We couldn’t wait to visit the Highgate Cemetery in London.
We imagined it was an amazing place for all the writers, professors and artists who chose it as burial site (George Michael one of the last), but the experience even exceeded our expectations.
If you are fond of The Game of Thrones’ gothic settings, this is up your street: a trip to the catacombs in Highgate Cemetery will convince you you’re about to solve the greatest mystery of all times going in search of Lyanna Stark, wandering past the ivy-swathed gravestones (have a look at the video at the bottom of the page).
Some people find the ancient cemeteries quite creepy, but for those who like the architecture and the stories they hold, the Highgate Cemetery is a place not to be missed.
Situated on a hilltop in the north of London, during the Victorian age it granted a breathtaking view of the city. People sometimes walked for days to arrive here, being eventually rewarded with an incredible view.
In the decades following its opening (1839), many things changed: nature reclaimed the place, trees invaded the hill, roots moved the tombs. Teams of body snatchers, ironically known as ‘Resurrection men’ but who were simply medical students, used to roam the cemetery looking for corpses to dissect and make anatomy classes with.
In the 60s, the cemetery was in a state of complete neglect, an exclusive territory of vandals and alleged occultists who created legends about ghosts and vampires wandering there after sunset.
Fortunately, in the 80s, the charity “Friends of the Highgate Cemetery” started to collect funds to save it, successfully transforming it in the wonderful place it is today: a delicate balance between nature and human presence.
The cemetery is divided into two sections: the East Cemetery (where Karl Marx, George Eliot and Patrick Caulfield are also buried), which can be visited without a tour guide, and the West Cemetery, that can only be visited on a guided tour (details at the bottom of the page).
We booked one of the evening tours that are organized in June and July: listening to the guide while the sun was going down was extremely poetic.
We were led to discover the corners that make this a unique place: the Egyptian Avenue and the Circle of Lebanon, dominated by a majestic centenarian cedar, heart of the cemetery. Exotic architectures and names that were highly fashionable during the Victorian age.
Among oaks and crab apples, we were told stories of some people buried here, with the late daylight glimmering through the fronds and illuminating the tombstones. We walked in silence among hazels and hornbeam, surrounded by catacombs and mausoleums and peace. The silence was only interrupted by the song of the birds and the sound of our steps on the leaves. Intruders in an enchanted world, respectful guests in a place full of memories, feelings and magnificence.
Click on an image to open the full-width gallery
WHO IS BURIED HERE
Among the many:
HENRY GRAY (1827 - 1861) - East Cemetery
Surgeon and anatomist, author of the book "Gray's Anatomy", after whom the famous US TV Series is named.
ALFRED DICKENS / CATHERINE DICKENS - West Cemetery
Brother and wife of Charles Dickens
MALCOM McLAREN, (1946 - 2010) - East Cemetery
Sex Pistols’ Manager
LUCIEN FREUD - West Cemetery
Great British painter
DOUGLAS ADAMS (1952-2001) - East Cemetery
Author of "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy"
ANNA MAHLER (1904-88)
Austrian sculptor, daughter of the composer Gustav Mahler
GEORGE ELIOT (1819-80) - East Cemetery
Mary Ann Cross, English novelist who used a male pen name to ensure that her works would be taken seriously.
PATRICK CAULFIELD (1936-2005) - East Cemetery
Sir LESLIE STEPHEN (1832 - 1904) - East Cemetery
Literary critic, Virginia Woolf's father
JULIUS BEER (1836-1880) - West Cemetery
Owner of The Observer
RADCLYFFE HALL (1880 - 1943) - West Cemetery
A writer, prominent exponent of lesbian literature. Even today his readers place fresh flowers in front of his grave.
Swain's Lane, London N6 6PJ
Tel for general info: +44 (0) 20 8340 1834
Tel. For group visits: +44 (0) 20 8347 2475
Underground station: Archway (you can then reach the cemetery by foot or by bus > C2, C11, 143, 210, 271)
Ticket: £ 4 (adults), £ 1 children under 18 years
Occasionally organized guided tours. For more information, contact the person at the telephone numbers listed above.
Ticket: £ 12 for 70 minute guided tours
THE SHORT VIDEO WE POSTED ON FACEBOOK: