Somehow, in eighteen months of blogging about my favourite things I have managed to omit Walthamstow. In my defence, there didn’t seem to be much of a rush before as its pleasures were a secret shared only by fellow Stow dwellers. But now, after a lovely couple of days mooching along the annual E17 Art Trail, and as the hipster tide seeps inexorably up the Leabridge Road out of Dalston, I feel the need to set down the definitive the Markontour Guide to the Stow.
The Castle, Grosvenor Rise East, The Village
Our local and the place where I come when I’ve forgotten my house keys. Good pub grub, decent ales and a laid-back atmosphere amidst shelves of books and local art.
Nags Head, The Village
The sister pub to the Castle, the Nags Head is our summertime favourite in the Village, courtesy of a large garden. Serving the best wine selection of any pub in E17, the Nags Head also offers live jazz on a Sunday, a book swap service, and a ‘Spin a Disc’ night on Mondays, where punters can bring in their old vinyl for a public airing. We’ve never been convinced by the food, but there are plenty of other options nearby.
Ye Olde Rose and Crown, Hoe Street
E17’s theatre pub, the upstairs room now has a proper stage and is a venue for music and comedy as well as plays. Downstairs, live music features with increasing regularity, alongside some good IPAs and a pool table. On Friday night, pizzas are available from a pop-up stall outside the pub.
The Chequers, 145 High Street
One of many recently refurbished E17 pubs, this was a scruffy market boozer for most of the thirteen years I have been in Walthamstow. But in its latest incarnation it seems to be rediscovering some of its historic pomp (there has been a pub on the spot since in the late seventeeenth century, although the current building dates from a century later), with good food, with a decent range of vegetarian/fish options, and an ever-changing variety of quality ales.
The Bell, Forest Road
Handily close to the Wiliam Morris Gallery, the Bell is a sizeable gastro-pub which was comprehensively refurbished towards the end of 2013.
Queens Arms, Orford Road, The Village
Until this year the only reason to enter this ale house was to watch the football. Following a comprehensive re-fit, however, the Queens Arms has re-invented itself as a gastro-pub to compete with the Castle, with equally friendly service and now with great vegetarian options.
Wild Card Brewery, The Village
E17’s first micro-brewery, hidden away in a small industrial estate at the back of the village, is open for aled-drinkers Friday to Sunday. The owners hail from the Midlands and so know how to make a decent ale, each named after a playing card. What’s not to like..
We slightly over-did this place when we first moved to Walthamstow and it was one of only two decent local places to eat (along with La Ruga). So it was nice to go back last week and find that it is still serving reliably good European food at reasonable prices, along with a great dessert menu. What happened to the crispy parsnips though?
Fish is what La Ruga does and it does it very well. An intsitution in the Village for as long as we have been here, La Ruga remains the best restaurant in town, although even the ultra-friendly service won’t compensate proper vegetarians for the fact that the menu is entirely flesh-based.
Museums & Galleries
William Morris Gallery, Forest Road
The sign outside tells you it won museum of the year and it deserved too. Following a masterful restoration a few years ago, the William Morris Gallery is now deservedly packed out every weekend. The standing exhibition charts the life of the eponymous socialist designer, author, and pamphleteer, and is nicely divided between his political and artistic life. But what really keeps the punters coming back is a great run of temporary exhibitions, that has so far featured Grayson Perry and Jeremy Deller, amongst others. Plus, there’s a great cafe and the lovely Lloyd Park to wander through after you’ve done the museum.
A little gem at the top of the village, the Vestry is a former police station that now houses a decent set of local history exhibits, plus a beautiful little garden, and regular exhibitions. Currently hosting the ‘Walthamstow International Film Festival’. Well situated near the Nags Head.
Hornbeam Centre, Hoe Street
A brilliant little cafe / organic veg stall / music venue / recycling project at the corner of our road. Great vegan cakes, organic wine, and the place to find out about interesting things happening locally. Occasional bike doctor visits on a Saturday, and the place from which to order your organic compost for the garden. I wish it would open for drinks more often on a Friday or Saturday evening and then I would have the most local of locals.
Blackduke and Cashman, Grove Road, The Village
A second-hand furniture store of some class, hidden away on a road that otherwise has nothing to distinguish it since the pub that used to do musical-hall karaoke shut down.
Michael’s Barbers, Hoe Street
Being rather severly follically challenged I can’t expect anyone to listen to my advice on a good hairdressers, but Michael’s barber shop is an institution and expert scissor-wielders, Nick, Steve and David, have got to be the nicest blokes in the business. Oh, and, ‘Only Fools and Horses’ is on repeat on the dvd player.
Spar, Orford Road, The Village
This has got to be the poshest Spar in the world, offering top-notch beers and wine, a great range of delicatessen cheeses, Pieminster pies, an extensive choice of dark chocolate, and the full Ecover cleaning product range. And there’s a take-away stone-baked pizza place in-situ. A dream local store, which I just discovered was voted the country’s best convenience store in 2011!
There were two principle reasons that my partner and I moved to Walthamstow: (1) it was the only place near at Tube stop that we could afford to buy our first home; (2) access to the Lea Valley. While house prices have sky-rocketed, easy access to nature remains one of E17’s biggest selling points. Every weekend I pedal up or down the Lea river path, to say hello to the ducks at the mill pond nature reserve, salute the herons at Walthamstow Marshes, or try (and fail) to spot a bittern up at Seventy Acres Lake. Hollow Ponds, the titular subject of a track on Damon Albarn’s first solo album, are a short jog up the road, and marks the the southerly point of Epping Forest. This was Dick Turpin’s stalking ground when dandy highwaymen were in vogue. And as I write this, our resident blackbird is staking his claim to the gardens of the Bakers Almshouse gardens.
Subject of Damon Albarn’s childhood memories on the track of the name, Hollow Ponds up by Whipps Cross hospital mark the southern boundary of Epping Forest, and the northen end of a 5k run from my house! Trees, boating, and lots of ducks.