King’s Cross to Hampstead Heath: Unlocking London’s Beauty

Hello again! This week I’m going along probably one of my favourite walks, as I start at King’s Cross Station, join the Regent’s Canal to go via Camden Lock, before finishing on top of Hampstead Heath. It’s a long walk that will truly reveal London’s beauty!

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King’s Cross to Hampstead Heath

My journey today starts at King’s Cross Railway Station, a southern terminus connecting the East Coast Main Line with high-speed links to Yorkshire, the North East, Scotland… and of course Hogwarts! The current station was built in 1851 under the direction of George Turnull and designed by architect Lewis Cubitt. The station’s roof was the largest at the time and based on the riding school of the Czars of Moscow.

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Amazing architecture at King’s Cross

The King’s Cross we see today went under a huge transformation which began in 2007 and was completed in 2013. This included new entrances, more space, better facilities, and developments to the underground area. Despite the major construction work, it’s great to see the Victorian entrance and feel were restored.

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How King’s Cross Station looks today

I leave the station to take me onto Granary Square where I’ll join one of London’s great walks, The Regent’s Canal!

The Regent’s Canal opened in 1801 to connect the Grand Junction Canal’s Paddington Arm with the Thames at Limehouse. One of the directors of the canal company was John Nash, someone who you’ll be familiar with from my previous walks! He knew Prince Regent, later King George IV who allowed his name to be used for the project.

In 1812 the Regent’s Canal Act was passed with the company formed and ready to operate along it. James Morgan, an assistant to Nash, was appointed as the canal’s engineer which opened on two stages, from Paddington to Camden in 1816, and the rest of the canal in 1820.

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Map of the Regent’s Canal: Credit: The Guardian

However, its completion wasn’t without setbacks. William Congreve, who was famous for building military rockets, created the design for a hydro pneumatic lock at Hampstead Road Lock. Unfortunately, the lock was a failure and had to be redesigned in 1819.

Another setback was financial problems with one of the canal’s promoters, Thomas Homer, embezzling its funds in 1815. The canal cost £772,000 to build, twice the original estimated expenditure. The main centre for trade was the Regent’s Canal Dock which was a point for seaborne cargo from across the world.

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The Regent’s Canal in the height of summer

Traffic and trade along the canal by the 1840s was being taken over by the railways, with a potential attempt, without success, to turn the canal into a railway line during the 19th century. By 1929 the Regent’s Canal, the Grand Junction Canal, and the Warwick Canals merged with The Regent’s Canal Company buying the canal assets from the other two parties. This resulted in it being renamed the Grand Union Canal Company.

In 1948 the canal, like other transport systems, was nationalised, and later on was operated under the name British Waterways.

There hasn’t been horse-drawn commercial traffic on the canal since 1956, and by the late 1960s commercial traffic had vanished. Today, it’s maintained by the Canal & River Trust stretching 8.6 miles (13.8 kilometres) long with many boat trips still organised along it with cyclists and walkers exploring it too.

So my walk along the Regent’s Canal from Granary Square takes me to a very cute little place called the St Pancras Basin.

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St Pancras Basin

The lock was opened in 1870 as a coal wharf where boaters would load and unload cargoes, with the lock keeper living in the quaint little cottage. Today, the site hosts the St Pancras Cruising Club, and the area does give you the sense of an old railway station!

Just a small walk past the lock takes you to Gasholder Park, which perfectly combines heritage and nature.

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Gasholder No.8

Iconic gasholder guide frames have decorated the King’s Cross landscape for 150 years. The largest of these is Gasholder No.8 which was built to store the town’s gas for Pancras Gasworks, the largest gas works in London. The Grade II listed structure was originally constructed in the 1850s, expanding in 1883. It consists of 16 hollow cylindrical cast iron columns in two tiers, 25 metres high. It was in use up until 2000 before it was decommissioned.

In 2011 it was dismantled and refurbished in Yorkshire before being re-erected in 2013 with a beautiful new park and event space, designed by Bell Phillips Architects. The below time-lapse of it being re-erected is pretty cool!

I make my way onto my next destination, Camden Lock. To get there you pass along many canal boats, waterfowl, cyclists, and fellow walkers!

Along St Pancras Way through Royal College Street.

