Today, I headed just north of central London to Hampstead. Like many places just outside of central London, it was its own village before being swallowed up by the city. I can see that; Hampstead definitely still has a small-town feel to it. It’s full of little shops, winding streets, and charming houses, and it’s much more peaceful than other parts of London. Keats (poet) used to live here, and his house is a tourist attraction (I didn’t go). It’s also home to some of the most expensive real estate you’ll find anywhere. According to wikipedia, some of the larger houses were selling for as much as 50 million pounds in 2008 (that’s about 75 to 100 million dollars, depending on what the exchange rate is doing), and Hampstead has more millionaires living within its boundaries than any other area in the United Kingdom. I can believe that; they’re the only ones who could afford to live here! Still…that info DOES come from wikipedia, as I said, so take it with a grain of salt. 🙂
One thing I noticed about Hampstead was that it was very “churchy.” Within a relatively small area, I spotted three Anglican churches, a Roman Catholic church, a Baptist church, a Unitarian chapel, and a Quaker meeting house. That struck me as a bit unusual; while there are plenty of churches in England, it’s not the most Christian place in the world. Why so many in such a small area? Are Hampstead citizens more into church than the rest of the city? That might be something to explore on another visit. This time, I settled for exploring one of the old churchyards, and found the grave of John Constable, the artist:
I liked Hampstead; it was cute, and provided a nice day out of the main part of the city. I don’t know if the village itself is worth the trip for someone who’s not in London for very long, though. The shops seem to cater toward the (wealthy) local population, so the average tourist probably isn’t going to find much to interest them. It’s also not the best place to visit if you’re not a good walker, or have other mobility issues. The streets can be be kind of cobbly and uneven, and there are definitely hills. They’re also narrow, without much in the way of sidewalks in some places. That was fine for me; I like walking, and I thought that the street plan added to the charm of the place. For someone who might have difficulty navigating places like that, though….probably not the best place to be.
Even if Hampstead might not be worth it for the casual tourist, Hampstead Heath definitely is. It’s a huge chunk of park to the north of the village high streets. It feels a bit wilder than most of London’s parks; there aren’t any pruned flower beds and fancy gardens. There are plenty of well-used walking paths, though, and it’s very popular with walkers, joggers, and dogs. If you’re looking to get away from the crowds, though….you can. 🙂 The size of the place makes it totally possible to find yourself alone on some side trail that DOESN’T appear on any map, but it’s not really large enough that you’ll get so lost that you can’t get out again.
One of the nicest surprises in Hampstead Heath is this:
That’s Kenwood House, a mansion within the park that’s open to visitors. I didn’t think I’d be into visiting old houses before I came to England, but between Kenwood House and the Wallace Collection, I think I’m sold. 🙂 Kenwood is situated in a beautiful part of the park, and the views are fantastic. Most of the rooms on the ground floor (and a few on the upper floor) are open to visitors, and the art inside is fantastic. There are paintings by all sorts of big name artists like Reynolds, Gainsborough, and Turner, to name a few. My favorite part of Kenwood House was the feeling that it was just that: a house, not a museum. I could imagine myself living there, back in the days when it was a private home. I used to think it wouldn’t have been much fun to be rich in past centuries (too many rules, especially for women), but I think I might be changing my mind. 🙂 At any rate, Kenwood is definitely worth more than a passing look. Admission is free, too!
Parliament Hill, which is within Hampstead Heath, is one of the places that offers a “protected view” of the rest of London. I went up there just before leaving the park…but I wasn’t all the excited by what I saw. Being up there and looking out over the city didn’t give me one of those “oh look, it’s London, I love this place” moments. Instead, I just felt like I was looking out over any old jumbled up big city. I think I prefer the view from Primrose Hill, in Regent’s Park. Here’s one shot from Parliament Hill, just so you guys can see what I saw:
My camera was behaving a bit funny all day today. Normally, it takes some of its best pictures when the weather is overcast, but most of the ones I took at Hampstead Heath ended up washed out, faded, and ugly. I sincerely hope I was just overlooking some setting that I forgot to change, because I REALLY don’t want to have to deal with a broken camera or lens. Keep your fingers crossed! 😀