Dynargh dhe'n Blogofrob

Monday 23rd June 2003

Angel

Yesterday Claire and I went to Highgate Cemetery, having finally got the better of some of the slightly difficult timeframes that it appears London tourists have to operate within - for example Saturday brought the disappointing news that Westminster Abbey shuts at 1.45 on a Saturday afternoon, scuppering any chances of a wander around there at a normal time. It was unfortunate that we only discovered this standing by the door of the Abbey at 3.00pm. Highgate's last tour of the Western Cemetery is at 4.00pm on weekends, and we arrived a bit too late. But the cemetery is guarded by a crack legion of fiercely possessive silver haired pensioners, who, in their infinite wisdom and mercy, granted a couple of overspill tours - this meant hanging around a bit rather than searching in the East Cemetery for Karl Marx and George Eliot, but the West Cemetery is certainly worth the wait - I've been once before but the decaying Gothic allure of the place, complemented by thick creeping undergrowth dotted with wild flowers, seems enduring, and I don't believe its beauty and curious appeal can dim, however often it is visited.

Visitors must take the tour, which is slightly frustrating, as you gaze though the trees into the darkened wilderness of tombs and grave stones from the safety of a main path. The place is virtually woodland, the trees, especially in summer, are thick and threaten to consume the unluckier stones - I saw one flat grave with a tree thrusting through its centre, the cracked slab tilted away from its original position, leaning at an angle and clutched by roots that disappeared into the blackness of the tomb. There are roughly 51,000 graves in Highgate, containing close to 160,000 bodies and there must be memorials in there unseen for decades - the guide, the young buck of the management team (a bespectacled 45 year old) mentioned, for example, that Michael Faraday's grave was 'almost inaccessible'. He wasn't willing to go into the more morbid attractions of Highgate, but was an informative and knowledgeable guide, unlike the woman who guided me around there last year. For a more eldritch description of the cemetery this account is enyoyable reading.

Only Pere Lachaise and the Cemeteries in New Orleans can, in my experience, match Highgate for the beauty of the headstones and the ability to inescapably evoke those base but oddly pleasant darkling feelings of macabre morbidity and, of course, mortality.

27 - posted at 13:34:15
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