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There's nothing quite to rival a walk round a medieval English churchyard for putting the world into perspective. At least that is how it feels when standing in one: not gloomy, not morbid but vigorously full of life. Places like St Margaret's churchyard, Burnham Norton, on the north coast of Norfolk.

It clusters round an ancient church with a distinctive round Saxon tower, rare elsewhere but common in this county, and looks out from its ridge, past a windmill, to the North Sea. People have been worshipping on this spot since before the Norman Conquest, and that brings benefits that aren't immediately obvious. It links visitors into a human chain. "You are here to kneel," as T.S. Eliot wrote in "Little Gidding", "where prayer has been valid." As the wind from the Arctic blows through the churchyard, across the sand-dunes, marshes and creeks, it carries with it a gossamer thin coating of salt and the soothing scent of water that can clarify otherwise jumbled thoughts. 

There are no "big names" here to attract what might loosely be termed cemetery tourists — those who troop round graveyards such as Highgate, Kensal Green, Père Lachaise in Paris or Zentralfriedhof in Vienna to stand next to the last resting places of the famous. Famous names, though, can be a distraction. They change the nature of a graveyard and make it into something more akin to a museum. By contrast, all of us, somewhere reasonably close at hand, have a churchyard, best of all an ancient one, that is open all hours, free-of-charge, and 99 per cent of the time pretty empty, save for the dead and the occasional dog-walker.

As I found out when I was landed with a dog that needs walking (my children, persistent lobbyists for this addition to family ranks, broke their pledges to take care of this practical matter faster than any politician discarding the election manifesto). So I headed to my nearest open green space, our local graveyard, and out of those enforced daily outings, an unfashionable fascination grew.

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