Category Archives: London North

North Finchley

North Finchley, under Creative Commons from John Keogh's flickr photostream. Click pic for link.

North Finchley, under Creative Commons from John Keogh's flickr photostream. Click pic for link.

There’s little to distinguish North Finchley as a place worth visiting. Like it’s southerly cousin, it’s somewhat nondescript, a trait I find to be common to great swathes of the diagonal corners of London. For some reason the North-South and East-West axes of London seem to retain more character: for example in North London, the central band of areas such as Camden, Islington, Holloway, Highbury, Muswell Hill, Tottenham, Winchmore Hill, etc. are quite notably their own places. But the Finchleys and places like Edgware, Colindale, Pinner, Harrow and the like are very obviously massive swathes of period suburbia, matched in the North-East by the bland expanses beyond the North Circular, Chigwell, Barkingside, the Woodfords and the like. Maybe it’s just me.

Psychogeography aside, North Finchley’s worth a brief stop, but that’s about it. There’s five charity shops to pick from: none are useless but none are outstanding. The pick of the bunch is probably North London Hospice, which is usually good for a bargain – on our most recent visit we found plenty of interesting looking books, tape sets of Hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy, and other odds and ends. That’s at the top of the high road – we then make our way down to Cancer Research, but not without stopping at the wonderfully odd Tiger, a sort of Ikea meets Muji of absolute randomness with conveniently calculable prices. Cancer Research has an excellent selection of books usually – we have picked up paperbacks by Richard Sennett, John Updike and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and even Pride & Prejudice & Zombies, which has apparently spawned an entire subgenre of classic novels revisited in horror style. Weird.

Across the Tally Ho corner (I’m guessing a hunting cry, there’s no specific reputation for ladies of negotiable affection here) past the Artsdepot is very standard British Heart Foundation, then back up the road for Barnardo’s and a very scruffy but occasionally bargainous Romanian Relief store.

I can’t really ply you with dramatic anecdotes and local ephemera because there isn’t much about which to waffle. North Finchley’s local to us, which makes it a convenient after-work mooch, but while you may find bargains, there isn’t much more to commend it.

FindNorth Finchley @ Google Maps
Consume with: Coffee Republic has something of the interior of an unloved indie club, but isn’t too shabby – better than Starbucks at least. Cafe Buzz is to be commended for its carrot cake.
Visit: maybe the Artsdepot, which has pretty much loads going on.
Overall rating: three tape box-sets



Filed under 3/5, London North

Church End, Finchley

The Dollis Brook Viaduct, under Creative Commons. Photo from IanVisits' photostream, click pic for link.

The Dollis Brook Viaduct, under Creative Commons. Photo from IanVisits' photostream, click pic for link.

Finchley Central is two and sixpence/from Golders Green on the Northern Line/and on the platform, by the kiosk/that’s where you said you’d be mine.

Ask most locals where Church End is and you’ll probably draw a blank. At least since the New Vaudeville Band sang about the pre-decimal journey up from Golders Green in 1966, the locale has been more commonly known after its tube station: Finchley Central, on the Northern Line. It’s suburbia up here: the outer side of the North Circular, surrounded by more Finchleys, Mill Hill and Whetstone, tree-lined avenues of semi-detached homes, with garages, and a Conservative MP. At the very least, that’s how it’ll be remembered: the now abolished constituency of Finchley is most associated with the 32 year occupancy of one Margaret Hilda Thatcher, aka the Milk Snatcher, aka all sorts of crude things. In these pre-election days, the re-arranged Finchley and Golders Green constituency is Labour held, but with boundary realignments is Tory voting, and is a top target seat for old smarmy Eton boy.

Today, the ward is little more than a local shopping strip built along Regents Park Road/Ballards Lane: the top of Gravel Hill shows something of what the older villagey Finchley must have looked like, with some beautiful houses and an olde church, but progress past the tube and it’s supermarkets, grocers, local amenities and of course, charity shops. Our  visits to charity shop locales have become somewhat single-minded of late: stripped of disposable income in the latter part of my Masters course, I have to tread very carefully around the fiction sections of charity bookshelves at the moment, occasionally lingering to pick up a bargain in the politics or geography sections. There’s no space in my head for much fiction at the moment, excepting the occasional holiday, but I’ve found that toning down my usually pretty cerebral tastes to something a little more popular helps me to unwind a bit. The which comment feels a little unfair to Ian Rankin, since the Rebus novels that I’ve become immersed in are wonderfully constructed and researched, and the place setting and character-building is probably far more evocative and complete than, say, Umberto Eco or Thomas Pynchon.

