London A-Z – Highgate
Highgate is a city in itself, with its own village, wood and cemetery. Rod Stewart once worked as a grave digger there, though in the end he chose gigging over digging. Karl Marx, the most heavily bearded of all the Marx brothers, is laid to rest there, as is man-woman George Eliot and Alexander Litvinenko a man who bit off more than he could chew. Living Highgate inhabitants include Victoria Wood, Jonathan Price and a rather animated Terry Gilliam. I used to live there too, and although I’m not famous I was once told off for playing my guitar too loudly by Clive Mantle, who is.
Highgate is built on a hill. This is so that unwanted residents can be rolled down to Archway. It also makes good business sense: anyone arriving in the village will be thirsty and in need of a drink. London’s two best pubs are located here: The Flask and The Prince of Wales. I once got lost in The Flask and had to ring the police. Now I just unravel a ball of string. The Prince of Wales runs the toughest pub quiz in north London, though on the upside Jeremy Irons once trod on my foot at the bar. Highgate Village also has Pond Square, which has neither a pond, nor is it square, but it used to play host to a mean farmer’s market (by mean, I mean good).
Exit Highgate tube, walk up the hill towards the village and you will happen upon the world’s narrowest road. Jackson’s Lane gets progressively thinner to the point where only supermodels and unicyclists can pass through the tapered top end.
Highgate has the highest ratio of pianos-per-household in the Western World (six), and is a hotbed of intellectual activity, delicate sensibility and extreme coffee drinking. It also boasts the beautiful grounds of Kenwood House. Kenwood plays host to wonderful concerts in the summer, spectacular teas in the winter and has on display a mesmerising self-portrait of rosy cheeked Dutch master Rembrandt.
If Highgate were a person, it would be Peter Ustinov: a tad doddery and in need of a little upholstering, but oozing class.