Over dinner on Saturday, we got chatting about London neighbourhoods – those we live in, those we love, those that are a complete mystery to us.
I’ve lived in Ealing for 18 months or so, and I’ve grown very fond of it in that time. There is a park by our flat which has beautiful trees and a kitchen garden and three thriving beehives. There is an art shop on the corner which shows interesting London artists and stocks lovely jewellery and brilliant cards. The town hall is a stunner. There is an incredible Lebanese.
I like it very much (and I love our little flat), but a little piece of my heart will always remain way up the Northern Line in Archway N19.
I knew nothing about London when I moved here, and it’s quite by chance that I ended up in Archway. At first I wasn’t enamoured; it felt like the most it had to recommend it was that it straddled Zones 2 and 3. It’s not a beauty, by any stretch of the imagination – it’s dominated by a staggeringly unlovely tower block and traffic entering London from the A1. But over the course of 5 years, I found so much there to love.
First, is the sense of community. Far from being just a hub for transient commuters, Archway has a heart made up of kind, friendly, thoughtful people. The door into that community was opened to me by wonderful Ian and Kathryn at Map gift shop, a Junction Road stalwart for the last 15 years. When they saw a tweet I sent mentioning that I was collecting toys and gifts for a Christmas shoebox appeal, they immediately got in touch and offered to help. At that point, I’d never set foot inside their shop; I wasn’t a customer and they weren’t trying to make me one. They just saw something they could help with, and got in touch, because they are genuinely that kind. It made such a huge impression on me – that generosity both of resource and of spirit. I went on to become the shop’s biggest fan.
And that community mindedness is not unique to the Map team. Little initiatives would spring up all over the place, from literature festivals to quirky town-improvement-cum-art projects. It was a fun place to be.
Aside from the people, I loved it because its initial urban greyness is just a front; it’s secretly packed with green places to sit and read or walk around or watch the world go by. When you head into Whittington Park, right off the Holloway Road, you’re greeted by a four foot floral cat – essentially the Poundland version of Puppy by Jeff Koons.
Or, hidden away through a housing estate, you can find Elthorne Park – a tiny haven of grassy mounds and leafy trees and an incongruous but gorgeous Japanese-style peace garden.
Explore a little further and you’ll find an entrance to the Parkland Walk – which is the loveliest thing in London and will require its own whole blog post to contain all the gushing I want to do about it. (Just in case I don’t get to that for a while, it’s worth you knowing that the Parkland Walk blackberries are likely to be just getting dark and plumptious right now, and you should probably head there with a tupperware IMMEDIATELY).
If you power up the hill off Junction Road, striking out towards Gospel Oak, you’ll find yourself at Dartmouth Park. It’s not quite as pretty as its counterparts, and as a park in itself hasn’t got a great deal to recommend it. But, oh! The view over London! It’s as if you could hold the whole city in the palm of your hand. You feel big and small all at once. You’re part of something. You’re there.
I could go on. I could tell you about the delicious coffee at Bread & Bean, or the insanely good focaccia at 500, or the joys of an evening spent eating curry and listening to jazz at The Sitara. I could rave about the brilliance of the 390 bus, and its ability to get me home no matter where I got stuck in a pre-Uber London. I could tell you about the authors I discovered through the superb curation at Archway library, or the old fashioned phone boxes that appeared one day, spilling over with flowers. I could mention that there used to be a Banksy but it was (allegedly) defaced by one of his rivals and ultimately removed by the council. I could bore you to TEARS with all the things I have to say.
For now, I won’t. But should you ever find yourself at a loose end in north London, you could do worse than go exploring in my old neighbourhood.
Archway, you beauty. Save a place for me, please; I might be back one day.