Out of all the markets in the world the one I love the most is Camden Market in North London. It’s historic, diverse in everyway imaginable, has canal boats and an amazing selection of vintage products. If you love “Retro” it’s the place to be.
Lazy Sunday in London’s artistic Brick Lane
The calm before the BREXIT storm
If you have been reading my website at endlessroaming.com you would be aware that I have been blogging and photographing my 8-month road trip around the world in 2019. Most recently I have been driving in the USA, I’ll be writing about this soon enough but first of all this blog is about my recent adventure across England during the “UK Heatwave” a few months ago. This blog is about London which has been written about relentlessly so I have written hopefully a unique outlook on this fantastic city, hope you enjoy the read.
London would be my last stop prior to flying out to the USA, Id booked a hotel in Holborn Central London which is located near the British Museum. Now I’m not going to get write about museums and other famous London tourist attractions or about the fantastic London Underground transport system, the nightlife, sport, restaurants, history, architecture and the theatre as I’m sure there are thousands of articles / blogs, pamphlets, guides etc written on these and all other topics. London averages 30 million tourists per year making it the most visited place in the world so Ive decided to blog about wait for it shopping…. now before you stop reading, switch off or move on, this is about London’s Markets, namely Brixton, Camden, Notting Hill and Brick Lane. Its possible that the millions of tourists each year that descend on London like me visit London to go shopping and if this is the case then maybe my blog wont be particularly unique, however if planning a trip to London and markets are not on your agenda, after reading this I hope it will be.
First I stopped at Brixton, now Brixton has a special place in my heart as I lived there 20 years before in 1999-2000. If you are not aware of this Australians were and are entitled to 2 year working holiday visas in the United Kingdom as Australia is part of the Commonwealth. I chose to move to Brixton and spent a lot of time working, eating, drinking, clubbing, traveling Europe and other activities I have chosen not to write about. Brixton is described as London’s Afro-Caribbean area and its market is a daily occurrence featuring featuring live Caribbean music, outdoor food markets on Electric Avenue, Popes Road and Brixton Station Road which which specialise in seafood and meat butchers, there are also cheap items such as clothes and electronics. There are three undercover arcades full of restaurants selling all different types of cuisine, African, Indian, Caribbean and of course British. The area has undergone a regeneration and money is starting to flow through Brixton but you can still get a feel for the course roughness that is this area that suffered many years of turbulent and racist violence. Brixton is referred to as the “Soul of Black Britain” so if you want a unique market experience focused particularly on food, enjoy a few bars and experience something quite unique then this market is well worth a visit. I made it my home for a few years and always enjoy my time there.
Next onto Notting Hill and the famous Portobello Market on Portobello Road which is world famous and specialises in antiques. Notting Hill is very affluent area and the market runs four days a week, I went on Saturday the most popular day and the market takes over the entire street lengthy street. If you believe you have heard of it but unsure as to why the market attracted a lot of attention because of the movie Notting Hill, unfortunately Julia Roberts didn’t turn up and sweep me off my feet but nevertheless I had a great time. Notting Hill is also the location of the Notting Hill Carnival which I attended 20 years ago (see photo below), the one a year Carnivals loud music and live bands is very much is in contrast to the more peaceful Market. I recall during the Carnival standing with a pom pom held above my head watching a float pass by, people standing on the float throwing packets of Benson and Hedges cigarettes at the crowd…. a lot changes in 20 years.
I started my walk at the Portobello food market, there was a wide range of international food, after a cider and some tasty paella I headed along the road under the rail bridge past all the retro clothes, records and other odds and ends on sale. As I walked further the clothes gave way to the antiques, cutlery, china, watches, compasses, model toys and anything else from the 1970’s era and possibly dating back to the 1770s all for sale. Behind the stalls along the road were small arcades selling yet more antiques, the thrall of people moving everywhere and all the arcades its quite easy to get lost which is amazing considering the market is essentially all on Portobello’s one lengthy street. I purchased a couple of antique tobacco tins and made the most of the UK Heatwaves bright and sunny day.
