Days Out: Kenwood House, north London
Sunday 19 November 2006
Wander from the main entrance down a wooded path overhung by greenery and out into a landscaped garden with a Barbara Hepworth sculpture. You have arrived in the grounds of Kenwood House, now made even more famous as the location for Scenes of a Sexual Nature. Don't just take in the gardens and ignore the house, which is free to enter, due to the conditions set by Edward Cecil Guinness, Lord Iveagh, in his 1927 bequest. Kenwood House was created by Robert Adam between 1764 and 1779 for the first Earl of Mansfield, a prime mover in the abolition of slavery (the 200th anniversary of which will be celebrated next year).
A white bridge spans a narrow stretch of lake - or so it seems from the house. Get closer and you discover it is a two-dimensional illusion. There is an ivy tunnel beside the house and lots of space to play hide and seek. Inside, the art collection is small enough not to be daunting. There are plenty of animal pictures, from King Charles spaniels, which Reynolds used to keep child sitters occupied, to Lady Mansfield's prize cattle.
The Iveagh Bequest includes paintings by Rembrandt, Vermeer, Turner, Van Dyck, Frans Hals and quite a few by Reynolds and Gainsborough. Rembrandt's most famous self-portrait hangs in the dining room. A View of London by Richard Wilson, which hangs near the library, was painted from close to the house in the 1760s, with St Paul's dominating the scene. Today, views of London are obscured by trees, but walk up the hill and the view is restored. Walk down and stroll through ancient woodland.
The pleasant Brew House restaurant in the old servants' block does English breakfasts, cooked lunches, sandwiches and cakes. There is plenty of seating.
The ground floor, where all the most important pictures hang, is wheelchair accessible, and there is a free mobility vehicle between the car park, house and restaurant. Disabled badge holders can park for free.
The grounds open daily from 8am till dusk/8.30pm (whichever is earlier); the house 11am-4pm (November to March) or 11am-5pm (April to October). Admission free. Weekend pre-booked tours of one hour cost £1. From 20 December to 20 January, there will be a Christmas fair in the orangery and tours of the house decorated for an 18th-century Christmas.
How to get there
Kenwood House, Hampstead Lane, NW3 7JR (020 8348 1286; english-heritage.org. uk). By bus: The 210 stops at the gate. By Tube: Closest are Archway and Golders Green. By car: Car park is off Hampstead Lane NW3.
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