Hampstead’s Heath and Pubs

Date February 14, 2010 | Map

Being stressed is not good. I almost missed this meetup with friends in Hampstead, and I would have missed out on a perfectly relaxing afternoon, taking in the wintery sights of Hampstead Heath and the culinary (liquid and solid) delights of some of Hampstead’s brilliant pubs.

The Rosslyn Arms

The Rosslyn Arms, by Ewan-M via flickr.com

Luckily I still got in time to The Rosslyn Arms, a bistro/gastro-style pub, reminiscent of its counterparts in Central Europe. So relaxed that you could spend the whole day at the rustic wooden tables, scoffing pizzas from the wood-fired oven. But alas, my friends had already spent 45 minutes waiting for me, so we ventured off under the guidance of a recent local to discover new aspects of lovely Hampstead.

Via Flask Walk, we went into the Vale of Health. What a name! Much better than Hatch’s or Hatchett’s Bottom, the previous name of this hamlet, until some people wanted to attract visitors and opted for the fancier name in 1801. They succeeded, and the Vale became a nice, small country-esque village, completely surrounded by the Heath. It is quite special, in that the Vale of Health really feels like a country village, and the mega-city London could not be further away, was it not for some rather ugly apartment blocks. Honestly, who dared to commit such an architectural crime? The history of the Vale of Health is summarised by British History Online and, much shorter, by Hidden London.

Vale of Health

Vale of Health

What followed was a lovely, but occasionally rather muddy walk through Hampstead Heath, until we reached Kenwood House. No time to go inside, though, because we were rather hungry, so we resorted to strolling around the grassy park and contemplated the appropriateness of Henry Moore’s Two Piece Reclining Figure No 5, concluding that this piece of modern art may be a bit out of place in this surrounding.

The Spaniards Inn

Spaniards, by Ewan-M via flickr.com

We intended to dine at The Spaniards Inn, “truly a country pub in the City”, according to its website. What can I say, it is truly a country pub, but strictly speaking has missed the City by about 7km. Unfortunately, country pubs in London do have quite an appeal, especially on a pleasant Sunday afternoon, so dining was not really an option unless we were prepared to wait for at least an hour or sit outside in the large garden. We would have been prepared to do the latter in May or so, but February temperatures meant that the garden unfortunately was not too appealing, and we were too hungry to wait.

The Holly Bush

Holly Bush, by Matthew Black via flickr.com

We had more luck at the Holly Bush, an equally comfortable pub in a very quiet street. Good, quiet streets mean that you must know it’s there, which, however, quite a number obviously did. We just managed to get a very tiny table, and I had to squeeze a lot, but at least we were sitting and able to enjoy food and drinks. A pint of Harveys Best went well with my tasty fish pie, whereas the HSB was a bit too bitter for my tastebuds. But as you can see from two beers, the pub was so lovely that we just had to stay for more than just one – a true gem, this Holly Bush!

The Horseshoe

The Horseshoe, by Ewan-M via flickr.com

To close off a fantastic day, two of us still went for the final one into The Horseshoe, very close to Hampstead tube station. It is a gastropub and microbrewery, and I cannot really make up my mind about it. The beer was not wholly to my taste, and we did not try any food, which looked ok and appears to get good reviews. The atmosphere was a bit canteen-like; tables and chairs just did not make you feel welcome. Other punters, though, looked as if they’d been here since noon, reading newspapers and magazines all day. The Horseshoe definitely leans towards the stylish end, this is probably to show that Hampstead can easily cater for traditionalist and hip folks alike. You choose.

All in all, I think I must spend Sundays in Hampstead more often.

Pubs visited on this walk

The Rosslyn Arms:
Beer in the Evening Review
Fancy a Pint Review

The Spaniards Inn:
Beer in the Evening Review
Fancy a Pint Review
Pubs.com Review
Time Out London Review

Holly Bush:
Beer in the Evening Review
Fancy a Pint Review
Pubs.com Review
Time Out London Review

The Horseshoe:
Beer in the Evening Review
Fancy a Pint Review
Time Out London Review



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