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Friday, January 31, 2020

camden, london...a day of canal walks, the market, and charming hampstead

A lovely day in Camden Borough

...starting with a walk along Regent's Canal

Three weeks ago I spent a lovely London day exploring a part of the city which I didn't know...Camden Borough. I started the morning off with a walk along Regent's Canal, beginning just around the corner from Pancras Station, and heading towards Camden Town.

Along the narrow canal, I loved checking out the many whimsical houseboats, viewing the interesting waterfront architecture, and snapping the cute tunnel paths.

The Regent's Canal walk gets leafier and more colourful the closer you get to Camden Town and the market area.

The street art on tunnel underpasses, shopfronts, and stairwells is fascinating along the walk. Politically motivated (aka. Banksy) or social commentary or just plain artful, I loved the graffiti and took tons of photos.

Banksy's Missile Girl

Since moving to the Rhine over nine years ago, I have become obsessed with boat names. Some are inspiring, beautiful or just funny, and I often wonder about why the family aboard gave that vessel her name. Here, along the canal, it was no different. Promise. Hope. Molly Anna. Little Drifter. Some are homes, some are cafes, and one is even a bookstore.

I met up with a friend along the canal for a delicious Venezualan lunch at Arepas. We ate scrumptious Pernil Arepas and Cachapas (braised pork shoulder, avocado, pico de gallo, spicy mayo, onions and fresh herbs), the first a corn flour cake, the second a pancake version...both excellent, good value and so filling.


Hampstead Town

An 8-minute ride on the Northern line from Camden Town and you're in Hampstead Town. This charming community boasts London's deepest underground platform (58 metres), gorgeous lanes and alleyways in every direction, and a very impressive list of affluence and celebrity making their home here.

I decided to check out some little antique shops along the high street. Similar to visiting garage sales or flea markets, antique shops show a side of local life that you don't normally get to see as a tourist. Antique stores hold essentially the junk of the wealthy, those items they don't want or have a use for anymore. I like that...and so I picked up an old tea cup and saucer, probably once owned by a super rich person :) When in Rome...

I took A Lady in London's advice and walked her favourite lanes in Hampstead Town: Church Row, Holly Walk, Flask Walk and Mansfield Place. Perfect recommendation. These take you on a beautiful tour of the residential area, up hills and past quaint (but surely expensive) cottages, boutique hotels and hidden pubs.

Church Row
Hampstead became fashionable in the 1700's due to its healing waters, causing upper class families to flock here. Over the following centuries, many in the intellectual, literary and art communities also made their homes in Hampstead, even though the town couldn't keep up its spa reputation against places like Bath and Cheltenham.

Holly Walk
At the top of Holly Walk you will find nice views over Hampstead's rooftops. You can't see the Heath, but it's close. Hampstead Heath is London's largest ancient parkland, according to Wikipedia, and has a great London lookout point from Parliament Hill.

I always photograph tiles like the one below, which hang above a house's front entrance. You will find these all over Europe, and as far as I understand it, they date back to the middle ages before there were house numbers, to let visitors know who the home's inhabitants were. In this case, did a polo player once live here...although polo came to London at a much later date.

Richard Burton, Aldous Huxley, John Keats, Sigmund Freud, John Constable and George Michael all made Hampstead their home, because of its proximity to London City, but its exclusive village feel. Fun fact, Hampstead has more millionaires than any other area in the UK. Whoa.

Flask Walk
I took my time meandering through the gorgeous lanes, taking photos of the interesting homes here, and enjoying a rare sunny January morning.

Mansfield Place
Then back toward High Street, where cute boutiques, cafes and pubs abound. It's the perfect place for a rest stop...a flat white or a pint, or afternoon tea.

And, this lady above one shop intrigued me. I don't know what she signifies, but the imagination could run wild about what stories this building might be able to tell...if only it could talk.

Then back to the centre of town and the tube station. By early afternoon I was ready to go back to Camden Town to explore the market and have a drink.

Camden Town & Camden Lock Market

Walking from the tube station toward Camden Lock Market feels light years away from the small-town vibe of Hampstead just 10 minutes away. It felt I had landed in 1980's New York or present day Berlin. Cool people of all walks of life are here to be seen. It is colourful and, anything but boring.

The market has a complicated history, and has changed and redefined itself many times over the past few hundred years. Its current state, since 1974 and called Camden Lock Market, boasts 28 million visitors a year! Although the actual Camden lock is not in use anymore, there are 3 dual locks on the canal which runs along the market area.

Camden Market includes the Stables Market, which is a covered series of large 'rooms' which once housed the Pickfords Stables and Horse Hospital dating back to the 1700's. The horses at Pickfords were responsible for pulling the barges up the canals, until the invention of the automobile changed the company into a van and lorry business.

Outside of the market I walked along Chalk Farm Road, looking for a bakery that was on my list to visit and taking many a pic along the way.

Soon enough, I found Luminary Bakery's Chalk Farm location. The staff were lovely, the atmosphere lively, and my scone incredibly good. I really like the story and continued mission of Luminary, which provides training and a supportive workplace for women needing a bit of sunshine in their life. I will be going back there whenever I'm in the city.

Luminary Bakery
And, to close, here is my number 1 tip for new visitors to London: skip the hop on-hop off buses and get an Oyster card and ride the real red double-decker buses! They cost a fraction and get you everywhere you want to go with the exact same view as the tourist buses. And, even if you're not quite sure where you're going, just get on and take in the views of this great city. That's what I do!

If you go:

-first of all, check out A Lady in London's blog for tips, ideas, great photos and guides to everything London. That's what I do.

-get an Oyster Card for the tube and bus network. It's so easy to use, easy to load and way cheaper than any other mode of transportation. You'll get the hang of the tube in no time!

-like any city which is popular with tourists, try to find spots for tea and pub lunches and great eats where the locals go. London is expensive at any time so going where the locals go will ensure that you're getting the most for your buck (pound).

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