Hampstead Heath Walks - Highgate Walk
Updated: Jun 1, 2021
Start: Highgate Underground Station (Northern Line)
Finish: Archway Underground Station (Northern Line)
Distance: 3.5 miles
Time: 3 - 3.5 hours Hampstead Heath - Highgate Walk Route (Google Maps)
Highgate as we know it used to belong to the Bishop of London, as small hamlet at the south-eastern corner of his hunting estate (the jaw-dropping vastness of which you see imposed over a modern map above). It divided the parishes of St Pancras and Hornsey – a division still evident in the boundary between Camden and Haringey down the middle of the High Street. There are a couple of theories where the name came originated. The first being that the hilltop village took its name from the gate that led to the Bishop's park. The second theory is the Bishops hunting park was surrounded by a hedge tall enough to keep the deer and other game in aka a "high gate". Neither particularly original but medieval folk were rather literal when it came to naming conventions; what you see is often what you get.
Today, it exists in a kind of splendid isolation, squeezed between Hampstead Heath on the one side and Archway Road on the other. Strict planning laws help maintain the character of the village which, despite the traffic, remains one of the most desirable villages to live in across the capital.
This walk passes the house of Samuel Taylor Coleridge and A.E. Housman, and the graves of George Eliot and Karl Marx. You will also see where T. S. Eliot briefly taught the young John Betjeman, and hear about the legendary Flask pub.
Take the Archway Road exit from Highgate tube. Turn left and walk down to the lights, where you turn right into Jacksons Lane
Bear left into Southwood Lane. The gradient levels out here so you stop panicking about your choice to do this
Turn right into Castle Yard, with it's pretty row of artisans cottages, then left into North Road, continuing until you reach the Red Lion and Sun pub. A little early in the journey, but always worth a stop if you're feeling the need
Cross at the lights to find No. 17, Byron Cottage, almost directly opposite, the left-hand house in an elegant Georgian terrace set back from the road behind a little grove of trees
Byron Cottage is curiously named as it has no documented association with Lord Byron whatsoever. Perhaps a previous owner was just a fan. It was in fact the home of the legendary poet A.E.Housman (1859 - 1936). Housman lived here from 1886 to 1905, and wrote A Shropshire Lad at the house.
Continue to the roundabout, with Highgate School to your left. An impressive array of literary giants studied here including the poets Gerald Manley Hopkins (1844 - 1889) and John Betjeman (1906 - 1984). Betjeman was actually taught in 1916 by T. S. Eliot (1888 - 1965)
Turn right into Hampstead Lane, then left into The Grove, Highgate's most sought-after address
Walk along the right-hand, gravelled pavement, until you reach No.3, home of the poet, critic, and philosopher Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772 - 1834), who lodged here from 1823 until his death in 1834. Coleridge had a large attic bedroom which looked West over Hampstead Heath
The word goes Dr James Gillman, his landlord, agreed to take Coleridge in as a lodger in an attempt to "cure" him of his opium addiction. The poet warned Gillman that it would be a nightmare for both of them, a prediction that would become true as the years that followed were to show how Coleridge continued to crave - and obtain - opium employing genius tactics of evasion and cunning that only those in active addition know how to. Coleridge embodies Highgate. Every inch of this picturesque village is suffused with the ground-breaking poet. The second volume of Richard Holmes biography Coleridge: Darker Reflections deals exclusively with his Highgate years. Well worth a read.
While he was doing his thing in Highgate Coleridge unsurprisingly received a whole host of distinguished visitors; Thomas Carlyle, Dante Gabriel Rosetti, John Stuart Mill, James Fenimore Cooper, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Thomas Hood all made the trek up the hill to enjoy stimulating conversation with the great man. J. B. Priestly
You'll notice two plaques on this same house, No. 3 The Grove. Between 1933-1939 the writer J. B. Priestly (1894 - 1984) also lived here. He had bought the property with the profits from his best selling novel The Good Companions. He described the house as one "of the loveliest things you ever saw. I sit in Coleridges old room typing this letter; I see nothing from my window but Kenwood and the slope of the Heath".
Continue along The Grove and then turn sharp left back on yourself, with the Flask pub on your right
To this day The Flask is one of London's finest pubs with some fascinating folklore surrounding it. Its name apparently derives from the tradition of selling flasks from the pub, which were then used to collect water from Hampstead Heath springs. Hampstead Heath was also a favourite hunting ground for the notorious villain and highwayman Dick Turpin. Although there is no documented source material Turpin is reputed to have spent some time laying low in The Flask while on the run from the authorities.
