Petit Fours » A group blog of authors writing in different genres

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HAMPSTEAD near London, England with freelance writer, Jamie Rich

 

By Jamie Rich

 

Not far from London’s iconic double-decker buses and camera-toting tourists angling for the perfect shot of Big Ben, an eclectic village defies the chaos of the city. I fell in love with Hampstead’s Charles Dickens charm from the first moment I stepped out of the tube station this past spring. The village’s Georgian architecture, quaint antiques booths, inviting coffee shops, and high-end boutiques create a sophisticated-bohemian vibe.

 

I moved to London from Alexandria, Virginia, in April with my husband, Brian, and our 3-year-old daughter, Eloise. Unfortunately, Brian and I envisioned different lifestyles in our new British home. I wanted a big city experience. He wanted life in the country.

 

Lucky for me, the jewel of Hampstead is a blanket of woodlands, known as Hampstead Heath, a rugged 792-acre park, which surrounds the village. The “heath” as locals call it, is an outdoorsman’s dream, with walking and biking trails, and fishing and swimming ponds. Tucked within the thick green foliage, the historic Kenwood House offers a great destination for serious hikers or casual strollers. People love Kenwood House for its historic architecture, art gallery and cold ice cream. But, the best reason to visit Kenwood House is to rest and take in the beauty of the heath.

 

Not only people appreciate the lush oasis of Hampstead Heath. Some Hampstonians argue that dogs supersede people in the park. On our daily walks with our two Chesapeake Bay Retrievers, the leashesdisappear once their paws hit the dirt, and most any breed can be spotted running free on the greens and swimming in the ponds. For the most part, the terrain is completely natural, but for those who like to keep the mud to a minimum (London’s steady rain makes it thick), groomed paths crisscross the park. Throughout the summer our family of three explored the trails, picked wild blackberries, flew our kite, fed the ducks and played with our two hounds.

 

Dogs are also welcome on Hampstead High Street, the village’s main drag, but they need to be leashed to enjoy the international shopping and street-side cafes. The High Street hosts some busy American favorites like Starbucks and The Gap, but the real fun is in exploring the many antiques booths and international boutiques like Kurt Geiger, L.K. Bennett, Molton Brown, and my favorite women’s shop, locally-owned Charli.

 

After enjoying the rigors of the heath or the High Street shops, we love to refuel with a sweet or savory treat from the famous Crêperie de Hampstead. The small white kiosk serves hundreds of people, who line up along the High Street throughout the day for a

golden, buttery crêpe. Eloise will throw a tantrum for an oozing ham and cheese creation, so I hate to think what will happen when she discovers that the French woman behind the counter makes a chocolate version too.

 

Aside from the crêperie, my favorite place in Hampstead is Flask Walk, a pedestrian-only lane tucked just off the busy High Street.  Whether I “fancy” a cup of tea, a pint of ale or a milkshake, Flask Walk serves it up. With its stone-slab pavers, a canopy of colored lights strung between the storefronts, and inviting outdoor café tables, the tiny alcove feels like a village within a village. The local flower shop sells colorful rain boots and hats, and of course an array of British plants, displayed along the lane. The antiques store specializes in secondhand books and treasures from neighborhood houses. The adorable ice cream parlor overflows with children and moms everyday after school. And the famous (and rumored to be haunted) pub, The Flask, offers a cold beer and a warm respite from the often windy and rainy weather.

 

Brian and I still can’t decide which one of our neighborhood pubs we like best. Hampstead’s pubs combine old English charm with contemporary design and cuisine, befitting of the borough’s boho vibe. Many pubs like, The Old White Bear and The Wells Tavern, (two of our favorites) are now considered gastro pubs, with upscale menus that replace traditional fish and chips with grilled sea bass, guinea fowl and stuffed red peppers.

 

Stories of famous writers and historic figures who have whiled away their time drinking beer and pondering life inside Hampstead’s pubs intrigue locals and visitors alike. Charles Dickens and Sigmund Freud are just two of Hampstead’s most famous residents, and the Freud museum offers another great outing.

 

Famous Hampstonian’s aside, it only takes one stroll through the village to fall in love with the rustic-urban retreat.  From the High Street to the heath to its historic architecture and lore, Hampstead is one of London’s most romantic boroughs, and for now, it’s what we call home.

 

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Jamie Rich is a freelance writer living in London with her husband, Brian, and their 3-year-old daughter, Eloise. She writes feature stories about life, love and family, and her work has appeared online and in print publications including the Washington Post, Washingtonian Magazine, Northern Virginia Magazine, Babble.com and Nerve.com. She also works at The Times of London as part of its iPad team.

 

Carol Burnside - November 21, 2010 - 1:10 am

Hampsted sounds lovely and the picures enforce that impression. Well done. I believe I’m jealous.

Marilyn Baron - November 21, 2010 - 6:07 am

I agree Carol. I think it would make a great place to set a novel, write a novel or live. Jamie has lived in some interesting places, including Russia and Africa. Why don’t you ask her about that?

