Michelle Huneven

Webpage of Michelle Huneven, novelist.  Author of Round Rock, Jamesland, Blame, and Off Course.

Hampstead Ramble

We slept long and hard and late--until nine the next morning.  We had a full day ahead of us.

Up we headed up to Hampstead Heath for the literary tour thereof.  We got off in the charming town of Hampstead, or at least a very charming quarter of it, and walked about a mile on a busy road through the Heath (the Heath itself calling to us at many entry points) to our first site: Evelyn Waugh’s, a modest house, now a triplex—a reminder that writers, however famous, are rarely the people inhabiting the great piles (Brideshead, Pemberly) that they write about.

From Waugh’s we popped around to William Blake’s old home—or tried to.  We kept walking back and forth where Google Maps said it was, and then finally trespassed through a yard and around a house to a back alley.  There we found an elderly woman raking her grass.  Blake’s house, she said, was—“the white part” of the house next door.  She was up for a chat, so we explained that we were on a literary tour and were headed, after a bit, to Freud’s house.  She agreed that “It’s good to have an aim,” however random, when roving about.

She also said that her father-in-law was the psychoanalyst John Bowlby, who was “the father of” Attachment Theory, (Yes, you can blame you parents) and he had lived next door (on the opposite side from Blake).  Her house, she said, was built on what once was his tennis court. Her husband arrived with the leaf bin and yes, he did look like Bowlby—same eyebrows. Blame your parents!


Another kindly woman allowed us onto her property to admire Blake’s pretty white cottage now annexed to a large brick house.

To get to our next stop, The Spaniards Inn, we got to cut through the Heath on a wide path in the shade of many towering trees. Dickens mentions the Inn in the Pickwick Paper, Bram Stoker is said to have stolen a ghost story there for Dracula; Keats and Byron wrote there. The painters Hogarth, Reynolds, and Constable were regulars. Entering, we smelled fish and chips—and opted for only a cup of tea in the garden.

We had a little contention, then. I wanted to push on to Katherine Mansfield’s and Keats’ houses, but Bowlby’s nice old daughter-in-law had extolled the virtues of Kenwood House and now Jim wanted to go there.  He’d even give up Ian Fleming’s house if I would relent. We went to Kenwood, where we saw an odd, late Vermeer

The Guitar Player.jpg

and…my 17th Century boyfriend!  The rascal. I usually see him at the Norton Simon, and sometimes in Paris and a couple of years ago in Amsterdam—but there he was, hanging in a big old British house.  I was delighted to see him, even if he was looking quite old (who doesn’t?). 

Thus, I was glad for the detour to Kenwood even if it did cost me visits to Mansfield, Keats, Fleming and P.L. Travers, who were all on the initial route.  (We saw why so many artists and writers loved the Heath: so much room to think.)

  Leaving Kenwood House, we walked for miles more through the woods back to  town to visit Freud’s English home (after he fled Vienna), now the Freud Museum—which was unaccountably moving. We saw the famous carpet-draped couch, the collections of his “primitive” artifacts, many photographs of Sigmund and family and family pets; notably, too, his daughter the psychoanalyst, Anna (who also lived in the house and urged it to be saved as a museum).  I also saw the haunting renderings by “the Wolf Man” of his recurrent childhood dream of wolves sitting in the tree outside his window. 

We rushed back to London to meet up with our Pasadena friends Bill and Mary Lea Carroll who were staying at the Goring Hotel and had invited us for tea there to celebrate their 32nd anniversary.

Mary Lea said that the Queen has been known to meet guests for tea at the Goring.  Not today.

Jim and I had walked seven and a half miles each on just a morning’s croissant and that Spaniards Inn cuppa, so we more or less ravaged the 3-tiered tray of its crustless sandwiches, scones, and confections. Oh, and clotted cream. Happy Anniversary Carrolls!

They walked us back to Number Sixteen in the dwindling light.  The weather—lows in the high forties at night, highs in the low seventies in the day—has been ideal for roaming about.

We rested—10 miles so far—and tried not to look at too much horrifying senate testimony, then found a pub, The Hereford Arms, for excellent fish and chips (never mind those grisly smashed peas) and a sticky toffee pudding which was, essentially, moist gingerbread resting in a pool of caramel with a scoop of caramel ice cream on top.  You should be jealous.  

So ends our first day—rather exhaustively, I’m afraid.  It’s almost 11:45 pm and 11.2 miles walked.  Goodnight.