First off, can I just apologise profusely at the poor quality of these photos. I originally took my beloved SLR with me to document my day, which lasted approximately 30 seconds until the red flashing low battery symbol of impending camera-less doom entered my life. What an amateur.
So I was stuck with my trusty iPhone which has very recently acquired an obscene amount of scratches on the lens protector. So the photos come out all smudgy. I mean I guess I GUESS I could have tried to dupe you all into it being some Hipstamatic effect to make the photos more "arty"/"scene"/"whatever" but y'all would have seen straight through that. So instead you'll have to make do with my grovelling apologies.
Victorian Crypt Roof
So what is all this? Where have I been? What are the smudges obscuring from your eyes? I know. Sit down, take a load off and I'll begin.
Yesterday I decided to venture up the long steep winding hill to Highgate Cemetery. Highgate has a fascinating history, but is probably most famous for being the final resting place of Karl Marx. The Friends of Highgate Cemetery Trust run daily tours of the west side of the cemetery.
Marble sleeping lion, marking the grave of George Wombwell, a famed Victorian menagerie exhibitor
The first thing to note about Highgate is that it is so beautiful and peaceful. In the past, cemeteries have always kind of creeped me out - all those regimented rows of stone markers often under the shadow of a foreboding church. But Highgate is a romantic woodland, almost a fairytale environment. That sounds a strange thing to say, but it's an enchanting place, and I didn't feel at all uneasy. The tour guide we had explained, interestingly, that it hasn't always been like that. When Highgate first began, everything was very austerely manicured - but over time more and more trees have been planted, ivy has overgrown and nature has taken over.
Final resting place of Tom Sayers, a renowned Victorian bare knuckle fighter, with a marble carving of his trusty dog, Lion
Our guide pointed out a handful of the noted examples of the thousands of graves at Highgate. Some of the most beautiful I tried (badly - again SO SORRY for the smudges) to photograph. There was the grave of the famous Victorian menagerie exhibitor George Wombwell. He famously owned a lion, called Nero, who was apparently so placid, children could ride on his back without fear. His tomb has a huge carving of a sleeping Nero on top.
I also thought the grave of a famous Victorian bare knuckle fighter, Tom Sayers, was particularly poignant. It had a marble carving of his dog, Lion, who went everywhere with him and was (get this) chief mourner at his funeral. He died a hero due to a famous fight with an American champion of the day which was so long and so bloody that it had to be called off and declared a draw as neither would quit, and Lion is depicted sleeping at the foot of his tomb. I'm a sucker for anything to do with dogs, so this stuck out in my mind.
Sleeping angel carved out of marble
This final tomb, you can just about make out in the terrible terrible photo (AWFUL) the form of a sleeping angel. This is unusual - normally the angels are carved so that they are standing over the graves. This angel has been carved sleeping on a cloud. You can't really tell from my photo, but it's very intricate and very beautiful.
There's an awful lot of history at Highgate, as it's been a working cemetery since 1839. If you've never been and are into that kind of thing it's a really interesting way to spend an afternoon. The ivy and overgrowth that make it so special are also unfortunately destroying the tombstones - the Friends of Highgate have a painstaking ongoing programme of work carried out by volunteers to restore those badly in need of repair and the main source of income for this comes from donations and tour fees. So please do go and visit.
And take better photos than me.