Before we reach Camden Lock, we pass by another lock along the Regent’s Canal, Kentish Town Lock! With its flowing waterfall, you can’t help but just stand there and watch it!

I end up at the delightful Camden Lock where I’ll leave the Regent’s Canal walk today.

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Hampstead Road Lock – Camden Lock

Camden Market, known also as Camden Lock, is one of London’s busiest retail destinations and one of the first crafts and antiques markets in London. Its range covers crafts workshops, stalls trading in handmade clothes and jewellery, music memorabilia, classic items, and authentic food.

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The trading there is traced back to the 30th March 1974 when a brand new Saturday market was opened in Camden Town. The original market founders were business partners Dr. Bill Fulford and Peter Wheeler who bought a run-down timber yard belonging to T. E. Dingwalls to create what we know as Camden Lock Market.

Back then there were only the 16 traders covering antiques, jewellery, and arts & crafts. The market has come along way as it now has hundreds of small businesses which strengthens the multicultural diversity of the area. When you walk through it you can hardly move, and for me it’s one of the most vibrant, trendy, and creative places in the city.

A few facts about Camden Lock are that every year 28 million visitors will descend on it, most of whom appeared to be there in my pic! One thing to note is that Camden Lock doesn’t actually exist… the waterways flanking the market are three dual locks; Hampstead Road Lock, Hawley Lock, and Kentish Town Lock.

I’d love to stay for a spot of delicious lunch at the food stalls, but it’s now onto my final destination of the day, Hampstead Heath. My walk takes me past Chalk Farm and Belsize Park tube stations.

Walking past the lovely Hampstead Green and past Hampstead Heath Overground station gets me to the bottom of the entrance to the Heath.

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Entrance to Hampstead Heath

Running from Hampstead to Highgate in North London covering 320 hectares (790 acres), Hampstead Heath is a grassy public space and ancient park which gives you one of the highest views in London. It isn’t just a park, as it features ponds, woodlands, a training track, and playground.

It was in the Middle Ages that digging and quarrying of sand took place in the Heath with large pits becoming ponds. However, by the early 19th Century these ponds were becoming dangerous and marring the appearance of the Heath. This led to the much objected excavation in the 1860s with sand and ballast being sold to the Midland Railway Co.

In 1865 the Open Spaces Society, Britain’s oldest national conversation body, was established to preserve the looming destruction of the Heath. It had become ever so popular with Londoners as a day out, attracting as many as 50,000 people on a Bank Holiday.

The Hampstead Heath Act 1871 was passed with formation of the Hampstead Heath Protection Society in 1897 with both aiming to preserve the natural aspect and state of the Heath. Since 1989 the Corporation of London has assumed ownership of Hampstead Heath.

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Hampstead Ponds

One of Hampstead Heath’s features is the Hampstead Ponds which are three large freshwater swimming ponds for the public, perfect on a hot summers day! A walk through the woodlands takes us to the path before Parliament Hill.

I have to say being at the bottom of this stretch of path gives me the same feeling I’d get when I come downstairs on Christmas morning. You know you’re going to feel happy, and that same anticipation is there, as you’re about to see, for me, the best view in London!

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At the top of Parliament Hill the view is simply breathtaking. You get goosebumps and a lump in your throat standing there as you feel like you’re on top of the world.

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You can see pretty much everything in London from here. From Canary Wharf to The Shard to the London Eye, you don’t miss anything. It encapsulates all of London’s beauty.

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The view from the other side of the Heath isn’t too bad either! You just can’t help but take a load of photos, even when you walk down the hill, the view on a more level ground still looks amazing.

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View across London with a glimpse of the training track
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At the bottom of Parliament Hill

I can’t think of a better and more stunning way to end a walk! Thanks once again for joining me, and in the meantime, please share your thoughts in the comments section, follow the blog, and me on Twitter and Instagram!

