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Highgate Cemetery
Photograph: David JC / Shutterstock

6 eerily beautiful graveyards to visit in the UK

Join author Peter Ross on a spooky tour of his favourite picturesque British cemeteries

By Huw Oliver
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Graveyard rambles don’t have to be all gloomy. Sure, those vast expanses of crooked headstones may mark the harsh passage of death across the land. But it is to our detriment that we don’t appreciate them as places of celebration – of life and of love.

So argues Scottish author Peter Ross in his new book ‘A Tomb With a View’, in which he tours the UK’s most picturesque graveyards and homes in on the ‘stories and glories’ of the ordinary folk buried beneath the tombstones. He also shines a spotlight on those taphophiles (tomb-lovers), himself included, who can’t get enough of cemeteries, funerals, graves and everything they’ve come to signify in a world where ‘morbid obsessions’ are the norm. ‘I hope that, despite the subject matter, people actually feel uplifted,’ he says.

Graveyards are also a great way to understand Britain, he adds. And in this way, the book could be used as a travel guide of sorts; a funereal path across the country’s recent history. As Halloween approaches, we asked Ross to pick out six cemeteries across the UK that will win visitors over to the idea that burial grounds can be both beautiful and celebratory places. Here are his choices. Please visit respectfully.

RECOMMENDED: Full guide to the most beautiful places to visit in the UK

Most beautiful graveyards in the UK

Highgate Cemetery
Highgate Cemetery
Photograph: David JC / Shutterstock

Highgate Cemetery, London

‘Deservedly celebrated, Highgate is home to the graves of ridiculous numbers of famous dead, Karl Marx and George Eliot among them. They are buried on the east side; visitors can roam freely in that part of the cemetery after paying a small entrance fee. The west side, deeply theatrical, is accessible by guided tour. A good project is to start with Highgate and then visit the rest of the “Magnificent Seven” cemeteries that encircle London.’

Whitby Cemetery
Whitby Cemetery
Photograph: loocmill / Shutterstock

Whitby Cemetery

‘Can the dead enjoy a view? If so, those buried in the churchyard of St Mary The Virgin have the best in England. Climb the 199 steps, which Dracula bounded up in the form of a black dog, to take in this clifftop graveyard which overlooks the red tiles of the town and the sea beyond. It’s best enjoyed by the rose light of sunset, although the church itself is wonderful on a bright Sunday morning with bells ringing out on the breeze.’

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Glasgow Cemetery
Glasgow Cemetery
Photograph: Shutterstock

The Necropolis and Cathcart Cemetery, Glasgow

‘My hometown has a number of excellent cemeteries. Best known is the Necropolis – literally “the city of the dead” – offering a stunning view of Glasgow Cathedral and a huge statue of the religious reformer John Knox glowering down from his plinth. The one I love, though, is Cathcart Cemetery, home to some surprising folk: the music-hall star Mark Sheridan, who sang I Do Like To Be Beside The Seaside and – a recent rediscovery – the suffragette Henria Leech Williams.’

Arnos Vale Cemetery
Arnos Vale Cemetery
Photograph: Diarmid Lambert / Wikimedia Commons

Arnos Vale Cemetery, Bristol

Arguably the most attractive Victorian cemetery outside London, Bristols Arnos Vale has experienced a resurrection. Once on the point of closing, it is now an exemplar of how great gardens of death can function in the twenty-first century. You can still be buried there, but Arnos Vale also offers tours, film screenings and theatre. There is a café and gift shop. I went to a wedding there on Halloween, and it turns out a graveyard is an excellent marriage venue.’

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Crossbones Cemetery
Crossbones Cemetery
Photograph: Crossbones Cemetery

Crossbones Garden, London

‘Thought to have been a medieval burial ground for sex workers, and later the resting place for the many poor of the area, Crossbones, on Redcross Way in Southwark, is now a strange and wonderful garden. It is the focus of a monthly vigil – held online over the past few months – in which the “outcast dead” are remembered and celebrated. Overlooked by the gleaming fang of The Shard, this is a weird, liminal, very human space in the heart of corporate London.’ 

‘A Tomb With A View: The Stories & Glories Of Graveyards’ is published by Headline. Peter Ross will be talking about the book at London’s Southwark Cathedral on October 29 at 7pm.

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