Hampstead Heath has been in the history books since 986, when medieval King, Ethelred the Unready, gave his servant some land there. When a first time visitor walks on the heath, they’re treading paths walked by kings and paupers alike.
Hampstead Heath is also one of the biggest parks in London, covering a whopping 790 acres and including playgrounds, a lido, woodland, an athletic track, ponds and open-air natural swimming pools. It’s been used in literature, film and music, from Bram Stoker’s classic gothic book ‘Dracula’ to the famous romantic comedy ‘Notting Hill’, and even making an appearance in a Pat Benatar music video.
The History of the Heath
Hampstead Heath has a history of being given to men who served the King well; first monks at the monastery of St. Peter’s, then to the King’s butler in 1133. Until the 1940s, Hampstead Heath technically belonged to private owners, though few owners tried to stop common people from using it.
However, since 1989, the heath has been managed by the City of London. From land purchases made during its time, Hampstead Heath now includes Parliament Hill, which has a protected view of the London skyline, Golders Hill, and Kenwood country house and its grounds.
The Wildlife of the Heath
The heath is made up of swampy, sandy ground, with plenty of springs—this has allowed wildlife to flourish here. Foxes, rabbits, and squirrels are some of the cuddlier creatures you might spot, but other wildlife to take refuge in Hampstead Heath are grass snakes, slowworms, frogs, bats, and kingfishers.
Some of the animals can be found in the Hampstead Heath woods, which is a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest.
Because the area is so good for animals, some species have been introduced in the hopes that they will do well—like terrapins and muntjac deer. If you’re looking for luxury hotels in London and you love animals, find one close to Hampstead Heath.
The Ponds of the Heath
25 ponds dot the heath from end to end, an important source of water for animals to drink and an equally important source of recreation for humans! There are so many that they’ve had to be divided up into the ‘Highgate Ponds’ and the ‘Hampstead Ponds’, depending on where they are in the park.
Whitestone Pond is the most well-known of the ponds, possibly because it’s surrounded by roads—so even travellers who have come to the capital for London city hotel deals will catch a glimpse of it.
Swimming at the heath is encouraged; Highgate Ponds include a set of men’s and ladies’ bathing ponds, and the Hampstead Ponds have a mixed-sex bathing pool. It’s not compulsory to dive in, though. As the water is natural and unheated, it can be chilly even during the height of summer.
Parliament Hill has a purpose-built lido, or outdoor swimming pool. Braving the cold of the pool might just be worth it to get the incredible views over London!