Introduction and contents.
In some ways this is a rather absurd and probably grandiose project but to try and make it manageable we will simply divide it into three sections:
1. Open areas, parks.
2. Some street walks.
3. The canal.
In due course each suggestion will have a more comprehensive entry.
1. open areas, parks
So – a rush through the various places that we will give more details of later and starting by going north and then going round the compass dial, east, south and west:
Starting with the Heath itself and then north-east to Highgate and Waterlow Park and Highgate Cemetery. Then, stretching the definition of parkland a bit, including Caledonian Park and with a mention of Finsbury Park. This picks up the Parkland Walk which takes you back up to Highgate.
Just southeast of Waterlow Park there is the Dartmouth Park reservoir which isn’t green on the map but actually has a small park around it and there is a amazing view across London from benches up beside the reservoir itself.
And if you are more energetic you could get across to Clissold Park and Newington Cemetery.
Coming round the dial to the East there is Highbury Fields. Then it’s a bit urban until we swing round to due south when we have two big jewels- Primrose Hill and Regents Park.
If you are feeling a bit energetic, you can go across Regents Park, through Marylebone and pick up Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens. A return route is highly recommended going east through Hyde Park Park Corner, Green Park, St James before coming home up through the centre of town
2. Street walks. There are of course an infinite number of street walks you can do and I would strongly recommend getting copies of the various Camden History Society books “The streets of…“ i.e. Kentish Town, Camden, Hampstead,, Saint Pancras, Primrose Hill etc. Reading them in advance makes every walk even more rewarding. These and all other books mentioned can be bought from the Owl Bookshop in the High Street.
But the next section will give you a few slightly random suggestions.
3. The Canal. The joker in the pack is perhaps the canal– The Regent‘s Canal – which going east takes you into Islington via Kings Cross and Kings Place and Camley St Natural Park which is currently closed but for years has been a great place to take children with genuine scientific information and projects. For the seriously energetic, you can follow the canal right across to Victoria Park and the Olympic Park.
Going west, the canal takes you through Little Venice and into Kensal Town. Pressing on as we once did trying to reach the country, it zigzags rather a lot and we found the country is a long way away!
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Section 1. Open areas, parks.
So much has been written about the 790 acre 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 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. There’s also usually 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 east a good playground.
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.
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. At some stage in the future we should be able to get back to using the bathing ponds – 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 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 Long 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 don’t go into the north-east extension but instead go westwards, you find yourself in West Heath where there is an extraordinary place call The Hill with a Pergola which is 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 commentary.
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.