I have recently found out the Bristol-Mexican society (Sociedad Mexicano-Bristolero) through Facebook. One of their Day of the Dead celebrations happens to be taking place in one of my favourite local places… a cemetery? This may seem strange – but Arnos Vale is not any cemetery, it dates from 1839 and has a particularly interesting history.
Arnos Vale was left untended over many years and trees and bushes grew up through the graves. It is a beautiful place for a walk, and is a thriving local amenity with an excellent buggy-friendly cafe (delicious cakes!) and an interesting series of events including story-times for children, historical walking tours, and …. you can even get married there!
Arnos Vale was the first cemetery in the South West to offer cremation as land for burials became scarce. There is a fascinating exhibition in the old crematorium where you can see the equipment that was used alongside old photographs and accounts from people who spent their working lives at Arnos Vale. The site is also treasured by the local community as in the late 1980s it was nearly sold for housing – until a protest movement sprang up to save this open space for the people of Bristol. Today, Arnos Vale is run by a charitable trust, and its future depends on public donations and the work of volunteers.
What a perfect place to set up an Altar de Muertos and show people a little about Day of the Dead in an actual cemetery! Although I wasn’t able to help in the preparation of the altar, I was pleased to be able to visit with S and hopefully when he is older I can get more involved. There was also a mask-making workshop for children.
It was lovely to meet some of the people involved in setting up the altar, including the owners of Bristol’s own Mexican shop, Otomi, where we go to restock on pulparindos (Mexican sweets), fresh corn tortillas and other bits and bobs.
Another lovely touch was that the cafe at Arnos Vale, Whisk, put on a special Mexican menu for the week. They had two main dishes, Mexican hot chocolate, pan de muerto and some bone-shaped ginger biscuits.