Outdoors

Video: Georgia

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Like Europe but not Europe, Georgia sits neatly in the Caucasus between Russia and the Middle East. The perfect blend of east-meets-west and all the better for it. Fantastic weather, stunning landscapes, cheap to travel in and the nicest people you'll meet anywhere.

We absolutely loved our two weeks in Georgia because we managed to do so much. The capital Tbilisi is a fantastic place to start; culture, bars, parks and travel routes all across the country. Talking of country, make sure you get up to Kazbegi for some unreal mountains just hours outside of the capital. The city of love, Mediterranean beaches (well the Black Sea), Svaneti; there's just too much to do. 

Get yourselves over to Georgia. Fast. Our flights home were just £38 each!

Here's a video we made of our two week adventure in Georgia....

 

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Camping: How This Simple Activity Can Enhance Your Life

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The joys of camping; waking up in the fresh outdoors in the middle of nature. by Studio Mali

A World Of Distraction

We are beginning to live much more of our lives in urban environments, the worlds' cities are continually growing and this has made it harder to connect with nature.  Being outdoors is where we originated and it's only been in recent years that we have been living and working in fully sealed dwellings which are shut off from the outside world.  Indoor worlds revolve around comfort, technology and ease of living, which in many ways is nice but Mark and I are increasingly choosing to reject these norms because they had made our lives too easy.  There are multiple distractions in the home which can leave the mind unsettled: technology grabbing our attention, too much physical clutter, everything we want at a click of a button. It can be difficult to know how to escape this way of life.

If anyone knows about the urban lifestyle it's us.  We have lived in London for 10 years now, working and commuting everyday through the busy city, surrounded by concrete and with sound of traffic never far away.  Getting to the outdoors is essential to helping us live a healthy balanced lifestyle, mentally and physically, which in the city is important because without a connection to nature we'd feel completely drained.  Whether that be taking an evening stroll along the canal, or heading out to the countryside on weekends. We have found that one of the best ways of getting connected to nature is to grab our tent and go camping.  It doesn't even have to be far away, but one night spent out in the fresh air can solve a world of problems.  We honestly think that camping is one of the best things you can do to relax, get a good nights sleep, connect with nature, have fun with friends and generally enhance your life.

Read on to find out how camping can benefit you...

Camping on the Great Wall Of China

 

Connection To Nature

We spend so much of our lives indoors. In offices, in houses, in shops, restaurants and cars.  For those of you that live in cities, you will be used to the hustle and bustle of day to day life, the noise, the busy roads, the concrete everything.  Nature can be hard to come by, and even a couple of hours spent in a green space is often followed by busy roads to get back home.  For those that live in the countryside or towns, I bet you often jump in the car to go to the store, or spend a lot of time indoors in your spacious homes.  Sometimes we lose contact with the outdoor world around us and find it hard to reconnect. 

We are avid supporters of camping, it’s the perfect way of getting out in the fresh air and to exploring nature.  Spending time in green spaces relaxes our minds and dissolves stress.  It makes us ever more present in the world around us which makes us happy people.  Camping is a slow paced activity, we like it because it gives us time to focus on the details of the natural world: the weather, the wildlife, the plants, the smells and sounds of the outdoors.  Perhaps we wouldn’t make time to notice these things at home, but when we are camping the outdoors is our home, so it’s natural to become aware of our surroundings.  You can’t beat waking up to the sound of birds, or the pitter patter of rain on your tent whilst you’re snuggled up inside! 

The joys of camping; waking up in the fresh outdoors in the middle of nature

The joys of camping; waking up in the fresh outdoors in the middle of nature

 

The Challenge

Not everything about camping is easy.  A lot of people are put off by the inconvenience of it all: having to set up a tent in the rain, walking to the toilet block in the middle of the night when desperate for a wee, sleeping on the hard ground.  It would be much easier just to stay in our homes and sleep in a warm comfy bed and know that you will get a good nights sleep.  That is all very true, but not the point!  Everything in our lives is so easy these days. We turn on a tap and have hot water, we go to sleep and there’s a big fluffy cloud bed to wrap us up in.  

