What Carnaby Street was in the 1960s, so is Camden Town in the 1990s & 2000s, only on a far larger scale.

If you're in London and looking for mainstream clothing, footwear or invaluable lifestyle accessories then stick to the traditional shopping areas; if you want something alternative then get down to Camden Town on a sunday.

Whatever your personal definition of alternative you are guaranteed to find it on one of the countless stalls which criss-cross the maze of passageways and buildings that make up the markets of this part of London: ravers, hippies, goths, mods, bikers, freaks, wierdos and just about the entire transient population of Europe under the age of 30 will be here. Camden Town is rapidly becoming a lot more commercial and touristy than it used to be, but it's still the best place to go to get stuff that just doesn't seem to exist anywhere else in the world.

Camden stretches out for about a mile along camden high street. Most people regard Camden Town as all the stuff that lies between Mornington Crescent (to the south) and Chalk Farm (to the north).

The South bits of Camden Town are not all that special.. they contain many of the same shops you might find in any part of London, including the typical Burger King and McDonalds type stuff.

As you walk North-West things start to get busier - the streets get more crowded and narrower because of the market traders.

One of Camden's most interesting areas are it's enclosed markets - to the west of Camden High Street (Nearer to Chalk Farm Tube) you can find Stables Market - an aincient market now home to many trendy fasion boutiques.

To the east of the high street you can find the Canal Market - which is slightly less expensive but just as touristy.

As you leave Camden and behind you (walking north) and approach Chalk Farm look out for a number of good bars to your left: Bartock, and Lounge-jing are worth a visit. Also check out Marine Ices - an old Ice-cream parlour, and quite good pizza place.

Camden has a reputation for being a place to buy drugs - Whenever I walk around Camden Lock and the Markets I am often offerd Canabis. In my opinion, this is not a great place to buy gear. Camden is a heavily policed area that is rife with CCTV cameras. The chances are that anything you buy will be bogus. If not, the chances are that your purchace has been recorded on camera. My advice is that there are better places to buy drugs in London.

If you were to continue walking north you would get to Belsize Park and eventually Hampstead Village.

One thing to look out for in Camden Town is the "hash-weed" people, offering cannabis and other substances. Located outside the underground and along Chalk Farm Road, it is doubtful whether they would actually give you any drugs if you handed your money over to them. Along one stretch you may get one man offer you "'ash, weed" while the next "sensimelia, ecstasy", as if they are working together to provide all possible choices. The best way to piss them off is to offer them drugs before they approach you, or to confuse sensimelia with semolina. On walking past a man repeating "charlie, charlie, charlie" my friend responded "No, I'm Harry". The man didn't look too happy.

The area isn't as trendy as it once was, but is rather manic on Friday and Saturday nights. There is a handful of clubs such as the Underworld, the Electric Ballroom and the Camden Palace, and many pubs. Of note is the Dublin Castle on Parkway. Referred to in the Fast Show's 'Indie Club' sketch, the venue plays host to a number of obscure bands, and was an important part of Camden in its guise as Indie Central. Also check out The World's End and a favourite of this noder, J D Wetherspoon branch The Man In The Moon.

These days, Camden has a Gap and a Virgin Megastore, but is as dirty as ever.

For a piece of English coursework I was asked to describe a simple event in detail, using a piece by John Steinbeck, 'Breakfast', as a guide. As always I struggled for an idea and resorted to asking my mother for help. "Why not do it on Camden?" Eyes were rolled but after a while I accepted that her idea was better than mine and that is what I did.

Some poor misguided fool suggested I node it and as I have nothing better to do...

As I broke away from the bustle of the busy station I moved onto the street. The pavement was already bursting, littered with groups of friends and people on their own, many of whom had turned their backs to the ongoing stream of human traffic. The heavy sultry sky seemed to fill me with an awkward anticipation. Allowing myself to be swept along I suddenly became very aware of my own being, feeling uncomfortable, yet guilty for it in the same confusing instant.

The vibrant colours inhabiting the shops were out of place, cruelly abstract against the haggard architecture, after failed attempts to disguise their long since decaying corpses. Spinning globes flaunted their youthful energy, bringing to mind futuristic preconceptions of gleaming metal and flying cars, while jeans of momentous proportions hung from the brickwork high above in a fashion of which Dali would have been proud.

I felt a stranger, intruding on this foreign scene, but angry with myself for making presumptions like those of narrow-minded people, which I myself despise. I tried to look on with the eyes of an innocent young child greedy for new experiences, not judging what lay before me.

And so it was, with unease, that I travelled around the first maze of stalls weaving my way through narrow passages distancing myself a little, but warming unconsciously as their treasures unfolded before me. Nagged from behind by my companions with familiar, icy stares I felt pushed to move on, spiralling round once more before returning to the road, fuelled by the ammunition which was meant to discourage me.

