As a general rule, I believe the best Sunday in London is spent on the Columbia Road near Old Street. So it was that I woke up late today and cycled over to meet a friend.
Cycling on a Sunday in London is a far superior experience to cycling during the week, particularly when like me (aged 26) you have just learnt to cycle with no hands and you can wheel down empty streets with your arms out like Leo behind Kate on the Titanic. Not singing that song though of course, that would be really uncool.
You know you are getting close when you start to see people carrying vast numbers of exotic plants in their arms. So if you’re lost and you see this, you are heading in the right direction. The reason for this of course is because the road is famous for it’s flower market that pops up every Sunday. Stall after stall of everything from kitchen herbs to enormous banana trees. The smell and the colours are incredible. Even the faces of those boyfriends who have clearly been dragged along for the first time by a determined other half seem to lift when they see what actually awaits them.
I arrived to find my friend clicking away to a blues band who had set up shop outside a pub on the corner. Playing more for fun than money, there was a fantastic party atmosphere with people dancing in the street. A mood that is carried all the way through the market with buskers every 100 yards or so. Look out for the guy playing a tuba with flames coming out of it and try to determine whether he is actually playing or not…
While you push your way down the street (and you will have to push if it’s a sunny day) you will hear the cries and humour of great London market stall vendors. Something that seems to be missing from the ubiquitous ‘farmer’s market.’ My favourite rally call from today has to have been “these flaaaaawers are cheap enough for yer mother-in-law. Who likes their mother-in-law?” Cue a group response from a load of punters who had never met – “Not me!” What amazing spirit, suddenly we were surrounded by a whole host of new friends, everyone grinning at each other.
When you’re done with the greenery, nip back behind the stalls and have a more relaxed wander into some of the shops. The street prides itself on being one of very few in the country to have solely independent shops trading on it. Everything from futuristic maps, antiques and rabbit fur hats to red velvet cupcakes shaped like fish. It’s a genuine pleasure having a look at some original kit and not being met by Boots, Costa and Jack Wills.
You’ll get tired after a while and there are some fantastic delis, restaurants and pubs to discover when you do. We fell into the pub half way down the street and were handed a spicy Bloody Mary as we arrived at the bar. More great music playing and huge plates of comfort food being whizzed across the room. To really belong there you need a carefully styled moustache, thick-rimmed glasses and to have ‘painted’ rather than ‘pulled’ your trousers on in the morning. But fear not, there are also families with kids, grandparents, couples, solos on laptops, parties, the whole works.
This is the great beauty of the street, it caters for pretty much every occasion. So next time you wake up on a Sunday with no plans, whether happy or sad, in a group or flying alone, get yourself to Columbia Road and you’ll finish the weekend on a high with a flat full of foliage.
by Nick Birkett