Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Since London is such a vast city, there are many parts that I haven’t explored yet or rarely visit.

But 2020 – because of Covid-19, being furloughed and then unemployed – has meant that I have a lot of free time on my hands to explore more of London. One area that I returned to recently is Hampstead Heath, an amazing 790 acres of ancient parkland within the capital – only a 15-minute Tube ride from the city center or an hour bike ride if you live in southwest London like I do.

View of Hampstead Pergola in London
Autumnal view of the Hampstead Pergola in North London.

Hampstead Pergola and Hill Garden

One part of the Heath that I wanted to explore was the Hampstead Pergola and Hill Garden, which is located on the far western side of the park. If you cycle here like I did, there is a pretty steady incline starting on Frognal Road and Lower Terrace. I guess I didn’t notice the name of Windmill Hill before I approached the West Heath section.

The Hampstead Pergola – a fabulous 800-foot-long, wisteria-clad pergola – is Instagram famous in the spring but looks just as lovely in the autumn. Long tendrils of wisteria vines reach out as you walk through a tunnel lined with thick wisteria branches. The pergola and its hill-top gardens make you feel as if you are in Tuscany rather than London.

If only there were vineyards as well! But I did find ripe grapes.

Peek through the pergola and you’ll see part of the original Neo-Georgian mansion here, Inverforth House (now privately-owned flats), owned by the Edwardian soap magnate Lord Lever from 1904-1925.

There is plenty to photograph in the gardens in autumn – vibrant, crimson berries, autumn-colored Japanese maple leaves and other golden foliage. In fact, during my afternoon visit in late October, I often had to wait or step aside to take the photos I wanted because there were too many people.

And gorgeous shades of red and pinks in the gardens.


This would be the perfect location for engagement or wedding photos!

Kenwood House and Prospect Hill

At the top of Hampstead Heath is the Kenwood House, a 17th-century manor house operated by the English Heritage. Unfortunately, I didn’t go inside the house because tickets can only be purchased in advance. However, I did enjoy the viewpoint from here at Prospect Hill looking out over the panoramic skyline of London.

If you have time, take a 20-minute stroll through the Heath to enjoy another viewpoint from Parliament Hill.

Highgate Cemetery

Another site on my Hampstead bucket list was the Highgate Cemetery, where Karl Marx, English novelist George Eliot and the Dickens family are all buried. Unfortunately, due to Covid restrictions, the cemetery, dating back to 1839, was closed so all I could do was peak through the gates.

I guess this historic cemetery will have to wait for another visit.

The Highgate area has a long history…the village of Highgate was established at the top of a 426-foot hill on the edge of the Bishop of London’s estate. The Bishop erected a tollgate here around 1354, when the name of Highgate name was first recorded. After 1380, when a new road from the City of London via Holloway was established, many travellers took the new North Road past the “highgate.” 

Ornate entrance for Highgate Cemetery in North London
Another fancy gate for the private community of Holly estate near the Highgate Cemetery.


Waterlow Park

Since the cemetery was closed, I popped in next door to Waterlow Park, a quiet, 12-hectacre park featuring numerous trees and two duck ponds. During the late 1800s, Sir Sydney Waterlow, Mayor of London, purchased this land and surrounding grounds and then gifted them be used as a park to the London County Council in 1889. If you’re up this far north, you might as well stroll through this tranquil park too.

Hopefully, my photos have convinced you to explore another part of London. I think it’s always fun to get off the main tourist path and see what else is out there – even in your own city!

How to reach Hampstead Heath

The closest station to Hampstead Park is the Overground stations of Hampstead Heath or Gospel Oak. The Heath also is easily accessible to Hampstead Tube Station on the Northern Line and you can walk through Hampstead Village on the way to the Heath.

You might even see some of London's mounted police officers at Hampstead Heath.
Also the trails here can get a bit muddy for cycling.

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