Highgate cemetery

  
  - darkometer rating:  2 -
 
A relatively small but extremely atmospheric Victorian cemetery in north London, Great Britain. It's known mainly for two things: a) it's the final resting place of Karl Marx, and b) its western part in particular is fantastically enchanting, half overgrown and full of gothic graves. In that respect it is really the most wonderful cemetery that I know of!! 

>More background info

>What there is to see

>Location

>Access and costs

>Time required

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More background info: The cemetery is actually two cemeteries, the western section was opened in 1839, later augmented by a separate eastern section on the other side of Swains Lane in 1854.

It was a commercial business, and a lucrative one, as Highgate became a "popular" burial ground with the well-off. This has given the place some spectacular mausoleums and individual graves and headstones.

By 1975 the business was no longer financially viable and the western section was closed, only the eastern section remains functional for the time being. It quickly became dilapidated and overgrown, with non-native sycamore trees being particularly destructive.

On the other hand, the overgrown state of the cemetery also added an extra gothic, gloomy, eerie element to the atmosphere. To save the cemetery from becoming completely eaten up by the wild-growing vegetation, a private trust was formed, under the name of Friends of Highgate Cemetery, which took over the management and maintenance of the site. Careful restoration and partial clearing away the worst of the destructive plants were undertaken to help protect its beauty.

The eastern section remains in use, albeit only occasionally for new graves, but these include some noteworthy names. One is Douglas Adams (who died in 2001), author of the five part "Trilogy" usually covered under the collective title "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy", a brilliant science fiction satire.

Of a more sinister type is the grave of journalist Farzad Bazoft, who was executed (for "spying") in Iraq under Saddam Hussein in 1990. A more recent, well publicized death story is that of Alexander Litvinenko, a Russian ex-KGB man turned journalist, who had fled to exile in Britain and who much angered his former homeland of Russia by publishing highly critical books and articles, esp. raising personal allegations against the then president Vladimir Putin. In 2006, Litvinenko was poisoned with the extremely rare highly radioactive substance polonium, of which he died a few weeks later. Suspicions were naturally flying about that he had been murdered in this bizarre way and that Russia was in some way responsible. The whole case remains shrouded in mystery and controversy. But what is definite is that Litvinenko was buried in Highgate.

By far the most well-known grave in Highgate, however, has to be that of Karl Marx. In a way, then, we've come full circle: from the founder of communism to the controversies of post-communist ex-Soviet Russia!
 
 
What there is to see: The main attraction for most tourists is Karl Marx's grave in the eastern section of the cemetery. His large tombstone with a bust of the distinctively bearded philosopher was put up by the British communists in 1956, after they had him moved to the more open location in 1954 (the old original site of the original grave can also still be seen – with a broken old simple tombstone). The site has become quite a pilgrimage site. The most famous line from the Communist Manifesto "workers of all lands, unite" shines in gold under Marx's chin. There are usually fresh flowers at the foot of the tombstone.

Far more impressive to look at, however, are many of the graves of less well-known people, though there are still a host of past celebrities amongst them (too many to list here). Neo-gothic Victorian stonemasonry abounds.

The older western section, only accessible by guided tour, easily trumps the eastern section in that respect. It's the much more atmospheric part, thanks to the wilderness that has grown in these grounds (which also provides a haven for city wildlife). The character of the place has been described as "like stepping into a horror film set" – of the vampiric variety, presumably.

It's undoubtedly enchanting and very romantic (most graves are from a time when death was romaniticized, so there are many beautiful angels and more unusual sculptures adorning graves). Architectural highlights include the magical Egyptian Avenue, full of pseudo-pharaoh-like décor, or the Circle of Lebanon, a ring-shaped ensemble of mausoleums crowned by a real Lebanon cedar in the centre.
 
 
Location: in north London, on Swains Lane in the south-western part of Highgate, a bit east of Hampstead Heath, adjacent to Waterlow Park.
 
Google maps locator:[51.567,-0.147]
  
 
Access and costs: easy to get to, but restricted access, fees are charged.
 
Details: To get to the cemeteries it's best to get the tube, Northern Line, to Archway station (NOT Highgate!) and walk. The eastern section is about half a mile west of Archway station, the western part is across the road (Swains Lane) up the hill. Best walk up Highgate Hill first and get to the entrance(s) via Waterlow Park.

The cemetery is managed by a private trust and (unusually for a cemetery, but understandably in this case) they charge for entry: it's 3 GBP for the eastern section, which is open daily from 10 a.m. (11 a.m. at weekends) to 5 p.m. in summer and until 4 p.m. in winter.

Access to the western section is more restricted: by guided tour only, which costs 7 GBP (5 GBP for students); cash only. Tours take place mostly at weekends, roughly hourly between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., with no advance booking (first come, first served basis). There's also one weekday tour at 1:45 p.m. between March and November. These should be pre-booked (by phone 0208 340 1834).

Weekend tours (no booking required) start on the hour from 11 a.m., last tour 4 p.m. (3 p.m. in winter). Be there early, esp. on Sundays, to be sure to get a place on the tour as numbers are limited. Private photography is allowed (but no tripods, and no videos).

The trust also offers guided tours of the eastern section, but only on Saturdays at 2 p.m. (numbers are limited too, so get there early – it's also on a first come, first served basis only). This tour also costs 7 GBP (but includes the normal admission charge). The eastern section is still in use, and when there are funerals taking place, it is closed to the general public. In wet weather good boots (even wellies) are recommended.
 
 
Time required: The guided tours last one hour, add extra time for looking around on your own in the eastern section. Two hours for both.
 
 
Combinations with other dark destinations: see London.
 
 
Combinations with non-dark destinations: Hampstead Heath, London's highest natural point, is just half a mile further west of the cemeteries. Good views over the city can be had from here (weather permitting, as always in England).

Otherwise take the tube back to central London for more of the plentiful tourist action in this diverse metropolis – way too much to even begin listing individual bits here …
 
  

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