Anyway. Finchley was a destination for some Rebus-hunting on this visit. I have to be honest, as with the area itself, all the charity shops are a little nondescript: a fairly decent Oxfam and Cancer Research make up the ‘chain’ constituent, and the always useful All Aboard and North London Hospice are the remainder. You’ll be pleased to hear that I found some Rankin and happily for the charity shop sector, far cheaper than proper bookshops, and with better selection than most dedicated secondhand bookshops (much as I love Skoob). While Finchley is hardly a destination in itself, it’s near our allotment which makes it worth being familiar with its amenities: Subway and The Joiners Arms have already been tested…

Find: Church End, Finchley @ Google Maps
Consume with: a shandy in the Joiners.
I’d love to have a look inside the Sternberg Centre, which seems to be some sort of Jewish fortress…
Overall rating: three more Rebuses


Filed under 3/5, London North


from Archway Bridge, by Martin Deutsch, under creative commons. Click pic for link to photostream.

from Archway Bridge, by Martin Deutsch, under creative commons. Click pic for link to photostream.

There are some nice parts of London; you can see them from here.

So opined Saint Etienne back in 1993 in Archway People. Typically, New Model Army go one step grumpier with Archway Towers:

I’ve tried to wrestle
Some unbalanced nightmare
Tell myself over that I
Don’t really live here

Although it’s clearly somewhere people are trying to get away from, this North London nowhereville is redolent with music history. Joe Meek went insane just down the road, and the Kinks’ Muswell Hillbillies album cover was shot inside the Archway Tavern – now (reputedly) co-owned by Shane MacGowan. It’s also been home to the Boo Radleys, Jesus & Mary Chain, Ms Dynamite (ee-hee!) and Rod Stewart. Not a bad roll call.

I don’t know what the link is though: Archway seems like bedsit country for a million student bands, which could be a lot to do with it. There’s no way that you could call it a desirable area, so much so that I’ve never found any reason to stop here before despite it being pretty close. However, the Whittington Hospital beckoned, and with new found freedom we swept the charity shops of the area.

Which are actually pretty good. Time forbade us to stop by the familiar yellow and blue of Marie Curie (I’m reliably informed by my charity shop companion that it’s not worth the effort), so the first stop was a little but crammed Romanian Relief Fund. This was a tightly packed affair with everything in labelled boxes. I left with nothing this time but there was much potential.

The highlight is on the huge Archway junction itself. Looking up the hill you can see either towards Highgate Village or the Suicide Bridge; downhill is the Emirates Stadium and Holloway and the City; East you face through the houses to Crouch End, and West to Tufnell Park and on to Camden Town. Archway Methodist Church sits right smack in the middle of the junction, under the watchful eye of  the Archway Tower, and its accompanying shop is right on the main road. We moved quickly past a gentleman yelling abuses into a mobile phone and into the shop. It’s one of the biggest in this part of London, and not because of a furniture section, because there is none. Again with everything in labelled boxes, it’s a treasure trove of goods. There’s everything from knitting needles and patterns to the car boot sale staple of a box of cables; cases of records and rows and rows of books on every subject under the sun; tatty men’s coats to vintage lady-wear. It’s all pretty reasonable too: there’s a cart of books outside that are 5 to the pound.

This shop is a great find, and although Archway is a pain to get to unless you live on the Misery Line, it’s worth a re-visit. Perhaps when I have my follow-up appointment next.

Find: Archway @ Google Maps
Consume with: Perhaps a pint of the black stuff at the Tavern, if you’re into that kind of thing.
Visit: There’s really no visitable places in Archway, but unless you want to schlep up to Highgate Ponds or the Cemetery, you might want to take a look out from the Archway itself, the proverbial suicide bridge, with amazing views of London Town (another hint: try the fourth floor of the Whittington Hospital as well).
Overall rating: three knitting needles

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Filed under 3/5, London North

Palmers Green

Palmers Green, from Nicobobinus (my favourite local photographer) photostream, under Creative Commons. Click pic for link.

Palmers Green, from Nicobobinus’ (my favourite local photographer) photostream, under Creative Commons. Click pic for link.

As a former resident of PG, this North London nook has been on my list to write up for some time now. The epitome to many of leafy suburbia, Palmers is really a ‘burb of two halfs – south of the A406 North Circular it lives up to its ‘Palmers Greek’ nickname, with the majority of shops catering to the largest Cypriot community outside of Cyprus, while further up Green Lanes is the main shopping centre, station and local hub.

Aside from the Greek food shops and Meat Land butchers, there’s actually little of interest in the southern part of Palmers Green. Around the North you have a far more pleasant environment with Broomfield Park with its eponymous house (as featured on BBC2’sRestoration) and overlooking villas. There’s avenues and streets of tree-lined Edwardiana, all grand terraces and long gardens. There’s the New River, and quiet residential roads (formerly home to the disparate like of Joe Strummer and Stevie Smith) stretching all the way to the A10, the effectual border with the considerably less idyllic Edmonton; to Southgate, or Winchmore Hill, or Arnos Grove, across speed-humped road and parks overseen by the Piccadilly line. Here’s also where the charity shops lie, as well as a few of the usual suspects: Starbucks, M&S, McDonalds and the like: steer clear, there’s perfectly good alternatives on Green Lanes.

