I really didn’t know what to say about my trip to London. I spent most of my time visiting people, or in various museums, both of which were interesting for me at the time but not so interesting to read about. On my last day in the city however, I did something that was a lot further from the beaten track than Big Ben, and much more fun to talk about. If you’ve been reading my other posts I’m sure you’ve noticed my fascination with graveyards. Well, if you take the underground up to Archway and then go for a walk up the hill, you’ll find yourself at Highgate Cemetery. A gorgeous old graveyard that houses some famous corpses as well as being a generally nice place to wander around.
Highgate is easier to get to than many other London cemeteries that I looked at visiting. The tube will take you as far as Archway and from there its just a short walk up the hill. Head up the main street until you hit Waterlow Park. The park itself is very nice as well so there’s no need to hurry, but if you cut straight through to the other side you’ll arrive at the cemetery. You should spot some of the graves through a fence to your left as you walk over. The cemetery has two different sections. Across the road in the West side, which is by guided tour only and will cost you £12. Say WHAT! I know right. Since when does it cost to get into cemeteries? Aside from £12 being a tad extortionate, for me at least, getting a tour would kind of defeat the purpose of going to the cemetery. I want to wander around and chill out with all the dead people, not be jostled along with a pack of other people. Luckily, if you stay on the other side of the road, the East side still has a price tag, but it’s a more reasonable £4 and you don’t need a guide. It looks too small to be worth the money when you first poke your head in, but you can only see a small section from the front. The grounds are enormous, so you get your money’s worth. If you decide you do want to fork out for the guided tour, you’ll need to book advance, the only have a limited number of places and it usually fills up.
I’ve seen my share of cemeteries and Highgate is uncommonly beautiful. The graves nearer to the path are more well kept but there are plenty of side paths you can go off on where all of the tombstones are at odd angles and overrun with ivy. The trees in here are huge and give the place a lovely doppled look as drops of sunshine trickle down between the leaves. Even if cemeteries aren’t really your thing, this is a gorgeous place to wander around. After the business of London it’s wonderful to drift along somewhere so quiet and beautiful.
Along with the lovely big trees, Highgate is good for a bit of London wildlife spotting as well. I see lots of songbirds and grey squirrels. Its an excellent place to see them as the quiet means they’re rarely startled.
The most famous burial here is Karl Marx. If you’re anything like me, you know a lot more about Karl Marx’s philosophical works than his history and at this point are wondering what on earth a german philosopher is doing buried in a London cemetery. I’ll spare you the details, but to cut a long story short, Marx was seen as quite a trouble maker by the aristocracy (what a surprise) and was exiled from a variety of the places he had lived in Europe. He moved to London in 1849, where he lived until his death in 1883. I was surprised at first at how showy his grave was, but it turns out he was buried with his wife on a small side path near by, but the memorial was erected by the Communist Party in 1955, well after his actual death.
Perhaps less famous, but more exciting for me, is the grave of Douglas Adams. The grave itself very simple and more difficult to spot than Karl Marx’s, but its nice to visit just to see the various grave goods that have been left by his fans. When I visit there’s a huge jar of pens, a variety of small stones, a guitar pick, and a piece of yellow lego. I wish I’d brought something bizarre to add to the pile.
I know it’s not quite on the standard London tour route, but Highgate is well worth a visit if you like cemeteries, or even if you just want somewhere quiet to escape from the city for a while. The gardens and the interesting graves are wonderful but after navigating the swarms around most London tourist attractions, perhaps the best thing of all is the peace and quiet.
Listening to: Young Men Dead – The Black Angels