What makes Arnos Vale Cemetery an ‘incredible and wonderful’ attraction

This might not be your first day trip choice, but if you’re looking to walk in nature, take in incredible architecture or learn more about Bristol’s history, the Arnos Vale cemetery is a surprisingly good cry.

The huge site, on Bath Road, is far from just a graveyard – it’s become a popular spot for a leisurely stroll, a coffee and even a movie night.

And now visitors have voted it fourth best out of 12,000 historic graveyards, graveyards and burial sites across the UK – no small feat.

Arnos Vale was voted the fourth best cemetery to visit out of 12,000 in the UK.

The cemetery enjoys a 4.5 out of 5 rating on TripAdvisor, according to Legal and General who conducted the research, with nearly 500 visitor reviews.

One wrote: ‘My friend and I met my daughter at the Arnos Vale cafe and after a refreshing cup of tea we strolled through the graveyard marveling at the vastness of it all – the beautiful rewilding which has been allowed to proliferate, fantastic flowers, shrubs and trees everywhere. Amazing and wonderful.

History of the cemetery

The cemetery was designed by Charles Underwood in the style of a Greek necropolis.

A few years after it opened in 1837, it became Bristol’s most fashionable place to be buried, and many are still surprised to learn that it remains a working cemetery to this day.

Thanks to dedicated volunteers, the cemetery was saved from closure after reaching a crisis point in the late 1990s.

In the late 1980s the cemetery began to decline as income dwindled and in 1998 hit a crisis point when he lost his cremation permit – the owners announced they were closing the cemetery and closed the doors.

But thanks to a relentless campaign by dedicated volunteers and a £4.8 million National Lottery grant, the cemetery was saved and is now a green, tranquil place for visitors to explore and reflect. We’ll take a look.

Forest and wildlife

At the heart of the cemetery is its Arcadian landscape, but it also spans acres of ancient woodland, home to all manner of wildlife.

Rare visitors like firecrackers and woodcocks find refuge in the cemetery in winter, and unusual migrants such as pied flycatchers and redstarts stop for food on their long journeys in spring and autumn.

The cemetery extends over hectares of old woods.

Slow worms love the tall grasses of the cemetery, lichens decorate headstones, and at night bats feed on the trees while badgers and foxes feed below.

If you’re looking to take a nature walk without venturing too far from the city center, Arnos Vale isn’t a bad bet.

Arnos Vale Café and Exhibition

At the edge of the Spielman Center cemetery, you’ll find the Arnos Vale cafe, a fusion of Victorian and modern architecture and a great place to grab tea after a few hours exploring the 45-acre site.

There is seating inside and outside the cafe, as well as great coffee and a range of artisan cakes, snacks and ice creams.

The Spielman Center’s Arnos Vale Cemetery cafe is the perfect place to refuel after a day spent exploring the cemetery and surrounding woods.

The building also houses a small basement exhibit on the cemetery’s history, complete with an original 19th-century crematory machine and coffin trolley.

Anglican chapel

The cemetery has a number of listed buildings and monuments, including the Grade II listed Anglican mortuary chapel.

It is the largest building in the cemetery, located at the top of two slopes that emphasize its proportions and its magnificent bell tower.

The Anglican Chapel has been restored to its former excellence and is now used for events.

The building has been restored to its former excellence, including plaster and tiling, after falling into disrepair in the 1980s.

It is now used for events such as funerals, concerts and weddings and is usually open to curious visitors to take a look inside.

Visits and events

If you want to learn more about the site from an expert, there are a number of tours each day, including Sculpture, Morbid Curiosity and Murder, Mystery and Mayhem tours.

Other events include atmospheric outdoor film screenings – imagine watching The Nightmare Before Christmas among the graves on Halloween.

Or you can take part in an array of workshops such as den building, bug hunting and fire making. There’s even a mindfulness and compassion workshop for those who want to enjoy the tranquility of the cemetery.

Chhatri of Raja Ram Mohan Roy

More than 300,000 people are buried or scattered in Arnos Vale, including figures such as Rovers legend Harry Bamford, poet Dora Greenwell and Bristol tobacconists William and Henry Wills.

One of the most beautiful monuments in the cemetery is the chhatri or listed Indian tomb, resting place of Raja Ram Mohan Roy and clearly visible from the entrance on Bath Road.

Chhatri of Raja Ram Mohan Roy at Arnos Vale Cemetery.

The Raja was a hugely influential religious and political thinker who died in Bristol in 1833 while visiting the city with his adopted son.

During his life, he stressed the importance of education for Indians, campaigned for women’s rights and worked to end the traditional practice of sati: burning widows on the funeral pyres of their husbands.

war graves

Over 500 British Commonwealth servicemen from both World Wars are buried or listed at the cemetery, mostly from area military hospitals.

Most of the 356 World War I servicemen are buried in the ‘Soldiers Corner’ plot near the main entrance.

Dozens of men and women are buried at Soldier’s Corner near the main entrance to the cemetery.

Notable graves include Elsie Joy Davison, the first British female pilot to die in World War II, and World War I heroes Harry Blanshard Wood and Daniel Burges.

Keith P. Plain