Scope is a small, functional start to the trip, but things really pick up in Oxfam. While not cheap, as usual, this Oxfam isn’t as bad as some, and an almost new paperback here (a novel by the caped internet evangelist himself, Cory Doctorow) was £1.99 – could be worse.

Cross Green Lanes for the British Heart Foundation, a standard affair, then onto the double whammy of British Red Cross shops – one normal charity shop full of clothes and homewares at reasonable prices, one excellently stocked bookshop, maybe my favourite in the area. Now, sadly, it suffers from the same blight as Oxfam and you’re unlikely to get a genuine bargain in here – prices reflect actual value very accurately – but what you will find is some unique bound sets, antiques and first editions (we saw a nice hardback Brautigan first ed.); a classics section as comprehensive as most new bookshops; dedicated sections for crime, thrillers, teen fiction, childrens; local history; textbooks; an excellent philosophy and religion sector and a whole bunch of things you wouldn’t imagine. Expect to pay at least £2 for a paperback.

We finish up with a slightly cavernous-feeling North London Hospice (it’s not that big…) with some furniture and a decent Cancer Research. Palmers Green is best visited in the sunny months – that way best use can be made of the lovely park and some of the numerous coffee shops have outdoor seat. By necessity then, a winter trip is a fairly short, but densely packed one, and it’s always, but always, worth a poke.

Find: Palmers Green @ Google Maps
Transport: Palmers Green Rail, between Finsbury Park and Enfield.
Consume with: something from Caffe Di Nero, or sheftalia from Lemon Tree
Visit: Broomfield Park with its duckponds, boating lake, formal gardens and ramshackle house.
Overall Rating: four t-shirts for cycling in


Filed under 4/5, London North

Hampstead and Belsize Park

Stripey Chairs, Hampstead Heath under Creative Commons, from the_amandas flickr photostream. Click pic for link.

Stripey Chairs, Hampstead Heath under Creative Commons, from the_amanda’s flickr photostream. Click pic for link.

There are whole swathes of London that are very pleasant indeed, but I just don’t bother going there. Why? You know very well why. Remember, three charity shops minimum. Sometimes it’s a shame, really, because these are nice enough places but there’s little to warrant actually going. Such is the case today, and so I’m linking together a few close locales to make a usable whole.

Tracing its roots back to beyond the Domesday Book, Hampstead is synonymous with cash; wonga; dollar. It’s home to the most millionaires in the country, it’s known for its musical, literary, artistic connections: Wikipedia’s list of past and former residents is startlingly impressive. So, rich pickings, right? Weeell… not really. There’s just a mere smattering in the region, even heading down past the bottom of the Heath towards Gospel Oak.

Nevertheless, it’s worth a poke. Oxfam in Hampstead itself is just down Gayton Road. One of the less interesting side streets in the Village, it’s good only for the Oxfam, but while you’re here, be sure to have a wander up the cobbled streets off the High Street, Flask Walk with its impenetrable bookshop, Perrin’s Lane at the bottom of which can be found the famous Hampstead crepe cart. I like Hampstead best at Christmas: mooch through the antiques markets, pop into the nice smelling coffee shops, browse the slightly-incongruous flea market, head to the Everyman for a festive showing of It’s A Wonderful Life (they didn’t show it this year, I was quite put out). Oxfam itself is narrow but windy – board games, ladies clothes and books are in good supply here.

Head down Rosslyn Hill, past the boutiques and the big houses, and you meet a fork in the road. It’s walking distance, if you’re fit. Turn left down Pond Street, and you’re pootling along the bottom of the wonderful Hampstead Heath. Here you’ll find The Charity Shop, a fairly standard rich person’s affair.

Wending your way around the vast Royal Free Hospital you can end up by Belsize Park tube station, and a small row of shops: boutiques, florists, gourmet burger restaurants, a tiny cinema. There’s a large and high-class Marie Curie here, from whence came one of my favourite charity shop buys: a cow-themed cappucino maker. Nice.

All in all, trawling around the charity shops of this part of North London is more effort than it’s worth, especially when you’ve Golders Green and West Hampstead nearby. Unless you’ve got some reason to come, you’re best off going for a hike on the heath.

Find: Hampstead & Belsize Park @ Google Maps
Transport: Hampstead or Belsize Park on the Northern Line, or Hampstead Heath on London Overground
Consume with: a crepe of course.
Visit: the many and varied delights of Hampstead Heath have to put it at first port of call
Overall Rating: two coffee machines

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Filed under London North

Mill Hill

Mill Hill, from Nicobobinus photostream. Click through for link.

