Walks and trails in Hampstead Heath
Hampstead Heath has lots of interesting sights and some amazing views. It’s the perfect place for a stroll to connect with nature and escape from the stress of City life. We’ve plotted three trails of different lengths and include some interesting points to visit on the way round. You can see these on our map and read step by step directions below.
Walk towards the chain of ponds. These are the Highgate Ponds and were originally dug as reservoirs to provide drinking water to the people of London in the 17th Century. The waters of the River Fleet fill these ponds which provide a home to a variety of birds such as heron, great-crested grebe and cormorants. You might even catch a glimpse of a Kingfisher. Other wildlife such as dragonflies, frogs, toads and various fish also live in these ponds.
After the second pond (Highgate Men’s Bathing Pond) take a left and walk up past the Tumulus. The pine-topped Tumulus is something of a mystery. Some believe it is the ancient burial ground or final resting place of Queen Boudicca. More likely it is the site of an old windmill or a folly once visible from Kenwood House.
Take a left at the path junction and follow the path along the side of the woodland. Just inside the woodland on your right you will see what is probably the oldest man-made structure on the Heath. The Saxon Ditch has been here since at least AD 986. Ancient trees and stones also mark this old manorial and parish boundary.
Head up the hill towards the summit of Parliament Hill where you will e able to enjoy great views over the city. More mystery surrounds the name, Parliament Hill. It may simply record the visibility of the seat of Government, or does it commemorate Guy Fawkes’ attempt to blow up the Houses of Parliament in 1605? Some think that his supporters lay in waiting here to witness the deed being done.
Walk back down the hill to finish the trail back at the café.
Start the trail at the Parliament Hill Café.
Follow the trail, via the ponds, to Millfield Lane.
This country lane is a continuation of Millfield Lane, which borders the area that was Millfield Farm. It is also known as Poet’s Lane due to associations with Coleridge and Keats who were known to listen to the nightingales here.
After you pass the Stock Pond on your left, you will see on your right the Goodison Fountain. This was erected in memory of Henry Goodison, involved in the campaign to save Kenwood House. In the summer, meadow brown and orange tip butterflies as well as swifts can be found in the meadow beyond. In winter, flocks of fieldfares and redwings from Scandinavia arrive.
Continue up the hill and you will soon see Kenwood House. The impressive House exhibits important collections of paintings and is managed by English Heritage. The adjacent ancient woodlands are inhabited by jackdaws, a rarity so close to London, and bizarrely, ring-necked parakeets. The Kenwood Estate was bequeathed to the nation by the 1st Earl of Iveagh.
You are now on the Vale of Health estate road. Sir Thomas Maryon Wilson, who had manorial rights on this part of the heath, built this in 1845. His grand plan to build on the Heath was eventually scuppered by a campaign to save the Heath and then an Act of Parliament to protect it. Keep an eye out for treecreepers and nuthatches, which can be seen moving around the trunks of trees. You will now walk via the Vale of Health estate road to Sandy Heath and onto the Hampstead Heath Extension.
The hedgerow to the left of the path is a remnant of the ancient woodland, Wylde Wood. Oaks and hornbeams are interspersed with hazel, hawthorn and elder. To your right are the Seven Sisters Ponds that eventually feed into Brent Reservoir. In the summer a variety of damselflies and dragonflies including the azure blue dragonfly and the common darter dragonfly can be seen patrolling the area.
On entering Golders Hill Park you can see the contrast with the wilder parts of the Heath. A large mansion, known as Golders Hill House, once stood here until it was bombed during the Second World War. The park has a stunning walled garden and a variety of exotic tree species.
When you reach Whitestone Pond, you have reached the summit of Hampstead Heath and the highest natural point in London. The flagstaff marks the site of the fire beacon that provided warning of the Spanish Armada in 1588. For centuries it was lit to celebrate jubilees and other national events.
Pryors Field is an acidic grassland of great conservation value. It has a diversity of grass and invertebrate species. The numerous anthills are visited regularly by green wood-peckers. The greater and letter spotted woodpeckers are also resident on the Heath.
Start the trail at Golders Hill Café. The trail takes you through Golders Hill Park and West Heath before bringing you to the Hill Garden.
The beautiful Hill Garden and Pergola are some of London’s best kept secrets. The adjacent Pergola was the brainchild of Lord Leverhulme, a resident of Inverforth House, in the early 1900s. The City of London Corporation have been restoring and maintaining it since the early 1990s. Brown long-eared bats roost here.
Just off the beaten track is Pitts Garden. This large walled garden is part of the Heath and is now a spectacular wilderness with a ruined archway and a beautiful Beech tree which appears to have fused with it over the years. It contains areas of recently planted heather, the Heath’s signature plant.
You are now on Sandy Heath, which is a dramatically altered, lunar-like landscape. The steep slopes, sudden hollows and undulations show the places where sand has been dug over many years. Large areas of gorse can be found here and provide a good habitat for nesting birds such as long-tailed tits.