Hampstead Heath Continued

April 15th, 2006 | by Charlotte |

I can download my e-mail but not send, it appears. Has anyone received an e-mail from me?

So, what was I saying before I was so rudely interrupted by Starbucks closing yesterday? Let’s see, yesterday I had hot chocolate and a chocolate tart at a wonderful shop at Hampstead, Paul Maison de Qualite. It was better than Starbucks! ๐Ÿ˜‰

Paul Maison de Qualite where I got hot choc and a choc tart

Then I walked to Hampstead Heath. London’s damper, greener, muddier version of Parramatta Park (with extra daffodils.)

Not really heath-like at all - Hampstead Heath

The signs of Spring were everywhere. There were carpets of daffodils under the trees, and all the trees were budding out leaves. There was a good carpet of black mud as well. I’m going to have to take my jeans to the laundrette.

Budding trees

This is a long post, so I’ll stick in a More… link.

Hampstead Heath is the biggest leadless dog park I’ve seen. My dog would simply love it. Acres of woods and fields to play in, not to mention squirrels to chase. There were quite a few dogs running around with sticks and clearly having a good time in the mud. I saw a Labrador who was two toned – yellow on top and black mud underneath. I didn’t take a photo, unfortunately, as the batteries had run out in my camera. Here’s a dog I prepared earlier! ๐Ÿ˜‰

Dog with stick on Hampstead Heath

The Stinky Hollow cache was in a hollow log, which struck me as a very Australian place to stash a cache.

Stinky Hollow cache location

What wasn’t Australian was being able to put my hand into a hollow log without brushing off the spider webs and searching for snakes. Geocaching is much safer over here.

The trees around the cache were covered in green moss and the strangest fungus I’ve seen. It looked like dark apricots (or perhaps testicles?)

Testicle fungus

After the cache I kept walking, aiming to get to the other side of the park, and get to Highgate tube station, or Swain’s Lane, a residential enclave built in 1865 (and recommended by Lonely Planet.)

But before I reached the other side of the park, the woodland got thicker, with ivy undergrowth, and I saw a sign saying Kenwood House. Not knowing what to expect, I followed the path. The woods rang with unfamiliar birdsong, Kenwood estate is a famous nature reserve, with some of the oldest forest in London. Then the woods came to an end and I caught sight of Kenwood House in the distance, looking like Pemberly from Pride and Prejudice.

Kenwood House in the distance

You could imagine Mr Darcy, in his white shirt, diving into the lake out the front. White swans were sailing on the lake and many of the trees had white flowers. There were more flowers in the manicured gardens, which seemed to go on forever. What a place! Unfortunately, I didn’t get any shots of the gardens as my camera’s batteries had died by then.

Kenwood House closer up

It only got better as I walked closer. Kenwood House has patterns molded into the walls by Robert Adams, who built it in 1773.

Kenwood House molded patterns

Every detail is perfect, and even the outhouses, such as the kitchen, were built of warm stone and looked inviting, with flowers all around.

Kenwood House kitchen

The outhouses have been converted into cafes, and I bought some delicious (yet inexpensive) Tuscan pea soup, with a large chunk of tasty brown bread, and sat out on the garden terrace, in the warm sun, under a budding tree. A tiny fir tree in a white-painted bucket decorated each table, and people had their dogs and kids with them, but they were surprisingly well behaved. The woman at the next table talked to her Doberman in the same way my father talks to my dog: “Soon we’ll go! Soon!” It was the ultimate dog cafe.

Cafe at Kenwood House

It’s hard to believe anyone could let developers smash the Kenwood House down, but that’s what nearly happened in 1927, until the estate and everything in it was rescued by Lord Guinness. I will have to drink Guinness in gratitude.

A slope of hill at Kenwood House covered in daffodils

The garden was gorgeous, and the inside of the house was just as good. When Lord Guinness rescued the estate, he also rescued the contents of the house – nothing less than the finest small collection of paintings and antiques in Britain, perhaps the world. There are paintings by the likes of Gainsborough, Reynolds, Turner, Hals, Vermeer and Van Dyck. There’s even a Rembrandt self-portrait. All the furniture is beautiful and looks like new but it’s not – the ornate couches, tables and ticking clocks are 300 years old. It blows my mind that a couch can be a third older again than the nation of Australia. No, they don’t like people sitting on their 300 year old couches, so I didn’t try but there aren’t any fences to stop you. Just a little sign: ‘Please do not sit.’ I would have loved to have taken photos but they weren’t allowed in the house and my camera had run out of battery power.

On the top floor is the Suffolk Collection; room after room of Jacobean and Royal Stuart paintings by Larkin, Van Dyck and Lely. It’s amazing to think that they were painted in the 1600s yet here they are today almost unchanged. The people in the paintings look like extras from Blackadder II. You’ve never seen more ornate, uncomfortable clothes. Charles I is there (with his head still on) and so is Mary II. The subjects of the other paintings also had racy lives. I spotted Thomas Howard, the 1st Earl of Suffolk, who prevented Guy Fawkes from blowing up parliament, but got caught embezzling a few years later and ended up in the Tower of London. The curator came up to me and pointed out another guy, Thomas Bruce 1st Earl of Elgin 1599-1663 whose father was apparently skewered in a duel by a bloke whose painting was in the next room (and the killer was considered the good member of the family, the other brother gambled and mortgaged all the properties away.) It was Elgin’s descendant, hundreds of years later, who brought the Elgin (Parthenon) Marbles back to the British Museum. Strange to think I only saw the Elgin Marbles yesterday. Small world!

I didn’t get to explore the whole garden, so I’ll have to head back to Kenwood House and keep exploring. The most incredible part? Everything was free, apart from the soup, which was only a few pounds. All those beautiful paintings, antiques, gardens and woods – for nothing! What a great country! Wish you all could see it!

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