John Keats’ death mask is in Hampstead. Not to mention some luxurious shopping. And don’t miss Hampstead Heath and its famous women’s pond. Story and images: Jane de Teliga.

In spring, the whole world seems to descend on London, the global Mecca for high street shopping. Like shoals of piranha, they come to Oxford Street to hunt for the best fashion buys in the world. On those rare days when the sky is blue, the spring blooms are out and the sun is shining, there’s no place I would rather not be, to paraphrase the song.

I’d rather be wandering on Hampstead Heath through the glorious green meadows, past the ponds, along cool dappled paths, shaded by oaks in the bright spring coats just as the poet John Keats wandered early in the 19th century. Here you can and often do, get lost in the vast Heath. So unmanicured are the bucolic woodlands, that you feel like you have stumbled into a Constable painting. Or into the pages of C.S. Lewis’s Narnia said to be inspired by the Heath.
Don’t expect modern signage, there is virtually none on the Heath. But if you can find your way to the bathing ponds on one of those rare days when it actually gets hot in London, the novelty is refreshing as the water. The ponds still quaintly divided into separate men’s and women’s baths, with a mixed pond thrown in for those modern folk who don’t mind bathing with the opposite sex. Visiting the women’s bathing pond and diving into the tea stained waters can be a bit of a shock for someone used to white sand beaches and rolling blue waves. Women in all states of undress and of all ages mingle in the muddy waters or sunbake on rough and ready grassy edges under the trees for the vast sum of two pounds.

You can stroll by the Palladian style villa of Kenwood House and visit its old master laden rooms or eat in the café. Or walk to the top of Parliament Hill and look over the city just as Karl Marx and his family did. Or even walk out of the Heath into the historic Spaniard’s Inn where Keats wrote his famous sonnet ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ and where, somewhat incongruously, you can have an ale in the beer garden.

If you walk out the South end of the Heath, you can actually walk to John Keats house, where he lived from 1818 till 1820 before his tragic death in Rome at 25 years old. The House is open to the public and despite some institutional wall-to-wall carpet still has some semblance of the period he lived there and some interesting pieces of memorabilia including his death mask. The fact that the house is a small semi detached and that he lived with a thin wall separating him from his love Fanny, makes it all the more poignant. The streets around it abound in pretty Regency houses.

If you come out of the Heath a little higher at Well Walk you can have a great bistro lunch at the charming Wells tavern so popular it’s a good idea to book. Or take afternoon tea in the garden at historic Burgh House further down the street. Just across the road, drop into the interesting arts and crafts Livingstone Studios for some expensive Indian inspired garments.

If all that country air has given a desire for city delights just walk along Well and then the quaint Flask walk to the Hampstead High Street, for the full shopping experience and join the throngs browsing the plethora of stores from mainstream Gap and Jigsaw to French brands Zadig and Voltaire and Comptoir des Cotonniers. For excellent cake and coffee walk into the quaint Perrins Court, a small cobbled laneway off the main road, and pop into Ginger and White café, with an easy Antipodean feel.

Here in Hampstead, you get the best of both worlds; glorious countryside and city consumer delights.

Hampstead Heath, Hampstead London NW3
www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/hampstead

Kenwood House, Hampstead Heath NW3
http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/kenwood/

Keats House
Keats Grove, Hampstead, NW3 2RR
www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/keatshousehampstead

The Wells
30 Well Walk
Hampstead, London NW3 1BX
020 7794 3785
www.thewellshampstead.co.uk

Ginger &White
4a-5a Perrins Court, Hampstead, NW3 1QS
www.gingerandwhite.com

Jane de Teliga

About Jane de Teliga

Jane de Teliga is a fashion writer and stylist, with a passion for travel. A contributor to the media in London and Sydney, she co-created personal styling service, styleoncall.co.uk