Photographs © Elizabeth West unless otherwise indicated
Today there were adventures of a different sort. The District and London Overground tube lines were closed from Earl’s Court to Richmond Station, so I had to take a South West train from Kingston Station downtown. You can use your Oyster on those trains, thanks to some intense negotiations in 2009 or 2010 (I cannot remember which).
South West Trains was apparently the last commuter service to get on board with Oysterizing itself so commuters from Greater London didn’t have to buy separate tickets to change over. They look like regular trains, with the seats facing front and back, but then they have all the grab bars like the tube and you use Oyster to get to the platform, just like an Underground station.
I took a train to Waterloo Station, and from there, hopped the Northern Line to Hampstead. This is a very desirable neighborhood in North London, and one I probably won’t ever be able to afford, unless the gods decide to smile on me and stop kicking me in the arse.
My goal was threefold:
- To visit Hampstead Heath (aka The Heath), a huge park that has been set aside since roughly 986.
- To see Keats House (home of poet John Keats), and listen to a poetry reading there.
- To walk around the neighborhood a bit, as a character in Secret Book might reside there.
I found the park with no problem, thanks to Google (I’ve given up on the London A-Z; it’s too hard to thumb through a book whilst standing on a street corner and it attracts too much attention. It’s much easier to play with your phone, because everybody does that.
Here is a view of Central London from atop a hill in the Heath (it’s not the famous Parliament Hill view).
That little pointy thing at the right of the space is the top of the Gherkin. I love the Gherkin. I look for it around town all the time.
This is the Gherkin, otherwise known as 30 St Mary Axe (the address) for you folks who don’t know. It’s a large office building that resembles a gigantic pickle.
I walked down this road and saw numerous paths leading in many directions. It tempted me to wander as far as I could, but I had got a late start in the morning, and it took a good hour-and-a-half to get up there, and I didn’t want to miss the poetry reading. So I wandered down to a little grove of trees.
Except for the paths, the park appears unmaintained, though I know it isn’t–the City of London cares for it. So you get quite a lot of forest-y bits.
Dotted about the area are benches with commemorative messages on them. I don’t know who Tina Gamp was, but she loved the Heath. I can’t fault her for that. Bless her, I sat there thinking about how she might have enjoyed the same view.
You can’t hear much traffic within the park. In fact, once you get to an area where there are few or no people, you barely know you are in a huge city at all. Quiet dominates, except for the birds and the sound of wind rustling the trees.
This area smelled forest-y, damp, and woodsy. Earth, leaves, and the musty scent of old wood from the big logs and fallen trees lying about. I love that smell–I used to play in the woods as a child, near where I grew up.
After a sit, I got up and walked a bit further in and came to a playground. It occurred to me that I should exit the park instead of trying to walk through it if I were going to make it to the poetry reading in time. I consulted Google again, but it got wonky at that point, so I walked down the hill on East Heath Road NW3 until I found a circus (no, really). A park ranger sat in a little Rover vehicle near the entrance, and I asked her how to get to the John Keats house. She very kindly gave me directions.
Right next door to Keats House is a little library, and they were having a book sale today. I peeked in but didn’t see anything I wanted. That’s probably a good thing, since the empty duffel bag I brought with me will already be full.
Here the Romantic poet John Keats resided from 1818 to 1820, with his friend Charles Brown. He wrote some of his best-known poetry there. The house is a well-restored Regency period home. I was particularly taken with the kitchens downstairs (I did not take pictures, though I could have–I just didn’t feel like it, sorry). You can read more about the poet’s time in the house, including his famous Ode to a Nightingale, at this link.
The reading I attended was not of Keats’s poetry, but that of Dylan Thomas, the famous Welsh poet who wrote these immortal lines:
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Find the rest of the poem here.
The reading commemorated the centenary of Thomas’s birth. The Keats House Poetry Ambassadors group read several of Thomas’s best-known poems, and two selections from his play Under Milkwood. I thought they did very well. One of the most interesting things for me, listening, was hearing their varied accents and how they sounded with the poetry.
One of the readers said to a friend, “It’s a lovely way to spend an afternoon.” I couldn’t have agreed more.
After the reading and my tour had concluded, I walked down Haverstock Hill toward the shopping district and Belsize Park Station to catch the tube. I didn’t know this, but it’s one of the few stations with a very deep air raid shelter under it. To get to the platforms, you walk down this incredible spiral staircase. At the top, they warn you with a sign: This staircase has 219 steps.
I walked down most of the way by myself, which actually creeped me out a little. As you can see, the stairwell is more than a little Silent Hill.
Down and down and down, until finally I could hear the trains rumbling underfoot, and I came out at the end. I rode the Northern Line back to Waterloo and on to Kingston Station and home. I wish I could have wandered round Hampstead a bit more, but I saw enough to convince me that it will work for my Secret Book purposes. I’ll just have to come back if needed, heh heh.
Tomorrow is my last day.
We’ll be going to the Original Maids of Honour to partake of the little cakes so loved by Henry VIII, and on to Ham House in Richmond, where I can finally make use of my Royal Oak Foundation membership card (free admission, woo!). It’s on the list of most haunted places in Britain, so I’ll be on the alert for ghostly phenomena. Since nothing happened on the Llandaff Ghost Walk, I hope I’m not disappointed this time.