The Oldie Magazine|July 2020
Let me take you on my daily walk across Hampstead Heath – a walk I have done for most of the last 60 years, man and boy groom. I got married to the writer Margaret Forster in 1960, aged 24, and we moved into a flat right in the middle of the Heath, a little, a hidden village called the Vale of Health. I was so proud, especially of the phone number Hampstead 3847. Very posh. In those days, you could tell from a phone where someone lived.
In 1963, we moved to the other side of the Heath, when we bought a house with a sitting tenant, which was all we could afford. It cost us £5,000. I know – we paid too much. Whenever a new person moves into our streets, I let drop casually how much we paid, just to see them vomit on the pavement.
I have just one road to cross to get to the Heath. It takes me only five minutes and, oh joy, I am at once communing with nature, 800 acres filled with lakes, woods, trees, and hills – London’s greatest natural treasure.
OK, it is not exactly the Lake District, where we had a country home for 30 years. But you can pick your time and route to mean it’s possible to walk for three hours, see hardly anyone and have to cross only one road, convincing yourself you are in the real countryside, despite being only four miles from the center of London.
This year, I have been able to look on my long daily walk as work – I am doing a book about a year in the life of the Heath. I was well pissed off when the lockdown came, thinking, ‘Oh God, the book will be all out of date.’ But now I realize it has given me an unexpected narrative: the Heath before and after lockdown.
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