51 – Heath Extension, West Heath, Hampstead Heath & Kenwood 6.5 miles – 8th February

In short: a variation on previous walks taking in elements of all parts of the Heath. Plenty of ups and downs and a couple of new perspectives. Free on street parking, lots of clean functional public toilets and reliably good pitstop at the Kenwood cafe. 2hrs 35 mins walking + 30 mins pitstop.

In need of a good lungful of fresh air – but with insufficient time to travel too great a distance – we head to the Heath extension for wide open spaces and then the Heath for some London based hill walking.

We park on Heathgate in Hampstead Garden Suburb, approx postcode NW11 7AG, facing the imposing facade of St Jude’s Church. Walking away from the church and back down Heathgate we cross Meadway and continue along Heathgate to the end, where we encounter the entrance to the glorious Heath Extension – truly one of my favourite views in the whole of London. (Even on a grey miserable day such as this – it really does make the heart sing with it’s sheer unexpected expansiveness!)

We take the very muddy path across the field ahead – slightly bearing left to cross a bridge over a ditch – we then continue straight ahead past the lightly fenced off cricket squares to the next hedgerow. Here we join the path arriving from the right and pass through the right hand opening in the hedge – passing the toilet blocks on our left we continue along the path climbing slightly with bushes and trees on our right and lower growing bushes and ponds on our left.

Staying on this path we pass a playground on our right and soon emerge at a gate onto a road, Wildwood Road. Here we turn right and cross Hampstead Way straight ahead to continue straight on – the road curving first left and then right till it comes out at the main road, North End Road. We cross at the zebra crossing and enter Golders Hill Park in front of us.

Straight after the car park we take the path left leading up and out of the park – but not before admiring the lovely colours apparent in the sweeping view in front of us, across the park.

As we leave the park we are entranced to see our first proper sight of this year’s snowdrops. We leave the park at the gate ahead and cross the path in front of us, climbing steps to the woodland above. We bear right at the choice of paths ahead and continue on through the trees to the entrance to Hill Gardens and the Pergola.

Immediately in front of us are further clusters of snowdrops beneath a tree – a lovely sight on a gloomy day!

We turn right onto the path and follow it as it snakes left and then left again before we turn right and enter the beautiful sunken garden with it’s pool and newly rebuilt sheltered bench set into the wall – opposite a truly stunning view.

At the far end of this garden we climb the stone steps onto the magnificent pergola – stopping to admire the views on both sides as we go.

We then follow the pergola around – passing the enormously impressive Hill House as we go and finally descending the spiral staircase at the end. We decide to try and explore a little of the West Heath here for a change and so take the path leading away from the house and garden heading left. The path here is quite wide and well-used and shortly leads us to a T-junction where we turn left to take a path through the bushes.

Emerging at the top of this path we find ourselves on Whitestone Walk beside the big pond. Here we cross the road at the zebra crossing and turning left onto the pavement at the far side of the road we take the first path right heading downhill onto the Heath. We carry on downhill until we have the cottages of the Vale of Health on our right hand side and here we pick up the path running around the edge of the Heath – in front of some beautiful townhouses and then past a very ugly space full of rundown old caravans!

We turn right at the corner of this space and take the path heading up towards the road, East Heath Road. We actually meet the road and then head straight back onto the Heath via a path immediately on our left – thereby avoiding a giant muddy puddle! We pass behind a couple of mansion blocks and come out onto a lovely open space – a wildflower meadow has just been planted on our left and is currently fenced off but no doubt this will be stunning once it’s established.

We turn left and walk alongside the fence – thereby avoiding walking through the car park. We are now at a path in front of two ponds and we walk ahead on the path between them. We continue hugging the periphery of the Heath on paths running close to the backs of houses and the ends of roads.

We pass a truly beautiful pond with an attention seeking cormorant perched in the middle and stop to admire it – possibly more beautiful in the winter as its full perspective is exposed to view from the footpath.

We eventually reach a junction of paths with views downhill towards the running track and playground and decide to turn left here to take the upper path with views across the bottom of Parliament Hill towards the city.

At the end of this path after passing through trees and bushes we arrive at a junction of multiple paths where we turn left to pass alongside the Highgate ponds on our right.

After passing three ponds we turn left at the path in front of the fourth; we bear right at a fork in the paths and head uphill on a very familiar path with trees to our left arriving after a couple of minutes at the entrance to the Kenwood estate. We pass through woodland and then uphill towards the house with gorgeous parkland views across to our left.

At Kenwood House we take a pitstop at the lovely cafe – huge scone and much improved coffee – always dependable  and very welcome at this point.

After making use of the facilities (new improved hand driers but now blasting out freezing cold air – really is there no heat setting in this place?!) we head off along the path away from the House –  the parkland and ornamental lake to our left.

We stay on the main path – out of the gate near the large statue on a plinth over to our left – and bear left here with the small white building on the hill to our right. At the end of this path we pass out of the Kenwood estate at an exceedingly muddy point and we take a path off right here through woodland, skirting a grassy section to our left and veer right across an access road to some housing and on to the road – Spaniards Road. We cross the road at the zebra crossing to the florists on the far side and then take the path to the left of the side road here, Spaniards End.

This path runs behind the backs of houses on our right and brings us out to Wildwood Road which we cross to re-enter the Heath extension here. We take the path ahead and have a better view over the succession of small ponds to our left than we had on our way out. We cross on the least slippy looking of the wooden bridges and rejoin the path that we took on our way out heading slightly downhill towards the buildings at the centre.

Here we take the path across the fields to the right of the cricket pitches, through the gap in the hedge and across the stream and then across the rugby pitch to the foot of Heathgate and from there to where the car is parked on the other side of Meadway.


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