Hampstead Heath isn’t so much a garden as a park. And it isn’t so much a park as a London institution, with one of the best vantage points from which to view the city.
I went on what turned out to be a rainy, overcast spring day.
Hampstead is so large that it is difficult to get a hold of it, to see it as anything other than a long stretch of green interrupted by water features, hills, and even houses. I was surprised that neighborhoods–mansions even–abutted it, almost as if the Heath were the back garden to these houses. But I suppose that must be how large tracts of greenspace existed before large cities grew up around villages and towns. And London, being as old as it is, is likely to have spaces that have been kept for this purpose, rather than in newer cities where parkland has to be planned in among the houses and strip malls, placed where they aren’t a traditional part of people’s lives.
Eight million people live here, and I see new faces–hundreds and thousands of them–every day. Yet on this day as I walked in the woods I came upon someone I met a few months ago in a class. For such a big city, it can be rather small at times. And that is, also, another function of a place like the Heath: it’s where people go to be anonymous, to be part of the bigger world beyond London’s borders and away from each section’s high street.
From the Heath, London is ‘out there’ somewhere, rather than just across the road in each direction.