For all the toughness of the Coast to Coast, both of us have amazing memories of the countryside – in between swearing at some of the ascents and descents that the fells sometimes threw at us. While I would love to do a couple more big walks before I check my knees in for a set of titanium joints, Paula is not so keen on the sheer grind that real trail walking entails – and at our age, it is strictly voluntary. But the memory of sharing a path in the country remains, and the best we could do this trip was to walk over a wintry and muddy Hampstead Heath for our last day in London.

It’s quite a little miracle – a large open space, still farmed in part, set amidst the high-priced outer suburbs and complete with all the things one associates with London open-space. None of your Olympic swimming pools, no… when you could have mixed swimming ponds (fancy); none of your dog-free zones when the well-behaved English dog would want nothing more than a romp in the woods and the chance to come back – after a dip in what I hope wasn’t the mixed bathing pond – wet and muddy to lie in a warm spot.

Of course (Mr Taxman), we were really there to see the Keats House and pay a bit of homage to the lad and his young lady. The area now is quite gentrified, but stunning with it.

 
 

We wanted a really good hit out, even with the mud, so we planned to walk about ten kilometres through the morning and finish up with a nice lunch in Hampstead. Our London walks cards had suggested Kenwood House as a possible destination and turn-around point, but all this went to pot when we realised just what Kenwood was – a stately home within greater London, actually open unlike every other stately home we wanted to visit.

  

We had not done our homework and so were completely unprepared for the history of the house, which really centred around Lord Mansfield and included the story that has been turned into the movie Belle, and the obstinacy of the Iveagh family who refused to allow it to be demolished in the Twenties for flats and bequeathed it to the nation – I suppose the start of English Heritage. The preservation of the house is immaculate and the various collections that fill its public rooms are quite exceptional (and sometimes a tribute to the quirkiness of the various collectors, in the best English tradition). So it is that a matchless collection of Old Masters and English 18th/19th Century portraiture shares the house with eclectic cupboards full of enamel miniatures and shoe buckles (and much more).

  
I could rabbit on a some length about the Dutch Masters (a Rembrandt self-portrait and some excellent maritimes) or pretend I really know what I am talking about with the Gainsboroughs and Stubbs (but I love his dogs!), but the real treasure is Mansfields Library, restored to something like the condition it was in during his lifetime. I remember Mansfield from Legal Institutions in first year of Uni., but seeing this beautiful room with its perfectly English views rekindled my interest in his work, so I will be chasing down a biography in the near future.

We spent far more time that we thought we would on the Heath because of this gem.
 

A very satisfactory lunch at Hampstead followed before we tidied up the appartments and started the packing process. It was a very quiet evening after the company of the past couple of weeks, but it looks like Sally and Graeme have found the snow!