Highgate and Nunhead were two of the grandest, both designed by the same architect. Nowadays, Highgate is a well-known tourist spot, charging pounds 3 a tour, and an extra pound to take your own photographs. Nunhead has crumbled more quietly. This Saturday is Nunhead's annual open day, with free tours every half-hour. Or you can go round for free on the last Sunday of every month, whatever the weather - they haven't missed a tour in six years.
The open day adds a thanatological theme to otherwise typical summer fete stalls. Alongside homemade cakes are advisers on genealogy, and free face-painting for children competes with displays of engraving and monumental restoration. There are plant stalls, a birds of prey display (including owls), a pole lathe demonstration and an insect hunt.
The real attraction is the cemetery itself. In the Seventies it was closed down and left to the dead - notoriously bad gardeners, tending to nourish weeds rather than discourage them.
The past is revealed in glimpses. Along the winding paths, the sky obscured by a canopy of trees, there are sometimes few clues to the original purpose of the place. But in every corpse-rich copse, lost white statues loom like immobile ghosts, or victims of a petrifying glance from some south London Medusa.
Nunhead Cemetery, Linden Grove, SE15. P12 bus, Nunhead BR. Friends of Nunhead Cemetery (081-639 1613)
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