See you next week! 🙂

Sources: (not the food sauces)

All photos taken by London Wlogger, unless credit given. © Copyright 2016

History of King’s Cross

Canal Museum 

Regent’s Canal Map

London Remembers 

Gasholder 8

Camden Market History

Hampstead Heath History

62 thoughts on “King’s Cross to Hampstead Heath: Unlocking London’s Beauty

  1. We like to stay not far from Kings Cross station when we visit London and we’ve walked in other directions but never this way. I will definitely keep this one in mind for next time.
    The station is so big these days we always end up so confused when we arrive and never seem to exit the same way twice.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. A great post which is so evocative for me. For 19 years I commuted from Newark in Nottinghamshire. Carrying my clothes in a back pack, I ran up Caledonian Road, through the gate on the left to the canal and past Camden Lock to Little Venice where I showered and breakfasted.

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  3. A fabulous walk! Despite having travelled extensively in Britain, I know little of London, other than the noteworthy events and characters from various historical periods. However, we do intend to see much more of London in the near future. I really enjoyed the interesting detail of places and landmarks along your route – especially about King’s Cross Station. It’s certainly a journey of contrasts – from vibrant city scenes to the quiet, open beauty of places like Hampstead Heath. Great photographs, too. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Aww thanks so much for your lovely comments, Millie 😊 Hopefully my walks can be your guide when you visit London! The best way to see London is definitely on foot, and you’re so right, one minute you’re in a busy area, the next a place where all you can hear is the birds! Stay tuned for more walks 😊

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  4. What a fantastic blog. I haven’t had chance to read everything yet, but so far I love it. I love to walk too, also live in London and am fascinated by history and buildings. I did a few walks randomly around South London a few months back. I need to get back into it in the new year. I think your blog might inspire me a bit.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for the lovely feedback 😊 London is full of wonderful historical stories, sights, and places that are truly amazing to explore! Hope you enjoy all my other walks and that you can do some of these too 😊

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  5. First, I must comment on ‘wlogger’ … love it! A clever use of words 🙂

    You have such riches available to you walking around London. Jealous – that’s what I am. Definitely jealous! My favourite photo is the Regent’s Canal. This looks like such a perfect place to walk, run, cycle. I’m surprised that at the height of summer, you managed to capture it empty. Such a treasure and no one using it!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha thanks, Joanne, glad people get the play on word 😜 I do feel so lucky having London to walk around! Can’t think of many places which combine the classic landmarks, busy streets, and quiet parks & rivers so well! Haha I caught the photo at the right moment, but you’re right, on a warm day there are so many people cycling or walking enjoying its beauty 😊

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’ve been doing something very similar in Toronto – although I lack access to the history that you have. I’m following a list of heritage buildings, but I get excited about a building from the mid-1800s!!

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  6. When my colleagues from overseas ask me for recommendations on what to do in London, I tell them to just walk the streets because you can be sure thet yiu are never far way from something historic or notable, you’ve just given further proof of that.! How long was the walk and cannot be done on sections?

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    1. Haha, that’s very true! There are many sights and monuments that don’t make the final blog as there is just too much to see! You’ll never get bored exploring new and exciting places when walking in London. This walk took just over an hour, but you can for sure to it in stages. One could be King’s Cross to Camden 🙂

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  7. I thoroughly enjoyed this walk with you. I know the canals well but have never ventured to Hampstead Heath. Maybe next time 🙂 I’m putting a link to this walk on my Boxing Day walk, if that’s ok with you? 🙂

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  8. Fascinating! Despite being a Londoner born and bred until my twenties when I moved further South, I am woefully ignorant of the detail that you go in to. I suppose that often happens when something is right on your doorstep – you take it for granted.
    This particular walk is nostalgic for me as my Mum was born in Camden Town. My grandparents lived on the Caledonian Road and, when I was little, we used to go up to Hampstead Heath for the fair – I think it was at Easter but I might be wrong. I remember there were stalls all the way up the hill selling things and they even had a ‘guess your weight’ man.
    I live in France now but one of my daughters has gone back to the U.K. and works in Islington so, perhaps next time I visit she and I could do this walk together.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. We do take things for granted, especially when you do the morning commute and pass by well-known monuments like The Shard, you just get used to seeing them!

      Thanks for sharing your lovely memories 😊 Hopefully you can relive these walks soon!

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  9. This brings back great memories. I lived in Kentish Town from 1974 until about 1979 and then in Archway for a couple of years. Worked in Kings Cross, in a building right by the station. Walked the canal. Shopped at Camden Lock. Went to the Heath. They were good times. I live in Yorkshire now, with somewhat different scenery!

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