I'm a freelance writer and yogi living in Tepoztlan, Mexico where I'm running www.casadelcorazon.mx with my girlfriend. You can keep up with my other writing on www.bollocks2thewellingtons.com/
Published January 29th 2021
Come to life in the cemetery
London has several Victorian cemeteries which are more than just graveyards and well worth a visit.
Known as the "magnificent seven" they were built to alleviate pressure on local parish graveyards by private companies encouraged by parliament as the population of London surged. The overcrowded churchyards were becoming a public health hazard and these large operations helped to keep things more sanitary.
Highgate may be the most famous of them, with its well-known residents including Karl Marx and Douglas Adams, but South East London has its own beautiful option.
Just up from Peckham, Nunhead is home to a friendly high street full of independent shops a super hipster garden centre and this place which is more like a secluded woodland than a churchyard.
They do still hold funerals here but the more modern, open side of the cemetery, while peaceful enough, is not where the real treasures lie.
There are several entrances but the main one-off Linden Grove immediately introduces you to the faded grandeur of the place with a wide boulevard of trees leading up to the semi-ruined Anglican Chapel complete with its gothic spires. This was actually only gutted in the '70s as a result of arson with looters taking off with lead from the catacombs beneath. Now it is occasionally used for musical performances and is a suitably attractive welcome to the place.
My favourite sections are off to the sides and on the smaller tracks where the overgrown graves become one with the plants and you forget where you are, lost amongst the woods.
The birds create quite the cacophony of noise and you may spot Owls and woodpeckers if you pay attention. There are a few of the bright green parakeets that are often found in this part of South London but they don't seem to have taken over completely and there are still plenty of native birds.
If you explore enough you might be lucky enough to find Ma Oak - a mighty tree which would seem to predate the cemetery or at least has presided over its growth. A mother tree, her span is quite magnificent and a reminder of the ancient woodlands that once stretched across all of this part of South London.
There is a Tree Trail which you can follow with a leaflet from the Friends of Nunhead Cemetery where certain trees such as Yew are identified by small plaques and there is a quiz to go along with the findings.
The Friends of Nunhead Cemetery have done a lot of the work keeping the cemetery in the condition it is today. Run by volunteers it is quite an organisation and has transformed the site along with Southwark Council since it changed hands in the 70s.
They hold open days and guided tours and can normally be found in a little cabin to the right of the main entrance, particularly on weekends.
There is a viewpoint marked on the map of the cemetery and if you venture up to the top of the hill and look in the right direction you will be able to see, through the bushes, St Pauls Cathedral and beyond to Alexandra Palace.
It's quite the view, and although not one of the official site-lines protected by London planning laws, will hopefully remain for a good while into the future aided by Nunhead's altitude.
Now, while I mentioned some of the "celebrity" residents of Highgate there is a plaque mentioning some of the names that are buried here.
Their fame doesn't seem to have lasted though in all honesty with the likes of music hall performer Jenny Hill and former Lord Mayor of London Sir Polydore de Keyser not exactly household names.
There are several War memorials within the site, including one for commonwealth heroes. An obelisk recognising Scottish Political Martyrs is near the main entrance and there is a memorial to nine sea scouts who died in 1912 when their boat sank near the Isle of Sheppey.
It was a pleasure to live around the corner from the cemetery and be able to visit throughout the seasons, seeing it in all its different colours. It's well worth a visit if you happen to be down this way and you can finish your trip with a walk along the high street.