â€œ Swain’s Lane / N6 Underground / Station Archway / Ã–ffnungszeiten Ostteil: Apr. / Oct.: Mo / Fr: 10.00 – 17.00 / Sa / Su: 11.00 / 17.00 / Sunst 1 Stunde frÃ¼her zu. Westteil – Touren!: Apr. / Oct.: Mo / Fr.: 12.00 / 14.00 / 16.00 / Sa / Su auch um 11.00 / 13.00 / 15.00 / Nov. / MÃ¤r.: nur Sa / Su von 11.00 – 15.00 stÃ¼ndlich. â€ž
I love wandering round cemeteries, sounds morbid I know but thereÂ’s something peaceful about these places which appeals. Highgate Cemetery in North London definitely appeals. After hearing that the West Cemetery was the inspiration behind much of Bram StokerÂ’s Dracula, I decided to set aside a couple of hours to visit.
The cemetery is split into two sections (the old West and newer East cemeteries) and while youÂ’re not allowed to wander around the West cemetery, the Friends of Highgate Cemetery lay on very good tours through the day. A tour of the West cemetery costs just Â£3 which is brilliant value when you take into account the knowledgeable tour guide who is ready to answer any questions you might have.
The tombs in the West cemetery are both ostentatious and beautiful, this area is a very spooky place and the unkempt nature of the surrounding belt of trees adds to the atmosphere. The trees and greenery have been deliberately allowed to grow untended and the effect is very eye catching when combined with the huge (and very beautiful) mausoleums.
My favourite part of the tour was when we visited Egyptian Avenue. This is an absolutely stunning place and complete with ornamental Egyptian pillars and amazingly detailed private vaults. Again, the trees and ivy look as though theyÂ’re trying to suck the life from the Avenue and this creates a fantastic Hollywood horror film sensation. Ultra spooky. The Avenue leads you to the Lebanon Circle vaults, which are (as the name suggests) a series of ornate vaults laid out in a circle with a Lebanon Cedar tree planted at its very centre. This section of the cemetery sums up Highgate Cemetery perfectly in the sense that there are so many different styles of architecture crammed into one smallish space.
Something else worth a mention is a little story which our tour guide told us relating to the immense Julius Beer Mausoleum, by far the biggest structure in the cemetery. In Victorian times, Julius Beer made lots of money although (being foreign) he was never accepted into society. So Mr Beer spent over Â£5000 (nearly Â£3 million today!) building the most spectacular memorial in the cemetery, ensuring he would be remembered much longer than the small minded Victorians who shunned him in life! It really is something to see, with a huge pointed roof and large brickwork structure underneath it.
There are quite a few famous people buried in Highgate Cemetery, although the tour doesnÂ’t walk you around the whole cemetery so many of the less interesting mausoleums are left out. It seems as though long forgotten politicians and business men favoured this particular London cemetery, and the wealth of these people show in the opulent sights of the tombs and mausoleums. It really is gorgeously quaint and much more beautiful than any modern Â‘sameyÂ’ cemetery IÂ’ve visited.
The East cemetery is a much newer area, and doesnÂ’t have as much of an atmosphere to it. Here you can see the grave of communist Karl Marx, at which members of the public still leave flowers underneath his large and very stern looking bust. This is probably the most interesting feature of the East cemetery, as by the time this area was developed as a graveyard the trend for bigger and better mausoleums seemed to have passed. Still, itÂ’s a very peaceful and pleasant place to spend a couple of hours.
You can walk around the East cemetery without a guide, which I found much nicer than having to walk in regimented lines as I could take my time going around and have a good look at any tombs which interested me. There are still occasional burials in the East cemetery, a notable new (by graveyard standards anyway!) inhabitant being Sir Michael Redgrave who was interred in 1985.
Overall, if you like cemeteries and are in London then definitely try and get to Highgate Cemetery. ItÂ’s one of the very few places in the capital which is accessible by car, and costs only Â£3 for the tour around the West cemetery and Â£2 admission to go and do your own thing in the East. Access is completely suitable for disabled visitors, as although the West cemetery is overgrown and untended the pathways are kept clear and straight.
To find the cemetery by car, follow the signs to Camden Town and Kentish Town along the A400 then turn onto the main Chester Road into Highgate itself. Carry on driving down this road until you see Swains Lane on the right, turn down here and the cemetery is a few hundred yards past a small row of shops. A word of warning, grab the first parking space you see on the road past the shops because the cemetery has no car park and this is the most convenient (and free!) parking to be had in the area.
If using public transport, get the tub to Archway Station (along the Northern Line) and then take a leisurely ten minute walk up Highgate Hill until you reach the cemetery. Alternatively, get on the 271 or 143 bus to Lauderdale House and walk through Waterlow Park Â– the exit of the park is immediately next to the entrance to the cemetery.
DonÂ’t forget your camera!