One of the many free green places in the city you can explore, yet I have to hold my hands up and admit that I’ve never been before today. Why? Simply never been in this area of the city with time on my hands.
One of the main things you notice about this place as you approach is how loud it is. The cemetery was established in 1837 and clearly the loving relatives of the decreased wouldn’t have expected them to be resting “peacefully” alongside a main road. Now right next to one of the main arteries flowing between Bristol and Bath, the roar of the traffic is constant. Before I had ventured very far I was doubting how much the din could subside. I’m happy to say I was somewhat incorrect about how persistent the noise would be. It is marvellous what trees and overgrowth can do.
The feeling of walking through rows, patches and hillocks of tumbledown, old and crumbling gravestones was one of overwhelming peace, but also humility. The vast array of names, ages and dates displaying which much-missed individuals lay beneath the expensive stones was remarkable. Some relatives had gone to the trouble to have the cause of death inscribed. This was quickly what became a mini obsession for me and during my journey I spotted those who died during the Battle of the Somme, the Second World War, someone who tried extinguishing a fire at a soap works factory, a man who perished due to an illness on board a ship in Africa and someone who had only a few hours’ illness. It was also surprising how many families wanted the residence of the deceased given.
The scraps of information given on monuments of varying shapes, sizes, designs (and costs) boldly juxtaposed with a glaringly obvious fact: the plants did not discriminate in whose graves they overtook and helped to demolish. In the end, after we’re gone, the earth doesn’t care who we once were. Life must go on.
I have seen on maps how much space the cemetery covered, but it still seemed bigger than my expectations. At one point I was overwhelmed with choices for which narrow path to take off the main route, but some of them were clearly too overgrown to allow for a full exploration. That was another element which stood out: money.
I previously mentioned the cemetery is free to explore, but there is a suggested donation fee and signs dotted throughout the area reminding you of the fact it receives no state funding and relies on charitable donations for its upkeep. As I learnt during my wander, the Victorians leased the grave sites for 125 years and after that, there is no dedicated source of money to keep the graves maintained.
That said, I was surprised to notice how many graves in the wilder areas still showed signs of recent visitors, with flowers (some real, some fake) and pieces of paper bearing religious mottos.
The picture below is not one such example; it didn’t feel right to photograph those graves.
It was nice to see I wasn’t the only visitor on a warm, but slightly grey, day. There were clear locals, dog walkers and runners, but also others who seemed, like me, to be exploring for the first time. There is a proper visitors’ centre and a cafe – surely not many cemeteries can boast that – but I generally stayed away as much as possible, as I could hear the high-pitched voices of children.
The verdict? Definitely worth a ramble.