and a meadow feel with a rich flora giving providing a haven to enjoy nature. The challenge is to find Blind Jack’s grave!

Acklam Churchyard is a real haven and beauty spot well off the beaten track and unique in that as a rural churchyard it no longer has its church on site. The churchyard has a good balance of management intervention and letting nature take its course. I could have sat here for the day watching Roe deer and busy birds in the trees.

Aislby Church is removed from the busy Guisborough Road and gives a stunning view across the North Yorkshire Moors. It has a terraced structure with wild flower borders.

Nunnington Churchyard has a rich ground flora and numerous yew trees making it a very traditional and beautiful churchyard . It should be on the must visit list for those who visit the nearby Nunnington Hall.

Finghall has the ring of ancients – an old English word Fin, Inga and halt meaning a nook of land of the family or followers of a man called Fina. It’s certainly in a nook of the land hidden in a valley, great mature trees, visited by Greater Spotted Woodpeckers and a developed and nurtured ground flora.

Sharow is a tranquil haven by what is quite a busy road – well established mature trees, plenty of dead wood for insects and bee friendly with a well-developed coherent and consistent management plan ensuring this is an exceptional churchyard.

Giggleswick – everything you would expect of a churchyard in a beautiful area. Well developed flora for a limestone area of the Dales well managed and developed by the local community.

Lothersdale Churchyard, moving onto gritstone contrast with the Dales area to the north and has its own developed flora and mature trees. Evidence of much hard work and commitment in this churchyard. A tranquil spot and one I will revisit. Very strong links with flora walks based from the church.

Kettlewell, our overall and unanimous winner. Kettlewell is a very busy post pandemic tourist hot spot, but walk down the little lane through the lynch gate and you are in an area of peace, tranquillity and contemplation – the journey is immersive. The churchyard is big enough to swallow many visitors whilst at the same time allowing room for sitting undisturbed on the numerous seats and enjoying the yard itself and the views of the Dales. There is a rich and developed flora with a good insect population and busy bees. Whilst many piles of wood are havens for insects there is much high value standing dead wood in the churchyard. There is a meandering route through the churchyard that takes in the flora that ends up at a well designed labyrinth. In 45 minutes within the churchyard there were 21 bird species and four species of butterflies. 

'What really stood out for me about Kettlewell is how reverence and compassion for the natural world is woven into every aspect of the churchyard: the considered planting of the borders with bee and butterfly friendly plants, the quotes carved into wooden plaques, the way long-grass, mature trees and wildlife-rich habitats were interspersed throughout the churchyard. Even on an overcast damp day the amount and variety of wildlife we saw was fantastic. The sense of peace and opportunities for contemplation were outstanding. The church and local community should be commended on creating an exceptional space where people and wildlife are so nurtured and welcomed.'
Trustee, Rosy Eaton

This years entries were spread far and wide geographically.

2021 Best Churchyard competition was so successful we hope it will inspire more of our very special places to enter next year’s competition. It has been so uplifting to see how much care and passion goes into safeguarding these iconic places, especially after such harrowing times.