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The Beanstalk is one of Hampstead Heath's best-loved trees. A huge, glorious beech towering over the other trees in a thicket by the Red Arches pond, it's easy to see how the Beanstalk got its name when you reach its lower branches and see the expanse of tree still stretching above you. There is plenty of easy climbing in the lower reaches and in the middle of the tree, although getting in in the first place is a challenge. With enough space and comfortable branches to support a gathering, the Beanstalk occasionally hosts small parties. Shooting out from the main trunk are four or five subtantial limbs, each of which provides a progressively more challenging climb as you approach its extremes. From the highest points, the view of the Heath is stunning.

If ever there was an argument for the intelligence of plant life, the Beanstalk is it; it's easy to imagine that its amazingly climbable branches are the result of careful design, the way they reach from one part of the tree and make a suspiciously convenient bridge by merging with another branch, or loop back on themselves to provide extra footholds. Either way, the structure of the tree and the range of good climbs it provides are extraordinary.

The Beanstalk has had a long and busy history; hundreds of stories about it must have been told and forgotten. They say that the nineteenth-century highwayman Dick Turpin made his hideout around here for a while, using a hidden tunnel nearby to sneak from here into Highgate; the tree must already have been formidable in his day. I have heard tell of a photograph, somewhere, of Led Zeppelin up the Beanstalk, and Jimi Hendrix is said to have visited too. Like almost all the best trees, the Beanstalk must have had many names in its time.

Over the course of the last century or so dozens if not hundreds of knife-happy climbers have etched their marks in its bark: Initials, names of lovers, favourite drugs. All this abuse has taken its toll on the tree, and in one place the decay caused by somebody's graffiti has spread right around one of its main stems, killing the branches above it; for safety, they've now been removed by tree surgeons.

The path to the Beanstalk leads away from the playing field with the pagoda; if you stand by the drinking fountain, you can see it disappearing into the undergrowth opposite. It continues on past the tree to the pond, and on to the bridge which crosses over it.

My photographs of the Beanstalk are at http://oolong.co.uk/bnstalk.htm.

Warning: Climbing trees on Hampstead Heath is illegal due to local by-laws. The information in the this writeup is for educational purposes only. Obviously the author would never condone illegal activity of any sort.

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