Hampstead Heath – 24/04/21

It’s been a while since we’ve climbed Parliament Hill. The last time was around the genesis of this blog so it was well overdue a revisit. Plus, with all the months we’ve spent mooching around our own house, an adventure was also well overdue.

And what an adventure it was! We had driven to church in Canonbury so the first adventure was driving over to Hampstead, a journey Google Maps suggested would be very straightforward:

Yet, when we actually got into the car AngelGoogle turned into AngelusGoogle and took us through a fiendish maze of tiny streets in the outer reaches of Islington.

Some of those streets were terribly pretty and lined with blossom-y trees but it was a bit hard to appreciate them when we were never pointing in the same direction for more than two minutes.

But we saw some interesting sights along the way, including Pentonville Prison. And at one point, we pulled up just behind this prankster:

Which had the kids both fooled and freaked out. Eventually we came out somewhere I recognised – a piece of pavement outside Kentish Town tube that I had definitely sung on at some point. But that meant I knew how to get to Hampstead Heath from there and I knew it wasn’t far, so that was good. A few minutes later, we were parking up on one of the residential streets near Gospel Oak station (no restrictions on Sunday) and wandered down to meet the rest of our party, a full 20 minutes early.

What to do with that spare time? Oh, if only a neon sign would give us an indication of what we should do…

So Nathan went to get us coffees and mango juice for the kids and shortly afterward, we met a delightful cockapoo who was desperate for someone to scruffle his head and call him a Good Boy. I apologise now if he was actually a Good Girl – we didn’t get into too much conversation with the owner past “can we scruffle your dog?”. And we did. In fact, there were many dogs wandering by on their way to the Heath, which kept the kids entertained.

But soon enough, our friends turned up and we followed the stream of dogs past the Mutt Hut and onto the vast expanse of green. It was Bunny’s birthday celebration and she wanted to picnic on the very top of the hill, so that’s where we aimed for. I said something foolish about how it didn’t feel as steep without a scooter and a toddler like last time…but that was before we hit the near-vertical part of the ascent. I may channel Fraulein Maria in several ways but not in the running up mountains stakes.

Still, you can’t beat the view from there:

And happily, we stopped right by a bench dedicated to Jim Henson who has indeed brought much joy to my life over the years:

It was both sunny and windy up there. The clouds to the East looked like a heavily redacted document but overhead there was nothing but blue skies, as Bing would say (Crosby, not the CBeebies bunny). Last time, we’d brought a kite and there was no wind to fly it. This time, it was as if Nathan was trying to fly a picnic blanket:

We ate our picnic and when the kids got restless, they decided to go into the woods and build a den with the den-making kit Bunny’s parents had procured at the Jumble Trail the day before. That kept them occupied for hours and us grown ups sat atop our hill, lazing in the sunshine and wondering what kind of trouble the kids were getting themselves into.

Some trouble, as it happens…but slightly unfairly. Reuben popped back out of the woods to tell us that some people in a uniform had ordered them to dismantle the den because, and I quote, “people might set fire to it”. Presumably that applies to any bit of wood in the Hampstead Heath area and it must be a losing battle attempting to stop any child ever arranging any of them, but we complied and took the (very fine) den down before we left. Wouldn’t want to put temptation in the way of the local arsonists. I don’t blame the uniformed people for enforcing the rule but I have to admit, I don’t *quite* understand it.

It’s has, however, led me to look up the set of Hampstead Heath Byelaws and there are some really quite specific rules in there that I wasn’t aware of, including prohibitions on sorting bones and mending chairs on the Heath. I think I broke one of the byelaws unknowingly by humming a few bars of the “Rentaghost” theme tune. You’d think that I, of all people, would be fully conversant with the laws around singing wouldn’t you?

The drive home also looked straightforward on Google, but we’ve been down this metaphorical road before haven’t we? And, thanks to a “Road Closed Ahead” sign on Highgate Hill, we went down – or up- many non-metaphorical roads. Although we turned off the road called “Hill”, I was pretty confident that we’d encounter the terrifying gradients of Highgate sooner or later and so we did, going past some beautiful 1930s blocks of flats and the imposing entrance to Highgate Cemetery. Luckily, the road became one-way at some point as I’m not sure what we would have done if anything had come down the other way.

There was more 1930s loveliness as we passed by Bounds Green tube, just before turning onto the North Circular:

On the way we’d seen more glimpses of memory places, from the unsettling (old bosses, old offices) to the undefined (something to do with a telly and Muswell Hill and some Brazilians). But it was lovely to bust out of our LBWF bubble for a day and breathe the rarefied air of posh North London. We noticed on the way out that there was an adventure playground reopening in May this year so Roo made me promise we’d go back. Mind you, I said on the last post that we’d be be back to check out the playground and that’s taken us almost a decade. Ah well….

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