In our experience true satisfaction comes from having to work a bit harder to get something, having to cook food on a camping stove for 20 minutes longer than it would normally taken, having to carry all our heavy stuff to the campsite, setting up your house for the night.  Once you overcome the hardships of camping you find satisfaction in your achievements and appreciate what you do have.  That dinner would have been so easy to make at home in the oven, but the fact that you made it here using only a limited amount of kit (and a twig to stir it) makes it taste so much better! Camping is about problem solving, working that little bit harder and appreciating what you have made for yourself.

The rewards of cooking breakfast on the camp stove, porridge and tea!

The rewards of cooking breakfast on the camp stove, porridge and tea!

 

Back To Basics 

We live in a world where we can have anything at any time.  Companies like Amazon have made it so easy to order products online at the click of a button and without even typing in our card details. Our houses are full of fancy things like coffee machines, serving dishes and luxury bath products.  We have gadgets to make things quicker, and gadgets to make things easier... potato peelers, electric mixers, 5 types of moisturiser.  Do we really need all this stuff?  Having so many belongings can sometimes be confusing, overwhelming and can actually make our minds feel cluttered. 

Camping is a great way of stripping things back to the bear essentials and forcing us to think about survival.  What items do we really need for a weekend away? And what is just going to be extra weight? Will we have enough warm clothing? Will we have enough food? These are questions that it’s good to ask ourselves once in a while, to understand what’s essential in life and what’s a luxury.  Living with just the basics can be incredibly cleansing and can help put things into perspective.  It makes us appreciate what we do have that we may normally take for granted, and also helps us to see what we don’t need.  

We have seen over and over again in places we’ve visited around the world, many people living with very little and they are happy for it.  After travelling for 5 months, our happiest nights are those spent in our 2 man tent under the stars.

Living with less; camping doesn't have to involve lots of stuff. We can carry on our backs everything we need for a weeks camping

Living with less; camping doesn't have to involve lots of stuff. We can carry on our backs everything we need for a weeks camping

 

Sleep Well

There can be a lot of distractions at home that jeopardise a good nights sleep: watching tv, checking work emails on your phone, pruning in the bathroom, chatting with housemates and generally pottering about.  Camping is a great way of bringing our focus back to sleeping.  Firstly, detaching ourselves from our home lives will mean thinking less about stressful things like work before bedtime.  Camping is like being on holiday and we like to leave our worries at home when we’re on holiday.  Secondly we generally don’t have as much tech in our tents as at home (other than a torch and a phone) and so we won’t be kept as awake by bright screens and adrenaline inducing movies. Evening entertainment when camping tends to be sitting round a campfire and chatting with fellow campers. Who wouldn’t sleep well after that? A good additional step to take to help detach from technology would be to put your phone onto aeroplane mode.  You’ll feel better for it!

When camping you tend to sleep when it gets dark, synchronising your routine with Mother Nature.  Many nights we have retired to our tent at 8pm because it’s just to cold or too dark to stay outside.  We tend to wake up naturally when the sun comes up early morning, the cockerels crow and we’ve had enough sleep.  Waking up in the fresh air has to be one of the best things to clear your head.  We always find that after a few beers on a cool night, there’s no sign of a fuzzy head the next morning.  It must be that fresh camping air! 

Feeling fresh after a night spent camping. Sleeping outside clears your mind and relieves stress

Feeling fresh after a night spent camping. Sleeping outside clears your mind and relieves stress

 

Get Camping!

Not sold? Then why not try a night away from home and head to your nearest campsite.  Camping is generally cheap, especially if you sleep in a small 2 man tent without a car.  We would recommend planning a meal to cook on your gas hob or even on a fire if you are feeling ambitious! If you want an easy entry into camping, with minimal risk, then why not setup camp in a garden, if you're luckily enough to have one. Otherwise Im sure you can find a friend who might let you stay in theirs, why not invite them along too?

The beauty about camping is that you can make it as easy or as difficult as you want. You can have a blow up mattress as thick as your bed at home, or sleep with nothing but a sleeping bag.  You can cook with a double gas hob and have a cool bag to keep the leftovers in, or you could cook straight onto a wood-burning fire with nothing but a stick.

