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West Heath and Sandy Heath on Hampstead Heath

Up here on the sandy ridge of Hampstead Heath some of the trees are clinging to the edges of steep slopes, appearing to be about to slide down them.

A tree clings on

This soil yields a varied landscape. There is creepy dense woodland where the intermittent tap tap tapping of a woodpecker can be heard, sounding like the percussion section of the woodland orchestra, another layer of sound backing the high pitched sounds of the tweeting birds.

Sometimes the trees lose their grip, give up and fall down, and lay across the ground lonely and abandoned.

A fallen tree

Walk along the ridge on the edge of Sandy Heath and the precipice falls down into a wide valley. There are dips and hollows all around - the sand here has been dug up, leaving signs like Two Trees on a mound, marked on maps, that have been saved in the middle of all this excavation.

Two Trees

Some of the paths are stepped with tree branches embedded into the surface to preserve the walkways and to help people to navigate the hills.

A stepped path leads up and into the woodland

The sandy paths crunch underfoot and lead to a variety of natural growth. Ferns grow tall to shoulder height in the sunshine - plants that we usually see low in the shade.

Shoulder high ferns

A narrow path leads into Gorse bushes which provide different colours and textures in the landscape.

Path through Gorse

A strangely shapen tree trunk appears to have been forced down from above into the earth below, with its base rucked up and swollen.

A strange looking tree trunk

Along the paths of Sandy Heath the edges are lined with Forget Me Nots, often overlooked in favour of bluebells but providing a similar hue of blue.

Forget Me Nots

A little further along the path a Brimstone butterfly enjoys the warmth of the sun.

Brimstone Butterfly

There is so much to see and experience all around in this corner of Hampstead Heath along the pathways and through the open spaces and woodlands. For a very different view it is possible to enter the Pergola which overlooks West Heath - a walkway high enough to see across the treetops.

What is most astonishing of all is how this land came to be. The sand that caps the earth below here was washed here by a river that flowed tens of millions years ago, a discovery made relatively recently. There is always so much more to find out and learn in London's countryside.

Hampstead Station


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