Parliament Hill, on Hampstead Heath review
I thought I'd have a stroll up Parliament Hill today. It's about time I did some exercise. The last time I did some proper exercise was running for the bus at school, and that was about five thousand years ago — when Parliament Hill was still covered in ice and snow.
Keep walking nice and slow up Well Walk. All the tree trunks are wrapped in ivy, and people are strolling around with little yappy dogs. I spy an old guy taking his parcel to the postbox as well... he looks older than the trees. Everything seems to be covered in lilac and lavender. I'm guessing that a team of grandmas are in charge of the decor.
After 10-15 minutes you will reach the boundary of the park -- so get ready for a sudden mood change. It looks like the flowers are too scared to enter. Soon you'll be marching downhill on a stony, muddy path, winding its way through a dark and gloomy wood. The path is walled-in by nettles and heavy trees, armoured-up in leaves and thorns. The next ten minutes will be spent walking past sawn-off tree trunks and cracked boughs, buzzing with moths and midges and dancing spots of white light in your eyes. All the birdsong is far off, and I can hear muffled shouts of "Barnie!" and "Where the hell is he?” Yelps and barks from armies of dogs out for a walk. This place is full of dogs and joggers, all puffing and panting as much as the other.
It's quite a spooky scene actually. All of the sunlight seems to be sitting above the canopy of trees, waiting for permission to enter. None of it can battle down to the ground. It's like the time zone changes fifty-feet above your head. Up in the sky it's still sunny Sunday morning, but down here on earth it's gloomy Monday.
It's a proper forest-wood, and I wouldn't fancy leaving the path in case I get lost. Everything is either dark green or brown -- that's it. Behind every wall of trees is a screen of trees beyond, and another sheen of green behind them. Every fifty-feet you'll find a big felled giant, like a boat of wood, a shipwrecked log. Riddled with barnacles of fungi and ferns. They remind me of some burnt-out tanks on the way to Berlin. They are the broken bones of the wood, being feasted on by flies. I wonder how long they have been lying there.
Eventually you'll come across a little green field on the right -- keep going past that, you are nearly there. Fifteen minutes after entering the wood the trees will split and you'll be seeing your first spot of skyline. You'll hit the open air and discover that you have climbed the hill without even knowing it. The whole brow of the mound is covered in wispy tall grass that comes up to your knees. Pacing through it is a bit like trudging through a deep drift of snow. You have to lift your feet up above the tops of the green, and find a place to plant them. Trudge and trudge, on you go, until you get to where you're going. I crushed a few buttercups but I don't care -- that's the kind of guy I am. Some people stop and sniff the flowers, and others just stamp their faces in the mud.
There's not much point in me giving you any more directions, because there are about a million different dusty paths to follow (none of them signposted). Just keep aiming in the same general direction around the brow of the hill, and eventually you will see your goal. It's a mound that looks like no other, and you will know straight away that you have found the right one. It rises cleanly out of the woods, like a bald head out of a jumper. If you pick the right path then you'll see the top of The Shard rising out of the top as you climb it. Then you'll have the whole of London laid out before you, from Canary Wharf in the east (in the west -- because you're looking south from Hampstead), and all the way to Westminster.
It was very sunny today so all the colours were drowned out, but I had a cloudless sky so I was happy. They've got a few benches and a silver plaque on top to help you pick out the landmarks, but half of the fun is trying to tease them out of the skyline. You'll see Canary Wharf with ease, and the Gherkin and the Shard too, but St. Paul's might take a little longer (it's still easy though!). And what about the Houses of Parliament? If you can spot that without looking at the plaque then you can give yourself a pat on the back (they label it as 'Victoria Tower' on the plaque). The farthest thing that I could see today was the tall mast at Crystal Palace, which is about ten miles away.
So then.. which is better, Parliament Hill or Primrose Hill? Well, I would have to say that Parliament Hill is better, without a shadow of a doubt. The walk is far nicer, but Primrose Hill is closer to the centre of town, and won't take up so much of your day. But there are no refreshments at the top, so you might want to bring a drink.
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