Learning how the great poets saw Hampstead Heath

Hampstead Heath has inspired countless poets over the centuries

Hampstead Heath has inspired countless poets over the centuries - Credit: André Langlois

Hampstead Heath has a poetic, natural beauty that lends itself to the written word. Countless bards have found inspiration there, and now Oliver Cable wants you to do the same. 

The professional poet is running walking workshops, giving people the chance to experience the Heath on a deeper, literary level. They explore the green and windswept area first hand, as well as from the point of view of lyricists, both historical and contemporary. Participants are encouraged to write their own verse, but it's a laid back, meditative walk, with no obligation to share. 

Oliver said: “Everyone can write poetry, can bring it out of themselves.”

Oliver Cable leads poetry walks on Hampstead Heath

Oliver Cable leads poetry walks on Hampstead Heath - Credit: Em Fitzgerald

He believes the way the form is taught in schools is a barrier to children growing up to be like Emily Dickinson or George Orwell, two of the writers featured on his tour. 

The transition between the busy, manmade surroundings of Hampstead Heath Rail Station and the Heath itself is startling. It's an overgrown oasis, somehow contained in the middle of the capital.

“Listening to the birds, hearing the rustle of the trees, it all feels quite special because you realise when living in a city how little you hear it, and how little you stop to listen,” said Oliver. 

At the same time, he celebrates the world of bricks and mortar, if from a distance: “There are some amazing views of the city where you can see St Paul’s, the Eye, the Shard”.

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Indeed, he took us to a lesser known spot with a view to rival the one seen from the famous Parliament Hill.

Oliver encouraged us to connect with the environment, at one point sending us off to be alone in a scenic spot of our choosing, and to simply observe our thoughts and surroundings.

He called this “noticing what you notice” and said: “Sitting in stillness in nature is something we don’t really do enough of.”

The exercise gave way to some deep conversations about the transient and intangible nature of time.

Further on in the walk, people shared their beliefs about the natural world and our place in it. There was a consensus that nature is communicating with us, and if we are open to it we will receive its message.

I was reminded of the romantic poet William Blake, who was immersed in nature on a mystical or spiritual level, even claiming to converse with angels and saints during his own country walks. 

The content of the walking workshop varies depending on who is taking part. Oliver said one woman was more of an artist than a poet, and therefore able to offer a different visual perspective.

“People bring their own interpretations, which does slightly change the things we talk about and the things we look at.”

The wildlife can throw up surprises too. On one walk “peering down over a bridge, there was a flash of blue” which turned out to be a kingfisher.

Oliver said often even people who live nearby are not familiar with parts of the Heath.

If you can find meaning in the works of great poets, then you can certainly find it by going directly to the source of their creativity. 

Poetry walks will be taking place in August, September and October. For tickets visit uk.funzing.com/users/424718