On The Perfect London Walk — In Roger Ebert’s footsteps

Here’s a post that’s admittedly film-adjacent, but I hope you’ll indulge me as it’s born out of my passion for the movies and those who write about them. This material also crosses paths with the kind of observations frequently found on Stephen Archibald’s blog, for which I hope he’ll forgive me.

If you’ve listened to the podcast I do with Stephen Cooke, Lens Me Your Ears, you know what big fans we are of Roger Ebert, who I suppose remains the best-known film critic in America, if not the world, five years after his death.

It turns out Ebert and I share more than just a passion for the movies, we also both love walking in London. His enjoyment of visiting and exploring the British capital was such that he co-wrote a book about it with Daniel Curley in 1986, entitled The Perfect London Walkwith photos by Jack Lane. When I found out about this book, I immediately ordered a copy.  Last month while visiting London, my significant other, Sharon Murray, and I went on that walk. (And we’re not the only ones who’ve done it.)

Here’s the book cover.

The walk takes you through Hampstead, a posh village in London’s northern suburbs, across the storied Hampstead Heath, and through Highgate and the famous cemetery there. The area is well known for having been the stomping grounds of poets, writers, and artists. Though I lived in London through my teenage years, and have visited many times since, I’d only been to the Heath once. I know Hyde Park and Regent’s Park well, but the Heath is an entirely different experience. Much wilder and quite a bit more sprawling.

If we were to be true to Ebert and Curley’s path, including all the stops for museums, beverages, and meals, this would be a great way to spend an entire day. Sharon and I didn’t have that kind of time. We had a morning, more or less three hours, so we did as much as we could.

Here’s what we did see. (As we went along, Sharon did her best to replicate Lane’s photos.)

The walk starts at the Belsize Park tube station. We wandered up Haverstock Hill, past a KFC  and pub that’s still there…

…then through Hampstead Green and past the still-crumbling St. Stephen’s Church…

…near Royal Free Hospital and past the Roebuck.

We spotted the former home of Sir Julian Huxley, biologist and brother of Aldous…

…and the former location of a bookshop where George Orwell lived and worked, still commemorated with a plaque. Ebert and Curley suggest picking up a pastry from the Hampstead Tea Rooms. I got a croissant.

We found our way to Keats House and wandered the garden, but didn’t go in. Instead we continued up the road to Downshire Hill, and past the St John’s Church.

Beyond that is the Freemasons Pub on the left, and then on into the Heath.

This is where things get tricky. Ebert and Curley suggest you should stay to the right along the water, which is easy enough…

…but at this point we were looking for a gate at the end of a narrow path through the bushes, and had no luck. Sticking to the main path did bring us to where we needed to be… the top of Parliament Hill.

We were fortunate with a clear, gorgeous day. The view of the city is breathtaking.

It was from here we became truly lost, as the book urged us in a northwesterly direction toward the Spaniards Inn. The trees have changed a great deal in 30+ years, and they were to be our landmarks, though full credit to our authors: they warned us it would be easy to get lost, and recommended asking people with dogs for directions. That’s exactly what we did.  Many pages featuring photos of trees later, we arrived at a recognizable clearing.

Keeping the fence of Kenwood House to our right, we did eventually reach Spaniards Road, which led to the Inn where luncheon is recommended. We’d brought our own sandwiches, so we strolled on by.

From here it’s a short stroll to Kenwood, which I recognized from the Hugh Grant-Julia Roberts romcom, Notting Hill.  It’s from that film’s third act, when Hugh Grant’s Will Thacker visits Roberts’ Anna Scott on the set of a period drama being shot there. (See, I knew we’d bring this back to the movies, eventually. )

Sharon and I took in the grounds and admired the rhododendrons, eventually making our way back out to the street to catch a bus down the hill to Highgate, as the book recommends.

This is where we had to abandon our walk, and stayed on the bus down to Archway tube stop, to catch the Northern Line back into the West End.

But this is a walk I know I’ll return to.

About the author


Carsten Knox is a massive, cheese-eating nerd. In the day he works as a journalist in Halifax, Nova Scotia. At night he stares out at the rain-slick streets, watches movies, and writes about what he's seeing.