Highgate Cemetery London

Entering Highgate Cemetery is easily done virtually. But real world visitors might struggle with

  • getting off the tube stop “Highgate” (sounds logical after all) instead of “Archway” (yep, that’s the one!)
  • puffing along wondering how London all the sudden got so hilly
  • finding the entrance gates
  • deciding which of the two Highgate cemeteries to go to: East or West, that’s the question here!

Go West!
The choice is yours: East, with Karl Marx as indisputably the most famous inhabitant, a “livelier” atmosphere and to be explored on your own. Or West, more secretively only accessible by guided tour, but according to the receptionist a more romantic atmosphere.
Not quite sure what to make of the livelier atmosphere, we chose the West Cemetery. Which translates into waiting in front of the gate and waiting again inside by a nervous attendant who counted at least 5 times to make sure no more than 20 people were on a tour.

Similarly nervous was our tour guide herself, finding it “highly disconcerting” that people on the tour were taking notes. Suffering from a memory like a sieve, I in turn found that highly annoying. But calmed down as we were to be lead for a good hour on a sunny late September day through the truly romantic cemetery.

We learned about James Selby the clever horse racer who managed to break the record of racing from London to Brighton and back in less than 8 hours. His good luck should continue in the afterlife as his tomb is decorated with horse shoes.

And a prize boxer whose tomb is now guarded by a chockingly real life looking dog.

Eternal watchdog
Eternal watchdog

Then there is Nero, in both life and stone a remarkably peaceful lion, having kids ride on his back at the menagerie of George Wombwell whose tomb he now thrones upon.

Lion Nero, a star in the menagerie and Highgate Cemetery
Lion Nero, a star in the menagerie and Highgate Cemetery

Plant-wise beeches, pines and many other trees provide shade allowing lush ivy to take possession of most tombs. A patchwork of lichens and mosses add hues of bilious green and off white to most stones and statues.

Celtic cross
Celtic cross

One of the oldest plants counting 300 years of age must be the Ceder of Lebanon towering above the Cedar Circle of mausoleums. According to our guide roots of Cedars tend to weaken and grow shallow the older a tree gets if they are left to spread freely in the soil. Apparently the flower pot structure formed by the Cedar Circle keeps the roots together. This is thought to be the reason for the tree having reached such an old age whilst not reaching maximal height (Cedars can grow up to 40 meters). Would Cedars grown in this climate actually reach their maximum height (Mental note to myself to ask at GPC as they used to have 4 adult Cedars tree…)?

My personal star at Highgate: the 300-year-old Cedar tree
My personal star at Highgate: the 300-year-old Cedar tree

After an hour breathing cemetery air, hearing life and death stories and learning about the history of the cemetery we arrived back at the gate. Cold, as the sun only occasionally brakes through the foliage. A quick look at black and white fotographs and historical drawings and out we were to head for a hot drink. Luckily we found a good tea and cappuchino closeby at the Café in Waterlow Park which neighbors with Highgate Cemetery.

For those eager to learn more about the history of the cemetery consult their website and the usual Wikipedia suspect.


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