This is a 9.5 mile green walk, heading from the suburbs of West Finchley, through Hampstead Garden Suburb, Hampstead Heath, Primrose Hill, Regent's Park and into the centre of London. Over 80% of this walk is through river valleys, heath and parks.
1. Harry Beck (1902–1974), creator of the London Underground map, lived at 60 Courthouse Road (just along from Courthouse Gardens), close to West Finchley Underground station. His house overlooks the Northern line.
2. The Dollis Brook Viaduct. This 13-arched brick viaduct, built in 1863 for steam locomotives, now carries Northern line underground trains to and from Mill Hill East. At 18 metres tall, it is the highest point, above ground, on the Underground network.
3. La Délivrance, a social realist statue, sculpted by Emile Guillaume, was presented to the Finchley Urban District Council in 1927, by the newspaper publisher Viscount Rothermere, to celebrate the end of the First World War. It was located at this intersection, on the North Circular Road, as Rothermere would often pass by en-route to visiting his mother in Totteridge.
4. Hampstead Garden Suburb was devised by Dame Henrietta Barnett and founded in 1907, as an alternative to the urban sprawl that was enveloping London’s green belts. Sir Edwin Lutyens was appointed as consultant architect and a picturesque housing plan was created around open green spaces and a hill. The suburb lacks any social amenities of shops, pubs or cafes but it does have two monumental churches on Central Square, St Jude and the Free Church (both designed by Lutyens) plus a school, named after the suburb’s founder. The original vision, of housing for all classes, has long since evaporated and the buildings are now extremely desirable, expensive residences.
5. Hampstead Heath Extension was created out of farmland acquired by Hampstead Garden Suburb Trust. It is now an area of largely grass, playing fields and streams that connects the Suburb to Hampstead Heath.
6. Hampstead Heath, referred to in Domesday Book, as Hemstede, covers 320 hectares and comprises of rolling grassland, trees, 25 ponds, streams, three natural swimming pools, a lido and a running track. It is the largest public space in north London. The heath sits upon a sandy and clay ridge and is the source of four rivers; Brent, Tyburn, Westbourne, and Fleet. The latter three flow directly into the Thames. There are numerous interconnecting paths across the Heath. Follow the route to Hampstead Heath station or the Royal Free Hospital on Pond Street.
7. Primrose Hill is, at 78 metres above sea level, renowned for its fantastic views over London and beyond. Once a part of Henry VIII’s hunting ground, the hill has given its name to the ‘village’ located to the north and east.
8. The 8.5-mile Regent’s Canal opened in 1820, as an industrial waterway to connect the Grand Junction Canal at Paddington to the River Thames at Limehouse. It closed as a working canal in the late 1960s. The towpath is now a popular walking, jogging and cycle path. This section of the canal, located within a cutting through the northern rim of the Regent’s Park, has a splendid rural feel to it. At times, on the towpath — with just the trees, the water, moorhens, an occasional narrowboat and a few walkers — it is hard to believe you are within major capital city.
9. Regent’s Park is a public space within a mile of central London. In the early 1800s, the park was laid out by John Nash, with the assistance of Decimus Burton. It now consists of a zoo, a boating lake, sports pitches, a former industrial canal, an open-air theatre and the residence of the US Ambassador. The park perimeter is lined with many fine Regency stucco terraces and buildings.
David Fathers is author/illustrator of The London Thames Path (Frances Lincoln)