The following day I headed to Brick Lane, 20 years ago Brick Lane is where I would head after work including drinking plenty of pints at the pub, so I could get myself a quality English / Indian curry to help settle the stomach. Curry is essentially the national English cuisine and there is no better place to get it on Brick Lane so I chose Sunday to head down to have a look. What I wasn’t aware of is that Sunday is also the market trading day for Brick Lane, the streets were full of stalls selling second hand goods ranging from clothes, music, arts and crafts, kitchenware, furniture and other items.
I considered myself lucky to be on Brick Lane on Sunday and what makes it truly unique is the amount of graffiti art that is displayed throughout the area. Graffiti is everywhere, on all the buildings, in warehouses, in the parks surrounding Brick Lane, along the rail line, in the bars…. everywhere. Id not been to an area that had so much graffiti on display and for the most part highly skilled. The amount of art, the quality of food, the live music and the people dancing on the street gives Brick Lane a unique carnival atmosphere, and the best thing is that its a weekly occurrence. I am unsure how long the market has been running for but anytime I head back to London in the future Brick Lane is on my things to do list.
The last market Id like to write about and is also famous is Camden Market. Id go as far to say that this is my favourite market in the entire world. Camden is in North London and its usually my favourite place to stay whenever I visit. 20 years ago Camden is where I would head after a night out if I wanted my party to continue. There was and is a huge collection of bars, night clubs and restaurants within the area. The market itself contains over 1000 fixed shops, is located on Camden Lock and is within the historical Pickford horse stables. 300 million pounds was invested in the market in 2018 and its steaming with people all the time 7 days week. The market itself is a maze of arts and crafts, clothes, furniture, jewellery, antiques, food etc and has prices for all budgets.
The stables are like a maze of stalls both over and underground, the buildings made of black stone and it can take hours to see everything and its highly unlikely you will discover everything on one visit. I always find something new when there and I also have my favourite established businesses, the highlight being Cyberdog which is a large underground store that specialises in “Rave” or techno music and fluorescent clothing from a bygone dance culture that I used to belong to. The store has undergone many changes over the years from when I was a 25 year old Australian Raver and the store is very futuristic which is in contrast with the dance scene it represents which has largely disappeared into the past. For me Cyberdog much like the market is a good place to meet people, buys retro clothes, eat, listen to music, have a beer and reminisce.
I spent a week in London and its not like I spent my entire time visiting markets even though I did also shop at Convent Garden, Carnaby Street and Victoria Park (see photo collage below). I caught up with a few London friends over a couple of nights and met some cool people hanging around Camden. I also visited the British Museum, the Tower of London, Regent and Oxford street, the National Gallery, British Imperial War Museum, Regent and Hyde Park among other things. I also traced my family history to the town of Rickmansworth where I found records on my relatives from the United Kingdom who migrated to Australian in the 1860’s. I visited a few of the places I used to work at 20 years ago including the Royal National Theatre and the Millennium Dome that today is called the O2 Arena (stories for a different time). Of course there was also drinking plenty of pints of beer, eating English breakfasts and enjoying lots of curries, it was a very full and enjoyable week.
So this was my week in London, I can’t recollect how many times I’ve visited London since living there 20 years ago. London feels like a second home to me and really affected and made me the traveler I am today as it was one of the first places Id visited overseas and subsequently stayed for an extended period. As you can tell in 2019 Id decided to focus on visiting the markets, so whether it’s the delicious food of my former home in Brixton, the lengthy Portobello Road and the popularity of antiquing, the delightful curry, graffiti and music of Brick Lane or the craziness and alternate culture that is Camden, London has a market experience for everyone. This is my hopefully unique and interesting look at London, I hope you enjoyed the read, next Ill be traveling about the USA. Any feedback is always welcome and happy travels……