On a fine spring morning one February, I made my way towards The Stables on Chalk Farm Road in Camden. As I approached, I was struck by height of the tall sandstone walls flanking the entrance, their warm brown hue of brick glistening in the sunlight. What was once home to stalls and a hospital for the hard-working horses of North London was now one of the most famous markets in the world.
A flurry of activity greeted me inside the gates, like a mise-en-scene at once a brace of colour and shape and sound. People milled about and skittered in all directions like autumn leaves on a windy day, the sound of their heels click-clacking on the cobblestone flags. Immediately to my left, clear perspex-covered stalls stood side by side along the wall and the thrill of exploration took over as I immersed myself in the contents of each welcoming nook. Vivid art works, spice-scented candles, statement trinkets and a vast array of clothing were on offer. In one niche, pret-a-porter fashion designs called to me, unusual in their shape and style. I brushed by a sapphire blue faux fur jacket with delight as the silky-soft textile slid between my fingers.
A sense of warmth emanated from a neighbouring alcove and drew me in, the glow of stringed lights displayed by a smiling Thai. In the background, his wonderful lilting voice sounded a sing-song of staccato as he spoke with other customers. I settled on crimson lanterns strung on a thin white cord and left with my purchase, gladdened by the dash of my coins against the metal money box.
I passed by a Rasta shop, all reds and yellows and greens, where the rhythm of Steel Pulse pounded out slowly, a momentary distraction. Smiling people drifted by in two’s and threes, and the earthy aroma of dark roast coffee filled the air. Turning a corner, a makeshift hipster bar with rough-hewn tables fashioned from upcycled wooden pallets tried to entice; tinny beats emanated as a young man complete with man bun handed out flyers. I beat a path past a sculpture of a giant metallic black horse and stepped quickly down a slope into a large cobbled yard with walled buildings on both sides.
Entering a large cave-like room with a vibrant display of coloured delph, resplendent in turquoise blues and emerald greens, I fought the urge to buy, fearing a crash of smithereens in my luggage on next day’s flight and left empty-handed. Across the way, bejewelled Indian tapestries hung from ceiling to floor in an alluring shop, overflowing at the doors with cloth and jewel and bead. A sudden waft of cooking and the clamour of voices led me out into the open air again, where hordes of people sat at dining benches with plate upon plate of mouth-watering food: Indian, Chinese, Spanish, Mexican, Italian, so much choice! I finally settled on a meatless pizza with a mug of hot black coffee and slowly savoured my aromatic fare. The rich mushrooms and earthy spinach infused with garlic contrasted delectably with the fresh juicy pineapple and full-flavoured cheddar. I sat a while and watched the world go by.
All too soon it was time to go. Making my way to the exit, I paused for a photo with the stunning bronze of Amy Winehouse, one-time resident of Camden and took a lingering leave of The Stables. Someday soon, I hope to return.