Marilyn Baron - November 21, 2010 - 6:12 am

Talk about interesting places, today Jamie and her family are staying overnight at a lighthouse in Norfolk in England where she doesn’t have access to the Internet, so she will try to comment on your comments when she can. Be sure to check back either later or the post is archived in our Travel the World with Words section.
Marilyn

Marilyn Baron - November 21, 2010 - 7:46 am

Oh and Jamie, I have to ask, is everyone across the pond going crazy about the engagement of Prince William to Kate Middleton. Inquiring minds want to know.

Marilyn

Tami Brothers - November 21, 2010 - 8:08 am

These are awesome pictures, Jamie!

You really make Hampstead sound wonderful. Is Hampstead kind of like the little areas around Atlanta, where Atlanta is made up of all these little areas (ex. Decatur, Norcross)? That’s kind of what I’m picturing but am not sure.

I’d love to hear the dish on William and Kate, too. AND I’m curious if you have a website or blog that we can check out.

Thanks for blogging with us today, Jamie!!!

Tami

Pam Asberry - November 21, 2010 - 11:12 am

I visited London almost 30 years ago, but that left a lot of England unexplored. Hamptstead sounds positively charming; hopefully I will get there some day. Thank you for sharing your experiences and impressions.

Sandra Elzie - November 21, 2010 - 1:31 pm

Jamie,

I’ve never really had a yen to visit London and the area, but I’m rethinking that. Hamptstead sounds like a slow-paced area where someone can just kick back and enjoy being there.

Great pictures..your daughter is absolutely beautiful…and like Carol, I think I’m a little jealous of the fantastic adventure you and your family are on.

Thank you for joining us.

Sandy

Susan - November 21, 2010 - 7:47 pm

Jamie,
I love England. I wished I could live there for some time. I have enjoyed all my visits. Is there a castle near by?

Debbie Kaufman - November 21, 2010 - 9:08 pm

Oh, Jamie. I’m ready to move right now. Or, even settle for a visit to explore. Thanks for making this place come so alive!

Marilyn Baron - November 21, 2010 - 10:58 pm

Molton Brown is my favorite hand wash and body wash. That’s what they use in Buckingham Palace or at least the museum attached to the palace. Ever since I visited, I’ve tried to find outlets in Atlanta and now they’re in Saks and Bath and Body Works. I call it the Queen’s soap.

Marilyn

Maxine - November 22, 2010 - 8:19 am

Oh, I do want to go there! Sounds fantastic. Thank you for posting on the Petit Fours and Hot Tamales site. I wish you’d write again and tell us about staying at the lighthouse.

Jamie - November 22, 2010 - 5:08 pm

Hi everyone! Thanks so much for your comments.
We are back from our trip to the countryside and it was beautiful. My in-laws are in town, so we took them to Norfolk and stayed in a lighthouse on the coast of the North Sea. It was awesome but no Internet of course. It’s crazy how the web Has become almost a basic necessity of life like food and water! I can barely survive without it.

As for Hampstead…if I had to compare it to Atlanta (which I lived in for five years) I would say it’s situated somewhat like Dunwoody, but Hampstead is actually a neighborhood or “borough” inside London “proper” as they would say over here.

Jamie - November 22, 2010 - 5:17 pm

The papers are all filled with details of William and Kate’s engagement and relationship. Over the weekend, one of the headlines read: “Kate gets gun guard” because of all the insanity around the couple and especially Kate. She looked so gorgeous the night of their engagement when they gave their interview over here. (I know you have all seen the photos of her in that royal blue dress.) Everyone seems very excited and happy about the news, but now the issue is how “thrifty” can they make the wedding. This is the era of austerity in Britain.

Doesn’t seem right that they should have to cheap out on the wedding, though. I guess this means a DJ instead of a band and sparkling wine rather than Champagne!

Jamie - November 22, 2010 - 5:20 pm

:) Sadly, there are no castles in Hampstead, but plenty of old churches with creepy graveyards and Windsor Castle is only about a 40 minute drive.

Gina Colley-Holgate - November 22, 2010 - 6:30 pm

Hampstead sounds simply delightful! I want to hear more about the haunted pubs and creepy graveyards you speak of.

Christina Clifford - November 22, 2010 - 9:46 pm

My only question is…when can we come visit??
p.s. Yes…we are very excited for the wedding!

Anna Doll - November 22, 2010 - 10:33 pm

Jamie,

What a wonderful experience! Is your daughter picking up the Brit accent? When I was young, our next door neighbor’s daughter moved to England with her military husband and came back 8 years later. Her children (of Hispanic heritage) had the most lovely British accents!

A town that produced both Dickens and Freud. Wow.

Thanks for sharing a slice of your life with us.

Anna

Marilyn Baron - November 23, 2010 - 6:01 pm

I think Jamie said her daughter is no calling her “Mummy.”

Marilyn

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