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Hampstead Heath walk, taking in Hampstead Park, Parliament Hill, The Spaniards Inn, Hampstead north London, England March 2005
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Hampstead walk: A walk around Hampstead Park, north London
Report by urban75 editor, March 2005

A king-sized urban75 posse was out in force for the March walk, chosen by walk-veteran, Cloo.

The walk took us around Hampstead Heath, a 791 acre park made up of the grounds of several large houses that once occupied the area.

Meeting outside the Flask pub, 14 Flask Walk, Hampstead, north London
Meeting outside the Flask pub, 14 Flask Walk, Hampstead

Hidden away in the picturesque Flask Walk (On Heath Street, 2 mins from station), is the Flask public house, a traditional Victorian boozer.

Both Hampstead and nearby Highgate have pubs called the Flask, recalling the centuries-old practice of Londoners climbing up to the two villages to fill leather flasks with pure spring water rather than risk the cholera-riddled infected waters of London.

The Flask is a down-to-earth, no-nonsense pub, offering reminders of Hampstead's roots as a working-class village of lowly cottages before the luvvies, yuppies and toffs swarmed in.

We enjoyed a couple of excellent Youngs ales before setting off on what was to be a gentle afternoon's walk.

Back Lane, Hampstead, north London, England
Back Lane, Hampstead

Hampstead's got a long history.

The earliest known inhabitants of the Hampstead area were Mesolithic forest hunters who settled here in about 7000BC, with their campsites being excavated on the West Heath between 1976 and 1981.

A barrow on Parliament Hill suggests that there was a Bronze Age settlement on this desirable hilltop.

The Doomsday Book of 1086 showed that Hamestede (meaning homestead) was centred on a small farm, which was valued at fifty shillings. In the Middle Ages two windmills and a chapel (later a parish church) appeared on Hampstead hill, with the village remaining a peaceful rural community until the end of the seventeenth century.

In 1698, six acres of wastelands on Hampstead Heath containing 'certain medical waters called the Wells' were granted at a yearly rent of five shillings on the condition was that they apply it 'for the sole use benefit and the poor of the parish of Hampstead'.

The wells were promoted on the medicinal value of the chalybeate waters (water impregnated with iron), and drinking rooms and an Assembly Room for dancing, concerts and other forms of entertainment was erected in the early 1700s.

After a bright start, Hampstead Wells's popularity declined, a casualty of competition with other London spas and entertainment and problems with rowdy behaviour.

By the end of the 18th century Hampstead's days as a spa were over, but they'd managed to attract substantial development in the area and established its reputation as a healthy and attractive place to stay.

The 19th century saw Hampstead expanding with the 1860 North London Line ('Silverlink') bringing in crowds of day-trippers to enjoy the Heath.

By 1891 the population of Hampstead had doubled to 68,000 from its 1871 total, spurring on the building of new churches, chapels, schools, police and fire stations, a cemetery, water supply and sewage system, with a Town Hall being built in Haverstock Hill in 1878.

Hampstead became part of London of 1888.


Wells House flats, Hampstead, north London, England
Wells House flats, Hampstead

The 1939-45 World War II brought periods of heavy bombing around Hampstead, with the deep tube station being used as air-raid shelters.

After the War, rebuilding was slow, with Hampstead's first post-war Council Blocks, The Wells House flats being built in 1948 on the site of Weatheral House.

On the march! Walking through Hampstead Heath, north London, England
On the march!

The twenty-five strong walking crew start stomping through Hampstead Heath.

Pond, Hampstead Heath, Hampstead, north London, England
Pond, Hampstead Heath

The larger ponds were created on Hampstead Heath as reservoirs for London's water supply in the 17th and 18th centuries.

There are over 30 ponds on the Heath, with the six major ones being in two different valleys (one of them in the valley of the River Fleet).


Picnicking by the ponds, Hampstead Heath, north London, England
Picnicking by the ponds

A couple enjoy the warm(ish) March weather and partake in a picnic on Hampstead Heath.

Climbing the hill, Hampstead Heath, north London, England
Climbing the hill

Hampstead Heath is London's highest open space, with Parliament Hill reaching 134m (441ft) above sea level.


Parliament Hill, Hampstead Heath, north London, England
View from Parliament Hill

Parliament Hill offers superb views across London and the surrounding countryside.

There's two explanations for the name 'Parliament Hill': some reckon it acquired the name because it was where Guy Fawkes and his fellow conspirators stood looking towards parliament waiting for it to explode.

A more probable explanation is that the Hill was a point of defence during the English Civil War for troops loyal to parliament.

It's also rumoured that Boudiccia (Boudicca) was buried nearby, although some people believe she rests under Platform 10 at London's King's Cross Station!

Centre left in the distance you can see the curved tip of the 'Erotic Gherkin' skyscraper, with Tower 42 to its right. To the far right, you can see the dome of St Pauls.

Parliament Hill, Hampstead Heath, north London, England
Looking over London

An old couple take in the fabulous view from Parliament Hill.

Parliament Hill, Hampstead Heath, north London, England
At the summit

There was quite a crowd of people at the top of Parliament Hill.

Stone of Free Speech , Hampstead Heath, north London, England
Stone of Free Speech , Hampstead Heath

There was supposed to be some ancient significance to this stone. Perhaps the arrangement of beer cans and bottles scattered around point to a nearby ley line. Or something. (Quick rummage around google later): ah got it - the Stone of Free Speech was the focus of religious and political meetings on the Heath 200 years ago.


Hampstead Heath, north London, England
In the tea room

The presence of the downwardly thrusting finger stabbing the table says that there is A Very Big Point being made here.

Hampstead Heath, north London, England
Pond, Hampstead Heath

Looking across one of the many ponds on Hampstead Heath.


Women only bathing pool, Hampstead Heath, north London, England
Hampstead Women's Pond

Three of the large Heath ponds are used for bathing, one mixed, one for women, and one for the men.

The women's pool lies at the end of a winding country pathway and with a ban on radios and mobile phones, provides a peaceful retreat.

Grecian Fountain, Hampstead Heath, north London, England
Grecian Fountain

Constructed in the 1920s, this fountain now enjoys Grade II listed status.

False Bridge, Hampstead Heath, north London, England
False Bridge.

This 'bridge' by Kenwood House is not what it seems: it's actually a wooden folly with only one side!


Kenwood House, Hampstead Heath, north London, England
Kenwood House

There's been a house on this site since 1616, but the current neoclassical mansion was remodelled by Robert Adam between and William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield between 1764-73.

Standing at the edge of Hampstead Heath in North London, the Kenwood House has fabulous landscaped gardens with open air concerts held in the bowl by the lake during the summer.

Kenwood House, Hampstead Heath, north London, England
Kenwood House entrance

The estate was bought in stages for the nation in the 1920s, with the Kenwood House and the final 74 acres being entrusted to the nation opn the death of Edward Cecil Guinness, 1st Earl of Iveagh in 1927.

Guinness had furnished the house and installed what was to become the most important private collection of paintings ever given to the nation, the Iveagh Bequest.

Kenwood House is reached from Hampstead Lane by a wooded drive.

The frontage is flanked by white brick wings, housing the Music and Dining Rooms, added by George Saunders for the 2nd Earl.

Kenwood House, Hampstead Heath, north London, England
Kenwood House

Admission to the house is free and visitors can admire priceless paintings by such masters as Rembrandt, Turner, Reynolds and Gainsborough.

Click here for Hampstead Heath walk (part two)


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