London Walks Recommendation for this Weekend

London calling.

London Walks connecting.

London Walks here with yet another London fix.

Story time. History time.

Time to get back in the saddle.

For a short canter at any rate.

This one’s going to be a bit of a potpourri. But in the first instance it’s going to be here and now. What’s coming up this weekend. Sunday, May 14th, to be specific.

Here ya go. Lights, camera, action. What’s coming up is this: spending a few hours in Hampstead on Sunday is always a good idea. None better.

But this Sunday, doubly so. Because it’s the last day of the annual Affordable Art Fair on Hampstead Heath.

It’s a world of art waiting for you.

Thousands of artists, 100 exhibiting galleries. Painting, sculpture, photography, printmaking, mixed-media – it’s all there. The best of contemporary art from all over the world.

Set out for you right there on that most beautiful of settings – Hampstead Heath. And did you catch that adjective, the prow of the way they bill it? It’s the affordable art fair. And that’s also beautiful.

So here’s a proposal for you. Let’s turn that Sunday morning Hampstead Walk – my favourite of the 58 London Walks in my personal repertory – let’s turn that Sunday morning Hampstead walk into a day in Hampstead.

The walk starts at 10. 30 am. Meeting point is Hampstead Underground Station. But you know something, it’s not as though you have to wait until 10.30 for the doors to open. I don’t. I always get there about 45 minutes before the walk starts. Why? Because St John’s, the parish church, is, to my eyes at any rate, the most beautiful church interior in London. I always put in there half an hour or so before the walk starts. To catch part of the choir rehearsal in that gem-like setting. I always sit in the very last pew. Just inside the door. And take it all in. That stunning interior. Those beautiful soaring voices. If you want to, come up a bit early and join me. I’m effectively a congregation of one at the time.

And, yup, there’s another amenity. The loo. If you had a cup of coffee before you went out of the house putting in at the loo in St John’s before you had back to the station to catch the walk makes a lot of sense.

And you know something, sometimes of a Sunday morning I vary things just a little bit. The churchyard is the oldest surviving unspoilt churchyard in the London area. So just occasionally – when the weather’s exquisitely perfect – I sit on one of the benches out in the churchyard. The choir rehearsal is still within earshot. But you can also hear the birds. And watch the squirrels playing. Occasionally I even catch a glimpse of the fox.

And that’s my half hour or so before the start of the walk. That’s how I set myself up for the walk. It’s a small e – lower case e – experience. Gets everything aligned for me.

The parish church – St John’s – is at the western end of Church Row. You’ll get to see it even if you decline the invitation to join me there before the walk. You’ll get to see it because it’s the last stop on the walk. So for me personally, it bookends my Hampstead Walk. It’s where I am just before the start of the walk. And it’s where the walk ends.

St John’s is at the far end of Church Row – all of about a two-minute walk from Hampstead Tube Station. Church Row itself is Hampstead’s finest street. I make the point to my walkers that Hampstead has two chief glories – Hampstead Heath and Church Row. And we take a good look at both of them on the walk. And some directions for you.

Come out of Hampstead Tube – kiddy corner – to use that delightful American expression – is an Oxfam book shop (very Hampstead, that – they don’t just have an Oxfam shop, they have an Oxfam bookshop) – cross to that bookshop and as your facing the shop turn left. Church Row is the third turning on the right. The first turning is Holly Bush Vale. Then – just past the Tesco grocery store – there’s a tiny alleyway called Yorkshire Grey Place. Walk past the estate agent. Do take a gander at the sales pitch – and yes, the eye-watering prices,  for the Hampstead properties they’re flogging. That estate agent is on the corner of Heath Street and Church Row. Turn the corner into Church Row and there down at the far end is our church. If you pass Ricky Gervais on the way to the church – he lives down there – be sure to say ‘good morning, Ricky’. He’s friendly. He’ll greet you in return.

So that’s one pre-walk possibility.

Another fun one is the Hampstead Community Centre. It’s at 78 Hampstead High Street. Come out of the Tube, turn left, walk down to the zebra crossing. Cross the High Street and turn left again. You’ll walk past the Waterstones Book shop and the old fashioned Coffee Cup restaurant and the William IV put (with the two French crepe stands just outside) and then hey presto you’re at the Community Centre. They’re a moveable feast. The second Sunday in the month – the Sunday in question here – they host the Hampstead Clothes Market.

And they’ve got that same, aforementioned amenity. A loo.

Another idea. How does breakfast in Hampstead sound? Fortify you for the walk. Any number of cafes there on the High Street – and indeed on Heath Street – but it’s hard to go wrong with the Coffee Cup. They’ve got outside tables. Their raisin toast is to die for. Let alone their scrambled eggs and salmon.

So that’s all pre-walk. Then we’ll do the walk. You buttonhole me at walk’s end and I’ll make some lunch recommendations. And then you’re off to the art fair.

Or if the art fair isn’t your thing – well, Hampstead is an Aladdin’s Cave of cultural and historical riches.

A year ago or so I did one of those Ten Things to Do in Hampstead numbers for our blog and it came in at 52 Things to Do. Right off the top of the list, there’s Keats’ House, and Kenwood (you’ll hear a lot about it on the walk, when we’re there on the Heath) and Burgh House and Fenton House and the Freud House Museum and the famous modernist House (2 Willow Road is its handle)…you’re spoiled for choice.

And that’s not to mention all the supporting acts – the great pubs and cafes and shops and galleries and the Pergola.

You go to Hampstead basically you’ve died and gone to heaven.

