A ‘super day’ near London


London was crowded with tourists in August ’04 and it was also the wettest August on record. Daily sky bursts were the norm, and before your umbrella was fully extended you were sopping wet. So many people running for the same shelter at the same time only exasperated the situation.

Although it rains everywhere, there are many places in the outskirts of London, away from the crowds, that offer a super day of art, architecture, history and nature.

Kenwood House, a marvel of 18th-century architecture, filled with art treasures and surrounded by tranquil countryside, is a haven for the senses. This distinguished home was saved from developers in 1925 by the Guinness heir, the first Earl of Iveagh. He bequeathed the estate to the nation and included a generous portion of his splendid paintings to accompany his gift.

Some of the well known and most recognized art in the world is displayed here. Consider Rembrandt’s “Self-Portrait with Two Circles” and one of Vermeer’s 33 paintings, “The Guitar Player.” These are accompanied by Van Dyck, Lely, Turner and numerous other artists.

The library is a brilliant work of art in itself. Walls with resplendent mirrors fashioned in France took eight men three days to install due to their enormous size. Impressive Corinthian columns, carved gilded work and sky-blue background compliment artwork set in circles, semicircles, squares and rectangles on the ceiling.

After your tour, there is a delightful shop in which to browse, and The Brew House Café on the lower terrace offers homemade food, with breakfast being a specialty. A lovely garden setting is available, if you wish to enjoy the outdoors.

The estate grounds include large expanses of lawn, lakes and wooded areas with inviting paths to discover and wander, enjoying the flowers, birds and peaceful quietude. An option is to take a picnic lunch while you relish the superb surroundings. The estate has been used in filmmaking for productions such as “101 Dalmatians,” “Mansfield Park” and, more recently, “Notting Hill.”

Kenwood House, at Hampstead Lane NW3 (phone 020 8348 1286), is open daily 10 a.m.-5 p.m. April 1-Oct. 3 and 10-4 Nov. 1-March 31. On Wednesday and Friday the house opens at 10:30. It’s closed Dec. 24-26 and Jan. 1.

Admission is free, parking is available, the ground floor of the house is wheelchair accessible and audio tours are available. Access from London — take the underground (Northern line) to Golders Green and the 210 bus to Sheldon Avenue and Hampstead Lane.

If you don’t mind a short uphill walk, there is an interesting historical tavern on Spaniards Road (this is a continuation of Hampstead Lane). Built in 1585 during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, the tavern has both a dark and a bright past.

In 1767 a duel over a woman was fought and the loser was buried in the garden. Highwaymen were guests, and the most famous of these, Dick Turpin, used the inn on several occasions to choose the coaches he would terrorize and rob. There are several “ghosts” that make themselves present to employees and guests — even the garden boasts a lady ghost.

The bright side includes famous guests such as the writers Lord Byron, Shelley, Coleridge and Lamb; playwrights Oliver Goldsmith and David Garrick, and artists Reynolds, Gainsborough and Hogarth. Charles Dickens used the garden as a setting in “Pickwick Papers,” and John Keats reputedly received his inspiration for “Ode to a Nightingale” beneath a tree during a sojourn in the garden.

The Spaniards Inn (Spaniards Road, Hampstead NW3; phone 020 8731 6571) has a varied lunch menu, and the bill for two was £19.60 (about $37) for a main course with two vegetables as well as wine.

The 210 bus returns you to the bustling high street of Golders Green, where you take the underground back to London city. A pleasant option would be to stay awhile and meander the high street with its variety of shops.

In addition to cafés and restaurants, the usual ubiquitous American fast-food chains are prevalent, plus — a pleasurable addition — Starbucks has finally reached the outer reaches of the city.

A.J. GOODHEAD
La Jolla, CA