I first read about Camden Town and its famous markets before setting my eyes on them. It was the autumn of '89 and I had just started my degree at the former ISPLE (Higher Institute of Foreign Languages Pedro Lafargue) in Havana, Cuba. Our writing teacher had given us an article to discuss in class and the piece was about Camden Town.
When I finally made it to this renowned part of north London in April 1997 whilst spending a month's holiday in the UK , my first reaction was amazement at seeing so many different people dressed in such extravagant and fanciful clothes and displaying a narcissistic attitude that confounded my expectations about British people (and some non-Brits, too) in general. My second reaction was wonderment at the array of goods on display in stalls and shops, especially when the Habana Vieja and Malecón markets were my only references of outdoor retail and wholesale activity. Because it was Sunday when we visited Camden Town, the market was open and the pavements were overflowing with Londoners and tourists alike. To say that I fell in love with the area would be an understatement. When I came to live in Britain in November of the same year, it was one of the first places my wife and I went back to. And what was not to love about it? The market teemed with shops, clubs, theatres, restaurants, bars, pubs and cinemas.
Walk down any of its arteries and you will be exposed to an incredible variety of goods: antiques and collectables shops, art galleries, palmistry (a feature you will come across very often), piercing and body art, jewellery, alternative fashion and holistic products. The fact that there are so many outlets often selling similar merchandise works in the customer's favour, especially over the Christmas period, when one is pressed for time trying to find the perfect present for those one cares about. Like the Spitalfields Market (soon to feature on this blog) where vendors attempt frenzily to undercut each other, Camden Market offers the same opportunity to those of us who don't mind haggling a little bit.
The market is parcelled out into four areas: Camden Lock, Camden Stables, Camden (Buck Street) Market and Inverness Street Market.
Camden Lock Market was originally a craft market in the 70s but has since branched out to include all kinds of goods. Although it's open most days, it is at the weekend when it springs fully into life with multitudes of shops and restaurants spilling out onto the streets. A caveat, though, if you're with little ones, be aware that it's not a very child-orientated area and parental paranoia can set in very quickly. The throng that files past stalls and shops can swallow up your offspring in no time and what at first seemed to be the perfect day out can very quickly become your worst nightmare.
Camden Stables, on the other hand, cater to those adventurous enough to dabble in the latest fashions. The Stables display a good selection of vintage clothing, including gothwear.
Camden Market is a hodgepodge of some 200-odd stalls flogging everything from footwear to T-shirts (whose captions and slogans you will have to explain to your little ones patiently).
On Inverness Street the visitor will find mainly stalls selling fresh fruit and vegetables. This section of the market dates back to 1900 approximately when it fulfilled the same function: to supply the area with fresh produce.
The best way to get to Camden Town, if, like me, you don't live in the area, is by public transport. Despite the numerous complaints I hear so often from British people regarding public transport, I still choose it over driving, especially when parking fares are so expensive in Camden Town (applicable on weekends, too). You can either alight at Chalk Farm tube station or even get off at Regent's Park and walk along the canal (highly recommended).
So, if you ever come to London, make sure you leave a space in your busy schedule for this little jewel in north London.
Note: All photos were taken by me. I am not a photographer, not even an amateur one, therefore you will have to overlook the quality of the images, or lack of it thereof, and enjoy (hopefully) the morsel of London I am bringing to you this week. Thanks.