My first job in London (and first job after university) some 9 years ago was as a marketing assistant for Jiq Jaq, an small art gallery at the top of Heath Street in Hampstead. The white walls were filled with abstract paintings by owner and painter Jacqueline K Crofton. She took me to her home studio a few times in Golders Green to watch as she tossed paint on her canvases in a flurry of energy, later adding in delicate details like gold leaf. I loved being surrounded by colour and creativity every day.
On my lunch breaks, I would wander through the wooded areas of Hampstead Heath, gulping in breaths of fresh air, listening to the sounds of nature far from the high street: the chirping birds, the rustle of leaves beneath my feet, squirrels scampering up tree trunks. Other days, I’d walk back down the hill for one of London’s best crepes at Le Creperie, a steaming cone of dripping cheese, ham and spinach (or chocolate, rum and banana).
Whenever I go back to North London, I remember those days. I think back on weekly open mic nights at The Flask that I would go to with friends, long walks through the leafy side streets, an Easter egg rolling competition on Parliament Hill. And though I rarely go there these days, Hampstead is one of the few areas of London I feel like I know best.
This past Saturday morning, the sky above the city was blazing blue and I headed out early. Before I knew it, I was in Hampstead, wandering down the familiar Flask Walk again, ‘enry ‘iggens hair salon on my left (doesn’t this city have some of the best business names?), the tiled facade of The Flask on my right. I wove through the back streets toward the heath, passing by pairs of brightly coloured doors, joggers heading out and heading home, dogs trotting along the pavement.
Bright clumps of delicate daffodils looked translucent in the angle of the low morning sun, a sign that spring is well and truly here. And as I climbed up to the top of Parliament Hill to look down over the Shard, St. Paul’s, The London Eye, Canary Wharf and the rest of the city below, it was even warm enough to take off the coat!
The skyline was dotted with the long, geometric arms of cranes, resting over the weekend in one position. A couple sat on a bench, staring silently over the horizon while their dog rolled in the grass nearby. Behind me, a long stream of runners in vibrant jackets and leggings made their way to the base of the hill. I stood there for a while, to take it all in.
And then I made my way down again, past the athletic grounds and out to Gospel Oak where I’d never been before. I found myself surrounded by what looked like quiet council estates at every turn (although they could very well also be converted estates selling for £1 million with that location…).
As I walked on toward Kentish Town, I stumbled on Queen’s Crescent Market, setting up for the day. It’s one of the city’s oldest street markets with stalls that have passed through generations, the vendors joking with each other as they hauled boxes from vans and set their goods in place. It’s a place quite obviously valued by the local community where vivid heaps of veggies can be bought at cheap prices alongside household necessities.
Cutting over toward Camden, I lingered on Kelly Street to snap a photo of the rainbow houses and a very friendly purring local cat came up to wind around my legs. I bent down to pet him and he hopped up on my knees, following me along until I turned the corner.
At the end of Kelly Street, I spotted another one of London’s great shop names: Love is in the Hair. Those salons…
I avoided the Camden Town tourists (one for another day) and headed back home via Duke of York Market in Chelsea where I stopped for one of those unforgettable salted caramel brownies from Bad Brownie. Dangerous stuff!
- So perfect for spring.
- Just started this book (UK / US). I picked it up because the cover and illustrations throughout are created by one of my favorite travel bloggers.
- Pretty (and useful)!
- The cutest cat family.
- Forget candles; Jorge created an awesome terrarium for me out of this little gem (similar):
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