Sunday, 29 December 2013

Christmas in Highgate

Chris and I decamped from Byfield and spent Christmas in London. We like to see some of the less well-known areas of our capital and in recent years have been to Aldgate, Poplar and Maze Hill. This year it was the turn of Highgate. Neither of us knew much about the area other than the fact that it is bordered on the west by Hampstead Heath.

We arrived on Christmas Eve and set out to stretch our legs and do a quick recce of the area and, vitally, get some food in (we were self-catering). We then visited the market at Camden Locks. Christmas Eve or not, it was very busy. As with most markets of this type there was a lot of tacky stuff, but here and there were items of real interest such as underpants with surprisingly life-life portraits of Homer Simpson. Chris made me put them down.

Christmas Day itself was lovely: very sunny and quite warm for late December. Striding out to the the top of Dartmouth Park Hill we unexpectedly found ourselves outside Holly Village, an extraordinary example of Victorian Gothic at its most flamboyant.

The entrance to Holly Village, Highgate
25 December, 2013

On then to Highgate cemetery, resting place of many persons of interest. We were disappointed to find all the gates securely locked; surprised too, since the residents were unlikely to escape. However, it turned out to be serendipitous as, following the perimeter of the cemetery, we found ourselves in Waterlow Park.

I doubt that few but true Londoners know of this gem but, even in the depths of winter, it was full of interest. It stands on high ground (it is situated in Highgate after all) with fine views. We were able to enjoy a packed lunch in bright sunshine.
Chris in rapt contemplation.
Waterlow Park on Christmas Day

The park has many fine trees and, flitting about in the branches were Ring-necked Parakeets, a species well naturalised in south-east England where they can sometimes be a problem for fruit growers. I tried to get a photograph but these excitable birds are always on the move and, with a shrill screech, they would be away before my camera was ready.

Bay Tree, Laurus nobilis, in Waterlow Park.
Highgate, London. 25 December, 2013

The trees included some very large specimens of Sweet Bay and Strawberry Tree. Bay trees (Laurus nobilis) are fairly hardy but one specimen, with a multitude of trunks, was probably the largest I've seen in Britain. Only a few metres away was an equally impressive Strawberry Tree, almost certainly Arbutus unedo, which is native to south-west Europe, but possibly Arbutus andrachne, from south-east Europe. The latter has a distinctive red-orange bark but the specimen in question had duller bark with only a hint of red. The name Strawberry Tree is a reference to the fruits, which have a vaguely strawberry-like appearance although the plants are unrelated, with Arbutus being a member of the Heather Family, Ericaceae and true strawberries being in the Rose Family. 

Strawberry Tree, Arbutus unedo in Waterlow Park.
Highgate, London. 25 December, 2013
When Chris and I lived in Gibraltar there was still considerable poverty in southern Spain and young children would offer bags of the fruits to unsuspecting tourists. The word "unedo" means "eat once" - not because they are poisonous (an alcoholic drink is occasionally made from them) but because they are so insipid. But to their credit they are true fruits whilst strawberries are not.

The Tufnell Park - Highgate area was largely developed in Victorian times and the parks inevitably contain many statues, both of heraldic beasts and of humans. None struck me as being of artistic merit but some were encrusted with mosses and lichens of far greater interest!

Boxing Day involved a trip to the sales in Oxford Street/Regent Street. Ugh! But even a misery-guts like myself was impressed by the array of materials and clothing in Liberty's. Chris bought a ball of wool. (She can be very extravagant!)

On the following day we took ourselves to an incredibly crowded British Museum. There was an interesting display of Japanese erotica to be seen - but not by me. Chris firmly steered me to an exhibition of Columbian jewellery. It was actually pre-Columbian Columbian jewellery - most confusing. In truth, it was splendid, but time was running short. Time to set off for Marylebone and go home.

So, back to Byfield and a more quotidian life.

1 comment:

  1. Loved reading this Tony - what a lot of wide ranging information!