Heath150: The Heath means different things to all of us – and that’s the magic of it

Author Bee Rowlatt deciphers why we all love the Heath

Monday, 28th June 2021 — By Bee Rowlatt

Hampstead Heath_credit Dudley Miles

WHAT has the Heath meant to me during lockdown?

I’ve watched as it became a multi-purpose patchwork of various loves, needs and pathways of desire, of many parts that mean different things to different people.

During lockdown we made the heath into something more than it was before.

I love everyone else’s love for the Heath, and that the heath has room for it all. It has become a collection of all the different ways that we escape.

The poet Gerard Manley Hopkins celebrates the irregular unruliness of the natural world in his ode “Glory be to God for dappled things”:

“All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?) With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim.”

Hopkins might never have seen a kingfisher streak past a heap of leftover party debris, but he knew that it took all sorts.

The kids, the dogs, the parties, the workouts, the volunteers, the wildness, and the human wildness – it is every encounter with the mix of these different aspects of the Heath that keeps us all coming back. Like a shaken kaleidoscope, it keeps showing us something new from the same ingredients.

I do have my own favourite parts, but they’re heightened by everyone else’s. It all adds up to a common good.

Maybe we should rename it Hampstead Common?

It’s taking part in something that matters, much like voting or getting vaccinated, because other people are taking part in it too. For me that is the beauty of Hampstead Heath.

Author Bee Rowlatt penned In Search Of Mary, based on the life of Mary Wollstonecraft, and Talking About Jane Austen. She is also a curator at the British Library

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