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.



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