Happy Solstice! To celebrate I went the farthest north that I plan to go in London: Hampstead. While still accessible by underground, it feels very much like the smaller towns and villages that I’ve visited elsewhere in Britain. I walked through quaint old shops near the tube station, then through a residential area until I found Hampstead Heath. It’s a wonderfully wild large urban park, mostly tree covered but with some meadows, the highest of which offered a view of downtown London with it’s skyscrapers.
Then I walked through another neighborhood to find Highgate Cemetery. This is another of the “Magnificent Seven” cemeteries which is partially maintained and partly covered in ivy. Karl Marx is the most famous denizen here. His original grave was far off the main travel lanes in one of the less well maintained areas but was moved in 1954 to a more prominent location. George Eliot is also interred near Marx but again a little off the beaten path.
I asked one of the grounds crew why it was that some areas are nice and tidy and the rest are returning to their natural state. I had hopes that they operate on some sort of decadal schedule for which sections to work and which to leave fallow. Alas, the simpler answer was money. It’s a private cemetery and even with new burials and charging visitors an entry fee they can’t hire enough staff to maintain it all. Apparently the cemetery went completely bankrupt in the mid-twentieth century and place totally went to seed until the current trust bought it for one pound and while they’re still afloat, they are struggling.
The unexpected highlight for me was finding the grave of Douglas Adams, author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I didn’t know he was buried here and when I found the grave I was delighted by the “42” marker and a collection of pens next to his tombstone. Being a poet I always have a pen at hand so I left mine in gratitude for the laughs he gave me back in college.
By the way, I’ve been posting additional images from my London adventures on my Instagram feed, @bartbarkerpoet. Why not follow me? What’s the worst that could happen?