HIGHGATE CEMETERY...IT WILL LEAVE YOU BREATHLESS.
London is a very busy, noisy city. Something usually going on around every corner. So where do you go when you want a truly peaceful, beautiful break from the city din? A cemetery that's where. Highgate Cemetery to be specific. It is a magnificent, albeit unusual place to go for a walk ... and only a little creepy (get to that in a moment) but as one of London's most haunted places you would expect nothing less.
Opened in 1839, it was at one time one of the most prestigious and fashionable places to be buried in London. But in the 1970's the cemetery was pretty much abandoned and fell into great disrepair as they did not find it profitable to maintain. So it was prime pickings for grave robbers and vandals.
Highgate was rescued by a charity and now much has been restored. But part of the real beauty of the place is that much is overgrown, uncultivated and wild. Some graves have tree roots wrapped around them, almost like the roots were trying to contain someone who was trying to get out.
There are two ways to visit this place (short of being an actual customer). Highgate is divided into East and West grounds. Anyone can come and pay the entrance fee of £4 and stroll the East Cemetery freely. However the West is by a guided tour only and you would need to book and buy a ticket for £12. I recommend you pre-book if you want to visit the West Cemetery, as the tours are kept small so they can fill up quickly on a nice day.
The tour was great, especially if you are someone who wants to get some history and backstory of the place and who is buried there. Our tour guide was very "colourful" and not at all what I would expect for a graveyard tour guide. He gave us a fantastic slant on some of the outrageous, adulterous, scandalous love stories that were buried behind the tombs. Stories where not only were the "happy" couples laid together in a crypt for all eternity but also their lovers. Although I am guessing whomever "went" first likely had no idea who else they would be sharing their eternal resting bed with.
WHO'S BURIED THERE?
Like most old prestigious cemeteries there are some noteworthy people buried there, over 850 of them according to Historical UK Society. Of course not dissimilar to the Blue Plaque people most of the names I do not recognize. There are avenues upon avenues of dead poets, artists, London Mayors, princes, Royal Academicians and Fellows of the Royal Society. Most famous of all their "eternal visitors" would have to be Karl Marx, the "father of communism". He is buried on the East. There are over 170,000 people currently buried at Highgate.
Home to the Macabre.
So what's a walk through a cemetery without some haunting ghosts stories? Highgate not surprisingly is listed as one of the most haunted places in London and known for its strange going-ons and home to the macabre. From many a ghost sighting, to reports of Red Eyed Ghouls, Highgate even has its own acclaimed Vampire aptly called the Highgate Vampire that reportedly haunted the cemetery in the 1970's.
As for other creepy bits if you go on the guided tour you can request going into a crypt. Which of course I did. The crypts are just like you would imagine, dark, dank and very, very creepy. The air is very heavy and damp and the smell is something I could not find the words to adequately describe. We were only allowed to go in so far as some of the coffins were actually falling apart and you could see the old skeletons falling out. Also out of respect for the dead we were not permitted to take any photos inside or trust me you be looking at one now. I do love this photo below if we are talking creepy. Looks like someone was trying to escape.
Many a movie and novel featured Highgate as a eerie backdrop for telling its story. Tales From the Crypt, From Beyond the Grave, Taste the Blood of Dracula to name a few all took place at Highgate. In the BBC series Porridge, a character claims that this eldest daughter was conceived on Karl Marx's tomb (might have to watch that series). It has even made itself into the gaming world by being Level 6 in the Nightmare Creatures game.
Highgate is truly a beautiful, haunting walk and I will return again and again. Although I have not nearly seen even 1/4 of all the grounds and only heard a fraction of the stories and tales of those who rest there, I have already found my favourite tombstone. It is the grave of Thomas Sayers. His tomb is guarded by the stone image of his mastiff, Lion, who was chief mourner at his funeral. One can never underestimate the love of a dog....even in the afterlife. For it has been said that one of the best places to bury a dog is in the heart of their masters or in this case one of the best places to bury the master is in the heart of the dog. Go explore.