Continuing our series of ambles around Greater London. This week, we head from one Flask in Highgate, to another in Hampstead.
Distance: 2.6 miles (not including the diversion to Parliament Hill)
Terrain: Hilly, with some unsealed footpaths on the Heath; ground can be muddy depending on recent weather
Start: The Flask, Highgate West Hill, N6 (nearest tube: Highgate)
Finish: The Flask, Flask Walk, NW3 (nearest tube: Hampstead)
Dog walkers encountered: 38
Species of bird seen: 10
This delightful walk across Hampstead Heath is so named because it starts and finishes at two pubs which share the same name. They are two of the finest pubs in North London and to get from one to the other you have to cross one of North London’s finest open spaces. Just under 800 acres of open space and woodland criss-crossed by many paths, Hampstead Heath is very popular with joggers and dog walkers, as well as being a great venue for birdwatching.
Our walk starts in Highgate, and The Flask — a Fuller’s pub located at the junction of Highgate West Hill and South Grove. It dates back to at least 1663 although much of the present building is from the 18th century; the covered outdoor area is a more recent addition. A plaque on the wall indicates that it was the Evening Standard’s Pub of the Year… in 1974.
From the pub walk down the hill, turning right on Merton Lane. At the bottom, continue straight onto the Heath. We enter the on a path between two of the heath’s many ponds.
Walk between the ponds, bear right and, after about a hundred yards, take the right-handed fork in the path. With any luck you should hear plenty of birdsong; you will probably hear but not see a woodpecker, while there’s no mistaking the screeching call of the ring-necked parakeets. When the path comes to a junction, go straight ahead to the unlikely-looking opening in the undergrowth which is one of the gates to the Kenwood Estate.
Follow the path; to our left, we can see through the trees the back of the Sham Bridge – a two-dimensional structure which looks like an ornate bridge on one of the ponds when seen from the house. Our path climbs a gentle slope and curves to the left to bring us up to Kenwood House itself.This is different from the rest of the heath in both appearance and management. The Kenwood Estate is run by English Heritage and much of the woodland is fenced off from the paths, unlike on the more wild-looking heath which is run by the Corporation of London and where you can roam from the path should you so desire.
This majestic neo-classical stately home, which is open to the public, was built in the 18th century, and the landscaped garden contrasts with the heavily wooded bits of the estate. The house is best known for its impressive collection of artwork which includes paintings by Rembrandt, Gainsborough and Turner. Next to the house is a café and toilets, while the fields below the house make a popular picnic spot.
Follow the path alongside the house, and stick with it as it bears round to the left; at this point we encounter a large Henry Moore sculpture. From here, we can see how far we’ve come; the church spire on the horizon is that of St Michael’s in Highgate — close to The Flask.
Follow the path down the hill, crossing the (real) stone bridge over one of the ponds. Immediately after this, we need to turn right and follow this path straight on; after another walk through the woods (keep an ear out for those woodpeckers), we will eventually come to a gate in the railings. Go through this and bear left on the path, going straight ahead through the clearing with the benches. Continue down a slight incline until you emerge from the trees at the point where our path meets a gravel path that crosses ours at right angles.
At this point, you can make a diversion to the summit of Parliament Hill which has one of the best panoramic views of London. To do this, cross the gravel path, go straight on through the trees and head for the benches on the horizon. Keep an eye out for kestrels hovering over the open spaces.
To continue to the second Flask, we turn right on the gravel path, continuing straight ahead at the crossroads by the drinking fountain. The trees that line this path are comparatively recent, having been planted to replace the ones that were destroyed in the Great Storm of 1987.
This path brings us to East Heath Road. Cross this, and continue straight into Well Walk. Halfway along is a drinking fountain which marks the spot of the spring which gave the street its name and contributed to the 18th century craze for Hampstead spring water that gave both of our pubs their names (although the last time we checked, this fountain didn’t work). We follow Well Walk and then take the right-hand fork onto Flask Walk. The second Flask pub, and the end of our walk, is on the left at the point where the street becomes pedestrianised.
This one is a Young’s pub, a beautiful Victorian building which maintains the old-fashioned divides that most pubs did away with years ago. The public and saloon bars still have the original fittings, while the more modern dining area and conservatory are at the back. When we last visited, there was a competition whereby anyone who could balance a 50p coin on a lemon floating in a bowl of water on the bar can win a free pint; this is much harder than you’d think.
By Nick Young
Erith to Greenwich (21 km): Thames walk with an industrial flavour.
The Line (7.7km): Sculptural trail taking in North Greenwich, Royal Docks and River Lea
Richmond to Twickenham (4 km): Short Thames walk with plenty to see.
- A Canalside Amble Through West London (7.8km): Following the Grand Junction Canal.
Dollis Brook below Barnet (9 km): River walk with a particularly countrified feel.
The Parkland Walk (8.4 km): Alexandra Palace to Finsbury Park along old rail tracks.
- A Verdant Stroll into the Heart of London (15.3km): From Finchley into Regent's Park.
Hayes to Shirley (7.5 km): A windmill, Winston Churchill and a great view.
Mortlake to Hammersmith (5.2km): Pleasant riverside stroll with pubs and mystics.
Lines of Communication: Follow the path of London’s Civil War defences (15km)