The flower market in London’s Columbia Road has been on my “must visit” list for years. Every Sunday the narrow street in the heart of the East End is filled with stalls selling everything from hyacinths to narcissi to ten-foot banana trees. I knew it would be exactly my sort of thing.
Reading Joanna Trollope’s Daughters-in-Law a couple of weeks back reminded me it was high time I got my act together and went. In the book, graphic designer Luke lives in a flat “at the very top of a tall and elaborate brick building in Arnold Circus, a stone’s throw… from Columbia Road flower market, from Brick Lane, from – oh my God – Hoxton.”
So this weekend, with my husband in the Far East and my son whizzing down an Italian mountainside on a snowboard (scary), I reckoned I had the perfect opportunity. Luckily my student daughter lives just round the corner and she sweetly agreed to come with me. Actually, her favourite clubs, bars and “the best bagel shop in the world” are in that neck of the woods so she didn’t take much persuading.
Sure enough, Columbia Road is everything it’s cracked up to be. Open from eight am till “three-ish” every Sunday, the place is alive with stallholders yelling “three bunches for ten pounds,” shoppers of all ages clutching flowers wrapped in brown paper and 20-somethings dressed in tweedy, old-fashioned outfits that look straight out of a Dickens novel.
Along with the flower stalls, the Columbia Road shops (open on Sundays) are pretty top-notch too. Between the pair of us we bought cards from Ryantown (artist Rob Ryan’s shop), homemade cakes from a delightfully-named bakery and gift shop called Treacle and two gold buttons from Beyond Fabrics for my daughter’s coat.
From there it was just a brisk walk (it was blooming cold) round to Brick Lane. Famed for its curry houses and vintage shops, the place was as busy as Oxford Street in the pre-Christmas rush. Street artists sat sketching, visitors queued up to buy curries and bagles (tucking in appreciatively as they walked down the street) and old and young alike played chess and a game called Carrom (apparently a cross between draughts and billiards) at outdoor board tables.
Hmmm. Curry, flowers and board games – what better way to spend a Sunday afternoon?
Images: Columbia Road (top), Arnold Circus (above)