Monday, July 25, 2011

Hampstead: The Marin County of London?

Our friends Jason & Bethie have raved about Hampstead Heath, a large park in northern London, and the AWC did a walk there a couple weeks ago that I missed, so Josh and I decided we should see what all the fuss is about and took the Tube up there on Saturday afternoon.  One of our London guide books had a suggested walking tour of Hampstead, so we brought that along to make sure we hit all the highlights.

Our first point of interest was the Church of St. John,  which dates back to 1747.
Church of St. John
We walked past the Admiral's House, which was right next door to a house where the author John Galsworthy lived from 1918 to 1933.
Admiral's House and Galsworthy house (on the left)
After passing a couple more historic but architecturally bland buildings (which are now pubs), we entered Hampstead Heath, and 800-acre oasis of lovely parkland just north of central London.
Map of the Heath
At the northernmost point of the Heath sits Kenwood House, an 18th-century villa that was was bequeathed to England by the last owner when he died in 1927 -- along with the estate and impressive art collection.  He was the first Earl of Iveagh, perhaps better known as brewing magnate Edward Guinness.

Kenwood Estate map
The house itself is somewhat bland architecturally, but was richly decorated inside.  Unfortunately, they don't allow photography.
Kenwood House
The gardens are lovely, and the house once had a magnificent view of London before all those darned trees grew so tall.  But it's still a popular spot for picnics and parties.
View from Kenwood House
After touring the house and enjoying a spot of tea and a snack in their lovely garden cafe, we set off to explore more of the Heath.  We found several spots that had amazing views of the city, even on a slightly hazy/cloudy day.
London view
The Heath is mostly rolling meadows crisscrossed by walking paths with a string of ponds along the eastern edge.  Some are for fishing, and others are designated as mens' and womens' bathing ponds.  Since few houses in London have swimming pools, or air conditioning, I'm sure the bathing ponds are popular on those rare hot, sunny days.
Josh practices How Not to Be Seen
Fishing pond
View of Hampstead
Another London view
Eventually -- and reluctantly -- we made our way back into town and found the house where the poet John Keats lived from 1818-1820.  We were too cheap to pay the admission fee (and they were about to close), so we just enjoyed the gardens and took a couple photos.

Keats House
That brown circular plaque above the door indicates that this is a historic site -- generally where a famous person once lived.  I've seen them in a few other colors and shapes, but in some areas of London it seems like every other house has one.  I'd be interested to learn how they decide which houses merit a historic marker.  Some of them seem a bit obscure.

For example, this marker says that William Johnson Cory lived and died in this house.  He was an assistant master at Eton College 1845-1872.  His claim to fame?  He composed the words to the Eton Boating Song.
The Cory House
I took a photo of this church not because it has any particular significance or architectural interest, but because there was a Bentley parked in front of it. Yes, that's right. A Bentley. PARKED ON THE STREET!
Bentley on the street!
On the other side of the church, there was a Maserati parked on the street.  And another one in a driveway.  Clearly this is a very affluent neighborhood.  The houses are all huge and have beautiful gardens, and I have never seen so many exotic sports cars in one afternoon. But we also noticed at least half a dozen of these little cars.
Gee whiz!  That's a tiny car!
It's an electric car called the G-Wiz.  It's made in India, where it is known as the REVAi.  You have to see it in person to appreciate how tiny this thing is, but it's smaller than a Smart car, and in some countries, including the US, it does not even qualify as a car.  They are popular here because they are exempt from the central London congestion charge and are easy to park.  I've seen them parked facing the curb! 

Based on the mix of ridiculously expensive and hybrid/electric vehicles, we decided that Hampstead must be the Marin County of London -- a wealthy suburb where all the rich hippies live.  (If you've never heard of Marin County, ask someone from San Francisco.)  I think we nailed it.  Here's what Wikipedia has to say about Hampstead:
It is known for its intellectual, liberal, artistic, musical and literary associations and for the large and hilly parkland Hampstead Heath. It is also home to some of the most expensive housing in the London area, or indeed anywhere in the world, with large houses selling for up to £50m (2008). The village of Hampstead has more millionaires within its boundaries than any other area of the United Kingdom.
We made our way back to the High Street and had a delicious dinner at a little Mediterranean bistro, where we sat outside and watched the parade of Porches and Priuses go by.  I can see why Jason & Bethie wanted to live there -- we would love to as well -- but short of pitching a tent in Hampstead Heath, I think that area is out of our reach.  We'll have to stick with our little row house in Wimbledon.  At least it sounds posh.

1 comment:

  1. I'm so glad you went! We're actually talking about going back soon. It is so pretty and relaxing there.
    If we ever win the lottery, I would gladly let you guys pitch a tent in our backyard. ;)


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