Month published: March 2014

 
 

The Joys of Hampstead Heath

hampstead

 

Hampstead Heath is the best park in London. Fact. Richmond Park may be larger and Hyde Park may be more famous on an international scale but when it comes to sheer beauty and character the Heath wins hands down. London is such a busy, noisy place and I feel that the only way to keep your head is to take regular breaks from the absurdity of city life. Within five minutes of wandering through the Heath you feel as if you have left the city behind. The trees along its perimeter tend to block out most of the neighbouring residential buildings that surround it. Conversely, however, the Heath offers some of the best views of London’s cityscape provided you climb up to the top of Parliament Hill. Look South and you will see the entire mileu of the City’s skyscrapers, from Canary Wharf to St. Paul’s Cathedral and of course the formidable Shard. The Heath used to be a tract of countryside that was protected from urbanisation which is why it is more pastoral and wild in appearance than the Royal parks of London. However there are more formal areas of the Heath, such as Kenwood and Golders Hill Park.

The area of the Heath is so expansive and full of variety that you can spend hours on end traversing its grounds and find something new around every corner. Entering Parliament Hill Fields from Highgate Road you will find outdoor tennis courts that are a great place to hone your game during the summer months. To the left you will find an outdoor swimming pool and to the right the famous Highgate ponds which include men’s and women’s bathing ponds, a wildlife reserve pond, a model boating pond and a pond for fishing. The ponds are free to use and open all year round, although bathing in the colder seasons is not recommended for the faint of heart. Kite enthusiasts can climb up to the top of ‘Kite Hill’ where strong winds are commonplace.

Heading North from the rolling hills you will find Kenwood which, as the name suggests, consists of a wood as well as a country estate and its surrounding grounds. Rambling through the woods you are likely to encounter many types of wildlife, including pipistrelle bats. Emerging on the other side you will find Kenwood lake and a vast lawn that slopes up towards the magnificent Kenwood House. Kenwood’s lawn is the perfect place for a picnic and in the summer evenings you can enjoy live outdoor concerts with a variety of bands and orchestras playing the picturesque stage at the edge of the park’s lake. Kenwood House is also well worth visiting for its exquisite interiors and extensive collection of artwork, including Vermeer’s The Guitar Player and Rembrandt’s Self Portrait with Two Circles.

Adjoining the west part of the Heath is Golders Hill Park which includes an expanse of lush grassland, an exquisite flower garden and even a zoo with exotic animals like flamingos, ring-tailed lemurs, kookaburras and Eurasian eagle owls. If you decide to take the walk from Kenwood to Golders Hill be sure to grab a drink at the historic Spaniards Inn – a pub with a rich literary heritage and the home of many a highway robbery in centuries past. So look no further than Hampstead Heath if you are looking for a serene, relaxing day out that doesn’t involve leaving the city limits and won’t cost you a penny.

Changing Lanes

Cycling

 

Changing Lanes

Morning rush hour. What a lovely time of day, especially on the Northern line (sarcastic tone). Thankfully I never had to take that tin can of despair but instead sat on the Victoria line at Stockwell and witnessed the beast roll into the platform. Nothing looks more out of place than yuppie Clapham girls with carefully made up hair, sandwiched between oversized builders and pressed flat against the windows of the doors. The irritating buzz as the doors open release the throng of those with their eyes set on the awaiting Victoria line train. They sprint across the gap, which although only around 20 meters across is long enough to provide entertainment for those on the Victoria line but short enough to provide hope for those making the desperate dash before the train doors close. In the words of the great David Attenborough – some make it, others don’t.

Every time I see this human salmon run I wonder why people put themselves through it. Why not wait for the next train – or live somewhere that you can get on a train without feeling like you are getting hugged by a boa constrictor. Obviously there are certain reasons why people do this to themselves and I am not naive enough to think that the other options are viable for all. However, I have recently changed codes from the tube to the road and have cannot see myself going back (during the Summer that is). I am of course talking about cycling to work. Here are my thoughts on the matter:

The first rule is that you need a shower at work. If you do not have a shower then I would advise against cycling to work. People sweat, and sweat smells. Don’t put your colleagues through that.

Except for the initial outlay on the bike, it is definitely cheaper. My bike cost me £120, about the same as a month’s underground fare. So it paid for itself pretty quickly.

You get fitter. And arrive at work feeling a whole lot better.

It is better for the environment.

For the most part, it is quicker. I can cycle to work,be showered and changed and sat at my desk 10 minutes before I would have arrived if I had taken the tube.

Clearly there are disadvantages to cycling. Sometimes you have to leave the bike in the office in order to go for drinks. The roads can be dangerous and near misses can ‘pucker you up’. Rain can be irritating and the winter is not particularly fun, especially in the mornings. Having said that, I will attempt to cycle throughout Winter, rain isn’t all that bad, as long as you are not an idiot it is not like playing Russian roulette……and cycling to and from work when it is sunny is just exquisite. The pros out weigh the cons in my opinion.

So my conclusion is this. If the facilities are there you should seriously consider giving it a go – even if it is just for the Summer. Join in the competitive drag races between the lights or simply pootle along enjoying the sun. And the fact that you are not crammed on a Northern Line train with the mole people.

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