This is going to sound a bit weird, so bear with me.
Ever since I was little I’ve been obsessed with graveyards.
Let me clarify. It’s not that I’m into death, or the idea of dying – paradoxically, the inevitability of one day being buried in a graveyard myself makes my skin crawl.
But there’s something about stepping into a cemetery that slows my breathing and soothes my thoughts, making me feel calm all over. Some people enjoy a warm bath or a glass of wine to relax after work, but being among the dead is the best tonic for me.
I’m not really sure where the obsession stemmed from. It might be something to do with the fact that my Grandfather died before I was born, so childhood visits to my Nan would always mean a long walk up through the village to visit his grave, which stands among the grass of an old churchyard.
Some of my earliest, and happiest, memories revolve around those hazy Saturday afternoons spent amongst the graves that neighboured his. My cousin and I would play hide and seek behind towering, moss-coloured tombstones, or take paper and coloured pencils and make rubbings of curling letters that remember the deceased.
Or it could be that I attended Brownies in a cold and dusty church hall that sat on a village green surrounded by crooked graves, some so old you could no longer read the inscriptions they once held. I can vividly remember walking with my parents among these graves in the dusk and trying to decipher ancient names that sounded both foreign and thrilling to me - Elsbeth, Daphne, Bertie - with the church bell tolling the hour across them.
I suppose these moments instilled a sense of contentment in me that is awoken each time I step into a graveyard. It is still as comforting to me now as a favoured childhood toy or treasured photo would be to someone else.
It helps, too, that I am endlessly fascinated by people and their stories. I’m a journalist with a Psychology degree who counts people-watching as a hobby, so I don’t think it’s surprising I’m interested in the final resting places of the living.
After all, you can tell a lot about a person from their tombstone. What inscription did their loved ones choose to carve in stone in remembrance of them? Do they have a simple rectangle of marble or an elaborately chiselled angel? Are there flowers, and do they look fresh?
The weekend after Christmas I chivvied my boyfriend through the rain and into the cemetery that sits in the village a mile behind his parent’s house and found a grave that is unlike any I’ve ever seen before. It was a black square of marble inscribed with two white sets of initials and nothing else. I still can’t figure out if that means it was a double grave, and if so, what happened to its inhabitants. See what I mean? Fascinating.
I understand that most people (including my boyfriend) don’t understand my love of spending time in graveyards, and that to some they are creepy, or perhaps even boring. But ultimately, for me, a graveyard is a place of quiet contentment that offers an escape from the daily grind and a chance to take stock.
Because what could be more life affirming than the reminder our time on Earth will, inevitably, come to an end?
Five beautiful British graveyards to visit
Brookwood Cemetery, Surrey
Housing a quarter of a million graves, this was once the world's largest cemetery with its own railway connection to London. Founded in 1854, it is a picturesque spot with many unusual sights, such as larger-than-life angel statues, rickety wooden bridges and imposing tombs. brookwoodcemetery.com
Highgate Cemetery, London
This 37-acre plot is divided into two sites, the East Cemetery (which is the famous burial site of Karl Marx) and the West Cemetery. As is common for graveyards, there are many more bodies than graves, with around 170,000 people buried in just 53,000 graves. highgatecemetery.org
St Peters Churchyard, Goldhanger in Essex
This tiny graveyard in the middle of a quiet village is one of my favourites. Old and crumbling tombstones are scattered across the small garden and make for some interesting reading, if you can decipher the old lettering. No website
St Mary's Cemetery, Whitby
Facing out across the sea lie this mismatched array of graves in a quaint little churchyard. The site also houses the grand abbey featured in Bram Stoker's Dracula. whitbymuseum.org.uk
St John the Baptist, Harriestsham in Kent
The site of that initial-only grave I can't quite figure out (above), this small cemetery and church sit on a hill opposite the village green. Amid the bumpy grass and trees you will find a selection of fascinating graves both old and new. No website