I know, suggesting a cemetery as a place to visit sounds like a somewhat macabre day out, but bear with me.
Highgate Cemetery is very large, and it was opened in 1839 – so it’s easy to imagine how many people are buried there. However, the company that ran it dropped it when it became no longer commercially viable in the 70s, and as such nature and vandalism meant it went into rather a spectacular decline. Now a charity runs it; the East cemetery is open for public wandering, the West cemetery is by tour only.
There’s a strangely peaceful atmosphere in the cemetery, given its location in a rather busy area of London, and it is obvious that it was neglected for some time. However, the still slightly overgrown greenery, the tiny, snaking paths between grave stones and the trees just add to the impression that you’ve stepped out of London into a countryside grave yard.
But what’s particularly impressive is the gravestones. Some are sadly still bearing the marks of the vandals that kicked them down, however others are absolutely stunning (once again, I realise I sound quite morbid, but its true…) There are angels, dogs, Celtic crosses and mausoleums – but dominating it all is the giant head of Karl Marx, who is also buried here. There are a few famous historical figures here – including George Eliot, a Victorian writer who assumed a male name to ensure her work was taken seriously; and Christina Rossetti, the poet. Douglas Adams is also buried here, for any fans of the Hitchhikers guide.
Right beside the cemetery itself, and easy enough to walk through on the way from Archway tube station, is Waterlow Park. Green, with a pond and children’s park it’s a lovely picnic spot – and the gardens are worth a wander around in their own right.
The cemetery itself is £4 for admission for adults, free for under 18s and you get a free map to navigate (trust me, you’ll need it). It doesn’t feel sad or closed in at all, it’s a lovely place to drop by and I would recommend it for those looking for some time out of the London rat race. There are few places that manage to escape it quite so completely as Highgate cemetery (though it can get muddy and some of the smaller paths are quite overgrown, this is not a place for flip flops. Nettle stings on your feet anyone?)