As I’m sure you’ve gathered from reading this blog, I love planning and taking trips. But my next holiday isn’t booked until late December and I’m actually really enjoying having a couple of months to spend in and around London.
I honestly feel sorry for tourists visiting England’s capital, who flock to the hell of places like Piccadilly Circus and Madame Tussauds and leave the city thinking that these sights reflect what London is all about. Whenever someone tells me “I don’t like London” (as much as it makes me rather defensive), I can only assume that they’ve been to all the wrong places. It’s such a wonderful, diverse, sprawling city, and there’s always something to do or somewhere to go, no matter what you feel like doing.
After four + years living here, I’ve got my favourite activities firmly established, and when faced with a lazy weekend I like nothing better than taking a morning walk around Hampstead Heath.
This has been my favourite spot since I moved to London, and I’ve made the pilgrimage from various boroughs, but now I’m lucky to live just a short walk away.
Hampstead Heath is a wild, green oasis from the city and its beauty varies so much from season to season. I love brisk and muddy walks through the woods in winter, watching the trees come back to life in spring, afternoon picnics in summer that roll into the evening, and autumn is the perfect time of year to stretch your legs up Parliament Hill and take in the view.
My walk to the Heath takes me past the striking Edwardian building which houses Highgate Library (I must get a membership one day).
Before sending me behind Highgate Cemetery. Karl Marx is buried in this beautiful graveyard, but for me the charm of the place is looking at the ‘ordinary’ graves. Some of the tombstones were laid so long ago that they have started to turn sideways and now stick out at all different angles.
It’s well worth a visit on its own (I recommend going on a weekday as it’s quieter and a more appropriate atmosphere for appreciating the place) but I love having a peek in whenever I walk past.
You then reach Holly Village, the most magical collection of Gothic-style houses, built in 1865 by Baroness Burdett-Coutts. The 12 houses were built with so much detail and they are still inhabited by residents today.
It’s well worth stopping and having a nosey in. It’s surreal seeing families sitting outside in the village’s communal garden, because the houses look almost too ornamental to be in use.
Keep walking and you reach the south-eastern corner of Hampstead Heath.
From here, my usual loop (when I’m opting for a quick lap around), is to walk straight ahead and up the steep path until you reach the top of Parliament Hill.
Most people come here for the view of the London skyline… (not looking very impressive on this particular day)
But if you turn around to look back to where you came from, you’ll see this view, which is the one I prefer.
Another reason I like visiting the Heath is for the simple fact that there’s a 100% chance you’ll get to see some happy dogs.
This couple were walking along with at least 10 doggy friends.
You’ll find dogs running around with sticks twice their size in their mouths, others disobeying their owners to jump straight into the pond and big groups of muddy dogs making friends and chasing one another around the grass. It really is the best.
You can then walk through the trees, down the hill and back along the ponds. At this time of year, the colours are wonderful.
If you’ve come on a Saturday, then once you reach the tennis courts you can grab a bite to eat in the Parliament Hill Farmers Markets. They sell an array of flowers, bread, pastries, eggs, cheese, meat and seasonal fruit and vegetables here, most of it organic and all of it delicious.
They also have a ‘dog fence’ (my favourite part, obviously).
I took a different route home, via pretty coloured doors, phone boxes and the Parish church.
I’ve only covered one tiny corner of Hampstead Heath, but if you go you should try and fit in a visit to Kenwood House – a stately home on the northern end of the Heath – and get lost walking through the woods. If you go when it’s been raining, make sure you wear your wellies/gumboots! The Spaniards is a brilliant 16th century inn, great for a (gourmet) pub lunch and Hampstead Village has loads of cute shops, restaurants and pubs as well.
Hampstead Heath will always have a piece of my heart!