Burial Site Category: East of England
About the burial ground
Granville’s Wood is a beautiful jewel of 8 acres of woodland, just outside Chesterfield in Derbyshire. Owned and operated by The Woodland Burial Company, it is one of the loveliest natural burial grounds we have ever visited.
This small woodland burial site is tucked away from the busy roads and hubbub of the town, which is close to the edge of the stunning Peak District in central England. Within seconds of parking your car at the entrance, off of Matlock Road, the only sounds you hear are birdsong and the rustle of leaves in the breeze, perhaps accompanied by the crunch of leaves under your feet as you follow the track that leads you down towards the woodland.
This gentle approach on foot offers an opportunity to slow yourself down, to leave behind the urban, day-to-day life and the pressure of 21st century living as you walk towards the trees and the wildlife that live quietly alongside us. You are physically moving from one place to another, but you are also moving emotionally, away from the mundane towards the profound, towards a place where the ancient mysteries of life and death are waiting for you to contemplate them.
Part of the larger Walton Woods, Granville’s Wood is on a small hill to the right of the track. The woodland is being carefully managed to restore the former pine plantation to a thriving native woodland, and many of the conifers have been taken out since the woodland was taken on in 2016 by Simon Holden and his partners in The Faunus Group, the organisation behind the Woodland Burial Company, who run the site.
The work that has been done in the woodland is immediately obvious; with every non-native tree that is removed, the canopy above is opened up, allowing sunlight to reach the woodland floor, and native species of ferns and plants abound in the glades that have been created. Ponds and water sources have been added as part of the woodland management plan that is underway in conjunction with the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust, who are monitoring progress. Invasive species such as rhododendron and Spanish Bluebell are removed, and any planting by families is strictly controlled and monitored.
Many of the hundreds of families who have already chosen Granville’s Wood as the final resting place for their relative have added bird and insect boxes, habitat piles and feeding stations, encouraging a broad diversity of wildlife to thrive here, and the woodland is alive with darting birds and the rustle of small creatures in the undergrowth.
It’s a magical place. There is an immediate tranquillity and a peace that envelops you as you step into the woodland, along the meandering tracks that wind between the trees. It is only gradually that the presence of the people who have died becomes apparent – a small plaque here, a slightly mounded area there – perhaps you will notice some flower petals scattered on freshly turned earth on a recent grave as you pass by.
The woodland reveals its sacredness as you spend time here; you slowly realise that you are surrounded by graves and cremated remains plots that are blended perfectly into their surroundings. Small wooden memorials with little brass plaques mark some of the graves, but you have to look closely to see them. It is only the presence of these, rustic benches and the ‘nooks’, as they are called – the areas for individual graves or cremated remains which are demarcated by little entrances created with timber felled from the woodland – that indicate you aren’t in a normal wood. And this is far from a normal wood, natural though it is. It is a woodland that is deeply connected with the living, as well as with the dead.
Those whose lives have ended are peacefully interred here, in the beauty and the majesty of the tree-filled landscape, but it is the people who grieve and mourn who have created a community here, carefully supported by the small team of staff who look after both the woodland and the people connected to it.
The story of Granville’s Wood – the roots of this place, for want of a better description – is imbued with this personal connection. Simon’s father, Granville, was a life-long environmentalist, a man before his time – or perhaps a son of a better age, a simpler age where we cared for our surroundings and what impact our actions have on them. He used to walk the dog in woods at the back of playing fields near the family home, and he collected acorns and beech nuts, bringing them home to germinate in the garden and then returning the seedlings to plant on his dog walks. Restoring and rejuvenating woodland was just part of his daily life.
When Granville died, Simon’s mother felt pressurised into having a traditional funeral, but so much that was on offer went against all of Granville’s environmental beliefs and the way he had lived his life. She wanted him to have a woodland burial, but at that time, there was nowhere suitable. Reluctantly, the family arranged a cremation, keeping Granville’s cremated remains at home rather than taking them to a Garden of Remembrance, something he had specifically insisted he did not ever want to happen.
