London’s Hampstead / Fit for a Heroine

London's Hampstead / Fit for a Heroine

A HEROINE’S TRAVEL GUIDE TO LONDON, ENGLAND’S HAMPSTEAD / BY HEATHER BLANCHARD

Welcome heroines, to the charming village of Hampstead in North London.

Here we venture to an area of London famous for its artistic and literary heritage. Start your tour on a Sunday late morning; for I think a heroine should be allowed a lie-in, an extra rest from all of her adventures!

I hope you have on some comfortable shoes, because Hampstead is a place for walking. There are self-guided tours available, and some say that Hampstead has the highest number of blue plaques in the capital, as it has been home to so many notable people throughout history.

London's Hampstead / Fit for a Heroine

We start on Hampstead High Street, a busy main road, lined with boutiques, alfresco cafes, and patisseries.

It’s tempting to take a seat here and watch the world go by, and you can see all manner of dog breeds pass, as their owners take them towards Hampstead Heath for ‘walkies’. It is also not uncommon to see the odd famous face here!

Begin at Melrose and Morgan grocery, which is a perfect if you plan on having a picnic later on the Heath. They stock fresh fruit and vegetables, and a delicious choice of artisan breads and cakes, as well as hot drinks to send you on your way if there’s a chill in the air.

London's Hampstead / Fit for a Heroine

Our first port of call is Keats’ House and the Keats Community Library.

It’s here where John Keats wrote many of his romantic poems, and fell in love with his neighbour Fanny Brawne. It’s said that he wrote his most famous poem, Ode to a Nightingale, under the plum tree in the garden.

The library often hosts talks by prominent authors as well as other events. Rather than being a council-owned public library, it is charity-run by passionate volunteers.

It is also a wonderful place to write, and given the many writers who have lived in Hampstead, I like to think I’m not the only writer who has crafted stories under this roof.

Continue on to Hampstead Heath…

While strolling through this vast park of natural beauty, it’s quite easy to forget you’re in the city at all. It covers 790 acres with rolling hills, lakes, swimming ponds and woodland.

Here is where Wilkie Collins’ gothic novel The Woman in White is set, and movies such Labyrinth were filmed here during the days when Jim Henson’s Creature Shop was based in Hampstead.

A walk up to Parliament Hill is rewarded by a sprawling vista of London’s skyline, and on a clear day, it is easy to spot the capital’s famous landmarks.

London's Hampstead / Fit for a Heroine

Visit the stately Kenwood House

Walk through ancient woodland, rich with wildlife to reach Kenwood House, which was featured in the film Notting Hill, and was a setting in the recent period film Belle. It also made an appearance in Zadie Smith’s novel, Swing Time.

There are lovely gardens, which in spring are bursting with colour from the various blossom trees, and the air is scented with honeysuckle. The house overlooks a lake and a folly bridge, and is the ideal spot to lay down your picnic blanket, sit back and read for a while or daydream.

In the summer months, open-air concerts and craft fairs are common features in the grounds.

London's Hampstead / Fit for a Heroine

From here we will leave the Heath and walk down to The Spaniards Inn.

A spot of lunch here would satisfy any lover of history, as the pub dates back to the late 16th century and was once a haunt of the highwayman, Dick Turpin.

The pub also has a rich literary history, having featured in the famous Gothic novel Dracula, by Bram Stoker and in Charles Dickens’ The Pickwick Papers. Poets such as Lord Byron and John Keats were also regulars here.

The food here is delicious and there are veggie options available. This cosy pub this the perfect place to relax after all that walking!

London's Hampstead / Fit for a Heroine

A short amble away is the Hampstead Pergola and Hill Gardens.

This enchanting place is tucked away and is a real hidden gem. It dates from 1904 and is filled with twisting vines and wisteria.

To walk here is to feel lost in time, and the faded grandeur of the place certainly makes it atmospheric.

When I wander here, and perhaps take a seat to read or write, I can easily see myself as a Gothic heroine, haunted by my own imagination and by the lonely splendour of this pergola.

London's Hampstead / Fit for a Heroine

End the day at Hampstead Everyman Cinema

Our final stop is at the Hampstead Everyman Cinema, which shows new releases as well as independent films, world cinema, and classics. Sit on a cosy sofa to enjoy the film, and press the button at your side to order a glass of wine, pizza, snacks, or a dessert.

They often host events such as preview screenings and Live Q&As with film makers and stars. This is luxurious escapism at its best.

London's Hampstead / Fit for a HeroineHeather Blanchard is a witchy author, writer, and bibliophile. Her debut novel Dark is the Sea is out now and she is currently working on her second book. She blogs at www.inkcoffeeandgolddust.com about magic, fairy tales, Gothic, and pop culture.

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Is your hometown the perfect fit for a heroine? I’m always looking for fabulous locals to contribute to this Fit for a Heroine travel guide series. If you’re interested in writing for Heroine Training, read the guidelines and get in touch.

Invitation to a Unique Experience: Want to Play?

Invitation to a Unique Experience: Want to Play?

Whenever I go to New York, I see a play (of course). 

