Hampstead Heath

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There isn’t really much I can say about Hampstead Heath except that it’s beautiful in an intentionally not-totally-tamed sort of way, and that, if I lived in London, I would probably come here a lot. Londoners are so lucky to have such a wealth of green spaces that they can visit for free — actually, one of the things about London that surprised me was how many park benches remain empty, even on weekends. Well, Londoners probably have better things to do with their time than sit on a park and enjoy the sun, I don’t know. What I do know is that we have one park near our house that isn’t even a tenth as beautiful as any park in London and we have to pay for admission (nothing backbreaking but still) and yet it’s always full of people on weekends. That’s why I think Londoners are lucky.

There are several Tube stations near Hampstead Heath — you can see this page for detailed information on how to get there. We took the Overground line from Clapham Junction and got off at the Hampstead Heath station, where the entrance to the heath is only a very short walk away. Some of the first things we saw:

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Hampstead Heath is also apparently a favorite of dog-walkers, both professional and personal.

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One of the reasons why I wanted to visit Hampstead Heath is that it figures in some of my favorite books. Sherlock Holmes and John Watson ran through the heath after they burgled Charles Augustus Milverton’s house. It’s the scene of the General’s death in Smiley’s People and, two books before that, it was where George Smiley and Max sat on a bench and talked about what happened to Jim Prideaux. The film version of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy even included shots of Smiley, played by Gary Oldman, swimming in one of the heath’s ponds. It’s said that CS Lewis conceived the idea of Narnia after a snowy walk through Hampstead Heath. Looking at that photo above, I can certainly imagine how beautiful the heath must be, covered in snow, beautiful enough to inspire Narnia. And, to mix references, I can certainly imagine — in fact, I did imagine — that man walking his dog to be George Smiley, past retirement, past chairmanship of the fishing rights committee, past Ann.

Here he is again:

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He could be George Smiley, couldn’t he? 🙂

Hampstead Heath is also said to offer one of the best views of London. This was the best we got…

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…but I’m pretty sure there’s some other vantage point with better views. We didn’t really aim for any particular spot in the heath while we walked. We just took random paths and only resorted to checking the map — placed throughout the heath in sensible intervals — when it was time for us to leave.

I don’t know if I would categorize Hampstead Heath as a must-see for visitors to London — I suppose it would depend on how much time you have in the city — but it was definitely one of the places that I connected to during my stay there and I would love to visit it again.

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11 thoughts on “Hampstead Heath”

  • Peaceful lovely looking park–that is my kind of thing too! Doesn’t sound so exciting I guess to people looking for the LONDON EXPERIENCE but I’m more and more drawn to spaces like this one and you did it justice with a really nice write up and photos.
    You’ve made me think too that I’m pretty lucky where I live. I’m a bit ignorant because I didn’t realize there’s admission to some city parks. Some state & national parks here charge but as far as city, town ect parks go those are always free. We have tons of trees, green spaces and parks all over Buffalo and the surrounding areas and I DO appreciate it but still think maybe I’m taking it for granted in a way.
    A friend of mine moved to Philadelphia and was surprised at the lack of trees & greenery she noticed over time. She loves it there but trees make her think of Buffalo.

    • You’re always going to parks and stuff and I think that’s the best way to appreciate it, that you’re taking advantage of it. Some of our acquaintances in London admitted that they rarely take advantage of the free parks and museums, and maybe that’s because they have no time or they live too far away or they prefer to do something else. I suppose — thinking about it now — if there was someone who really, really loved the beach but lived too far inland, I suppose that person would think it a waste too that I don’t visit our beaches more often…but it’s just too darn hot most of the time! 😀 I’m really intrigued by Buffalo, your photos are always so beautiful, I hope I can see it for myself someday. And honestly trees inspire me more than beaches. 🙂

      • That’s true I think somebody might say that about your close proximity to beaches because I asked another blogger about that one time. She lives in the Sydney area near a beautiful beach but I think she said she doesn’t usually have the time to spend near the ocean. I guess when we grow up near something we can’t always make it a priority to enjoy it or maybe we feel we’re not supposed to…

        I use to feel a little guilty spending so much time outside & in nature areas because I saw it as my using a large portion of free time for pleasure instead of doing something more productive but I realized it’s a much better use of my free time and one I can happily carve out extra free time for because it just makes me feel better and I think I “do” better afterwards. Some of it was other people’s reactions. So for example I like going on nature walks often and love going to the movies but someone might make a comment like “I wish I had all that free time but I have 50 million children and I can’t go!” or some garbage and I realized that that’s their issue, not mine. I wonder what else it is that makes us feel like we’ve got to be busy with something “important” instead of enjoying ourselves. I imagine that parents go through 100X more too.
        Anyway, I happily make room and cut out other stuff for my walks and nature time and I think that’s healthy and I’m grateful I can do it. Sometimes I think about people in city neighborhoods that can’t safely access a park and that bums me out. And typing that out just now makes me think that’s a worthy cause to get involved in.
        Well you’re probably the first person in a century to say they’re intrigued by Buffalo–and love that you said that!!
        It actually is a beautiful city despite some of the dumpy parts especially because of the architecture. It’s small so you can see a lot in a short time and it has interesting history and museums because it use to be THE place to be. Unfortunately it’s one of the most dangerous cities in the country and though tourism is growing it’s hard to get people to stop by. We get lots of Canadians and I guess more people are coming from the Michigan area and other nearby states for weekend trips because of the affordability.
        Maybe someday you’ll see it though! I honestly think you’re the type of person who could find value in a trip to Buffalo and appreciate it because you can see beyond just tourist destinations and what’s considered “cool” to visit.
        I love water and the seaside, especially in cooler months, I just wanna turn into a sea creature and dive in haha but there is something about trees huh? They’re just so strong and symbolic of life and they give us oxygen and they’re beautiful. =)

      • That’s true. I think it’s important to do, not only the stuff that you HAVE to do, but also those things that you LIKE doing, if for no other reason than they keep you from going insane, which will not do anybody any good. So yay for parks and seas and trees and all the stuff that feed our soul.

      • And I know that not everybody can partake in that stuff. I’m privileged to have the access and able to make the time but I wish everybody could enjoy whatever it is that keeps them sane. “yay for parks and seas and trees” that’s gonna be written on the cover of my next travel/nature journal(yes I keep one of those, I am a nerd!!)

      • Travel journals are nice, I’m putting one together (customizing a blank one) for my next trip!

      • Tokyo! It’s my last scheduled trip out of the Philippines and then…I don’t know when the next one will be. :/

    • Yes! It makes you feel like it’s not just there for show, that nature isn’t being sculpted too much to suit human tastes.

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