Suburban Safari: Hollybrook Cemetery  

Suburban Safari: Hollybrook Cemetery  

By Katie Isham.  

Cemeteries are for everyone. The dead shouldn’t get the monopoly. They are beautiful places and perfect for a wander or a sit. Two of my very favourite things. 

In the heart of Southampton, at the centre of a triangle made of the hospitals, the woods and The Common, is a resting place for so many of our city’s ancestors. Time to visit them and find an abundance of life amongst the dead. 

Even the entrance to this hallowed ground is grand. Enter at the Tremona Road entrance opposite the hospital and pass under a beautifully ornate grey brick arch secured by angels no less. A straight road with sentry firs leads to the centre of the ground with the chapel straight ahead, but hold that route. 

A perimeter stroll is a good for the soul. There’s much to see and many visitors don’t even scratch the surface. 

Take a swift right and pass down behind the Hollybrook Memorial: a poignant and remarkable display of remembrance. The white and green walls stretch out like open arms, embracing all who feel the sorrow for those stolen by war.  

Continue down the path towards the far edge. The boundary of the site backs onto the gardens of the houses in Dale Valley Road. It may be close to the suburbs, but this is the wilderness area. The graves thin out and the undergrowth takes over. Follow the path where possible and watch out for overhanging branches. Soon, it’s hard to see the distant graves on the hill. 

But then an avenue stretches up towards the main drag, flanked by trees with shadows flickering in the sunlight. Resist the urge to climb the path; continue on the perimeter route. Wild flowers spread across these lower reaches like a river of swaying blooms. 

Tramp across the bare field to reach the farthest point and the matching gate leading pedestrians out onto Lordswood Road. 

Don’t leave yet though. Climb the hill passing the more recent graves and the quiet calm of the baby garden, vital to the lives of so many families. 

To the left are rows of cremation memorials. Bountiful blossom trees guard these souls while trinkets left by families on their branches sing in the breeze. A giant rhododendron tree carpets the area with its rich pink petals. 

The rows of graves stretch up the hill, varying in shape and size, but each containing the story of a life remembered. Pause and read some of the stories and remember all our lost loves. My mum used to walk us round graveyards as children. The rolling of eyes has ended and I see her thinking now. 

A favourite has to the marvellously named Ivy Coffin. She’s halfway along the main road boasting a very well kept grave. 

Talking of upkeep, the perimeter walk leads past the Jewish section and the World War II plot, both of which are beautifully maintained. Just past this is a more ramshackle section that’s particularly beguiling, with overhanging trees and bluebells lining the path at the right time of year. 

To the left in the distance, the striking grey stone of the chapel becomes clearer. Head towards it and marvel at the creeping ivy and another rhododendron tree highlighting the colourful division between life and death. Pop inside to gaze at the wonderful etched window if opportunity allows. 

A very wise person once told me that this is a place of sanctuary and calm. It seems difficult to disagree with that. I’ve been wandering here more in the past few months than ever before, and it does feel like a special place. 

A sanctuary, by definition, is a place of refuge and protection. Here at Hollybrook, there is refuge from the world. Walking between the oaks and the bramble hedges, you could imagine you were deep in the English countryside. 

But you’re not alone. Many creatures make this burial ground their home. Birds of prey circle the skies; mice dart across the path; insects buzz the air; even the woodpecker calls a greeting to the patient. And of course, watch for the robin letting you know a lost loved one is near. 

There is protection here too. Pain and death are inevitable parts of life. And the resulting grief is often referred to as the price we pay for love. Yet it’s hard to be consumed by grief in the dappled morning sunlight through an ancient oak or when your ears are filled by birdsong. The sanctuary of Hollybrook protects Southampton’s grieving hearts by offering a sprig of hope, reminding all of the quiet enormity of our natural world. 

Cost: Free wanderings. Free parking but only for 90 minutes during office hours. 

Accessibility: Main road and some paths are tarmacked. Some paths can get waterlogged after rain. There are also some smaller, narrower, bumpier paths interspersed as well as total off-roading between rows. 

Facilities: A dearth of facilities for the living. Parking for cars along the road and for weary feet in the form of some benches. No toilets. Water points for flowers and the chapel is sometimes open for quiet interior contemplation. 

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