“NO DOGS (NOT EVEN YOURS)”. It is the humour that appeals, rather than the message; that moment when the dog-walking reader of the sign would realise that their mind has been read before they have even thought of bringing Fido into these unique, rarefied gardens.
I’ve absented myself from a(nother) shopping trip and, having heard about a secluded garden and stunning pergola in north London, I’ve rumbled up the Northern Line to Hampstead, walked an exhilarating kilometre through crisp, February air, fresh from an overnight frost, and a village that really should not be in London at all. I am now at the gate to Hill House Garden and Pergola.
It must have been a fun thing to do with a few hundred tons of dirt needing a home after excavations for the nearby Tube line. Lord Leverhulme, in 1904, had made enough money from his washing powder business to indulge in some legacy-building. Still there today, open to the public - and not many seem to know about it - a long, branched, raised walkway with seats and lookout points carries visitors high above or through tended gardens, affording views into the woodlands of Hampstead Heath.
It is unmistakably grand. Although the carved wooden beams that support vines, now in winter dormancy, are old and crumbling, the colonnades, the stone, the stairs all exude a statesmanly, if faded, grandeur harking back to the Edwardian era. The peacefulness is enhanced by silence: in the couple of hours I spent wandering this Thomas Mawson-designed creation, the three small groups of people I came across were all whispering- it has that effect. It is so peaceful and undisturbed that, apart from the occasional rumble of a train somewhere in the valley below, it’s hard to believe you are in the middle of a metropolis.
The Pergola, finished in 1925, now has an air of opulent glory long passed. Hill House, once Lord Leverhulme’s home is enormous. Easily visible from the Pergola, it sits in resplendent grandeur across an immaculate lawn beyond a pond and fountain. It has, I am told, been turned into apartments. Part of a deal in the development meant the Gardens and Pergola are now open to the public.
The walk back to the Tube line in Hampstead is also worth taking slowly. The suburb sits on the edge of Hampstead Heath, the highest point in London as well as being the largest park in the capital. Hampstead is renowned for its genteel ambience. With its beautifully preserved and clean, cared-for buildings, it is home to some of the UKs leading gliterati, celebrities and champagne socialists. Cobbled streets, period townhouses, quaint shops, discreet alleys and stairways are all there for anyone to investigate. I investigate a delicious, simple burger at Spielburgers, but there are a variety of eateries around if you fancy a meal before further exploring the suburb or heading back to catch up with the shopping party.