The pub's Committee Room was allegedly the scene of one of the first-ever autopsies, secretly performed with a fresh body from Highgate Cemetery (during the heyday of grave robbing, naturally). Apparently on their way to, or perhaps way back from visiting their opium-laced friend, Coleridge, the poets Byron, Shelley and Keats were all reputed to be regular visitors to the pub. William Hogarth was also a regular patron, and his portrait now sits in the old cellar room.
Follow this short road, with the reservoir on your left, then turn right into Pond Square
Exit at the far corner, passing the phone boxes, and come out on to Highgate High Street, where you turn right. A short way down on the left is Townsend Yard. The building on its left-hand corner used to be chemists T. H. Dunn, where Coleridge managed to secure a private supply of opium
Return to Pond Square and turn left into South Grove. Down South Grove you'll find St Michaels Church, where Coleridge is buried. His memorial stone lies in the central aisle
Retrace your steps from the church and turn left into Highgate West Hill to find No. 31, the childhood home of John Betjeman, of which he wrote 'At that hill's foot did London then begin'. Tip - if you're interested in finding out more about John Betjeman the Highgate Literary and Scientific Institute, founded in 1839 contains an extensive Betjeman archive as well as a small, but well-stocked library
Continue until you reach Swains Lane, where you turn left to find the twin entrance to Highgate Cemetery. Founded in 1839 and 1854 respectively, the Western (image above) and Eastern Cemeteries are both impressive. Around 170,000 are buried here in 53,000 graves. The Western Cemetery is the more famous with it's extraordinary Gothic architecture, which led Betjemen to describe it as a 'Victorian Valhalla'. In order to visit you must join an organised tour. The number of famous names buried here is impressive, to name a few: pop phenomenon George Michael, the painter Lucien Freud, scientist Michael Faraday, author Douglas Adams, impresario Malcolm McLaren (who claimed to have invented punk), and poisoned Russian defector Alexander Litvinenko.
DIRECTIONS (including Eastern Cemetery):
If you want to your route can continue through the Eastern cemetery (this comes with an entry price). Follow the main path and look out for an open-book tombstone on the right, just after the first junction. This is the grave of William Foyle (1885 - 1963), founder of the famous Charing Cross Road bookshop
At the next junction take the left-hand, gravelled path. Cross two junctions to find the famous, sphinx-like tomb of Karl Marx (1818-1883)
Retrace your steps and turn right at the first junction. A short way up on the right, with an obelisk, is the tomb of Mary Ann Evans, better known as George Eliot (1819 - 1880). Retrace your steps and head for the exit
DIRECTIONS (excluding Eastern Cemetery):
If you decide to skip the Eastern Cemetery then turn right and right again into the wonderful Waterlow Park. Our dachshunds second-favourite runaround, second only to our namesake Hampstead Heath
Take the middle path to the left and head up through the park, aiming for Lauderdale House
Turn left in front of the flower beds and ignoring the steps take the entrance to the right which leads up to the 17th century house. It is here where Samuel Pepys (1633 - 1703) dined with Lord Lauderdale in July 1666
Rumour has it Lauderdale House may once have played host to a major celebrity. The actress Elinor Gwynn, known as Nell, is thought to have stayed here for a short time in 1670.Nell Gwynn was said to be both pretty and witty. Soon after she met King Charles II Nell became one of his many female companions.
It’s likely the Earl of Lauderdale, whose wife owned the House, let the couple (portrayed by actors above from 1934 motion picture) and their baby son stay here so they could spend time together. When Nell wanted the King to give their baby an aristocratic title, she is said to have held the boy out of a window in Lauderdale House. “Make him a duke or I drop him,” demanded Nell. The King replied, “God save the Earl of Burford!” Or so the story goes. Other versions of the tale place it in a completely different building. Nell and Charles had another son the following year, but neither child inherited Charles’s crown because the couple were not married. The King’s actual wife had no children of her own.
Leave the gardens of Lauderdale House and turn right. Follow this path round to leave Waterlow Park, and descend Highgate Hill, which offers spectacular views right across London
Keep on trucking to Archyway Station and you're done. Bravo.