Hampstead Heath (7.4 miles)
Route in figures
Hampstead Heath is a "gloriously varied, irregular grouping of heath land, woodland, fields and formal grounds", totalling almost 800 acres. It is London's highest open space, a survivor of the once great Middlesex Forest. Routes on the Heath are infinitely variable: this is only an example.
At one point, after about 4 miles, you can out and back along part of the 14 mile Dollis Valley Green Walk, to add miles. Or, if you run the shortest route from Seymour Leisure Centre, through Regents Park and Primrose Hill, you'll add another 4 miles each way.
|"Digital Data © Geoinformation Group (2003)"|
Start and finish
|You can start at Parliament Hill track, where there are showers and lockers. It is open from 7.30am until dusk.||
"Digital Data © Geoinformation Group (2003)"
|0.3||Turn right out of access road, and run east for 400m, turning left just past the band stand and cafe (water fountain and public toilets). Masochists may choose to divert to the top of Parliament Hill – outstanding views to the south and east, particularly in the evening.|
|1.0||Pass three Highgate Ponds on your right, the imaginatively named "No 1 Pond", the "Men' Bathing Pond" (discretely hedged), and the "Model Boating Pond". At the T-junction just past the third, turn right, up a short hill, fork left through barrier (beside public toilets / water fountain) and turn left on track to pass the Ladies' Bathing pond on your left.|
|1.5||After barrier, ignore paths to right and left, and continue straight ahead. Fountain on right after 100 m not suitable for drinking. Continue uphill, to reach first set of gates into the grounds of Kenwood House on left. Ignore these gates, and follow tarmac road round to the right (sorry, still uphill), and then left, to reach view point, just before road emerges onto Hampstead Lane – (Bus route 210, Archway / Golders Green). The view south east from here features famously in several paintings by Constable, just before the Turners in the National Gallery.|
|2.0||Stay inside Heath, turning left before the barrier, with wooden fence on right, and follow path to gate, passing Bucklands caravan. Turn right through gate, and out onto paved drive. (Cafe / public toilets in Kenwood House to the left) Cross drive into path, cross 2nd drive into hilly woodland path in North Wood and follow for 1/4 mile. Take care emerging into car park (traffic from right), go through car park, ignoring another entrance to Kenwood on left, through gate towards Farm Cottage, and bear left past Dairy Cottage down to wooden kissing gate.|
|As an alternative to this last section (slightly shorter), run in front of Kenwood House, overlooking to your left the open air stage and Thousand Pound (Concert) pond. Continue along wide path between lime trees, follow as it bends left, and in 50 m (opposite Henry Moore sculpture), turn right through wooden gates. Continue on path, bearing left, then right, and follow round to left as the other path joins from the right.|
|2.4||Stay on wide gravel / sand path, with West Meadows to your left, to reach iron gates.|
|2.6||Go through gates, and in 20m, fork right. 20 m further on, fork right again, onto leaf-covered ground, with wooden fence to your right. Bear left at wooden way mark (missing its arrows), between large trees, and stay within about 15 metres of the iron railings on your right. Emerge onto (not very level) playing field, actually used for hockey, and head for top right hand corner. Pass to the right of a tree with twin trunks. Keep straight on at corner of wooden fences, uphill, over tree roots, passing to the left of a silver birch, and in a further 15m, fork right in front of big oak tree, to cross over tarmac drive, pass large tree on left, and climb out onto Spaniards Way, over yet more tree roots.|
|2.7||Turn right, and in 40m cross road. Turn right and immediately left down short hill into Sandy Heath. At bottom of incline, note distinctive shape of huge oak tree on your right, and follow compass bearing 335 (approximately 1 o'clock). There are no distinct paths in this section, so keep checking general direction by looking back at oak tree. There's a boggy area behind yet another gnarled oak in front of you. The best crossing point is usually over logs, between the oak and a silver birch, about 10m to its right, but you might have to improvise if there's been a lot of rain. You're aiming to reach a main pathway, running almost parallel to Spaniards Way, about 100 m over. Climb up onto main pathway on little sandy path, cross the main path, and down another narrow path.|
|2.9||As you drop down the narrow path, bear to the left in front of 2 trees, and in 30 meters, keep left of two more trees with twin trunks (compass bearing 300). Aim for the ridge which form the highest ground around, and fork right to run down it (compass bearing now due north) The path is now a bit clearer: continue down hill to come out on Wildwood Road. Again, a boggy patch might need improvisation!|
|3.0||Cross the road, onto the Heath Extension, and follow narrow, grassy track towards (now defunct) fountain -don't worry, there's real water soon! At fountain beside cross-track, , keep straight on, to right of fenced play area. The grassy area ahead of you is fantastically soft and springy (one of my favourite stretches) – or maybe it just feels like that as it's downhill! In the distance, you look over Hampstead Garden Suburb. The smaller building nestling down on your right is a public toilet, and there's a water fountain on the wall of the maintenance yard just opposite.|
|3.7||Re-join the main path, just past this point. The right fork, following the right hand edge of the cricket pitch is more direct, if you're heading for extra miles along the Dollis Valley Green Walk, but can be very muddy after rain. This time, take the left fork, following a path round the left edge of the cricket field. When the path narrows, fork right, and then fork right again onto grass, and skirt trees, turning right then left onto wide grassy track, cross gravel path, and keep to right of meadow area round two sides of rugby field. Head for the long brick wall, actually called the Great Wall, which form a boundary for Hampstead Garden suburb, and turn right along the path, or grass in front of it.|
