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