We are spoilt for choice of Norman churches on Gower, but the stocky one at Ilston has a special charm. At the edge of the village, at the head of a deep wooded valley, there is peace going back centuries. The bridge by the gate crosses a gentle bubbling brook with grey wagtails, and reaches the sea just a mile or so downstream. The huge yew tree, its trunk standing on a mound of earth and roots, is thought to date to the age of the church. It dominates the ancient building; another, a baby by comparison, stands ready to take its place. Mistle thrushes, coal tits, noisy jackdaws, nuthatches and great tits all make the big tree home, and maybe the tree creeper, silently climbing the trunk has done so too. A great hum of bumblebees and the gentle cooing of woodpigeons provides backing for the music of blackbirds, robins and a song thrush in the village beyond.
God’s acres are havens for wildlife. There are no artificial fertilizers; plants and animals exist free from external pressures. There are no rare things here, just the commonplace, but when summer gets going it will probably be a botanist’s paradise. Snowdrops are finished now, and it’s the turn of lesser celandines, primroses and daisies to decorate the churchyard, whilst newly flowering wild strawberry and ivy-leaved toadflax cling to the limestone church and walls. Set in beech woods carpeted with wood anemones, the old rectory sits on the hill behind the church, has been in private ownership for generations, and is part of the history of this place. At the back of the church, old lichen-covered 17th century gravestones, many unreadable, lean against the tower; lost from their owners they may stay there for centuries.
On leaving by the gate a modern reality check: ‘Beware of unsafe gravestones’. How ridiculous is that? I wonder what the incumbents are thinking.