Chinese noodles rustled up on the camping stove

Chinese noodles rustled up on the camping stove

If you are looking for somewhere easy to camp then why not take a look online.  There are loads of websites that can help find the right campsite for you.  In the past we have used the Camping Key Europe phone app to help us find sites across the U.K. and Europe because they have a handy map system where you can search via location.  Each campsite is then rated by campers and you can see what facilities they have.

For those more adventurous, backpacking and wild camping really ticks the satisfaction box, and gives the opportunity to problem solve and be physically challenged.   Wild camping is full of adventure and strips us of all the un-necessaries of day to day life.  The outdoors is your loo, the river is your sink, and the trees are your shelter.  It really doesn’t get much better than that!

Waking up to a view! Your new bedroom for the night

Waking up to a view! Your new bedroom for the night

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Must Visit Destinations For Nature Lovers

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We should be honest here, this is a more like a list of our favourite places in the world! A swan song to our most memorable travelling experiences; some are close, some far but all have something in common. They allow the visitor to experience some of natures most unbelievable sights and experiences that can’t be found at home. City breaks they are not but unforgettable they are. Read on to discover Mali’s top pick destinations for nature enthusiasts.


Nepal

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If you like days and days of walking then there is nowhere in the world better for a trekking holiday than Nepal. If it's your first visit then the perfect destination is the Annapurna circuit, which is world famous for the variety of activities, dynamic landscapes and generations of like-minded backpackers that come here every year. The circuit has everything from a 5 day trek to Poon Hill or enough routes and challenges for a two month trek enjoying the many side routes, lakes and mountain passes, not to mention jungles, the world's highest lake and world's longest pass at 5416 metres above sea level! 

Annapurna isn't always the easiest environment to walk in and much of the circuit is above 3000 metres, which makes it challenging and ultimately, an unforgettable experience. But what makes the circuit easier than most destinations is that it has a long culture of visiting travellers and guesthouses can be found in every village; so there's always hot food, drink and somewhere to rest your head after a long days walking. We have written a piece about preparing for a 3 week trek around the Annapurna circuit here: Coming Soon

If you need some inspiration to urge you to book that flight to Nepal then why not check out our post with 20 photos that will make you want to trek the Annapurna circuit

More information can be found here: Annapurna Tourism Board


Lake Bohinj

Jezero Bohinj, in all its radiant glory

Jezero Bohinj, in all its radiant glory

Europeans looking for sun, lakes and mountains will be happy about Lake Bohinj as it’s easy to get to. Located in the north-west of Slovenia, it's the main entrance to the Triglav National Park. Getting there is easy, just a three hour train from Ljubljana to Lake Bled, then grab the hourly bus to the sparkling Lake Bohinj. We camped at the campsite of the same name and it was one of the best and cheapest camp grounds we have visited in Europe, made all the better by the young traveller-type folks who spoke great English and knew every trek around the National Park. The campsite offers a nice mixture of wild camping, with scenery under the cover of trees but with all the amenities needed to keep you and your cooking equipment clean. The star of the show is the National Park,  which has so many treks to do, rest assured, your legs will be keep very busy. When you need a break from extensive walks, the beautiful lake is the prefect place to unwind, bath and enjoy the company of Slovenian families holidaying there. Lake Bohinj rocks. Need any tips on preparing for a camping trip? Read our blog post on living in a tent.

Lake Bohinj Tourist Information


Jotunheimen National Park

At the top of Besseggen

At the top of Besseggen

This Norwegian National Park includes the countries highest peaks and covers a huge 3,500km. We visited in July and climbed the mighty Besseggen, which is still one of our favourite treks we’ve ever completed. We would later learn that climbing Besseggen is a right of passage for any Norwegian living in the south of the country. The park offers a range of trekking routes and boat journeys across the fjords where one could choose to wild camp, stay in lodges or even in hotels. We met folks who had been walking the mountain paths for weeks, with just backpacks and provisions. Norway is a beautiful place to visit, surely one of the most serene in Europe but it is an expensive place to travel. We have written a guide on how travel through Norway on a budget here. Don’t be put off by the cost as you’ll get to experience unforgettable peaks, fjords, glaciers and even snow during the summer. 

