If on a weekend you want to escape London’s frenzy and breath some fresh air, you can make for Highgate cemetery in North London, a few miles from Hampstead Heath.
Highgate Eastern cemetery (3 pounds) is home to the tombs of some famous names, including George Eliot, Foyle (the Bookseller), or Adams (author of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, his tomb is the one garnished with pens…). Some of them are less known but their stories can be worth hearing, like that of Harry William Thornton, a pianist who held the record of continuous piano playing: 21 hours, 17 minutes and 56 seconds! Note that accordingly, his tomb is piano shaped.
The best-known inhabitant of the cemetery is with no doubt Karl Marx, whose memorial is surmounted by a huge bust of the author of The Capital, and surrounded by the tombs of other communists.
On the other side of the road, Highgate West cemetery is much more expensive (7 pounds) and only accessible by guided tours lasting an hour. In the beginning of February, the combination of half-fallen statues covered up by ivy, the pale light and frozen ground, was creating a breathtaking atmosphere.
If at first sight the place seems peaceful, after an hour spent wandering around the tombs I felt that the cemetery was in fact engaged in a fierce battle against nature. Visitors are not allowed to walk freely around the cemetery, as some of the tombs are unstable: in fact, the cemetery’s ambience is more one of dereliction than one of peacefulness. The cemetery had indeed been abandoned for several decades, until in the 1970s the Friends of Highgate cemetery formed to restore the place, most of their funds coming from the guided tours they organise.
After the out of the time, thick atmosphere of Highgate Cemetery, Waterlow is a refreshing park attended by families and dog walkers.
Nearest Tube: Archway station