What makes the perfect day out in London? I have decided it is going right off the traditional tourist trail and finding the true beat of the city’s heart. Do something different!
That’s exactly what I did yesterday with my friend Wanda (with whom, incidentally, I have hatched one of my many retirement plans – as soon as we get our bus passes, we intend to travel every route in London, checking out watering holes along the way). We had two key objectives – track down a market and find a novel way of getting there. The plan turned out to be pretty straight forward; the result went way beyond our expectations – what a fabulous day out! Here is the basic information if you want to recreate our jolly jaunt.
• Purchase a Travel Card and get yourself to Paddington Station
• Head for the rear of the concourse and follow the signs to The Grand Union Canal
• These signs quickly change to Little Venice which you reach within 15 minutes
• Catch a canal boat with The London Waterbus Company
• Set sail for Camden Lock (allow an hour for the voyage)
• Relish every moment of the Camden Lock Market (currently open 7 days a week)
• Stroll to the Euston Road, taking in the sights of Camden High Street
• Turn left for The British Library and take a peek inside
• Catch the tube (just to your left) and head straight back to Paddington
Those are the facts; these are some of the realities. The walk from Paddington immediately hints that you have struck gold – walking along the towpath (dodging the occasional cyclist) is a feast for the eyes, with the various barges offering glimpses of alternative living in the city centre. Once you reach Little Venice you (sort of) understand the name – though it’s a bit neater than its original name source! Flanked by tall Georgian residences, weeping willows bend their rippling arms into the slightly algae topped waters, where a myriad of boats ply their trade back and forth across the broad width and length of the shores, flanked by attractive footbridges and a stationary barge set up as a tea room (very handy if, like us, you arrive just as the ferry has left the shore for Camden meaning a one hour wait for the next…)
The good value canal cruise itself passes in the blink of an eye – there is so much to see, including a glimpse inside the Snowden Avery at London Zoo which is a stop along the way. Even the graffiti is an art form! After 50 minutes of pure relaxation, the waterbus moors up quite literally inside the market itself; stepping off the gangplank you barely know where to turn next as your senses are assaulted in all directions. Loud, excited voices ply their trade to the bustling crowds; culturally diverse street food tempts you with its sights and smells; bookshops beckon you and curious steps and staircases drag your eyes upwards towards hidden treasures within Camden’s warehouses. We enjoyed a good three hours here, probably spending too much cash in the process (raiding the convenient cash point) and ended up sat quite literally on the pavement alongside the canal as we tucked into our overflowing £5 feasts of street food – in my case a veggie combo of fresh green salad, cranberries, roasted red cabbage, onion relish and pancakes; for Wanda pulled pork and pickles in a steaming flatbread. What bargains! It was worth the pain when we struggled to get ourselves back on our feet (and I don’t care what anyone says, young British men are amongst the most polite in the world – thank you for your helping hands!).
Having taken the obligatory selfie, we then set off for Euston Road on an errand, passing the more conventional Camden Market on route and admiring the gigantic trainers and other art forms attached to many of the shop fronts, weaving in and out of the predominantly young crowd – clearly a cool place to visit!
At the junction with the Euston Road (a straightforward half hour walk from the market, providing you don’t get distracted by all the retail therapy) we turned left for The British Library which was another 50 metres or so. A great institution, enhanced by the free entry and excellent value café inside – where else in London can you get a cuppa for £1.60 and a slice of banana cake for another two quid? We were here without purpose (basically just to have a look), but I imagine you would get even more out of this trip if you planned to source a particular text or explore one of the many exhibitions – currently there is one for the anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta. By default, though, I found myself standing transfixed in front of a display of original lyrics written by the Beatles on scraps of paper in a variety of writing implements which somehow aptly matched the boys themselves. It was awe inspiring to read the words of ‘Imagine’ written for the very first time in John’s hand, particularly as I put on the adjacent headphones and was listening to this iconic melody at the same time.
The gift shop was pretty good too!
Post script: Following a complaint from Wanda, I hereby add to this blog that we saw a white mouse on the train out of Paddington (and a dead rat on the canal). The white mouse was climbing up and down the arms of the young passenger it belonged to; an entire packed carriage pretended they were not seeing what they were seeing. Rodents are a recurring theme on our outings, with the last once spotted under a table when we lunched in Covent Garden.