by Tara Murray
Hampstead Heath. Two simple words, but something that was completely unknown to her, until a few days ago. When thinking of London, her mind always went to Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, and Big Ben. She had never heard of Hampstead Heath before. Someone had mentioned it to her in passing, nothing special, but when she heard the name, she was intrigued.
“What’s a Heath? Where is Hampstead? Is it close enough to go to on my own without getting completely lost?” These were some of the questions that went through her mind after hearing about this elusive London spot. After looking it up on Google, she decided in that moment, it was time to make London her own and Hampstead Heath her destination. She had been in London for a few weeks now and she had yet to venture out on her own. This was her chance to explore someplace unfamiliar and she was going to take it.
Coming from the United States, she didn’t have any data on her phone. Her life was a constant search for WiFi. Walking around London was like living in the 1900’s without phones. If she got lost, she was completely on her own, relying solely on the paper maps that were always bunched up and put to the side due to society’s dependence on smartphones. In reality, she had no idea where she was going most of the time. She was living her life in London based on the saying, “fake it till you make it”.
Taking the tube somewhere she had never been, or even heard of was going to be an experience, and a scary one at that. She had planned the route for days. To say that she is a bit of a planner would be an understatement. She never left the house without knowing how to get somewhere and how long it would take. Living in a completely new country where you barely know how to get back to your own home is scary. How was she supposed to feel going to an unknown spot? She knew the anxiety would take over if she didn’t have a plan. She wanted the trip to be as easy and stress free as possible. Some places, that could happen easily; but not in London. Tube line closures and slow walkers were some of the normal occurrences in any London Underground Station.
Sunday finally arrived and she was more than excited to finally discover this unknown area of London. There was obviously some fear as well but she was pushing all the negative feelings she had to the back of her mind. Although it was never easy for her, she was trying to stay positive and ignore the anxiety that was building up in her. She knew no matter what, today would be a good experience for her to have. She felt as though she was prepared for anything that life could throw at her, or so she thought.
When she stepped outside the doors of her home, she was immediately met by the constant fall of rain drops. “Welcome to London” she thought to herself as she tried to shield herself from the drops of rain plotting to ruin her hair and makeup as she walked over to Baker Street Tube Station. The dreary Sunday afternoon was enough to make her want to retreat back to the sanctuary of her well-known room, curl up into her bed that was always calling out to her, and take a long nap. Against the loud screams that were filling her head, she continued on. She had been looking forward to visiting this new place and she was going to make the most out of this day if it was the last thing she did. She put her headphones on to block out the traffic and the strangers around her, letting the music carry her to her destination.
Making it to the station, she immediately realized how crowded it was. Walking through, she felt as if she was in a herd of cattle being driven towards the platform. They all had the same destination. There was no organisation when it came to the tube. Some would call it pure chaos. Everyone is constantly on the go no one looks or talks to each other. It was a dog eat dog world down there and she was determined not to become a victim. She finally made it to her platform after fighting the others for a space in the carriage.
Her route to Hampstead was simple. Metropolitan line eastbound → change at King’s Cross St. Pancras → Northern line Northbound = her destination, Hampstead Underground Station. The few minutes it took to walk to Hampstead Heath was filled with her taking in the scenery. The area was so different to where she lived in London. Marylebone Road was busy to say the least. There was the constant cry of ambulance sirens through the days and nights. Cars beeped their horns at pedestrians, other drivers, and anything that got in their way. The peaceful walk through the back streets of Hampstead reminded her of the small American town she lived in back home. The quiet was something she had not experienced since arriving, but she still had the feeling of being in London. It was different aesthetically, to anyplace she had ever been to in the States, especially New Jersey, and she was immediately enthralled by it.
The walk over to Hampstead Heath and to the top of the hill was, in one word, wet. The rain would not give up. She was never one to complain about rain or snow, but this was just unbearable. She was determined to make the best of the situation. So, she continued her trek up the hill, letting herself become immersed in the music radiating through her headphones and the stunning scenery that was all around her.
When she finally made it to the top of the hill, she was amazed. Not only by the fog that clung to the buildings, but by how beautiful the view was even with extremely low visibility. She knew that on a clear day, she would be able to see London for miles. There was something about the gloomy day that made her love it there even more. The trees parted in the perfect area for anyone to be able to spot some of the tallest buildings in London. Through the fog, she could glimpse the BT Tower, a barely visible St. Paul’s Cathedral, and the bottom of the Shard. She had hardly any breathe after the walk up, but the view took whatever was left of it away.
She had only been in London for a few weeks, but she felt like she was looking at her home from up here. This city enveloped in fog and fallen snow had stolen her heart and she did not want it back. Moving somewhere new is hard for anyone but, throw in the amount of anxiety she has had to deal with her throughout her entire life and it was the most challenging thing she had done. Everyday was a constant battle, worrying if she made the right decision, if she could actually do this and succeed. Sitting on Hampstead Heath, staring down at the bustling city of London, she forgot about all her worries, if only for a little bit. She felt as though she could sit up here all day and look at the city, her city. She felt like she was looking at a lost love, one that was finally found. In that moment, it was as though that view was just for her, there was no one else around her right then.
She felt as though she was the only person in the world that was allowed the privilege to look down on her new favorite city, it was like a little slice of heaven just for her. This new view of London had been hidden away just for her to find. Staring down at the city hidden and protected by the fog, she realized this was where she belonged, this was where she had always belonged. London was where she was meant to be.
Tara Murray is originally from New Jersey but has since moved to London to pursue her MA in Creative Writing. She enjoys writing fiction and nonfiction short stories