Mill Hill, from Nicobobinus’ photostream. Click through for link.

As our beloved charity shops hit the BBC for running out of stock, it’s time to have a quick look at a locale which didn’t offer me anything when I visited. Not that that’s really a problem – sometimes it’s nice to just pootle around – but it seems only appropriate.

Mill Hill is one of these confusing, sprawly suburbs, developed at separate times and leading to distinct local characters within the remit of what’s technically Mill Hill. Therefore, we have the ancient centre, Mill Hill Village – a narrow strip along the Ridgeway, tucked away from the A1 and M1, home of the rather posh Mill Hill School, yet not stretching as far as the newer developments at Mill Hill East, subject of more modern appropriation. Witness the mega Waitrose and the huge gym, as well as rolling swathes of identical suburban semis. Finally, and most pertinently for our requirements, Mill Hill Broadway, an Edwardian development with overground station  (as opposed to the strange and incongruous Mill Hill East extension) and a nice little parade of shops.

It was approaching evening as we parked up outside the Marks near the station, and as such, the place was winding down. Mill Hill Broadway has more in common with sleepier, residential towns than the rest of this bustling metropolis. 5pm and everything was tucking itself in for the night, save the handful of very local restaurants: you know the sort, you may not make any sort of mission for them but you know that if you swing by there’s a table and a reliable, if far from bold meal awaiting you.

There’s just the four charity shops here, if my memory and the internet serve me correctly. Typically, Oxfam is the expensive option, but as usual, it’s the classiest of the bunch. Cancer Research houses the standard array of children’s goods and mass-manufactured tat that CRUK seem to excel in these days, and Marie Curie provides solid charity shop ground. All Aboard, as seems to be typical, is closed.

I’ve no burning desire to return to Mill Hill, but then, as a stop on a longer route it’s no bad thing. It could certainly be incorporated into some sort of Finchley Road themed run later on, as it’s close enough to Hendon, Golders Green, Finchley, West Hampstead et al. Chalk another day out up for ‘not on a Saturday’, then.

Find: Mill Hill at Google Maps
Transport: Mill Hill Broadway station, or the mythical Mill Hill East
Consume with: into shop, out with a tube of Pringles, back in the car. For the lingering guest, Costa lives just over the road.
Visit: How about the UCL Observatory, just south on the A1.
Overall rating: three bagfuls of Dan Brown



Filed under 3/5, London North

West Hampstead

Finchley Road, under Creative Commons from Nicobobinus photostream. Click pic for link.


I first discovered West Hampstead a long while ago, driving through en route to Kilburn, trying out a new route via Temple Fortune and Golders Green. Trying to find my way back on purpose however, proved to be something of a different kettle of fish – the deeply unhelpful signs around Swiss Cottage and Finchley Road seem purpose-built to mystify. And when we arrived, we were foxed again – where to park my (soon-to-be crippled) little Peugeot? If only I’d known of Parkopedia then…

Eventually, we found our way in. And a good job too: West Hampstead, NW6 is a little treasure really, unassuming and tucked-away; not flaunting its pedigree, or bustling with corduroy like Hampstead itself, not desolately consumerist like nearby Swiss Cottage, not just plain desolate, like nearby Willesden. Instead West Hampstead is a well-connected little ‘burb, with a rail and underground connection, situated between the A5 and the A41, and based around a little green, and some cute shops. Poke around and you might find Stephen Fry in La Brocca (when he’s not twittering away in some exotic country), or his co-patron of the local library, Doris Lessing. You may see Imelda Staunton in Gourmet Burger Kitchen, or Emma Thompson in the Wet Fish Cafe.

And so, having slaked our thirst on Nandos’ bottomless pop, and consumed an entire chicken between us, off we go investigating.

Oxfam, as ever, is expensive: here particularly so. Amidst the artisan bakers, the independent cafes, and the more upmarket chain and local restaurants, here is a well-stocked, very Oxfam Oxfam, nice and local, but not the cheapest.

Children’s Society is more like it: I ended up with some classic American detective writing from there. All the shops on this stretch of West End Lane, just a little up from the station, are well-stocked: plenty of items to interest, and no duffers; no shops that are really just a waste of time. Cancer Research, Scope and All Aboard are all located up here: the latter was closed when we arrived, but judging by their other stores, would be good.

Definitely a recommendation here then: an easy place to spend an hour, or mooch in a cafe, or come for a nice dinner.

Find: West Hampstead at Google Maps
Transport: West Hampstead is on the Thameslink, the London Overground and the Jubilee Line
Consume with: Nandos’ finest half a chicken.
Visit: Visit Alan Coren, Joseph Lister and Grand Duke Michael Mikhailovich of Russia at Hampstead Cemetery
Overall rating: four James Last albums


Filed under 4/5, London North