Visit the Jotunheimen National Park in Norway


Gobi Desert

Flaming Cliffs in the Gobi Desert

Flaming Cliffs in the Gobi Desert

Gobi is one of the most extreme places in the world. Swelteringly hot in the summer months falling to the coldest recorded temperatures in the world through winter, we visited in October and felt the icy chill of minus 15! But none of this detracts from how vast and beautiful this dry open wilderness is. In the summer months the dirt tracks to Gobi are busy with adventurous tourists but travel out of season and you will find far fewer people enjoying this bleak dusty steppe. The Gobi highlights are staying in traditional Nomadic gers, meeting Mongolians and sampling their unbelievable hospitality, climbing the epic Khongor sand dunes and riding camels. The minimum amount of days to visit Gobi is 7 and you’ll visit interesting rock formations, White Stupe, Yol Valley and the Flaming Cliffs on the way. If you have more time and money you should explore more of Central Mongolia. Any tour operator can help you choose the right tour for your time and budget. That said, we would whole heartedly recommend Camel Track. For more information on picking a Mongolian tour read our guide here: 

Plan And Survive A Mongolian Tour


Lake Baikal

Shaman rock on Olkhon Island, Lake Baikal

Shaman rock on Olkhon Island, Lake Baikal

Lake Baikal is a hidden in gem in the huge expanse of Siberia. Firstly, it has the interesting historic backdrop of once being part of Mongolia, as such the array of cultures around the deepest lake in the world is an odd mixture of Russian, Mongol and Asian. Shamanic and Buddhist beliefs are deeply ingrained in it’s history and it's people, which makes the lakes attractions and populace spiritual and quite mysterious. Gazing over the lake you’d believe you were on a beach facing the sea not land locked in the largest country in the world! 

Two weeks near the lake will give you ample time to explore Irkutsk, Ulan-Ude, Olkhon Island and Arshan, not forgetting the many smaller villages near the Mongolian border. Many people choose to wild camp in these places, we can certainly recommend doing that. If you need something a little more civilised there are many hostels, guesthouses and inns to choose from. The most scenic way to get to Irkutsk is by Trans Siberian from Moscow or Trans Mongolian from Ulaanbaator, they take 4 or 1 day respectively. You’ll remember those journeys forever. Otherwise a flight from Moscow or Ulaanbaator is the quickest way in and out of Siberia. Summer will always be busier but the weather is normally, and surprisingly very pleasant, hot even! Read about our experiences here:

Lake Baikal - A Journey Into Shamanic Siberia

Arshan - An Escape To The Siberian Mountains


Torres Del Paine

Peaks in Patagonia

Peaks in Patagonia

There is nowhere quite as remote, grand and wild as the ‘end of the world’s’ Torres Del Paine National Park in the Chilean side of Patagonia. Not so easy to get to and yet still busy during peak season it offers one of the worlds best 4/5 day hikes in the ‘W’ trek. Although found in Chile, the easiest way to access the park from Europe is via Argentina. A cheap trip this is not; an initial flight from Europe to Buenos Aires and a second flight from Buenos Aires to El Calafante gets you to Argentina’s half of Patagonia. You’ll need to catch another 8hr bus to into Chile and then another bus into the park! It took us 39 hours, almost continually, to get there but it was worth every second.  Once in the park it’s just you, nature and a 5 day trek (or longer if you take the ‘O’ route). You can choose between setting up camp each night in the large campsites or stay in refugee dorms. You’ll be trekking up mountains, spotting wildlife, drinking from the fresh streams and cooking outside on a hob. A walk in the park this is not but a beautiful and simple existence this is. There are plenty of other areas to explore in Patagonia; see Puerto Natales, Ushuaia, El Chaltan and Perito Moreno Glacier or just get lost in this foreign landscape of badlands, peaks and guanacos (llamas').  We have listed some useful information on our trip around Patagonia here:

https://studio-mali.com/patagonia/


The Great Wall Of China

Trekking across the Great Wall has been one of our most cherished memories from our travels. We managed to avoid the Chinese crowds by seeking out one of the undeveloped sections of wall. We visited the Jainkou section, which gave us three days of walking routes on the historic wall meeting only a handful of other trekkers. To have a wonder of the world to yourself is as about as amazing as it sounds. The treks themselves are relatively challenging and provide stunning views throughout, the only barriers are getting there and the weather! We have listed all the information you’ll need to get to Xizhazi Village where we started our treks from. In regards to weather mid October is the most reliable, as monsoon season has ended along with China’s annual and national holiday, ‘Golden Week’. Warning, travel in the first week of October at your peril! When you’ve enjoyed the wall for a few days make sure you grab a flight down Kunming on the road to the Tiger Leaping Gorge.

