When taking a trip most places I try to build in a visit to a Cemetery or Churchyard to give myself chance to see a different side to a place, and often one few tourists experience. I love to visit Empires of the Dead, its one of my favourite pass times and something I confess to finding very peaceful and relaxing. So our trip to London this January was the perfect chance to visit another of Britain's most famous cemeteries and one of the 'Magnificent Seven'; Kensal Green.
Travelling out to Kensal Green on the overground you could feel yourself swept away from the hustle and bustle of the tourist centre. The station felt like that of a sleepy town, with few travellers around and the quiet, largely residential streets felt a million miles away from London city centre. Immediately we could see the Cemetery, and more accurately the huge wall which obviously surrounded the one thing people don't seem to want to be reminded of constantly; death. After struggling to see a way into the Cemetery we were pointed in the right direction by a lady who looked at us like a pair of lunatics. On the way passed a welcoming looking pub where families seemed to be gathering for Sunday lunch and a relaxing drink (which I made a note of for later) and eventually came to a track leading to the Cemetery. There were immediately two parts to choose between, a Catholic Cemetery, or the large swathe dating from the Victorian era onwards, we chose the latter.
Immediately I began to compare how different Kensal Green was to Highgate. A vast unending sea of tombs, gravestones and monuments lay before me, peppered with trees and set against the somewhat eerie industrial sight of giant gasometers, long out of use and as much of a relic to the past as the graves below. Highgates intimate, close feeling with its twists and turns and the journey its paths take you on across the terrain couldn't be more different to the huge swathe of graves across the flat plain, running as far as the eye can see, like the avenues of Pere Lachaise.
Kensal Green had a much more raw, honest feeling than many Cemeteries I have visited over the years, with the industrial backdrop speaking of harsh realities rather than romantic fantasies. In the distance Central London looms with its smog, high rise buildings and glass glinting on the horizon. The peace and quiet of Kensal Green was welcome rest bite after a few days in the constant onslaught of the fast paced capital. Listening to little but the trees and the occasional squirrel flit by gave ample room for some breathing space.
Some of the monuments in the Cemetery were truly exemplary, with some stunning carving and design on display. Yet like Highgate, a faded, decaying atmosphere surrounds the place as graves fall into ruin, the roofs of personal chapels collapse and Kensal Green takes on its on macabre personality and haunting beauty.
Unfortunately the monument I would have liked to visit most of all
doesn't exist. Some years ago there were rumours that Freddie Mercury's
ashes were scattered at Kensal Green after a plaque appeared dedicated
to him. That plaque was subsequently swiftly removed, but I kept Freddie
in my mind the whole time I was there, and the fact this could indeed
be his final resting place.
I am truly glad I finally made it to Kensal Green to experience its unique landscape and atmosphere and look forward to exploring more of the Magnificent Seven in years to come ...