Location: West Lodge, Bath Road, Bristol, UK [MAP]
Designer: Charles Underwood(1)
Project Type: Cemetery
Completion Date: 1837(1)
Access: Entry is free. 15 minute walk from Bristol Temple Meads Train Station.
Although a stroll through a cemetery may not sound like the most cheerful activity to do on a winter afternoon, Arnos Vale is a particularly fascinating and beautiful cemetery, rich with heritage and mystery. Hundreds of skeletal trees reach out from the ground, like boney fingers trying to touch the sky. A thick layer of damp leaf litter and crawling vegetation lays heavy on the woodland floor. Then, crammed almost as densely as the trees, are the gravestones. The longer you look the more you find. Some hidden beneath ivy or encased by surrounding ash trees; whilst others, having already succumbed to expanding tree roots, lay motionless on the ground.
With nature threatening to engulf the site forever, Arnos Vale appeared to be forgotten…but it isn’t. Signs of life and activity are everywhere. The Gothic Victorian cemetery has become a canvas for guerrilla knitting. Great swathes of colorful woven yarns, bring new life and creativity to the cemetery. Sounds of laughter, chatting and the chiming of teacups spills out of a small café, which serves delicious varieties of cakes and muffins. Walking through the site, I pass a local resident jogging as if it were their local park and a girl chats happily on her phone as she cuts through the cemetery to meet her friends. The cemetery recently received lottery funding to try to restore some of the at risk, listed buildings and monuments on the site(1).
However to get a true sense of Arnos Vale you must take one of the smaller woodland paths which wind up the valley. In the woods I can only hear my footsteps and the sound of birds, which is both tranquil and eery. I discover huge, ornate gravestones dating back to the 1800s, engraved with mysterious symbols and noble names, and I ponder about who they were and what their lives were like…
© The Secret Garden Atlas, 2013