|4.0||At the opening, look towards St Jude's church. In another 200 metres, note the route of the Dollis Valley Green Walk. [This is highly recommended for your longer runs. Many runners do an out-and-back of about 8 1/2 miles from the edge of the Heath Extension, finishing at Argyle Road, N12. There are shops along to the left, where you can buy water. If you turn right along Southover way, there are 2 sports ground with club houses within about 500 metres, which should have toilets: not checked, let us know what you find!] Carry on, and just before the path ends, fork right onto a grassy path inside the Heath. In 100 metres, fork left, away from the rugby pitch, through a gap in the rough hedge, and continue, this time with football pitches on your right.|
|4.6||After the last pitch, keep ahead and slightly right on grassy path, parallel with bridleway. When path merges with bridleway, continue with wooden fence on right, Stay on the bridleway, follow round to right, and 40 metres later, pass the steps at which you came onto the Heath Extension. Keep straight on to junction of Wildwood Road and Hampstead Way, and turn left onto Hampstead Way.|
|5.4||At T-junction, cross road to enter Golders HillPark, fork right then left past metal post, to pass in front of cafe (public toilets and water fountains here!) Straight on to pass ornamental pond on right, ignore paths to the right and left, and continue as path becomes narrow and winding, to pass animal enclosure on your left, and drop down between wooden fences. Then, up short hill, past water garden on left, to turn left at junction. Follow as path round to junction, where turn right through gates onto West Heath.|
|6.2||At main path, turn right and follow wide track to junction with West Heath Road, and turn left on pavement. When road bears right, keep straight ahead on path which climbs up to Whitestone Pond.|
|7.4||At the top, turn left, and immediately over zebra crossing, to turn left on pavement, then follow footpath signposted Vale of Health. Join wide sandy path from left, follow as it bends right, and fork right down the cycle route to pass the Vale of Health on your right. Straight on through barrier, with fishing pond to right. Keep to main path. Fork left on narrow path with children's enclosure on left. (If too muddy, stay on main path, and turn left when it meets cross path) Cross path, and join track from right, which immediately forks. Take right fork (usually better) and bear left (compass bearing 110) over open land, called Pryor's Field. Canary Wharf at 1 o'clock. Aim for the water and join tarmac road, turn left, and follow between two ponds, and right uphill. Fork right onto "no cycling" path. At cross-path, turn right and follow down, and left, to finish at the track.|
|Or, keep straight on to the top of Parliament Hill, for a magnificent view, and sometimes great kite-flying!|
Sights and history
Par: 320 ft high, previously known as Traitors' Hill, probably renamed from cannon placed here, defending London against the army of Charles I.
Highgate Ponds: Highgate and Hampstead Ponds were developed following a late 16th century Act of Parliament, authorising the construction of conduits to carry water from the Heath's many streams to London, to scour the fouled river Fleet. Work began in 1589, and within a year, London had fresh Hampstead water. Some of the Highgate ponds are up to 26 ft deep, and attract wildfowl, especially the great crested grebe, coot, heron, moorhen, mallard and tufted duck.
Kenwood House: neoclassical, re-modelled by Robert Adam from 1764-1779, for William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield, and Lord Chief Justice. The Library is one of the finest Adam interiors in the country, and the house contains the Iveagh bequest to the nation of a collection of paintings by famous artists, including Rembrandt, Gainsborough and Turner. The grounds were designed by Humphrey Repton.
Bucklands caravan: an ornate, meticulously restored gypsy caravan, dating from the early 1900s, which belonged to a local gypsy family, and was used by them to travel around the fairgrounds. Hasn't been on view this year, as English Heritage, who manage Kenwood, have lost the volunteer who looked after it. Well worth a look if it comes back on view.
Henry Moore: Two reclining figures, 1963/4.
Sandy Heath, and the other highest parts of the Heath were originally formed of fine acid Bagshot Sands, laid down by a river the size of the Ganges, flowing from the west about 25 million years ago. After the ice age, it was colonised by woodland, until hunter-gatherers began to create clearings, exposing the ground directly to rainfall, leaching out the few remaining nutrients in the soil, and allowing heather and other acid-loving plants to establish. Sandy Heath and other parts of the heath are pock-marked with hollows, following the extraction of enormous quantities of sand for sand-bags during two world wars.
Suburb: Founded in 1907 by Henrietta Barnett, to be a model community where all classes of people would live together in attractive surroundings and social harmony. The church you can see through the brick-lined approach, St Jude on the Hill, is the grade 1 listed building. It was designed by Sir Edward Lutyens, and opened in 1910. It stands at the highest point of the suburb. The interior is decorated with murals by Walter Starmer.
Green Walk: A 14 mile route, linking Hampstead Heath with Mount Moat Countryside, following the valley of the Dollis Brook for most of its length. It passes through woodland, formal parkland, public open space, and farmland under grassland management. Right at the beginning are two suburban woodlands, known as Big Wood, and Little Wood, which once formed part of a single large wood. Oak predominates in both, and in Big Wood, coppicing is still part of woodland management. In Little Wood, there's a small open-air theatre. The whole route is way marked with green and white arrows.
Vale of Health: the Heath's most famous enclave – a haphazard group of houses and alleys, initially named Hatchett's Bottom. It originated after a marsh was drained in 1777, and a pond formed. Its first dwellers included sweeps and washer women, and it only became fashionable with the arrival of poet and essayist Leigh Hunt. Later literary residents have included Compton Mackenzie, D H Lawrence and Edgar Wallace. Current residents include Dame Judy Dench.