Granville’s son Simon ran a successful events management company, organising logistics for huge events and international superstars, but he’d been increasingly unsettled by the massive environmental impact these events had. The vast amounts of rubbish and litter, huge energy consumption and just the general negative environmental damage done didn’t sit well as Simon’s awareness about climate change grew, and when his father died, he decided the time had come to actively make a difference.
He gathered a small group of trusted friends who shared his vision, and The Faunus Group was formed. Their first investment was to buy woodland in need of restoration; they found the ideal parcel of land at Walton Woods, and Granville’s Wood was created. The first burial at Granville’s Wood was the interment of Simon’s father’s ashes, in the woodland that was named after him.
Initially, planning permission was only granted for the burial of cremated remains, but swiftly the team received requests for full burials from people planning their own future funeral. Individual planning permission had to be sought for each separate full burial at the beginning, but the planning authority soon agreed to permission for the whole site, and by early 2023, more than 170 burials and 300 interments of cremated remains had taken place.
Every burial and interment here is enhanced with the addition of RTN soil, an organic mixture specifically designed to augment the natural decomposition process. The RTN (Return To Nature) soil is created by another arm of The Faunus Group, Natural Transition Ltd, a company developing and distributing environmentally responsible products involved in the disposal of human and animal remains in association with an American company and leading international experts in the field.
From a standing start of absolutely zero knowledge of the sector, Simon is now completely immersed in multiple ways of trying to bring environmental responsibility to the foreground of the funeral world. And it is paying dividends. The inclusion of RTN soil with every interment has had an extraordinary effect in the woodland. Graves from a few years ago that would normally have just a little growth of grass or vegetation on the surface are all covered with an abundance of lush ferns and flowers. Cremated remains, with their high alkalinity, can often create issues with the surrounding soil when they are buried, changing the delicate PH balance and often creating a patch of soil differentiated from the surroundings. In Granville’s Wood, the many cremated remains plots are perfectly blended into the woodland, a testament to the balancing influence of the additional soil used.
The day to day
Other than the wooden signpost at the entrance to Granville’s Wood, there is little to indicate that you are at a burial ground. There are no buildings here, no infrastructure, it is simple and very light touch, quite in keeping with the original ethos. Some of the small team of staff may be on site working in the woodland or showing visitors around, there may be other people visiting a grave or local people out with their dogs walking by, but otherwise it is quiet and tranquil.
Vehicles are only permitted by appointment, enabling visitors with limited mobility to get close to the woodland, if need be, or providing funeral vehicles with access. Pedestrian access is available every day whether or not staff are on site, there is a small area for parking at the entrance where up to three cars can be parked.
Funerals and interments take place from time to time, only ever one a day, so some days there may be very little activity in the woodland, other days there may be groups of people attending a burial. Sometimes there will be the sound of children playing and laughing, sometimes music will drift through the air as it’s played at a ceremony further in amongst the trees. Sometimes there will be the sounds of a grave being dug by hand (all the plots, both for full graves and cremated remains are prepared and filled in by the team by hand, no machinery is used to do this), other times it will be silent apart from the birds and you will be the only person there. It’s all part of the natural rhythm of this place, the comings and goings of the living to be close to their dead.
Apart from Simon, there is a small team of staff. The on-site of Andy, Amiy and Rachel look after the woodland, but they are equally at home looking after visitors. Beccy is the Funerals and Families Manager, she has a funeral arranging background and has completed various courses in woodland management and Health and Safety etc. Beccy looks after people who need to make arrangements for the funeral of a family member, showing them around the woodland and helping them visualise and plan the burial, and she also meets and assist people who are making plans for their own future funeral.
In the background, the smooth running of the organisation is ably managed by Claire, the Business Manager who has implemented all the processes and procedures involved in a well-run business. Claire has an MBA and several climate and sustainability qualifications, but first and foremost, her son is buried in Granville’s Wood, so she has a deep personal connection with the woodland. She left a high-powered role to take up her position with The Woodland Burial Company, a testament to her belief in the importance of Granville’s Wood.
