How can ponds be ignored in any debate about the Heath?

It has been boon not to have to write about the management of Hampstead Heath for so long. I prefer the quiet lazy life. But the column which appeared under Mr.Bob Hall s name (View from the Heath, H&H September 20) has brought an interruption to my semi-

It has been boon not to have to write about the management of Hampstead Heath for so long. I prefer the quiet lazy life. But the column which appeared under Mr.Bob Hall's name (View from the Heath, H&H September 20) has brought an interruption to my semi-slumbering condition.

The column asks, 'What makes the Heath so special?' A good question to which the column devotes nearly a dozen paragraphs in answer. Strangely, it makes no reference to the one thing that makes Hampstead truly special, not only nationally but internationally. Indeed, the thing that makes it rare.

It is of course its three natural water swimming ponds freely used, as they have been, by scores of generations of Londoners over several centuries, for bathing and recreation. Recreation being the fundamental purpose of the founding 1871 Hampstead Heath Act.

In which other great capital city can you swim in rural setting only four miles or so from that city's busy, petrol-fuming metropolitan heart? On Hampstead Heath you could be in Hardy's Wessex swimming with fish and water fowl in ponds flagged with lily and willow tress, but knowing that just beyond the small hills and treeline that surrounds them, a short distance away, is busy Oxford Circus.


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In summer, whilst commuters troop out of and into Bank station there are, up on Hampstead Heath, people swimming with blue 'waterboatmen' and dragonflies flitting across its emerald green surface; with a darting kingfisher or a solitary grey, white and black heron.

And overhead perhaps, circling and diving, summer's swallows before their departure for southern Africa again.

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In winter, when the swallows are long gone, the pleasure comes with a starker kind of beauty; different but equally splendid. Only those who take their recreation on Hampstead Heath, swimming and bathing in its blissful ponds, experience the beauty and life of the Heath with the closeness to nature that the ponds, as part of Hampstead Heath, afford so well.

The fact that there is not even a hint of that in any part of Mr Hall's column, suggests that the current Heath managers retain their blind-sided indifference or animosity to these rare and wonderful ponds that give Hampstead Heath its signature.

I find it remarkable that after all that we have been through, protecting the ponds, they are ignored in a piece about the new management plan. No doubt they will seek to reassure us but silence, they say, speak volumes. Instinctively, I take the omission as a bad sign. I hope that we have not heard the first distant bugle call for an eventual recall to the Colours.

Robert Sutherland-Smith

Widecombe Way, N2

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