What is it? The first aboretum to be combined with a cemetery in Europe, Abney Park was laid out in the 18th century as a non-denominational burial ground and became the place for dissenters and non-conformists to be laid to rest with an ethos of 'anyone can be buried anywhere'. Famous interrments include the founders of the Salvation Army, William and Catherine Booth along with many of their colleagues and menagerists, Suzanne and Frank Bostock, notable for their impressive life-sized sleeping lion tomb.
Where is it? Stoke Newington, N16. There's a discreet gate off busy Church Street and an elaborate Egyptian Revivalist entrance to the east on Stoke Newington High Street. At either it's just a few steps from urbanity to tranquility.
Why has it tickled our fancy? This delightfully dilapidated Victorian cemetery is criss-crossed with clear, safe paths through a woodland wilderness of intriguing ancient tombs, monuments, vaults and memorials. At its heart you stumble upon a clearing where a simple neglected chapel with empty rose windows stands and on your way you're bound to pass the oversize statue of hymn writer Dr Isaac Watts, who helped Mary Abney lay out the park. The place teems with wildlife and even if you completely lose your bearings down apparently identical overgrown paths, you never catch quite the same landscape twice.
Oh, and to spice things up, there's definitely at least one WWII UXB somewhere.
Nature notes: Originally laid out as an arboretum planted A-Z, Abney Park is a winner for trees, even though some of its prize specimens have been lost over the years. The trees are ideal for birds and we're told the dawn chorus is one reason to get up before the sun. Stinging nettles proliferate like mad so watch out bare arms but butterflies love them, and it shows. The graves are crazy with grasses, cow parsley and wild roses and the mix of cool sheltered tracts with clearings and sun dappled bits means a whole variety of plantlife make the cemetery its home. A batch of squirrels put paid to the rumour that Hackney doesn't have any and we're told foxes, rats, mice and bats happily hang out here too.
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