Sunday, 22 May 2011

London Hampstead East-Heath Running Route

Click here for route map 
Length: 7.2 km (4.5 miles), terrain hilly

London Running Routes:
Regent's Canal and Camden Town  
Hampstead Heath  
3-Parks Route: Hyde Park, Green Park, St. James' Park  
Regent's Park  
Hyde Park   

Chelsea
Heathrow Harmondsworth Moor  
Greenwich 

Richmond Park
Notting Hill
For more running routes, see Route List.

I ran this route again this week to get the pictures, but it was raining out! But even wet runs are great runs.

Hampstead and its sprawling open countryside, the Heath, gives you a feeling of being in an English village, while standing in the heart of London. The Heath spreads out over 800 acres, including hills, a string of ponds, woods, a manor house, a formal park and lots of great running trails. This is my favorite place to run in London.
Hampstead Heath meadows
It's easy enough to get to, also, taking the Northern Line underground to Hampstead. And the old village of Hampstead itself is really scenic, with beautiful old streets, churches, graveyards and pubs. It's a posh area that most London visitors don't ever visit. Those lucky ones who actually get to stay there!

The Heath can be divided into the larger East Heath (which includes Parliament Hill, most of the ponds and Kenwood Manor) and the smaller West Heath, which includes Golders Hill Park and an extension to the north. The two parts are split north/south by Spaniards Road and North End Way.

This route will visit some of the nicest parts of the village, then loop around the East Heath, providing one of the most varied and charming settings London has to offer.

The East Heath Run
Standing with your back to the Hampstead Tube Station entrance, turn right and run uphill on Heath Street just one block, and take the first right turn, and then run downhill on Back Lane for another block. There are some beautiful cottages along this lane. When the street ends at the next intersection, Flask Walk, turn right at the Flask pub and run through the pedestrian shopping block.

The way to the left looks nice, too, but don't worry, we'll come back that way later.
Back Lane during a shower
The little pedestrian lane runs back into Hampstead High Street, where you turn left and run downhill until the shops end, at Downshire Hill, where you turn left. This is another street full of quaint old homes, with cast-iron verandas and climbing rose bushes.
Cottages off Downshire Hill
The street runs directly to the Heath, just past the Freemasons Arms pub. When the street ends, continue into the park. This first part is Pryors Field, used as a fairgrounds and parking lot. You'll see a pond to the right, with flats behind it.

Keep running straight, and when the path splits, take the way to the left, with the next pond to your right. After the second pond, turn right over the pedestrian path between it and the third pond, the mixed-bathing pond. Yes, you could swim here. I've done it before, sneaking in after hours, but the water was a bit murky in the late summer.
Mixed baths in the summer: photo by Chris Hauser
After those ponds, the path curves to the right, going though a bit of woods and then begins going uphill on a grassy hill. This is Parliament Hill. When you get to the top, you'll get a great view of London. You can even see a bit of Big Ben and Parliament, to the right of the London Eye ferris wheel.

Ahead of you, eastwards, downhill across the lawn, you'll see more ponds and then another hill rising beyond: that's Highgate, with its famous graveyard.
View from Parliament Hill, photo by Chris Hauser
Run straight down the path to the ponds, then turn left on the paved path running northwards, with the ponds on your right.

Just keep running north. You'll pass the mens' swimming pond and the ladies' pond, and still more ponds. After the last pond, the path will lead into a field where the real track ends, and there is only a trampled way through the meadow ahead. Just run straight across. You will run into the next real path on the other side of the meadow.

Soon you'll come to a sign marking the entrance to the grounds of the Kenwood Estate at a fenced-in woods.
Kenwood Estate entrance
Follow the path into the woods, following the path branching to the right side. The woods are very old and dark, full of giant oaks. Lions and tigers and bears, oh my! If you don't like going through old woods, just go around them on the right side of the fence till you come to the next entrance.
The ancient Ken-Wood: lions and tigers and bears, oh my!
The path eventually curves to the left as it comes into the mowed lawns of Kenwood Estate. You'll see the big manor house ahead. This 250-year-old mansion is now open to the public. The path curves to the left, going right between the house and the lawn.

A bit of film trivia: The Kenwood lawn was the location of a Notting Hill film scene where Julia Roberts is filming a Henry James period film, and poor Hugh Grant overhears her tell a colleague that Hugh is "just some guy", breaking his heart.
Kenwood House without Hugh or Julia
The wide gravel path now goes by the house's formal gardens on the right, full of rhododendrons and azaleas. When you come to the wooden gate on the right, go out through the gate, keeping towards the left with the path as it winds up through more lawn. This rolling field is still part of the Kenmore Estate.

Soon you'll come to the real exit of the estate, going through the old iron fence. When going out the gate, keep to the left. It quickly turns right again and then heads southwards the whole way back towards Parliament Hill, curving through the woods.

There are some amazing old oak trees here. You'll pass a grassy knoll with a bench on it, to your left. Soon you'll be able to see across the grassy fields leading down to the string of ponds to your left. It is a bit hard to explain how to navigate this stretch, where many unmarked paths intersect, but just keep going straight south.
Way back from Kenwood to Parliament Hill
Eventually, you'll run right into the paved path that took you up Parliament Hill, where you turn right to follow the path out past the first ponds into Pryors Field and exit the Heath into Downshire Hill street again. But this time, turn right at the first chance, on Willow Road, just before the Fremasons Arms.

Willow Road goes uphill for a while (sorry!). When you get to Burgh House museum, turn left on Flask Walk, another street with nice old homes. Flask brings us to the Flask Pub and the pedestrian shopping block again, which you run through again, but this time turn right on the High Street to run the last block back to the tube station.
Along Flask Walk
Now that you've gotten a feel for the Heath, the next time you can explore some of the other paths between Kenmore House and the village: turning right when you leave the Kenmore Estate to run towards the Vale of Health, or on to the West Heath.

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