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03 September 2009 | Great Outdoors | By: Lindsey

Nature-ist: Highgate West Cemetery

Nature-ist: Highgate West Cemetery

What is it? Highgate's West Cemetery is not where Karl Marx is. He's in the East extension. We went to the original West Cemetery which is consecrated ground - for the professed believers - and opened in 1839, fast becoming the most fashionable place to be laid to rest in London. It is privately owned by a trust these days but you can still be buried here if you've cash enough to purchase a plot.

Where is it? Swains Lane, Highgate N6. We recommend you walk from Archway and through lovely Waterlow Park.

Why has it tickled our fancy? Combining the woody romanticism of Abney Park with the landscaping of West Norwood and the grandeur of Nunhead this is a Grade II listed English Heritage site sprawled out on the Highgate hillside. Our guide proudly told us that it has apparently just overtaken Paris' Père-Lachaise Cemetery in the graveyard fame stakes. The original entrepreneurial cemetery company behind it tapped into the Victorian fascination with Egyptology and built a magnificent Egyptian Avenue, lined with vaults, leading to the deeply atmospheric Circle of Lebanon, a striking wheel of tombs dug into the roots of an ancient and subsequently stunted Cedar of Lebanon. Another attraction is Highgate's extensive list of notable burials from the dog show supremo Mr Cruft to Alexander Litvinenko to Christina Rossetti. Check out some history and old photographs here.

Nature notes: This natural woodland park is jam packed with graves and riddled with ivy. As well as the dominant cedar, Highgate is home to many varieties of tree including hornbeam, exotic limes, oak, hazel, sweet chestnut, tulip and field maple. The arboreal canopy comes in handy when it rains. There's a resident colony of foxes (whose pups will sometimes follow the guided tours around) and owls a plenty (a dead rat, plopped on the pathway, serves as proof) and the wilderness areas are ideal for spiders, butterflies and other insects. Conservation was in action with a team of young volunteers carefully clearing patches of overgrown bramble and ivy to improve access to tombs during our visit.

Unlike its 6 sisters, access to Highgate West Cemetery is restricted to guided tour only, unless you're a grave owner or a conservation volunteer. Tours run on weekdays at 2pm and cost £5 and throughout the day at weekends (book in advance to secure a spot 020 8340 1834) . You can visit the East Cemetery, unguided, for £3. Find out more from the Friends of Highgate Cemetery


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