Highgating it outta there

For some reason, it was decided that the hottest day of August would be a perfect day to spend wandering around Highgate.

Actually, I know the reason why: we'd arrived in London the day before for a 40th birthday party and, as we were in the North London area, the Boyfriend was extremely thoughtful (despite the kind of hangover that makes you want to pull your own brains out and replace them with a cold cloth) and tagged on to the Sunday a trip to Highgate so I could fulfill a dream of many years standing.


The weather was not so thoughtful. There were no cool breezes, there was no smidgeon of rain to alleviate the suffocating heat. There was a veritable rush for the crypt in the cemetary just because it was several degrees cooler in the dark than it was outside. Frankly, I think we'd have rushed in if there had been zombie hordes awaiting us inside: fine, eat my brains, just let me lie down in the cool while you do it.

Actually I would not as zombies are my one irrational phobia. Although, having read Zora Neale Hurston's account of meeting an actual real zombie in Haiti (Tell My Horse), I'm not sure it is an irrational phobia.


But I can feel the question hovering behind the eyes of anyone reading this...why spend a gorgeous summer day in a cemetary?

I wish I knew the answer to that.

I suppose it's the mix of architecture, peace, surprising flashes of nature and social commentary that I love and that make graveyards, especially the big old Victorian ones, so appealing to me. Or it could be that, from a small age, a regular occupation when staying with my Nan was to go visit the small village cemetary where she would lay flowers for her father in law and own mother, reserving a little bit of spite for Doris, her unforgiving (her son married beneath himself when he took up with the baker's daughter) mother in law. Truly all life is contained in these places.


My sister and I "adopted" a small and neglected grave of a young girl, Rebecca, almost hidden in the corner by hedges. We pulled out the weeds, begged flowers from my Nan for the rusty pot and generally chattered about childish things to the tiny headstone. You could say that we were always morbid wee things, although my sister seems to have grown out of it these days.  

Anyway, enough memory lane. To the present day and Highgate. Gosh that place is beautiful. We paid our respects to Douglas Adams (it would have been rude not to leave a pen) and Karl Marx before heading to the west side and the guided tour. 


A confession: I am not much of a fan of the guided tour. There, I've said it out loud. That's despite having worked for a museum where the only way you could access the building was by guided tour (it was the exception to my own rule). I find that you have to stand for too long in one spot, that you don't get to see the bits that are most fascinating, that the chance to just sit, soak up the atmosphere and stare around you is missing.  

However, wandering on your own is distinctly not allowed in Highgate. According to a friend of mine who's PHD means she spends a lot of time wandering around cemeteries, and who has been allowed unescorted access to Highgate, there are quite a few holes in the ground, falling tree branches and other dangers which mean 1000s of people doing it is a health and safety red tape nightmare to be avoided. Much like the holes in the ground. So I can understand it, but knowing there are vast spaces I didn't see fires my curiosity. And I wish I'd been able to pay my respects to Lizzie Siddal.




And now, nearly a month on (another confession: I started this post a week after coming back but life has a way of getting in the way of my plans just recently), I imagine that the heat has dissipated and those huge trees, creators of so much of the H&S nightmare, will be starting to change colour. I'm trying to come up with a plausible reason for visiting North London again... I'd like to go back, do another tour, see more of the east side, not be viewing it all from the wrong side of a night out.


But is is my favourite cemetery? No, that space is reserved for Key Hill in Birmingham, an oddly isolated place where it suddenly grew silent around me (and a former colleague found evidence of a voodoo ceremony), and Haworth, not isolated at all, thanks to it's central location and the hordes of Bronte worshippers. But there is something quite special about Highgate nonetheless. I can understand why so many people have written about the place. Next on the bucket list of graveyards - the Pere Lachaise and Arnos Vale. Just not at the same time.


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