Note: I am leading Lamar University’s study abroad group to my home town, Brighton, to study travel writing and photojournalism. As well as writing features about Brighton and beyond, I’m keeping a diary, of sorts, about the class experience. Here is part 9.
BRIGHTON, England — I have written before about Woodvale Cemetery and Crematorium founded in 1856. As a cemetery nerd I will always stop to wander around among decaying graves, read the tombstones and imagine the lives the dead ones led. For the study abroad students I set a combination assignment.
On the outskirts of Brighton is The Keep, a state-of-the-art facility that houses historical records from Sussex County. I decided to take the students to the cemetery, located in the “dead” center of town (c’mon, that joke is as old as the hills and begs to be told). They were tasked with finding the grave of someone who died in World War I, (it should be easy to figure out the ones), and go to the Keep the next day to research their subject to find out where they lived and something about their families. They sought out people whose death date was somewhere between 1914 and 1918-19. Some of the graves were helpful enough to mention something like, “died from wounds suffered in France,” or listed a regiment.
The really helpful ones listed parents who were buried in the same plot, although there is a sadness to see that they died so much later than their offspring.
Woodvale rises at a steep incline from Lewes Road to the crematorium. It is heavily wooded with many of the graves having fallen into disrepair which just adds to the charm. As one walks, overgrown graves suddenly appear.
As a group, we had walked many miles during the trip — I averaged seven miles a day through the trip, most of it up and down the hills of Brighton and its surrounds. To be fair, I had warned the students many months before that they should expect to walk — and walk and walk.
We traipsed up the winding road through the cemetery and I saw a narrow path off to the side. “Follow me,” I said, and the students dutifully trudged behind me. The temperature was a balmy 80 degrees, certainly warm by English standards. As we climbed the hill, steeper and steeper through the overgrown graves, the students began to drag behind. We reached a point near the top when the revolution happened. They began to whine that it was too steep, too hot, too much. I promised that we would stop and it would be all downhill from there.
We found a few WWI graves and they took photos for reference. We also visited an area set aside for children’s cremated remains. Each of the small plots had a toy or a memento, many of them showing signs of deterioration and mold from being left in the elements. Despite the heat and the discomfort, each of us just took a moment to reflect.
It really was, literally, downhill from there. We slowly made our way back down the hill and finished up at the Gladstone pub at the bottom of the hill which happened to be one of my local haunts when I was young.
The plan was to head to the Keep the next morning but I was informed by the students — told, to be accurate — that they needed to sleep in, that the final climb had broken them, that it was one hill too far.
I laughed. It was not a big deal. The Keep would keep until another day. I guess these youngsters needed a break. Score one for the old guy.