Today was a good day for walking in London. My friend, travel writer Cathy Smith, showed me one of her favourite places. First, though, we had to have some lunch.
The building on the left is Spaniards Inn, a pub since some time in the 1600s. The small building across the road is the former toll house where the legendary highwayman Dick Turpin stabled his horse, Black Bess. What a romantic prelude to fish and chips in the Spaniards.
Inside it’s just as it should be, an old pub, wooden floor, a snug, wooden booths, highly polished taps, and even better, a Dogs are Welcome policy. Four of them enjoyed a little slurp of water while we ate. I felt right at home.
Suitably fortified, the intrepid walkers (that would be Cathy and me) trundled up to Hampstead Heath, one of London’s famous green spaces. En route to Kenwood House, we walked through a leafless forest waiting for spring. It had that blissful openness of a mature deciduous wood where the canopy is thick enough to keep the understory from blocking the view. The damage from the catastrophic windstorms of a few years ago was still obvious; massive trees on their sides, uprooted and toppled by Mother Nature. I’d guess that one of these could weigh a thousand pounds or more.
Cathy led the way to Kenwood House, an English Heritage property with a remarkable art collection. Admission is free and the trip is definitely worth it. The stately home is compact and opulent. The art includes some familiar big names, artists you can also see in major national collections. Among them are Rembrandt, Van Dyke, and J.W. Turner. Oh, and Thomas Gainsborough.
The upper floor’s collection is of portraits of nobility and royalty. If you want to see the way the other half (well, the other 0.0001%) dressed for Court in the 1600s, take a look.
Kenwood will be closed for 18 months from the end of March 2012 for repairs. Go now while you have the chance.
Looking out the windows of the other side of Kenwood, the back side, you see the rolling green of this Humphry Repton landscape, complete with a fake bridge to give the impression of a flowing stream. It’s convincing.
In the picture below, we see the back of the house. This looks like naturally rolling ground, but it was carefully designed and constructed. It must have been something to see when the work was going on. I wonder how much earth they actually had to move.
For my journey back home, I took the Tube from Hampstead station. It’s main floor is worth a look, particularly if you enjoy the art of architectural ceramics. Hampstead’s platforms are deep below ground. You can take the 320 or so stairs, or ride the elevator down for 55 metres.
From the elevator to the platform, you walk through a tunnel (shown below) lined with cream and maroon tiles. I love these rounded walls with their racing stripes.
So that’s it, my Hampstead adventure today.