Usually I go to TKTS, hunting down last-minute deals. One year, I decided to see Sleep No More. I’d heard good things, but the ticket price was more than I was used to paying, and it was never on sale. Huh. Well, it was supposed to be amazing, so I went for it.

Within a few minutes of entering the McKittrick Hotel, my perspective on value was shaken up. 

This show was unlike anything I’d experienced. I had purchased my ticket to another world, a truly immersive experience, just like the production promised.

Punchdrunk combines dance, theatre, Shakespeare, music, and film noir; it stimulates all of the senses. It packages all of these things together and gives you an evening to explore them, to don the mask that signifies your participation as not just an audience member, but a part of the story.

I want to create experience like the ones I have at Punchdrunk productions – ones that make you go “there’s nothing quite like it”…

Sure I can play the  Sleep No More soundtrack at home, turn off the lights, put on my mask, light a candle and read Macbeth. I can flip through my coffee table book of Punchdrunk photography while sipping whisky. 

Similarly, you can click through the Heroine Training archives at your leisure, watching the videos and scrolling through my photos on Instagram to paste together your own curriculum for free.

Invitation to a Unique Experience: Want to Play?

Or, you can come to Leading Lady summer camp.

What Leading Lady does is bind the storybook together for you, so you can follow the chronology of the theatrical process in more vivid detail. What Leading Lady does is infuse the liveness of theatre into your everyday life. 

You and your fellow cast members are a collective, on the same overall journey – production, if you will – each with your distinct roles within. We check in each week for Rehearsal, and the programme culminates in an Opening Night, where we celebrate our progress together.

Acting inspires action.

Punchdrunk’s productions inspire the audience to take initiative: you could linger in the same corner of the same room for the evening, or you can see what’s around the corner. Either way, you are making a choice, and acting on it. Enrolling in Leading Lady is taking action. You can read passively, or you can join us, and enjoy the play.

 Registration for Leading Lady is now open. Enroll before the spaces fill up!

P.S. I have a bundle of extra goodies that come with your registration when you’re an early bird! The sooner you sign up, the more surprises you shall receive 😉 Read more about Leading Lady.

Invitation to a Unique Experience: Want to Play?

Minimalist Disneyland Paris Haul

Minimalist Disneyland Paris Haul

What does a minimalist buy at Disneyland?

For our first trip to Disneyland Paris, I limited myself to one souvenir for me, one for us, and one for Steve (who tried not to buy anything).

I find the fewer souvenirs I bring home, the more I cherish them. So while there were many contenders, I will remember our first trip to Disneyland Paris in these objects – and our subsequent trips in others.

Minimalist Disneyland Paris Haul

Ratatouille Fridge Notepad

The Ratatouille section of Walt Disney Studios was my favourite part of the park, as it WAS Paris! While most of the rides provide Europeans a local substitute for American parks this corner felt special and exclusive. 

The ride is imaginative and immersive, and we treated ourselves to a lovely lunch at Chez Remy. Steve complained that the experience would be far better if the waiters were dressed as rats, and now that the idea is in my head I can’t help but agree with such ridiculousness.

We brought home a fridge notepad from the Ratatouille shop, which we display in our new kitchen. The notepad is meant to be a shopping list, but we chose to be more sparing with its use, keeping it instead as a menu card for planning our meals, adding some fun to the weekly task.

Baymax 

If you think that being a minimalist means less time shopping, you would be mistaken, at least in my case. Instead, I spend hours poring over every option to make the most informed decision before making each rare purchase. 

In our haste, I had forgotten to bring a doudou to Paris, so Steve suggested I collect one at Disney. (He may have been even more invested in this project than I, just as I was more invested in his selection of souvenir.) We scoured the shops for a cuddly toy that was huggable but not too large, and featured an accurately portrayed character I love. 

We finally settled on Baymax, who I overlooked at first as he’s part of the Disney Babies collection, which come swaddled in strange fringed blankets. We discovered that these are detchable, and I’ve even grown fond of Baymax’s traveling cloak. If you’re unfamiliar with this white squashy blob, do watch Big Hero 6, perhaps the most overlooked of recent Disney animated films!

Buzz Lightyear Mug

The highlight of the trip for Steve – by far – was Buzz Lightyear’s Laser Blast, an interactive moving shooter game in Discoveryland. He asked for “his own copy of the ride” for his birthday which makes my sister’s graduation present request (a Nando’s restaurant in Los Angeles) seem suddenly achievable. 

We rode the attraction 7 times over 2 days, exchanging tips and discoveries in the queue each time around. We found a special Space Ranger mug in the shop, but forgot to purchase it until 20 minutes to closing, when we were in the other park. Steve said it was fine, but I insisted on going back for it. 

We passed the entrance on the way to the shop, noting that the ride was closed, but the Cast Member let us in anyway. The best tip for this ride is to go in by yourself, with literally no one else around, and hope that it stops a few times, giving you extra chances to fire at the targets. 

We may have missed the Star Wars Galactic Celebration, but left with Steve’s score maxing out on the counter, the happiest night in the happiest place on Earth (or at least in Europe).

P.S. You can see more pictures from my Disneyland Paris adventure on Instagram!