Monday, 1 November 2010

Up on the Heath

I spent this weekend feeling somewhat smug. Without having to buy an overpriced shoe-box of a flat for the cost of a small private island I have found a lovely place to live which is a mere 20 minute stroll from Hampstead Heath. (Ok, so it's an uphill stroll but it's totally worth it!) I have done well; hurrah for my house-hunting skills! Hampstead and Highgate, with their desirable postcodes (where I do NOT live!), are some of the most sought after and expensive areas within London, in large part due to their proximity to this heath, one of the city's finest green spaces. No film set in London is complete without a shot of the hilly heath, or a poignant conversation on a wooden bench overlooking the iconic panorama stretching from Battersea Power Station to the Gerkin.
When sometimes claustrophobic concrete, steel and glass abound in cities, open skies and expanses of vegetation provide a wonderfully welcome sense of freedom. And so much more. Last Saturday morning the Heath was alive. A farmers' market had sprung up, selling vegetables, bread and gourmet sausages to the good people of North London. Keen tennis players bobbed up and down courts working up a weekend sweat. The odd loathsome jogger sprinted up and down a small stretch of hill, dodging flailing children on lethal scooters, as they hurtled past her, occasionally into a hedge with a surprised shriek.
Hampstead Heath is a favourite haunt for dog-walkers, and all manner of canine specimens caper around the fields, racing up to their less fortunate brothers and sisters constrained by leads, taunting them with their bouncing liberty. "Molly" heads purposefully towards Hampstead itself as her bellowing owner races along in her wake, chastising and summoning her to no avail; Molly, deeply embarrassed, pretends she does not know him and trots off.

Walking down Parliament Hill we encountered a group of people clutching woven baskets, clad in wellies and those vile garments, described as "cagoules" or (and I'm not sure which term makes my skin crawl more) "anoraks", rummaging suspciously in a large bush. A long-haired fellow, from the depths of a rooty tree, triumphantly enthused on a ragedy-looking weed he had clutched in his hand. Later we watched him leaping over a small fence by the lakes to find more vegetative treasures, his nylon-clad disciplines watching solemnly.
We paused by the water, balancing on a scaffolding-pole-esque fence, to watch not only the foragers but a lone man plunging bravely (or stupidly) into the icy waters of the swimming lakes, which are unsurprisingly far more popular in the summer months. A muddy golden retriever galumphs along the muddy shoreline before emerging back onto the path, shaking himself off vigorously and plodding back to his owner, leaving a trail of drips in his wake shining on the tarmac footpath.

London's seasons are changing, but you might not notice if you never tear your eyes from the perennial concrete greyness of the city. On the Heath you can see that autumn has fallen, as copper-leaved trees atop a hill frame the city beneath like a gilt picture-frame. In weeks or months the trees will be bare and the ground will harden. But the people will still come, the dogs and joggers will still run, and the craziest swimming enthusiasts will still risk hypothermia - just to enjoy their Heath.

2 comments:

  1. I love your blog! My best friend moved to London from the States 7 years ago. I visit her annually. I love visiting all the parks and different areas of the city. I'm from Seattle so the rain and cold don't bother me one bit.
    Anyway, just wanted to tell you how much I enjoy reading your posts on the city.

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  2. Hi Kittie, many thanks for your lovely comment and for following my blog. I've never visited Seattle, but always imagine it to be similarly rainy; funny how when one is fond of a city those sorts of things don't seem to bother one very much!

    Hope you enjoy your next trip over here...!

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