Friday, 23 January 2009

The Healthiest Street In London?

I went for a stroll through Hampstead this afternoon, with a view to taking some pictures of one of London's most well-heeled and salubrious areas.

Almost every side-street has something of a story to tell, a little bit of history...

One such corner is the bucolic enclave known as The Vale of Health. It is well and truly off the beaten track, an attribute which enhances its mystery and charm...

Out of respect for the residents of the street, I shall not tell you exactly how to find your way there, but, of course it is on any map you care to open.

I was once told an apocryphal tale which sought to explain how the street acquired its name.

It is said that during the Great Plague which wiped out large portions of London's population, the bubonic-plague-causing rats were spreading very rapidly throughout London, leaving death and fear in their wake. Apparently, they were too exhausted when they reached the hilly terrain around parts of Hampstead, and were therefore unable to ascend to the the land which lay in the valley near the top of Hampstead Heath. Consequently, the inhabitants of this valley were spared the infestation of rats, and thus escaped the Plague.

The area therefore became known as the Vale of Health.

It is now a tranquil little village in the North of London. In fact, it would be easy to imagine that you are in the middle of the countryside if you had slept on the car journey here....(There is no public transport nearby---you either have to walk, or come by car).

In fact, it is only a few minutes away from a busy main road, but the entrance is fairly well-hidden.

Incidentally, the inhabitants of the street( it is actually a collection of three or four intersecting streets) do not seem to be too keen on unannounced visitors, judging from the wary looks, and twitchy curtains which always greet me whenever I have been there...I don't blame them for wanting to guard their secret domain so jealously---it is truly beautiful here. If you could hear the dawn chorus of birds chirping in the trees around here , you would imagine you were experiencing an out-of-body experience which had taken you somewhere light years away from London. Little wonder then that so many writers and poets have lived around here throughout the ages.

I stopped to say “hello” to a couple of builders who were renovating a house, and explained why I was there. One of them told me that the extension to the Jubilee Line part of the Underground Railway had had to be diverted as a result of the discovery of a large burial ground where the casualties of the Great Plague had been interred.

Well, I seem to learn something new every day.

No comments: