Over Ground

Forget the London Tube - step into the light and see a new side to England’s capital by taking the overground Ginger Line.

If you’ve glanced at a London Tube map recently, you might have noticed a tangle of orange double-strands. That’s the London Overground - aka the ‘Ginger Line’. Spanning about a dozen stops when it was first launched in 2007, the network has expanded rapidly. The so-called ‘Overground Effect’ has transformed both sides of the River Thames, making previously poorly connected areas more desirable to Londoners and providing a raft of ‘new’ neighbourhoods for visitors to explore off the usual tourist track. Here are a few of the standouts.

Dalston Junction

French expat Celine Neveux didn’t even know Dalston existed when she moved to London in 2013, but she quickly grew attached to this fast-evolving district in the borough of Hackney, in the north-east of the city. “For me, the Overground is the most interesting line in London and it’s because of places like Dalston,” explains the 32-year-old. “The vibe here is multicultural, but very ‘local’. There are fewer chains and tourists than in the centre and most of the shops and businesses are quirky and independent.”

Emerging from the slick new Dalston Junction station, you’ll find a slew of hip venues hidden amid a mash-up of Victorian and Edwardian brick buildings, soaring modern apartments and brownfield sites earmarked for development. Near Dalston’s Peace Carnival Mural (a huge artwork that featured on the cover of Home, the debut album by Hackney band Rudimental), the Dalston Eastern Curve Garden is a green oasis that has sprouted on an old railway line. Dalstonites grow fruit and vegetables here, partake in craft workshops and mingle over juices, coffees and wines beneath bird-speckled trees.

On summer evenings the garden is spiked with the aromas of Street Feast - a burger and taco-filled pop-up food market in the neighbouring Dalston Yard. Warm weather also jolts bar and events space Dalston Roof Park to life. This plushly turfed English garden crowns an old stationery warehouse above left-field live music magnet Cafe Oto. Also check out nearby drama haven the Arcola Theatre, and discreet Provencal-infused eatery Merci Marie. Dalston has plenty of buzzing caffeine dens. Try Briggs & Williams, Route cafe/deli or Allpress, which occupies a converted joiner’s factory.

Despite massive changes, pockets of old-school Dalston endure. Ridley Road Market is a riot of cockney banter - as well as ladies’ fashion, fresh produce and exotic herbs and spices from Asia, Africa and the Caribbean - across the way from Dalston Kingsland Overground station.

It fronts onto Kingsland Road, a traffic-throbbing thoroughfare linking the city to London’s far-northern suburbs. Its pavements are lined with everything from kebab shops and fried chicken joints to buzzing bars, charity stores and hair (and beard grooming) salons of varying levels of cool.

Haggerston

Just one stop from Dalston Junction, Haggerston is located by Regent’s Canal. Heading west out of the station leads you to The Fox craft beer house and vintage clothes outlet Storm in a Teacup. Amble south and you’ll reach the canal via Acton Mews, where Draughts, a board game cafe, and Trip Space Projects cultural centre are flourishing beneath railway arches.

Veer right on the canal towpath, dodging joggers and cyclists, and you’ll be on the ‘Haggerston Riviera’, a barge-lined stretch overlooked by cafes, arts venues and shared working units such as The Proud Archivist, where flat white-fuelled creatives beaver away and comedy, history and politics flavour a calendar of events. A recent guest was Russell Brand, who runs the non-profit Trew Era Cafe in the New Era Estate, where he has joined protests in support of residents facing eviction from developers eager to capitalise on London’s property boom.

Hyper-gentrification has already happened in neighbouring Hoxton, where you’ll find lots of Vietnamese eateries and cutting-edge galleries such as Kunstraum. Shoreditch High Street - the epicentre of east London’s creative scene - is the gateway to the curry houses of Brick Lane. If you fancy bedding down in the area, the 258-room Ace Hotel attracts a fashionable crowd.

