Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Highgate Cemetery

I know hanging out in a cemetery on a weekend sounds a bit morbid but last Sunday that is exactly what we did. As recommended by my Top 100 book and a few friends who had already been Lauren and I took the opportunity of a sunny autumn day in November and headed up to Highgate Cemetery (#87).

Highgate Cemetery was one of the 'big seven' cemeteries that were opened in the 1800 because if overcrowding in burials in church yards. It was opened in 1839 and is home to 168,000 graves. For £7 entry (which helps with the upkeep of the cemetery) we got entrance into the West Cemetery and an hour long personalised tour. I say personalised because apart from asking the group if there is anything in particular see the guides just take you where they feel like going on that particular day. You could go to the cemetery several times and never see the same graves twice. Our tour guide was really knowledgeable and passionate and gave us a brief history of the era and the cemetery before we set off to our first grave.

As we arrived at our first stop I was completely distracted from what our guide was telling us as I took in the beautiful greenery with golds and yellows of autum leaves, gothic grave stones, beautiful inscriptions and just the sun shining through the trees. It was amazing how calming the place was and so quiet and peaceful. Our tour guide gave us some information on the symbolism of the graves from the size and structure to what each sculpture and sign represented. From there the tour moved slowly around the curving paths of the cemetery, stopping at a grave every now and then, where our guide would give us a bit of information about the person who was buried there or the symbolism of the carvings on the graves. He showed us the tombs of the Egyptian Avenue with a thousand year old tree growing in the middle and then took us up to an open mausoleum which was incredibly creepy.

We visited several of the most popular graves with many stories behind them such as the grave of the menagerie owner with a sculpture of Leo the Lion on top. We also visited the sleeping angel - the only grave with an angel that was not standing on a grave but laying down. One story that was truly amazing was that of the bare knuckle boxer - a amateur boxer that was so infamous that thousands of people lined the streets to see the funeral parade. With the average age of the people buried at highgate was 36 due to many children not living to become adults there were many graves with people of a small age. There was also a grave with someone who lived to be over 100 which would have been unheard of in the Victorian era!

After about an hour the tour winds down and you can pop over to the East Cemetery for a smaller entry fee of £3. This cemetery is much more modern with graves as new as early this year. There are still several old victorian graves as well as a few modern ones thrown in. One of the most famous and popular graves in the East Cemetery is that of Karl Marx and his GIANT head. You will see in photos why I mention this!

By the end of a wander there Lauren and I were ready to rest our legs and warm up away from the chilly air. We wandered through a park back up to the Highgate High Street where we popped into a little cafe for a cup of tea and snack. As we chatted we noticed the high street was pretty busy and had some good fun people watching the hustle and bustle after being surrounded by silence. We had a wander along the high street and rummaged through several charity shops, before stopping in the High Tea of Highgate and wishing we had tea there. There were also lots of pretty looking pubs and nice shops around the area and I feel that a return trip to nearby Hampstead Heath may be on the cards so I can come back to visit!

If your interested in more about my day at Highgate and other Top 100 adventures visit here

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