The Heath by Hunter Davies

3.5 out of 5 stars

A copy of this was provided free of charge from the publisher in return for an honest review.

Even though I have read bits and pieces about Hampstead Heath, a couple of books on the people that head to the ponds on a regular or daily basis to take a dip and it has come up in books on spies, both fictional and real-life examples. My mum and dad are both Londoners and I have been there many many times. But I have never been there.

Located four miles from the centre of London it is eight hundred acres of green space. It is not manicured by legions of gardeners, rather it is a place that most Londoners can get to on a tube that feels like the countryside. There are hills and lakes, rolling grasslands and wild parts (well for London anyway).

It is a place that Hunter Davies has known for a very long time. He was born in Scotland, but his home for the past six decades has been within walking distance of the Heath. This book, set over a year of life on the Heath and during the pandemic, is both a love letter and a eulogy to the place that he loves deeply.

Each chapter takes us to a specific place beginning of course with the swimming ponds. We meet some of the characters on the heath from the dog walkers to the rich and famous and the hippies that are using the space for their own particular ends. There are several visits to the pubs, he wanders along the pergola, a generally unknown spot as well as visits to the sheep that are making an appearance now.

I must admit I did think that this would be more natural history focused than it is, but that said I found this as informative as I did entertaining. Quite a pleasant surprise. It is a part of London that I know very little about so every page had some anecdote or snippet of information that I had not come across before. I liked the way that he explored different parts of the heath rather than just his regular haunts, but it is the places that he visits every day that you come to understand why he loves the place so much. If I had one minor gripe, I thought that the name-dropping did get a little tiresome.

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  1. Liz Dexter

    Glad it’s generally positive, as I just gave a copy of this to my best friend for her birthday – she walks on the Heath quite a lot so it seemed apt (Davies is a favourite author of mine).

    • Paul

      I hope she likes it too. It was generally very good, it is just me being a grump as I have zero interest in celebrities!

  2. Annabel (AnnaBookBel)

    I enjoy Hunter Davies, but have never been to Hampstead Heath (coming from south of the river!). I do think I’d enjoy this book though (I don’t mind a bit of name-dropping).

    • Paul

      I had never heard of him before I read this book! I did also find out that an author on Twitter who follows me is his daughter!

  3. Annabel (AnnaBookBel)

    I thought everyone had heard of Hunter Davies, who was married to novelist Margaret Forster, and wrote Help! the authorised Beatles biog. 😀 Don’t know his daughter though!

    • Paul

      I am not a fan of the Beatles so it would never have crossed my radar!

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