Large expanses of green gorgeousness are not commonly associated with London. But there are a few wonderful places that are tucked away amongst the busy traffic and harried pavements, tranquil spots where Londoners themselves head for respite from the daily craziness. Hampstead Heath (known locally as ‘The Heath) is a fantastic London park covering 320 hectares that sits at one of the highest points in the city. There is much to discover on the Heath so read on for your guide.
Highgate and Hampstead Ponds
There are more than 25 ponds within Hampstead Heath, most centred around two locations. To the east side of the Heath you can find eight bodies of water which form Highgate Ponds. Two of these have been converted into swimming pools – one for men and one for women. There is also a pond dedicated to model boating, one which is a wildlife conservation pond and one that’s for fishing.
Over on the south west corner are Hampstead Ponds. There are three main ponds here, one of these is the ‘mixed pond’, where both men and women can swim. Swimming in the ponds used to be free, but since maintenance costs are quite high, there is now a £2 charge to swim.
Caen Wood Towers
Up in the north east section of Hampstead Heath you can visit a site where Caen Wood Towers once stood proud. The remains of the building are still there but in a sorry state of disrepair. Having gone through several uses (including as a hospital and a recovery lodge), this part of the estate was sold to a businessman in 2004 and it’s currently undergoing some redevelopment.
In the northern part of the Heath is the Kenwood Estate which takes up a total area of 50 hectares. The site is maintained by English Heritage and is home to the largest pipistrelle bat roost in London! The house was originally built in the 17th century and an orangery was added in 1700. Summer concerts take place by the lakeside and these are incredibly popular.
Parliament Hill Fields
On the south and also towards the east of Hampstead Heath lies Parliament Hill Fields, considered to be something of a focal point by some. It’s here that you will find Kite Hill, where many kite-flyers go to while away a few hours. From these fields, you can see many of the skyscrapers in the city of London, including Canary Wharf. You can also see St Paul’s Cathedral. Parliament Hill Fields is also home to the yards where the staff responsible for maintaining the Heath hole up.
Activities on the Heath
The Heath is used regularly by walkers, runners, swimmers and kite flyers and it is host to an annual 5000-metre race organised by Umbrella. On the Heath, you will also find a pétanque pitch, an athletics track, a volleyball court and eight separate children’s play areas, including a fantastic adventure playground. It’s a great place to head on a sunny day and there’s plenty to enjoy for all the family.