Fenton House and West Heath
Windmill Hill Hampstead London NW3 6RT
Redbrick Fenton House is the oldest-surviving Hampstead mansion, built as an out-of-town residence by a merchant in 1693. A National Trust property, much of its appeal lies in its beautiful walled garden – containing an orchard, fruit trees and herbs – preserved almost unchanged from a description of 1756. The house itself has important collections of porcelain and, especially, musical instruments, which are maintained in playable condition and used for a programme of concerts. If you’re lucky, there will be someone rehearsing or performing on one of the early keyboards. Be sure to make your way to the top of the house, too, for the views.
A walk from Fenton House to Church Row (described here in reverse) takes you through an elegant swathe of eighteenth-century Hampstead. Alternatively, you could continue north onto West Heath. An interesting route is to follow Admiral’s Walk (just below Fenton House), named after the madcap eighteenth-century house with its roof built like a ship’s quarterdeck, and then head up Lower Terrace, where Constable lived at no. 2, and then go left into Judge’s Walk, at the end of which is a fabulous view, painted by Constable, and off to the right an Observatory – built on the highest point of north London. From there, you could make your way across the West Heath – Hampstead Heath’s extension. Heading right, you should reach the ‘secret’ Hill Gardens (open 8.30am to dusk), with an 800-foot-long, wisteria-clad pergola, offering more wonderful views – over the Heath and across to Harrow church. Beyond the garden a path through the woods leads to Golders Hill Park, where Hampstead turns into Golders Green. The fringe of West Heath – mainly the area behind the former pub, Jack Straws Castle – has long been an active spot for gay cruising after dusk, especially on summer evenings.