This time London, my London will take you from Ally Pally, where we left off last time, to a lesser-known spot. Again, we are not focusing on shortcuts or quick routes, but on culture, history and the never-ending energy that characterises London. A city that only lives in the past (or off it) becomes dead, or at least it turns into a zombie. London is the opposite, it is alive and we, Londoners, born here or not, are the ones who keep it going.
You could say with a narrow margin of error that although London is not very hilly, as I remarked before, it is mostly hemmed in by elevations north of the Thames. South of the river, I know there are inclines, but they are fewer or at least easier to avoid.
The only positive outcome of hills – besides the exercise they provide – is that once you have exhausted yourself going up one, you will have to come down at some point and this is exactly what I did as I left Alexandra Palace in the borough of Haringey and carried on north-western bound. The ride down was smooth and along tree-lined streets. At the end of Alexandra Park Road I found myself with the chic barrio of Muswell Hill on my left. Together with neighbouring Crouch End and Highgate, this is an area that has become renowned for its arty-creative-type, middle-class demographic. Independent and – and you could say very – idiosyncratic shops line up along Colney Hatch Lane leading to Muswell Hill Broadway. If you happen to be staying in or visiting the area I would strongly recommend a stroll around some of the shops near the Muswell Hill Broadway roundabout. For those on foot there is a bus depot near the roundabout with good connections into town. A stone’s throw away is one of my favourite spots in London, Highgate Wood There is nothing more satisfying than walking down Muswell Hill Road in autumn until you reach Highgate Wood. This is a 28-hectare ancient woodland. Plenty of wildlife has made it its home and the woodland trails are picture-perfect. If you are travelling to London with little ones in tow, they will appreciate your effort. The playground in the park is worth a visit.
For me, the cyclist, the route was simpler although I must I admit I did get lost. I crossed Colney Hatch Lane and went straight down Page’s Lane. My goal was to get to Barnet and cycle through Finchley.
A confusing and bizarre trait of London’s urban geography is both its postcode and its borough demarcation systems. The former, I will go into detail in future posts; the latter is almost comical. I had been only a few minutes on Creighton Avenue when I realised that I had already crossed the border from Haringey to the Borough of Barnet. I retraced my steps to double-check and saw the welcome sign, but it was so inconspicuous that it was easy to miss.
A cycle lane brought me to the other end of Church Road and there I got lost again. The method I was following was the old-fashioned way. Although I had a built-in GPS in my mobile, I didn’t want to use it. For me a few scribbled-down street names on a piece of paper, with arrows indicating in which direction to turn, was more than enough. I approached a group of women talking outside a house. Not only did I get my bearings right after their instructions but I also got a short history lesson on this part of Finchley. The road I was looking for was East End Road which I had written incorrectly on my piece of paper. The street was not a mere thoroughfare but it had originally bequeathed the name to this area before it became East Finchley. The problem was that at the time there was also an East End in London famous for its deprivation and crime. The residents of this better-off north-western barrio wanted nothing to do with their down-on-their-luck fellow Londoners and changed the name to East Finchley.
I cycled away from the Old White Lion, a 1700s pub that still stood there on the same century-old spot and found myself speeding down Kingsley Way, through the middle of Hampstead Garden Suburb, an example of good “domestic architecture”. The fact that this early-20th-century blueprint for town planning looked like another world was the result (as I later found out) of a community-focused and joint co-operative effort by a group of like-minded citizens. Quiet, tree-lined, wide streets sporting impressive-looking hedges on their front gardens were visual balm for my tired limbs.
|Hampstead Garden Suburb (photo taken from Flickr)|
Upon turning left onto Finchley Road the lyrics of Mor Karbasi’s song, Judía, popped into my head all of a sudden: Judía será tu nombre/mi frente besó mi madre cuando nací/un beso de amor me dió mi madre cuando nací. If you are wondering what the words of a Sephardic Jewish singer are doing in a post about northwest London, perhaps you are not aware that Golders Green, the neighbourhood I was cycling through at that moment, has been home to a very diverse Jewish community for decades. A Jewish community about which I will write in my next post. Or rather in my next love-letter to London, my London.
Next Post: “Voices and Faces of London”, to be published on Saturday 31st October at 6pm (GMT)