https://studio-mali.com/great-wall-of-china


Tiger Leaping Gorge

Ali facing the mighty Tiger Leaping Gorge

Ali facing the mighty Tiger Leaping Gorge

If you made it to China, love the great outdoors and want to trek one of the worlds most rated routes then get yourself to the deepest gorge in the world. Especially before the government turns it into a fully commercial National, Disneyland, Park. Read our piece on changes in China to understand how beautiful national parks are being ruined. The walk, as it is now, is a raw uncomplicated affair that can be completed over two days. An early start from Lijiang will get you to the parks entrance by 9am. Take the upper route and follow it along the inside of this huge gorge, sandwiched next to the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain range. The route provides some challenge but the reason to climb is the continuous view of mountains that will rarely leave your sight over the two days. We stayed at the Half Way Guesthouse, the same place Michael Palin stayed whilst making ‘Himalayas’. Dining on pancakes and beer before finishing the route downwards towards Tina’s Guesthouse and the ferocious water at the base of the gorge. We met some great people on way bound by a worship of this amazing trek, stick it on your bucket list.

 https://wikitravel.org/en/Tiger_Leaping_Gorge

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Must Visit Destinations For Nature Lovers, by Studio Mali
 

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London: 7 Green Spaces In The City

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Every Londoner has their favourite natural space they like to escape to. So after exploring Shinrin Yoku and forest bathing, it made sense to list our favourite natural spaces in London. Having lived here for 10 years, we've definitely had time to explore it's parks, forests and interesting green spaces. We'd like to share our Mali top picks:

Curve Garden

The Curve Garden is one of our favourite natural places. Housed around decaying Victorian buildings and covered by rustic wood structures the garden is place of zen and calm, literally only minutes from Dalston's busy crossroad. From the second you step into the garden the humble charm takes over; the different seating areas all set against the carefully maintained flora is stunning. It is the perfect place to spend a few hours reading a book or catching up with a friend with a drink from the coffee shop. Bringing children in is a must as the array of colourful plants, hand painted protest boards and interesting nooks will keep them busy for hours. It's clearly a popular place for mothers with many young children. During our last visit we were lucky enough to stumble onto a live 8 piece acoustic band, who know what you might find? Check the details here: 

http://dalstongarden.org

Lea Valley

It's not uncommon for us to visit the Lea Valley three times a week; we run around it, go for walks and use it as a constant source of inspiration for our photography. Whatever the weather, there is always something new to see. The Lea Valley is huge; connecting the West Ham stadium (formerly the Olympic stadium) all the way to Edmonton and beyond. One can walk North for hours and still be surrounded by nature. Running alongside the lea valley is the Regents Canal, which is the perfect artery for travelling around the huge expanse. The Lea Valley has had a lot of money invested into it over the last two years. Now, every entrance clearly signposts the different paths and distances one can take and they are also building a huge sport facility between Clapton and Homerton on the Hackney playing fields. You can enter the Lea Valley from many spots; Stratford, Hackney Wick, Clapton station, Tottenham or if you want to see as much as possible, grab a bike and pootle up the path. If outdoor partying is your jam there are many free raves over the summer, just take a wonder at the weekend in the evening and follow the sound of fun.

