England: Day 17: Hampstead Heath

Today was a relatively low-key day. Liam was feeling a good deal better after 12 hours of sleep and letting his fever run its course, but other family members were beginning to show signs of illness. We spent a good deal of the day pottering about the house, laying low and resting. On towards afternoon, however, I decided that we desperately needed to do something London specific, so I dragged Emily and Liam off to nearby Hampstead Heath for a hike.

Hampstead Heath is one of the larger parks in London, which means it’s huge. While there are a number of nice foot and bicycle trails through it, it’s not cultivated to the degree that some of the other parks are, giving it a nice “walk through the woods” feel. We started on the west side of the park, near the tube station, and walked generally east, mostly along the bicycle trail that bisects the green space. We passed a variety of people, the usual assortment of large and extremely friendly dogs, and a number of cyclists as we wended our way through the leafy expanse. While there are no wild cactus to speak of here in England, due presumably to the cold winters, there are a variety of other plants to be careful of — berry bushes with thorns, pointy holly leaves, and my personal nemesis, stinging nettle.

After about 30 minutes of meandering vaguely eastward, we saw a large which we decided to climb. This turned out to be Parliament Hill, the heart of the Heath, from which one is afforded a smashing panorama of the city. I was a bit baffled by the abundance of park benches that topped the hill and were scattered extremely liberally throughout the rest of the park until I noticed that each of them bore a dedication, and had apparently been sponsored by someone to whom the Heath had been meaningful — rather a nifty way to give something back to others who enjoy it.

From the top of the hill, we saw “The Writer” — a huge, orange sculpture of a table and chair that towered 60 feet or so in the air, dwarfing the people who wandered about below it. Some rain had accumulated on the tabletop during the night, and as the wind picked up as we passed, the water blew off the edge and doused a gaggle of preadolescents who were playing below, eliciting bafflement and then hilarious shrieks. From there we sauntered over to a cafe (the parks here seem rife with them), and brought our sandwiches over to the public bowling green to watch a group of six septuagenarians demonstrate the finer points of lawn bowling. After 20 minutes of munching and watching, we caught a bus and headed back to the house.

Supermarket note: One thing I find absolutely wonderful about shopping for food here is that all the produce has listed on its label not only the usual weight and price, but also what part of England it was “Grown In” and whom it was “Grown By.” Though it may not actually reflect business realities, it makes one feel much closer to the farmer and as if someone has a personal stake in the food you buy — much more so than does buying from Agrico’s Worldwide Lettuce Consortium back in the States.