In short: muddy but not impassable, interesting and surprising, public toilets aplenty and a pleasant cafe at Kenwood. 2 hrs 10 mins walking + 30 min pitstop.
Undaunted by the miserable grey weather and the forecast rain this morning we set off on an interesting walk containing some of North London’s most amazing hidden treasures!
We start by parking in Hampstead Garden Suburb on Heathgate, postcode NW11 7AR. Parking is unrestricted along here, but be aware that this section of the road is a fairly small cul-de-sac so be super considerate of the (slightly fussy?) residents!
Leaving the car we walk to the end of the cul-de-sac and here is the first of this walk’s special moments as we are immediately on the edge of the wide open space that is the Heath extension.
Descending the steps down on to the Heath we cross a path and head more or less straight across the grass to a gap in the hedge on the far side. This whole section was extremely muddy today and in fact in some places slightly boggy so a really sturdy, waterproof pair of walking boots was needed. There is then a second field with a cricket square on the far side and a cricket net in the far left hand corner but we head straight for one of the gaps in the hedge again. At the moment the gap to the left is fenced across so we veer to the right and go through that one. Immediately after this gap there are a couple of buildings and we pass between them, with the (well maintained) public toilet building on our right.
We are now on a gravelly path and pass a pond on our left and children’s playground to the right. After 5 minutes or so we arrive at a gate leading on to Wildwood Road. Turning right here we follow the road as it bends first left and then right, ending up at a T-junction with the main road, North End Road. We turn right here and immediately cross the main road at a zebra crossing and enter Golders Hill park, facing us.
This is our second hidden treasure – not so hidden if you live in and around Golders Green, but still much less well known than Hampstead Heath as a whole. Entering this beautifully landscaped park we take the path straight ahead and descend a slope, keeping the cafe to our right and then branching to the right at a fork.
This path takes us through the lovely flower garden, then with the pond to our left we enter a wooded area and descend a little further crossing a path to arrive at the bottom enclosure of the children’s zoo. Skirting the edge of the zoo -admiring the donkeys and beautiful birds as we go we ascend a small slope, keeping the enclosures on our left and noting the lovely children’s playground to our right on the other side of a wooded dell.
Turning left onto the path at the top of this slight slope we now have the deer enclosure on our right, we then turn right and walk round this enclosure heading towards a gate leading out of the park. Just before the gate we turn left and, keeping inside the park, we take a path that runs across the top of the park and behind a bandstand, giving us lovely views across the park and beyond to our left.
When we are more or less opposite the cafe to our left, we take the exit out of the park on our right hand side. Crossing a path here we take the flight of steps in front of us and head up into a wooded part of the heath. At the top of the slope a couple of paths converge and we take one that is more or less ahead but slightly right – although I think the one on the left leads to the same place. After a couple of minutes following this path down and then up again, we can see a green painted iron railing ahead and this marks the edge of Hill Garden.
We enter the garden via the gate which is in front of us and follow the path first as it bends to the right and then turn left as another path arrives from the right. This path curves around and suddenly we are standing at the edge of a formal garden with a rectangular ornamental stone pond. The views from this spot are really gorgeous – it would make a wonderful picnic spot in the summer! Today however the weather was definitely closing in.
From here we go directly ahead and climbing the steps on the far side of the pond reach the pergola. We turn left at the top and follow the pergola walkway around… Suddenly we are on the edge of the private garden of one of the largest and most impressive private houses in the whole of London! (Apparently it was built by Lord Leverhulme of Unilever fame at the beginning of the 20th century). It feels like we are trespassing but we really aren’t – and it’s almost deserted too, how can so few people know about it?!
We walk slowly around the pergola – taking in the extraordinary views of the house to our left and the West Heath on our right.Wow!!
At the end of the pergola there is a spiral staircase down to the kitchen garden below and we turn to walk along under the colonnade and then onto a path through this garden to an iron gate. Leaving by this gate we turn right onto the path and pass below a bridge formed by the pergola above. Almost immediately we are on a lane and turning right here we arrive back at North End Road.
After a quick peek at the front of the house here (nowhere near as impressive as it is from the back!) we cross this road at the island and enter another section of the Heath. We take the path straight ahead (ignoring the one which branches off left) and cross a (muddy) field, and then another. Soon after the path forks and we take the left, heading up between gorse bushes – in beautiful bright yellow bloom today.
This path brings us out into a wooded glade with a pair of oak trees surrounded by a wooden fence on our right and a series of ponds on our left. Keeping the ponds on our left we cross the glade and head up a slope towards a bench, dedicated to one Barbara Myers, and turn right onto the path at the top of this slope.
This wide path, called Sandy Road, leads through the trees with paths off to right and left ending at the main road, Spaniards Way, just in front of the flower stall. To our right is a zebra crossing and we cross the road here entering the Heath via a path opposite running alongside a wooden fence. This path is muddy and slightly slippery as it slopes down and we take the left fork at the bottom.
This path descends further running through some trees and it was extremely muddy here today – so much so that we took a detour through the thicket on the right, aiming for the clear sandy coloured path running left to right ahead. Once we reach this wide path we turn left and follow this as it bends right, ignoring the path straight ahead up to a couple of white buildings and passing through an iron gate. Ahead and to the right just here is a large sculpture, ‘Reclining Figure’ by Henry Moore, we take the path left and head straight for Kenwood House, the large white building on the left ahead! The view to the right here over the lake is always special.
The cafe and public toilets are to the right of the main house, down the steps and just off the courtyard. There is a small cafe serving takeaway hot drinks and snacks on the left, the main cafe is at the far end of the courtyard – lovely scones, cakes, decent hot drinks – and rather pricey sandwiches if you happen to be here at lunchtime. The courtyard garden is a lovely spot on a nice day but that definitely wasn’t an option today!
After a spot-on pitstop we head back via a slightly different route, starting by retracing our path away from Kenwood, past the Henry Moore statue and out of the iron gate we came in through. Continuing on this same path we eventually come to the perimeter fence of the Kenwood estate – and pass out through the gate. Its always very muddy here and today was definitely no exception! A couple of paths converge here but we take the most obvious one that bears left at this point.
After a couple of minutes we turn right on to a more established path which continues through the trees heading back in the general direction of the main road. The path heads into a dip and we take the broad left fork out of the dip beside a large tree to immediately face a grassy area with our well surfaced path skirting it to the right. Continuing straight on here we are steadily approaching Spaniards Road again.
About 25 yards before the end of the path we take a little path to the right through the bushes and up some rough steps to the pavement. Crossing the road very carefully here we take the path to the right which immediately heads downhill bending to the right. Ignoring a path off to the left we continue straight on rejoining the path we were on about an hour before. Once again we take a path off to the left upwards between some gorse bushes and come out into the glade with the ponds and the ring-fenced oak trees.
This time we pick our way between the ponds and come out at the far side opposite where we came in to this glade. We see houses to our left and a wooden fence and continue on to the top of the ridge on the far side finally arriving beside a bench just after passing the end of a cul-de-sac on our left.
As we arrive at the bench we take a path to the right, downhill between the trees. This brings us out at a road; we are back at Hampstead Way and we cross the road here re-entering the Heath extension where we left it. We re-trace our steps but on arriving back at the buildings we decide to take the more solid path ahead rather than crossing the fields the way we came. This cuts left across the field, reaches the pavement and re-enters to the right along the perimeter of the next field. We then take the path to the left at the gap in the hedge and cross the last field to return to the car.
A really enjoyable walk on a manky old day weather-wise!