Highgate Cemetery…

a journey into the unknown. This is exactly what the architects of the magnificent Highgate Cemetery were aiming for when landscaping the enormous site, and they certainly achieved it.

Highgate Cemetery

Built in the 1830’s Highgate was one of seven sites across London allocated for one of the new style cemeteries. The seven, which came to be known as the magnificent seven, also included Kensal Green and Tower Hamlets but Highgate soon became THE place to be buried.

Highgate Cemetery

The West cemetery is only accessible via one of the many guided tours, and much as the idea of being led around by a grouchy tour guide didn’t really appeal to me, it soon became clear that without a guide, we wouldn’t have appreciated anywhere near as much about the rich history of the site. And far from the grumpy guide I was expecting (thanks to tripadvisor) we were lucky enough to be taken around by John Waite. His passion and knowledge were enlightening and we couldn’t have asked for a better guide.

Victorian Coffin

Victorian Coffin

Our journey began in the courtyard, where a set of stone steps led us up to the labyrinth of grave lined pathways that ran in all directions beneath a dense canopy of trees. We were told that within more than 50,000 graves lay over 150,000 bodies, so you can appreciate the size and scale of the place. Laid to rest within that vast site are all the most important people of their day, and although most of their names mean little to us now, we still benefit from their achievements today. 

Highgate Cemetery

The highlights of the cemetery have to be the Egyptian Avenue, and the catacombs. Unfortunately, of the thousand coffins that once rested within those vaults, only a couple of hundred remain. The rest fell victim to grave robbers and vandals.

Highgate Cemetery

Because of the Victorian gothic architecture, the location proved to be the perfect setting for 1970’s horror movies. Taste the blood of Dracula and Tales from the Crypt are just a couple of the films they shot here.

Highgate Cemetery

The cemetery fell into decline and was locked away for over fifty years. It was taken over by the Friends of Highgate Cemetery, a group of volunteers set on restoring and preserving the site. Although the restoration is an ongoing project, more and more of the cemetery is opening to the public, giving a new experience each and every time you visit.

Ok, who dropped a house on the graveyard?

Ok, who dropped a house on the graveyard?

This place is truly fascinating and well worth a visit. For more information visit: Highgate Cemetery

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A time for contemporary and a time for tradition

Living in the centre of a large modern city does have its advantages; on Friday night after a lovely meal out in town, we stopped at a local bar for a nightcap to break the walk home.  Sitting by the window facing the plaza I couldn’t help watching the people in their apartments going about their evenings. There is something about people watching, it’s completely hypnotic.

As the evening progressed we noticed the rain had begun to fall. When you are so close to home it seems ridiculous to order a cab for what would be a ten minute walk, so we decided to brave the rain. By the time we got home we were soaked through. My hair had matted itself into huge tangles and my makeup was fast heading southwards. Luckily it was on the way home not on the way out. PJs and a hot drink proved the perfect remedy.

Today, on the other hand, the weather was beautiful. We had to get out of town so we checked out the map and headed for the Grand Union Canal. We opted for a route that would take us to several lakes used locally for fishing. We never quite made the lakes though, because this is what we stumbled upon:

St Peter’s Church, Stanton Low is a grade II listed ruin of a c1100 church.  Unfortunately, having suffered from vandalism and neglect  the tiny ruin is too dangerous to enter. Surrounded by dry stone walls, graves can still be seen hidden among the undergrowth. I would have really loved to explore it further by have to respect the decision to keep it off-limits.

The tree that accompanies the church reminded me of ‘The tree of the dead’ from the film – Sleepy Hollow.

We then headed further along the Grand Union Canal, dipping in and out of the woods as we walked. Our journey ended with a pint or two at The Black Horse, Great Linford – one of the most stunning, traditional pubs you can imagine. It is all oak beams and candlelight.  A lovely way to end a November weekend.

Happy Halloween

Well it’s finally here. Pumpkins and skeletons have taken residence outside peoples houses and miniature witches and devils are running around clutching bundles of sweets.

We treated the kids to a real Halloween weekend with a trip to West Wycombe’s Hellfire caves, then tour of St Lawrence graveyard and to top it off their own Halloween party last night.

The people who run the caves are brilliant. It’s rare that you can take the kids somewhere and really give them a scare, the staff really embrace the spookyness of the haunted location and put on a no-holds-barred display. All their usual decorations are stripped out to make way for how the real Hellfire should be.

The whole cave system was dark and full of children who were  jumping out at each other screaming then laughing hysterically. They were genuinely frightening each other and themselves, but it’s hardly surprising when you see the freak-show on display. Here are a couple of photos I took, I know it looks bright but believe me that’s just the flash of my camera, I had to look at the digital display to see what I was taking pictures of. Just fabulous.

Gruesome huh! More pics on my Flickr.

(Only one more week til our trip to York, not that I’m counting.)

Graveyard Shift

So what else do you do with the kids on a sunny autumn afternoon other than stalk a few local graveyards. I’m a sucker for a good cemetery and my passion seems to have rubbed off on my kids (funny that!)

In readiness for our ghost-hunting weekend in York next week, my friend (envisioning utopia) and I took five rather rowdy kids to two local churchyards.

Ousebank Cemetery was our first stop. I stumbled across it on Google Earth and from space it looked like a pretty decent place to visit. We weren’t disappointed. Even from the ground Ousebank is a beautiful location.  As its name depicts, the cemetery is situated along the bank of the river Ouzel. Lined with weeping willows the gently flowing river creates a tranquil atmosphere for those who have taken up long-term residence beside it.

The age of the cemetery shows through in the condition of many of the headstones and markers. Many have fallen victim to time and the elements.

I took a number of photographs which I have proudly displayed on my Flickr account which you can access to the right of this page.

Our next stop was the pretty village of Tyringham. We headed over the bridge towards Tyringham Hall then off towards St. Peters church.

The churchyard, although not quite so well maintained as Ousebank, affords stunning views across the fields back towards the bridge over The Great Ouse. Once we were done strolling through the graveyard, perusing the headstones we were fortunate enough to be able to visit the interior of the church, which is lovingly looked after. All in all it was a lovely afternoon.

Hellfire and Damnation!

Well as the easter holidays approach I am always thinking of good places to take the kids.  When I say good – of course I mean spooky places that will be sure to give them (and me) nightmares.

The Hellfire Caves, Wycombe is a good place to go.  Although it’s not very big and a bit of a trek for me, the kids love it and there is definitely something about the place.  Built into the chalk hills it was once the meeting place for the Hellfire Club, kind of the Masons of the time I guess.  In addition to the caves there is a church on top of the hill with an awesome graveyard complete with huge mausoleum and broken tombs.  The whole place has a certain presence to it.  Halloween is the best time to visit, but hell that’s months away.

Entrance to the Hellfire Caves, Wycombe

Hellfire Chalk  Tunnel System

St Lawrence Church