Hampstead Heath.

So much has been written about the Heath that it is hard to know where to start but it is worth simply pointing out it is wonderful! 790 acres of woodland and open grassland where you can really feel you are in the country.

It is only three quarters of a mile – maybe a 20 minutes walk – from the centre of our area. To get there you head north up Willes Road which turns into Spring Place and then you can turn left into Grafton Road and then right – or you could cut through Cressfield Close, past the City Farm, (another brilliant resource for people with children)… either way – then over the railway bridge to Oak Village. Turn right along Gordon House Road and 100 yards on your left is one of the entrances to the Heath. Strictly speaking this part of the Heath is called Parliament Hill.

After only 150 yards you will come across the Lido swimming pool.  This is open all year round for swimming including the services of lifeguards who will break the ice if necessary in winter. Good luck. There’s also a nice little café which serves both sides of the wall, ie the pool and the Heath, and currently a pop-up food cart called Hoxton Beach.

North of that is the running track and sports field and beside that to the west a good playground (now open) and paddling pool (now closed) .

If instead you turn east, you come to the café and a bit further on to the right the newly refurbished loos. They are opposite another pleasant playground for small children. This is close to the Farmers Market every weekend.

After that, you may just want to head north and you will see Parliament Hill itself, generally called Kite Hill, ahead of you which rises to 322 feet and has a pretty good view over London.

Beyond that, you can just wander at large and it is possible almost to get lost even if you have known the Heath for many years. There are the bathing ponds – now open – the women’s pond, the men’s and the mixed ponds.

Heading ever northwards, you eventually come to the Kenwood Estate which in theory is slightly separate from the Heath and managed by English Heritage. It contains Kenwood House which is a rather beautiful 1764 Adams building and normally has a fine art collection including an astonishing Rembrandt self portrait. It also has a good café with pleasant gardens, two shops and of course loos.

This has so far completely ignored the whole western side of the Heath which goes on for miles and includes the Vale of Health which is a rather fascinating little village slightly isolated in the heath.

If you go north-west from Kenwood, across the long Spaniards Road, you come into Sandy Heath which is a curious area that appears to have been excavated. In fact it has. It used to be full of sand, level up to the road, which was excavated and used in construction work and even to fill sandbags in the war.

Going further north west across Wildwood Road you are in the Heath Extension and then you can walk almost another mile before you reach the northern limits – the Great Wall – which then gives onto Hampstead Garden Suburb, which is always worth exploring.

Buried in there somewhere is the Big Wood which not everybody has come across.

If you didn’t go into the north-east extension but instead cut westwards – or walked along Spaniards Road to the end – the roundabout with Jack Straw’s Castle ex-pub – then to your right is West Heath, very worth exploring and where there is an extraordinary place call The Hill with a Pergola which is also well worth exploring.

Adjacent to that is Golders Hill Park which has quite a good café, loos and a small zoo.

Among the hundreds of books that must exist about the Heath, we would recommend  “Hampstead Heath, The Walker’s Guide” by David McDowell and Deborah Walton 1988 which gives some quite good background stuff around geology and the history of the Heath as well as some recommended walks with very intelligent and dryly amusing commentaries.

The Wikipedia article on the Heath is very disappointing – brief and out of date.

A fairly recent publication is “How Hampstead Heath” was saved by Helen Lawrence 2019 which has a very detailed history of the Heath going back to the earliest times, and then the huge struggles to protect it and to extend it. And those struggles continue even now with endless controversy about what the Heath should really be like. Fascinating.

Below is the official map – too small to much use but you can enlarge it on your screen. As you know Ctrl and roll the mouse wheel.

hampstead-heath-map-1.jpg