The last time I visited Hampstead Heath was nearly a decade ago. Early January then, dragging a number of my unsuspecting friends up slippery hills and through muddy troughs, but loved it. This time was no different, only the sun burst through in smatterings and I was exploring on my own.
There are many ways to reach the Heath, and not a part of London I am totally familiar with, so decided to take the Underground to Hampstead and meander along where ever until I see a sign. Sometimes not having exact directions are a good thing – the flanéur thing. It appears that Hampstead Heath is not greatly in favour of signage and I found myself in what I though was the Heath, but Golders Hill Park instead. Ah well, pleasant, down this path, up that hillock, as one does, to find the my way in a suburb of some of the most magnificent houses in London. Georgian dreams, sash windows, manicured gardens and very expensive cars in the driveway. For a little while I dreamed of living in one of those houses, took a few pictures and ambled along – it is a beautiful part of North London.
The Heath covers 790 acres, vast indeed, and consists of woodlands, hillocks, pastures, pools and glorious views. For a while it was divine to find myself photographing the deep paths leading to who knows where, surrounded by trees hanging onto the last of their Autumn foliage. Dog walkers calling dogs barking deep in the forest. Whistles that seldom seemed to work. Couples and friends with toddlers and babies in prams, asleep in the frosty air. Wrapped up in cocoons.
Aim for Kenwood House. The Kenwood House made famous in ‘Notting Hill’. The house is closed, the cafe open to takeaway drinks and a sadness descends when the pavilion and gardens surrounding the house lie still. But nothing like a great Mocha to warm the heart and a brisk walk to exercise the lungs. The view from Kenwood House is breathtaking – a little like the walk to get there – the skyline of misty London in the distance. This is a protected view, a stunning view and spend some time making out the various skyscrapers – I see the Shard, I see …
Walking is brisk and I could have done with a pair of Wellies where the water bubbles up through the mud, though all is doable and the boots are gorgeously caked in mud. Passed the Ladies only swimming pool, rather keen to have a peak but padlocked. A friend swims there all the time, with winter gloves and cap in the freezing water – also the location of many a film. Can you think of any?
Two pm and the sky is turning darker already. A man fishes alone, lovers huddle on park benches with sweet words and hot coffee, more dogs, always more dogs in pyjamas and designer gear. One such lovely Spaniel was dressed in what looked like one of Winston Churchill’s siren suits, and of course, the first deep puddle and in she goes … all the way soaked avec siren suit. Don’t we love seeing these silly little incidences happening along the way? I pop in and out of other’s anecdotes on walks like these, but feel quite comfortable to be alone, setting my own pace, choosing my own path … so where to next?
One cannot spend too much time outdoors in winter, and winter it already is. Daylight shuts at 16.30 pm. The Heath will darken rapidly and there is a long way to go to the nearest exit or bus stop. When covering an area as large as this, it’s fine to meander, but you also need to calculate your exit strategy – there is a lot of ground to cover from the top of Kenwood House.
When all this is over, please visit for a feast of architecture, art and gardens.
Down to Parliament fields and delighted to find the first bus is going to Kentish Town, the Northern Line for my return. Hop on the bus. Bus terminates at Highgate, but it’s that kind of afternoon, no rush, discover another gem of a village within a city as I make my way towards the tube.
Popped off at Waterloo, which was dismally quiet for a Friday afternoon. Do I like less crowds? No, it is eerie and the staff are bored looking at phones and standing for hours with little to do. The trains run, not as much, and the bookshop, amongst others, is closed. Foyles is a favourite at the station. I curse a little under my breath. I miss life as I know it, cannot believe I cannot travel, heart breaking losses and restrictions, so let’s just pray all will go with a Christmas wish.
As the sun drops onto the tracks, I make my way South West. It is true amongst Londoners; some are for North London and some for the opposite side. History lies deeper in the North. Perhaps the idea of living on graves and decades of stories makes it a bit spooky, but I love that about the other side of where I live.
Another day in early second lockdown, and it was a good one. I am trying to find interesting places to walk most days. Using the tube is allowed, not recommended but allowed, and for me, getting out, going for long, interesting walks is essential to my mental health. Being very careful. Watching the world go by, and exploring London is my business – I do research and make notes as I go along.