Tuesday, October 4, 2011

London - Day Seven

It's always a bonus to wake up feeling refreshed and ready to start your day only to find out it's 2 am.  Snuggling back down under the duvet until breakfast was served was almost like another night's sleep.  Today was the day I had been looking forward to since reading Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger, it was Highgate Cemetery day and I had an appointment.  But first I had a couple of other stops to make!  Cutting through Russell Square I watched as a young man from Germany desperately tried to coax a squirrel into posing for a photo.  Offering him some of my cashews he was thrilled when his furry little model took the offering straight from his hand.  "Wait until my friends see this on Facebook, they won't believe it!"  Making me wonder whether squirrels exist in Germany?  Still smiling I walked down Guildford to Lamb's Conduit Street and did some window shopping while I waited for Persephone to open for business.  Meandering through stacks of grey I picked up a copy of The Carlyle's at Home by Thea Holme.  Tucked in a pink gift bag I held it close against the heavy mist in the air as I walked to the British Museum to see two of Mrs Delany's botanicals (pictured above).
Later on, exiting Archway tube station I found a charity shop that Rachel had told me about and paid 1 GBP for a Virago with short stories about wicked women.  A gift for Rachel and we'll say no more about it.  Climbing Highgate Hill and not wanting to go any further than required I asked an elderly gentleman alighting from a bus the way to the cemetery.  It just so happened he was heading over there so I joined him for a walk through Waterlow Park.  He told me about Baroness Burdett-Coutts, her riches and the scandal when she married a much younger man.  We were enjoying each other's company so much he asked if I'd like to see where he has lived since 1966 and I said "Why not?"  At the bottom of Swain's Lane and through an archway opened up the quaintest square with eight Victorian stone houses called Holly Village.  That's him making his way to his home at the back left (above).  He invited me in for coffee which I politely declined but I do regret not spending at least half an hour more listening to his stories.
While waiting for my tour to begin I snapped this exquisite angel statuary (above) through the gate on the East side of the cemetery.  And as you can see, the weather was fine when the weatherman promised rain.  You know, atmosphere and all that.
Our tour guide took us along the dirt path past Victorian mausoleums too numerous to count.  Even though the sun was shining I was glad of my warm sweater to keep the chill of the damp and dark entryways at bay.  At one point we were allowed to enter a large catacomb and gaze down the dank passages containing layer upon layer of sealed squares containing the deceased.  Our guide shouted "Is anyone still inside?" before locking the door tight.  Eeek!
Partway through the tour I asked if we would come across the grave of Thomas Sayers, a bare-knuckle fighter who died in 1865.  His dog, Lion, is immortalized in stone and was the chief mourner among 100,000 others.  Sayers was quite the celebrity in his day.  It wasn't long before the tour brought us past the very spot.
The guide then pointed out one of his favourites, a breathtakingly beautiful monument.  It was surprising that the abundant English ivy growing everywhere hadn't swallowed up this slumbering angel.  My mind was swimming with questions but time was running short.  The cemetery is extremely tranquil but there is a hub of activity going on behind the scenes with throngs of volunteers and groundskeepers tending to its many acres.  I wasn't at all surprised to learn that the grounds require an income of 1,000 GBP a day to maintain.  Highgate Cemetery is both eerie and beautiful and well worth your time and money so please pay it a visit!
And skipping right to my lovely dinner companions, Simon and Canadian Claire (as she's known in my house) kindly invited me to join them at Giraffe.  Rachel had to bow out due to her pursuit of a flat which she did end up getting so we were very pleased for her.  These two had spent the afternoon exploring the city and Simon did his best to deplete the second-hand book market even more than he already has.  He found some real gems though, see here.  Poor Claire was paying careful attention to her luggage allowance as she was on a long and lovely European tour with her Mum.  She is posting about their travels so do stop by her blog!

Tucked in the corner in a booth we laughed at the reaction of some of our friends and family to meeting others known only through the internet.  I can honestly say that it was a thoroughly wonderful experience for me and enhanced my time in London immensely.  Simon had a long train ride back to Oxford and at least twenty pounds of books to drag behind him so we said our good-byes and went our separate ways.  Thanks for the lovely evening, both of you!


  1. It's so great to see your photos from Highgate after hearing how enthusiastic you were about it that evening. It looks quite lovely (though, thanks to Doctor Who, I can no longer walk past an angel statue without freaking out) and I will certainly have to visit it on one of my future trips.

    I had such a great time meeting you and only wish we'd had longer to chat! And my restraint book buying that day was definitely a good thing considering how many I picked up the next day when I went to Persephone!

  2. I knew you'd love the cemetery. How could you not!
    How brilliant to discover Holly Village. I knew about Holly Lodge estate but I've never come across this little square - and I used to live in Highgate, isn't that awful! You're getting to know London better than most Londoners, Darlene.

  3. I loved the Carlyles at Home...but the copy I read was a library book AND not a Persephone so I need to remedy that. And wasn't Her Fearful Symmetry good? I loved seeing your photos of Highgate Cemetery.

    Sigh. I need to go back to London.

  4. I have been enjoying your trip immensely and three cheers for blogging friends who meet up as you all have.
    I am also sitting here drooling over the things you are seeing and doing and am most especially green with envy at the picture of Mrs. Delaney's botanicals. How wonderful!

  5. Claire, Ooh, looking forward to your post about your visit to Persephone! It was such a pleasure to meet you and now I can hear your voice when reading your blog. Hopefully we can meet up again one day!

    mary, I desperately wanted to just ramble through the cemetery on my own and look at loads of gravestones but I understand why it's not allowed. What a fabulous place! And so is London...you're so lucky to live there.

    Audrey, LOVED Her Fearful Symmetry! I think it's time for a reread. When you get back to London you MUST visit Carlyle's House...stay tuned for my post about it.

    lifeonthecutoff, Cornflower was even luckier, she got to put on gloves and see many more pieces. Next time I will have to make a special arrangement! Glad you're enjoying my posts.

  6. How lovely to meet someone who gives a bit of local history. Highgate Cemetery is now a must for me to visit.

  7. I must get to Highgate Cemetery one day, even if I didn't like Her Fearful Symmetry (sorry!) - it does look beautiful. I'm a bit of a graveyard fan anyway. And Holly Village - oh my goodness! It is beautiful! I'd have been so tempted to go in for coffee, sweet-talk the old man into giving me his house, and never leave.

  8. Simon, LOL! Well now that you know where he lives you can pay him a visit...and bring your mug!

  9. Right, I need to win the lottery - Holly Village would be my DREAM HOME - I never knew it existed!! So glad you got to go and visit Darlene, and that you had such a beautiful day. I sent off my application to be a tour guide yesterday so watch this space!

  10. I'm a little tardy, but I had to come back and finish reading about your adventures! I would love to see Highgate Cemetery--someday! Sounds like such a lovely time. I feel so isolated here--no other bloggers or readers to chat with and nowhere exciting to go. You do know I live vicariously through my internet friends, don't you? :)