The commitment and connection that all the team have with the woodland is tangible; everyone here completely believes in the ethos of the company, the importance of balancing the needs of bereaved families with the environmental health and development of the woodland, and the connection between these two aspects is what drives them all. The combination of the two elements of the work is seamless, and the support that the staff can offer to families is nurtured and regenerated by the time they are able to spend among the trees. As a workplace, it is hard to think of anywhere better to spend the day.
The restorative energy of being in the woods is appreciated by everyone on the team, there’s a definite sense of needing to spend time there to re-charge, particularly when there have been difficult or distressing funerals to deal with. Claire is a qualified mental health first aider, and we got the sense that the mental health and wellbeing of everyone involved at The Woodland Burial Company is well cared for and well supported.
Beyond the staff, there is a growing community of people who are connected with the woodland through having a loved one buried there. There is a Family & Friends Facebook Group and there are regular Open Days and events at Granville’s Wood where bereaved people can meet each other.
Of course, it’s entirely up to individuals whether they want to connect with other bereaved people with a grave at Granville’s Wood or not, the staff fully understand that there will always be those who don’t want any kind of further contact after a funeral, but at the same time, many bereaved people have welcomed the new friendships formed through the common experience of choosing this beautiful woodland burial ground for someone they love. Regular visitors have struck up acquaintanceships with others sitting by graves, some simply saying hello, some sharing their stories and getting to know a little more about each other and the people they are visiting. As the woodland is growing and repairing after the years of plantation farming, so perhaps is the community that is connected to it.
Types of plots: Single, double or family burial or cremated remains interments. Tree memorials.
Prices: Full price list here
Memorial options: Multiple options, from wooden plinths with brass plaques to all kinds of legacy memorials, including benches, hedgehog houses, bird baths, feeders and nest boxes, owl boxes and habitat piles.
Right to Burial: 199 years
Long Term Plan: Once the site is full it will go into Trust and be managed as minimally as possible
Access: 24 hours a day on foot. For the gate to be opened for cars, 48 hours’ notice is asked for.
Dogs allowed? Yes, always, visiting graves or accompanying at ceremonies – obviously always kept on leads and with owners responsible for clearing up and taking away any mess.
Coffin types: Only easily degradable coffins are permitted, no plastics, veneers, unnecessary metals or other materials. Shrouds are preferred and encouraged.
Grave depth: 5 feet. Graves are beautifully prepared, with rose petals scattered in and around them before guests arrive.
Scattering or strewing Cremated Remains? Not allowed
Planting on graves? Yes, approved species only, sourced via The Woodland Burial Company
Restrictions at ceremonies? No candles, no balloon releases, no dove or butterfly releases. Otherwise, ceremonies can take whatever form the family wishes.
Funerals without a funeral director? Families who want to look after their person who has died themselves are welcome, and will be supported by the staff if needed.
Weekend funerals: Yes, if required, no extra charge.
Granville’s Wood is a very special place, created out of love but with a clear-eyed vision of how to get it right. It’s the place that Simon and his mother were looking for when his father died, the place that combines the healing power of nature with the best of human care and compassion.
The woodland is being beautifully restored, wildlife now abounds among the trees and undergrowth, and a growing community of people are emotionally connected to it, both those who visit a loved one’s grave, and those who have planned for their own future burial there.
At the time of writing this review, it couldn’t be more poignant and fitting that it was written on the day that Simon’s mother’s cremated remains were interred in Granville’s Wood with her husband’s. The circle of life is complete, Simon’s parents are physically reunited under the dappled shade of the trees, in the beautiful woodland that will be a legacy for generations to come.
There is an old adage, attributed to an Indian proverb – ‘Blessed is he who plants trees under whose shade he will never sit’. Granville Holden planted many trees in his life. Perhaps the greatest seed he ever planted was the one that inspired his son to create the woodland burial site which bears his name.