New Cross

While most of the network operates overground, parts delve beneath the surface - notably when it swoops under the Thames. Fifteen minutes from Whitechapel - a bustling Tube-Overground interchange - New Cross is worth going south of the river for. It has long had an arty reputation, with Oscar-winning director Steve McQueen and BritArt icon Sam Taylor-Johnson among the alumni of Goldsmiths, University of London, a stone’s throw from the station. Students rub shoulders with locals at the Amersham Arms, a live music hub, while there’s a more mature crowd at The Royal Albert thanks to a great selection of beer and posh versions of pub-grub classics. Over at The New Cross House, pizza and an ivy-tickled beer garden draws punters.

A short walk from the brunch-tastic London Particular, Deptford High Street is a down-to-earth strip lined with greasy spoon caffs. On Saturdays, the street and its adjoining squares are cluttered with market stalls. Further up, beside trendy tattoo parlour Kids Love Ink, The Waiting Room does good vegetarian and vegan fare with coffee and smoothies. Its brie and mango chutney bagel goes well with a fresh squeezed juice. Cool local pub The Duke hosts stand-up comedy, jazz nights and ‘the Deptford Dub Club’ - a blend of reggae, ska and rocksteady.  

Peckham Rye

For years, Peckham was synonymous with Only Fools and Horses, the British TV sitcom centred around the lovably roguish exploits of Del Boy and Rodney Trotter. You won’t see many yellow Reliant Regals - the brothers’ vehicle of choice - whizzing about these days, but Peckham is still a mecca of wheeler-dealing. Its vibrant centre is jammed with sensory-jolting butchers and fishmongers, as well as covered and open-air markets heaving with African fashions and delicacies and local farmers’ produce. It’s also seriously hip.

Perched on the 10th floor of a disused multistorey car park, Frank’s is one of London’s best summer pop-ups - a fusion of visual art, music, theatre, film, literature and food and drink, with spectacular city panoramas. A happening year-round arts space is The CLF Art Cafe, in the nearby warehouse-like Bussey Building.

Peckhamites love to hang out by the arches of Peckham Rye station, with Bar Story and Brick Brewery perfect for craft beer buffs. Next door, Peckham Springs is a part-gallery, part-cocktail bar where you can sample street food such as Ghanaian chicken wraps and burgers from the ever-present food trucks parked outside. Of the cluster of tantalising eateries on neighbouring streets, Miss Tapas is especially lovely; an intimate Spanish restaurant with exposed brick walls and reclaimed barrels serving as tables. Dishes such as manchego with honey, and quail eggs and chorizo get rave reviews. Prefer your tapas Thai-style? Don’t miss The Begging Bowl. For a taste of ‘old’ Peckham, make a beeline for M Manze. It’s one of London’s most traditional purveyors of pie, mash and jellied - or stewed - eels.

5 More Enticing Overground Stops

Hampstead Heath

The train drops you at this huge green space, where wooded trails, meadows and swimming ponds delight outdoorsy types. Head to the Freemasons Arms (32 Downshire Hill) for a post-heath pint.

Forest Hill

Hidden gems pepper this London suburb, notably the eclectic Horniman Museum and Gardens (100 London Rd), where you’ll find an aquarium, stuffed animals and ethnic artefacts.

Hackney Wick

Just west of Olympic Park, Hackney Wick’s gritty industrial relics have morphed into galleries, studios and canal-side establishments such as The Counter Cafe (7 Roach Rd).

Crouch Hill

This sloping, strollable slice of north London has independent bookshops, restaurants and watering holes such as The Old Dairy (1–3 Crouch Hill), an ornate dairy-turned-pub.

Brockley

One stop south of New Cross Gate, Brockley is a leafy ‘village’ with gourmet fish and chip shops, fancy delis and rustic-chic eateries such as The Gantry (188 Brockley Rd).  

Steve McKenna - Published in Voyeur May 2016
Quick Facts 
Population Approx. 8 million
Area 1,572 km²
Time Zone GMT 0
Languages English (official)
Currency Pound (£GBP)
Electricity 230V with 50Hz frequency. 240V may also be found although 230V is the official voltage
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