The market had finished, or so I thought, but still I wandered on, down that same teaming street as before, but on crossing the road found more stalls which opened into a vast labyrinth more interesting than the site I had previously visited, as now I was filled with a defiance of a naughty child who had just been told off.

I felt the warm sunlight, breathing gently on the back of my neck.

I was drawn towards an opening of bright colours and fluorescent white light, in which stood a young woman. She was tall and slim and her acid red hair fell loosely about her soft face. She smiled a slight, genuine smile as I walked passed. The clothes were amazing, so individual, I had never seen anything quite like them, and they had a personal feel about them.

“Would you like to try that on?” she asked, seeing that I had picked up a top.
“Um. Yeah, thanks,” I said.
She nodded and gestured towards two cubicles, and I stepped inside the one on the left.
“That looks lovely,” she said, ”a really nice neckline, I think.”
I smiled, trying to ignore my more cynical nature.

Stepping out into the open, after the inevitable changing of money, I was suddenly overwhelmed by the contrasting smells: the fresh exoticness of fast food, not boring burgers and chips, but hot eastern delights and old clothes in warm, musty caves, wanted again after years of lonely isolation.

Winding my way through the tangled pathways of the labyrinth I stumbled upon a little tranquillity amongst the madness in the form of a canal, which I crossed by way of a steep hump-backed bridge, near to the lock. A longboat was sandwiched between the lock gates, watched by a host of onlookers, whilst its crew busied themselves with the gates oblivious of their audience.

Walking back along the busy road, there was now music playing from one of the shops, somehow breathing life into the street. To my right an old man was dancing, moving his stick in time to the beat, and humming along to the sweet melody.

Allowing myself to be swept along, I turned to my left but then slowed down a little. Sitting against the wall of a bank was a woman who looked to be in her late thirties. She looked very tired and was holding her head in her hands. The pavement was littered with groups of friends and people on their own, all of whom had turned their backs to this woman. I doubt many people saw the blood falling down her neck.

The sky was heavy, sultry sky filled me with awkward anticipation.

Camden Town used to be a quiet little village surrounded by fields with a peaceful river running through it, until the beginning of the nineteenth century, when London crept in and swallowed it up within the space of a few years. The river was piped off underground and the Regent's Canal built to carry trade more efficiently, down to the Thames at Limehouse. The owner of the farmland, William Agar, struck lucrative deals for his land with the canal company and the railway company, and the mainline stations at St Pancras and Kings Cross were built, along with elegant streets and expensive housing for businessmen and railway executives. The new little town quickly filled up. Its pretty houses and convenience for the City made it a fashionable place to live, especially by the canal, full of pleasant spots in those days. It wound round the edge of lush green Regent's Park, where there were entertainments and public concerts in summer. In 1845 the Royal Zoological Gardens (now London Zoo) opened to the public, creating an added attraction.

However, by the turn of the twentieth century, Camden Town had become very industrialised and much of its housing was being rented out room by room to poor immigrant families, mainly Greek and Turkish. Hosts of scabby little businesses filled up Camden High Street and Kentish Town Road. Trade on the canal was dying out, and parts of it were highly polluted by factories discharging waste. My father tells tales of swimming in the canal as a kid in the Fifties, when they always swam by factories because the water was warm there: hot jets of lord-knows-what, shooting into the canal, making a spa for the local kids. A far cry from the elegant entertainments of the original inhabitants. The kids spent the rest of their time mucking about on the bomb sites, which lingered after the war for around twenty years because nobody could be bothered to develop the run-down area.

By the seventies the bomb sites had been neatly filled with council estates and the area's fortunes started looking up again. The canal was improved and the towpaths re-opened in 1973, and all the qualities which had made Camden Town attractive back in the 1800s started to pull the rich punters back in. The canal market and local clubs and pubs became highly fashionable. In the 80s TV-AM built flashy modern offices near the market, and Nick Grimshaw designed the new Sainsbury's: lots of shiny steel and neo-industrialism, with a clump of attendant houses like futuristic sardine tins along the canal.

Today the average price of a medium-sized house in Camden Town is half a million, five times more than William Agar was paid for the whole area back in the 1800s: but if you're a tourist, don't expect it to look expensive and pretty. It's shabby and peeling, and still run-down. Even the Grimshaw flats have weathered, and are begining to look decidedly manky. The canal is cleaner, but it's something of a hang-out for cidered-up old crusties and smackheads, skimming a flotsam of loose change off the wake of the tide of tourists which chokes the streets round the market on Saturdays. The market itself is a bit of a rip-off, and the cafés are badly placed for people-watching and none too clean, but the freakshow is one of the best in London, as a few people above have pointed out. This week there seems to be a trend towards enormous polio-child platform boots, gleaming PVC zebraskin trousers, and plastic hair extensions. Not hair exactly, but 2mm thick strands of stuff like candy, faintly shiny, knotted to the scalp. If this is your dream outfit, you can get it here..

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