https://www.visitleevalley.org.uk

Regents Canal

We love the canal, just to get it out there! It is our first stop for connecting with nature and escaping London's busy-ness. We are lucky, as we can walk from our flat in five minutes. But once you've reached the canal you can walk for hours without the urban sprawl, pretty amazing in London! There are many communities that have grown on the banks of the canals. Long boats and occupants are a common site; the locals have BBQs together, prepare wood for their burners and often have extensive plants and vegetables growing on the roof of their boats. Runners, cyclists, families and ramblers are all common sights on the towpath, although its worth noting that some parts (near London fields) get incredibly busy during the weekend. Wild berries grow all along the Clapton strand of the canal and can be picked from late summer; blackberry and gooseberries are widespread. For the lovers of a long walk we can recommend starting in the East, on a lovely summers day, heading west via the canal passing Hackney Wick, Victoria Park and Angel, where you will need to leave the canal and re join just below Kings Cross, then pass Regents Park finishing at Little Venice. It's around 12 miles but on a beautiful day there isn't a better walk in London. The question is, would you have the beans to walk home after? 

https://canalrivertrust.org.uk/enjoy-the-waterways/canal-and-river-network/regents-canal

Hackney City Farm

This farm is special; located on the lips of Shoreditch and London fields, the farm contains an array of animals that visitors can feed, pet and generally admire. There is a keen team of volunteers and workers that maintain the farm and from the second one enters it's clear to see that a lot of love and care has gone into creating this amazing space. It's quite diverse from patches of vegetables growing in one plot to enormous pigs in pens in the next, chickens and geese are left to wonder the cobbled paths; you'd almost think you were in rural Somerset. There is a cafe to relax in after you've pet the animals and admired the crops. For the children of London this is a must visit and one of the few places children can connect with the natural world. The farm organises an array of community events, classes and projects for the public, in case you wanted to get really stuck in! Entrance is free and is open until 4.30pm daily, aside from Mondays.

http://hackneycityfarm.co.uk/

Hyde / Green/ Regents parks and Primrose Hill

High up on any tourists list is paying a visit to some of London's impeccably kept Royal parks. Each has its own character. Hyde park is a sprawling beast and the largest to explore. One can wonder around the Serpentine lake, eat and drink in the many cafes and wonder from oxford street on one side across to Exhibition row at the other, not forgetting a cheeky slice of art in the Serpentine / Sackler Galleries on the way. Green park compounds Piccadilly circus with Buckingham palace; a smaller park with plenty of space for sitting. One could even rent a deck chair at the Northern end of the park, how very British! In contrast, Regents park is a large expanse triangulated between Baker street, Camden and Primrose hill. The park itself is gorgeous and displays some fine landscaped gardens to gaze over. But if a summers day strikes you must head North across Regents canal into Primrose hill. A joyous mound that allows panoramic views of the city and the perfect place to watch the sunset with a cool beverage. Find out about these and all the other royal parks here: 

https://www.royalparks.org.uk/

Epping forest

If you want to see a proper forest, with no cars in sight or be within hearing distance, Epping is the choice. located in East London, Epping can be visited from a number of tube and train stations; Chingford, Loughton Station and Debden Station. The forest is vast and ancient, the royals used to hunt here. It's easy to see why as its just a stones throw from central London but gives visitors all the pleasantries of country life. Expect to see dog walkers, ramblers, cross country runners and off road cyclists. We even did a spot of camping in Waltham Abbey, which is a 10 minutes walk from the forest. You can easily spend some time soaking up nature and then pop into a country pub, we often pop into the Queen Elizabeth hunting lodge near Chingford for a swift ale. There is plenty to do in Epping so get yourself on train and go explore. 

http://www.visiteppingforest.org/visitor-information

Hampstead Heath

The Heath has to be London's favourite park. Set in North London, the park can be visited from Gospel Oak, Hampstead Heath Station or a slightly longer walk from Highgate station. The area boasts many attractions. Firstly, you can easily wonder for an hour in this park, each turn has a change in the environment; busy woodland, open plains, lakes, paths, hills, there is so much to explore. I still don't think we've been to every corner of this place. Exploration is key but if you want specific places then check the Pergola, a stunning Edwardian structure built to promote architecture and landscaped spaces, used in its time for dinner and drinks parties. Well worth a visit. If you find yourself there in summer, remember to bring swimwear and a towel as the much famed Hampstead ponds can be swam in. They have single sex and mixed ponds that are actually perfect with the right weather. For those who search for ultimate views get up to the Parliament Hill viewing point. 

https://www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/things-to-do/green-spaces/hampstead-heath/Pages/default.aspx

 

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