Anyway, yes, so there you go – start with that great walk – 10.30 am from Hampstead Tube (Hampstead Tube’s on the Northern Line – don’t confuse it with South Hampstead Railway station) start with that great walk and accordion it out to a pre-walk treat – breakfast in Hampstead or the choir rehearsal at St Johns or the Clothes Market at the Community Centre – and on the far side of the walk a great Sunday lunch and, on this Sunday, and only on this Sunday, the Affordable Art Fair on Hampstead Heath.

As London days go, well, you’re on to a winner. A London Sunday doesn’t come any better.

And inasmuch as we’re in London – that great pleasure dome,  the casino where everyone wins – and I’m the dealer at this table, you say ‘hit me’ – here ya go, here’s another London card for you.

Be sure to check out the latest Private Eye cover. Private Eye’s the fortnightly satirical magazine. It scoffs, it mocks, it takes the mickey, sticks a pin in the puffed-up bladders of conformity and pretension and respectability and seriousness. I think the cover of this issue might be its best one ever.

My front runner for years was the one twenty years ago that showed those fools Bush and Blair pressing for, clamouring for a War of Choice. That cover showed the two of them and gave them the speech bubble, “All we are saying is give War a chance.”

Well, Private Eye may have pushed that heretofore front runner into second place with its latest cover. It’s easy to describe. No photo, just words.

Under the billing Historic Souvenir Issue we’re treated to the huge headline


That pfffft sound you’re hearing is 100 million pounds worth of royal bigging up and hoopla and forelock tugging and pretension rushing out into the forest of mockery.

And on that note, I’ve got to start thinking about my Kensington Walk this afternoon.

I’m thinking Mary – not my Mary but Mary as in William and Mary of Kensington Palace fame – will get a bit more play today than she normally does. I’ve been thinking about her death by smallpox. More than thinking, I’ve been doing a bit of digging. Pretty grim stuff. And in a slightly unnerving way, timely. Smallpox has been around for about 10,000 years. They’ve found smallpox scars on the faces of Egyptian mummies. In Queen Mary’s time it was killing 400,000 people a year. A third of the survivors went blind. The death rate was 20 to 60 percent in adults. In London infants it was an 80 percent death rate. It killed the French king Louis XV. And the Russian czar Peter II. Queen Elizabeth I survived it. And it’s why – this was a revelation to me – she wore for the rest of her life a quarter of an inch of lead-based make-up. Let that sink in.

But I always wondered how the vector got anywhere near Mary. Well, turns out it’s airborne – sneezing and coughing will get it about. We know about that, don’t we. It’s not small pox, it’s our pandemic – but we still see, every day, people with masks. They’re good citizens.

And how’s this for a one-two punch of decided unpleasantness? Scientists are worried the virus can be released from long-frozen bodies in the Arctic. And worse, the DNA sequence of Smallpox is in the public domain and it’s possible to synthesise it and mass produce. Loosed upon our world it would make a nuclear war conflagration look like a milk run.

And there’s my cue. I do a fair bit on that Kensington Walk about place names – how they’re often an x-ray of the past. We take a good luck at the word ‘mews’ for example. Take a good look at the word because on that walk we take a good look at a couple of the most interesting, attractive and unusual mews in all of London. Similarly, the place name Kensington itself gets slid under that microscope. And well, we’ve all been vaccinated these past couple of years. And it was Edward Jenner who came up with the world’s first vaccine. A vaccine that did the trick for Smallpox.

He got it from related, less dangerous, cousin virus that was causing cowpox. And of course the Latin word for cow is vacca. And vacca – well, sure enough, there you are, there we are, there’s our word, vaccination.

So with Mary this afternoon, I think that’ll probably be my riff – instead of the other one about how mores change over the centuries and that nobody was much fussed in the 17th century about a 15 year-old-girl marrying a 27-year-old man. Be a taboo today, Wasn’t then. Their taboo was the possibility that she might marry a Roman Catholic.

How’s that Yorkshire saying go? I can’t do the accent.

There’s nowt so queer as folk.

You’ve been listening to a London Walks podcast. Emanating from – home of London Walks, London’s signature walking tour company. London’s local, time-honoured, fiercely independent, family-owned, just-the-right-size walking tour company. And as long as we’re at it, London’s multi-award-winning walking tour company. Indeed, London’s only award-winning walking tour company.

And here’s the secret: London Walks is essentially run as a guides’ cooperative.

That’s the key to everything. It’s the reason we’re able to attract and keep the best guides in London. You can get schlubbers to do this for £20 a walk. But you cannot get world-class guides – let alone accomplished professionals.

It’s not rocket science: you get what you pay for. And just as surely, you also get what you don’t pay for.

Back in 1968 when we got started we quickly came to a fork in the road. We had to answer a searching question: Do we want to make the most money? Or do we want to be the best walking tour company in the world? You want to make the most money you go the schlubbers route. You want to be the best walking tour company in the world you do whatever you have to do to attract and keep the best guides in London – you want them guiding for you, not for somebody else. Bears repeating: the way we’re structured – a guides’ cooperative – is the key to the whole thing. It’s the reason for all those awards, it’s the reason people who know go with London Walks, it’s the reason we’ve got a big following, a lively, loyal, discerning following – quality attracts quality.

It’s the reason we’re able – uniquely – to front our walks with accomplished, in many cases distinguished professionals: barristers, doctors, geologists, museum curators, archaeologists, historians, criminal defence lawyers, Royal Shakespeare Company actors, a bevy of MVPs, Oscar winners (people who’ve won the Guide of the Year Award)… well, you get the idea. As that travel writer famously put it, “if this were a golf tournament, every name on the Leader Board would be a London Walks guide.”

And as we put it: London Walks Guides make the new familiar and the familiar new.

And on that agreeable note…come then, let us go forward together on some great London Walks. And that’s by way of saying, Good Londoning one and all. Nothing to add except… Welcome back! You were sorely missed. See ya tomorrow.

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