Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Highgate Cemetery

Saturday I took advantage of the sunshine and did something I've been meaning to do for the entire time I've lived in this city: visit Highgate Cemetery. I started on the wrong side of Hampstead Heath, so took the opportunity to wander across the heath in the sunshine and get a bit lost. Having taken a wrong turning out of the heath I turned around and walked towards highgate, marvelling at the beautiful houses and gardens, and then realizing that my “right turning” was actually the wrong one and now I was going to have to climb up the massive hill. Again. From the bottom.

I remembered a bicycle trip I'd taken when I was in middle school where we'd, for some reason, cycled up a mountain. I suspect it was a smallish mountain, but I was definitely the last person in the convoy and in order to help myself along I belted songs the entire way up. Finding that this was a useful tactic for me when faced with steep slopes, I sang to myself some more. I hope I didn't annoy any of the highgate residents. The houses were mostly set fairly far back from the road, and there wasn't really anyone on the road (the vertical slope of Highgate) so I think I was probably fine.

Once I got to Highgate Village I realized I still wasn't in the correct spot for the cemetery and tried to use a bus map to orient myself. When that didn't work I figured I'd just head down the other side of the hill. That didn't work either, but I did end up in a charming little park where I decided to take my sandals off and walk around barefoot. I was momentarily distracted by a very determined and upright toddler pushing a scooter just taller than her down the path. Her name was Ruby and she was heading away from the picnic, which I know because her mother was trailing her at a distance and calling to her.

Having reached an exit of the park I realized that the cemetery was on the other end of the park, so I wandered backwards and FINALLY- ended up in the correct place. Just in time to have a tour of the West Cemetery sold to me after what must have been the easiest sales job ever.

They made me put my sandals back on, but man that place is glorious. I had the mystery of the triple lined dollar signs explained (It's a J an H and an S, which has something to do with either translating 'Jesus Christ' from Greek or some other story that I don't quite remember.)(Okay, so it made *me* feel better about the weird but common Victorian symbol. I realize this doesn't really help you...) We went through the Egyptian wing, the Circle of Lebanon, past the giant sleeping lion of one of the UK's first successful Menagerists, heard stories about a handful of London's Victorian eccentrics and trailed through huge swaths of ivy. I spent a (possibly) embarrassing proportion of the tour chortling aloud to myself about how I loved the Victorians.

Our tour guide was from Inverness and had a delightful accent as well as a charmingly self deprecating demeanour. I thought she was great and when she pointed out that the cemetery always needs more volunteers I leapt at the chance to get a leaflet. (Who doesn't love leaflets??) She recommended a stack of books to read as well (while getting downright pissy about the Bloomsbury Group) and I'm hoping I get a chance to follow through on both things this summer. (Volunteering AND reading- in case that wasn't clear.)

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