I have always had an affinity to cemeteries and graveyards, and the older they are, the better. As a kid I loved churchyards with huge yew trees and overgrown corners where I’d struggle to read the inscriptions. I’d wander round exploring trying to find the oldest grave or most unusual inscriptions. When I travel as an adult I often stumble across burial sites, both old and modern to explore. The differing styles and customs fascinate me. A growing interest in genealogy has given me a further excuse to explore graveyards looking for facts about individual lives.
But, before you go on your own graveyard adventure, there are a few basic pointers to graveyard etiquette to keep in mind. Now I may be stating the obvious, but for some it might not be.
Many cemeteries and graveyards have opening hours. Please respect these. Even those that burial grounds that don’t have set hours won’t appreciate people wandering around at midnight.
Keep it down. Graveyards are a place of quiet reflection and are not meant for wild raves or play spaces. Noise can disturb mourners and neighbours.
Self explanatory really. Take any litter that you create back home with you, or use bins. These can be places of great beauty, lets keep them that way.
By all means wander around and explore, but please be respectful. There is no need to clamber on the graves or damage them.
If a service or internment is being carried out, keep back and let the mourners have their space. The last thing people need when mourning is spectators. The same can be said of people that are obviously tending a grave – leave them the solitude to do so.
Rules and Regulations
Some larger graveyards have quite complex rules and regulations. If you are visiting such a place, please take the time to read them. They can cover such things as opening times and simple things whether you are allowed to jog or not (Not allowed in Highgate Cemetery), and whether photography is permitted and under what circumstances. These rules can vary from cemetery to cemetery.
Guide Books, Maps and Plans.
If there is a guide book and you can afford it, get one. They often show specific plans and plots, helpful if you are looking for an individual grave, and the money raised goes to the upkeep of the grounds.
Health and Safety
In older graveyards there are often over grown and unsafe areas. Please be aware of any danger signs and don’t put yourself at risk.
Most cemeteries are free to enter, but some have limited access or guided tours only. These tend to be older places. Do your research before you visit.
In large graveyards it’s fairly common to find different faith groups in different areas. Please treat everyone with the same respect. No wondering over the graves, and no touching the gravestones. The are also graveyards for different faiths (I live not far from an Islamic cemetery). If visiting single faith burial grounds, please check the rules to see if you can.
Different Countries and Cultures
Please be aware that different countries have very different views of burials, and how the departed should be treated. In some the graveyards are celebrated and frequently visited, and in others visits are discouraged. Please do your research before you visit, or ask when you get there. The exception being those run by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, visitors always welcome, but please be respectful.
Mostly, enjoy your visit. Go equipped with what you need for your visit, in my case normally a pen and notepad, and a camera. I’ve even been know to take a small cushion so if I can find a quiet corner I can sit in comfort and enjoy the atmosphere.