• Alice Anderson

Discovering Britain - Highgate, London

Updated: Apr 20

When people ask me what my thoughts of London are, my mind skips through vivid images of crowded streets filled to the brim with tourists, market stalls, and busy business workers trying to make their daily commute. It's not flashy thoughts like most may have. Sure, I've watched the horizon of this industrial city pass by on the London Eye, I've stood outside the great regal gates to the palace, I've hustled the streets of Campden markets, and I've even sat next to the river Thames with a picnic in hand. But non of these destinations really struck me with as much romance as the vision of London seems to do for the rest of the world.


However, recently all of that changed as a more obscure London destination hit my radar - Highgate.


Gothic Paradise at Holly Village

The front of Holly Village in Highate, London, it's tall gates half open
Gated Entrance to Holly Village

Arriving at Highgate was, well, a little underwhelming. It's not your typical 'hey, let's go to London' destination, and all in all is a little on the beaten side of life. However, as you walk down it's streets you are sure to stroll past Holly Village, and I grantee you won't be able to leave...


Walking past its entrance the gates hang open ominously, as though someone, or something, is waiting for you to discover it on the other side.

Inside Holly Village, a gothic building hidden beneath the villages arched gates
A Sneak Peek Through the Archway

Holly Village's Gothic architecture was crafted in 1865 by architect Henry Darbishire, a man mostly associated with philanthropic schemes. Holly Village is private property, which is now rented houses, although it's very hard to believe anyone resides here at all due to its eerie silence and covered up windows.


This village within a village is made up of twelve cottages built from colour stock brick and stone dressing, each one featuring unique engravings and patterned details which complete its haunted aesthetic.

Inside Holly Village, Highgate, London
Entwined in Vines and Stone

Overgrowth entwines the buildings together as it crawls up the darkened weathered stone to create a wonderfully dark and mysterious setting. In the heart of this cluster of chilling cottages sits a peaceful green garden, filled with flowerbeds and benches - an even creepier sight to see without a soul in sight.

A hauntingly beautioful cottage sat in the heart of Holly Village, Highgate, London
Hauntingly Beautiful Gothic Cottage

This village is now what I know to be London, and whenever someone next asks me where the best place in London is to visit, Holly Village with be the first words out of my mouth. Dark and beautifully lonely, Holly Village has been my number one sight of London to date, and I feel that I will always carry a piece of its charming sorrows with me for the rest of my life.


Highgate Cemetery - A Destination for Dark Explorers

Deep, dark, over grown woods and shrubbery entangle their way over and under graves, right next door to Holly Village...

Gravestones piled on top of each other at Highgate Cemetery, London
Mass of Graves

Anyone who is after a dark tourist destination or a spooky trip away for a crisp, autumn day needs to have Highgate Cemetery at the top of their 'to go' list. As we're approaching October, this place has been lingering at the back of my mind as Halloween is drawing nearer.


The cemetery is split into two halves - the East side filled with a more 'tended' area, contrasted by the West side's overgrown mass of graves and powerfully atmospheric architecture. These undisturbed grounds are paid entry, but worth every penny, and you have the option of having a tour guide at your side throughout if you wish!

Highgate Cemetery tombs covered in vines, the perfect dark tourist destination in London
Graveyard Tombs

Of course, a grand cemetery is bound to contain some famous burials hidden throughout the graveyard, where the bodies of Karl Marx, George Michael, and George Elliot now lay. As you walk the crumbled paths through the dense forestry and mass of graves which encloses the cemetery, it's hard to comprehend how many souls now lie buried deep within it's grounds. Grave stones, cracked and decayed, topple on top of one another, roots grow wild claiming anything in its path, and deep inside the West side sits a circle of tombs like something straight out of Egypt.

The tombs of Highgate Cemetery, London
Walking Through Tombs

As I was leaving the cemetery, a stone cross with the word 'Hope' engraved deeply on its walls stopped me in my tracks. It's a spine-chilling place which leaves you feeling, well, the only word I can use to describe it is the Japanese word 'Yuugen' - a word which describes a profound and mysterious sense of the universes beauty. It captures the beauty of human suffering in a way which makes you understand your reason for being on this earth. It makes you truly realise where you are and who you are, all whilst making you vividly aware of the vast existence of the universe which triggers an emotional response too deep to describe.

Hope written on a tombstone in Highgate Cemetery, London
Hope

It is pain, it is death, it is raw, but it is real. Sometimes all it takes is an experience to help you understand your own mind a little bit more, and that's exactly what Highgate Cemetery does. It allows you to realise that you are the size of a piece of dust in a mansion we call earth, and with that feeling it empowers you to feed on all of life's opportunities so that you can leave your mark on this world. Those speckles of dust will build up throughout history, where they will continue to dance like motes in the light forevermore, even once your own light goes out.


Highgate Gallery