Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Hip Hampstead Heath

On Sunday we had an action-packed visit to Hampstead Heath. My eldest was chief map reader and my youngest was in charge of checking that we were, at all times, headed towards an ice cream vendor. The 3 mile circular walk was from a favourite book of ours - Adventure Walks for Families in and around London - and we completed it in about 3 hours of glorious afternoon sunshine.

First, our walk took us to the top of Parliament Hill (the second highest land point in London) where we spotted famous buildings on the skyline and tried not to step on the young, cool crowd gathered at its summit. There were several kites being flown in the only breeze to be found across the city; thus it brilliantly lived up to its nickname of Kite Hill. But what really caught my children's attention was a nearby twinkling bejewelled tree. On closer inspection we discovered that its spinning decorations were in fact empty drinks cans lovingly suspended from the branches by thin thread; fabulous.

Then we started our descent, down a grassy path towards the ponds. With around twenty-five ponds on the Heath, built about 300 years ago to supply London with water*, they now each have a different use. On our walk we passed the men's bathing pond...

...and the model boating pond (sadly, there were no boats afloat).

Although our route led us away from the women's bathing pond, where I would have happily plunged - it was incredibly hot by now, it did provide us with some welcome shade in the ancient oak woods of the Iveagh Bequest. At this point the boys and their map got slightly ahead of us girls, but we didn't mind; Daisy was in a fairy-inspired reverie by now. Every tree and nook was part of fairyland apparently, and she sang to herself as we strolled through the shady dell...

I see the moon and the moon sees me
Over the head of the old oak tree.
Why do the stars all shine on me?
Shine on the one I love.

Out of the woods and into the heat of the sun we caught up with the boys. Daisy checked (again) that we were definitely en route to ice cream - she was seriously flagging now. Kenwood House peeped over the horizon in the nick of time and helped us motivate Daisy ice cream-wards - up the grassy, well-manicured bank towards its cafe.

After a long rest, water, ice creams of course, and a quick game of frisbee, we headed back. Our route took us past a fabulous Henry Moore sculpture. And this was where Daisy decided that she'd had enough walking. She was finished. I can't remember how we got her moving again but I do remember there were tears, a tantrum, a cooling down period, a deal struck, then hugs and finally reluctant compliance. Oh dear. Happily her spirits lifted suddenly when we walked through the amazing birch wood made golden by the setting sun (pictured at the top). Buddy and Daddy led us up our final ascent of the day - Kite Hill again - in time for a last look at the fast-sinking sun along with all the achingly hip dudes with their guitars, cigarettes and alcohol.

As we finished our walk, striding downhill towards the station, we could see the city's skyline burnished gold, reflecting the sunset. It was a particularly cool way, according to Buddy, to finish our exciting outing. So cool in fact, I'm glad I tried out the 'hipstamatic' camera App on my phone for the photos - I think it captures hip Hampstead Heath rather well.

* from Adventure Walks with Families in and around London by Becky Jones and Clare Lewis.


  1. What a lovely post and totally gorgeous photographs. You transported me to a summer day in London which is quite a feat seeing as it's raining, dark and I'm in Bristol!

  2. Dear Julia, we love your blog and will follow you! So thrilled to have such a lovely mention of our books. Adventure Walks for Families say a BIG thank you. We'd love to know about any other walks you've been on from the books.
    Becky and Clare

  3. What a lovely post! I think we probably passed each other on the heath on Sunday as we were on Parliament Hill too. You really cacpture the beauty of the day and what a special place it is. Love your blog so much x

  4. ps also gorgeous photos. Are they instagram or photographic know how?

  5. Great view of a pond but the Hampstead Heath Ponds are under threat, see


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