As the Overground trundled its way eastwards, things began to change. Two guys, one in the loudest print shirt, and the other in a shiny blue suit, tight in all the wrong places, strutted like peacocks down the centre of the train. For too long I had been cooped up in the beautiful, but very predictable, Wandsworth common. I longed to change the vibe and immerse myself in a different, more creative, upbeat energy. Having consulted those in the know, Peckham seemed to be the place for the job. It was certainly looking that way.
I met my friend and we made our way out of the station and into the crowds. The reggae rang out. We passed a preacher, doing his best to convince us that religion was the way forward. He didn’t seem to be getting many takers. He was still there when we were heading home. A hard day’s work with very little to show for it I imagine.
We walked on towards Peckham library which apparently won the Stirling prize for architecture in 2000, and along Peckham High Street. We decided to give the jellied eels at the pie and mash shop a miss and instead, went straight to our lunch spot: Kudu, a South African restaurant.
Stepping through the velvet curtain, the bustle of the street gave way to the buzz of chatter. The decor was cosy and inviting. I loved the retro touches like the ruched curtains on the windows; just like you used to get in traditional Parisian brasseries. They had the same ones on the door of the loo. Luckily they were on the inside and not the outside to prevent it becoming some sort of peep show!!
The menu was interesting and refreshingly different… although possibly not the best choice if you are pescatarian as both us if pretty much are. We each decided on the aubergine dish in the picture which was beautifully presented and very tasty. Super friendly waiters enhanced the experience and we picked their brains on the coolest places to see in Peckham.
Our tour of Peckham
Armed with insider knowledge, we set off on our afternoon adventure. Passing shops selling all manner of things from vegetables I had never seen before, to spectacular wigs, and the kind of shirts I had seen modelled so confidently on the train, we reach our first stop: Peckham Levels….all six of them. Where else would you find an ugly multi-storey carpark converted into a really cool multi-use space? As we climbed the brightly colour staircase, we could sense we were on our way to something very different. And so it was.
The parking areas had been transformed and were home to an array of bars, restaurants and food stalls. We found ateliers, a yoga centre and even a beauty salon. The ramps remain but there are no cars going up and down them. Instead the walls, like most of them in Peckham, have been used as a canvas. It is truly unique.
Peckham is known for its creativity. Street art is everywhere. Galleries such as the Copeland Gallery host exhibitions of contemporary art. Even the street bollards are made by Anthony Gormley…obviously. When we spotted them in Bellendon Road, it struck me that they bridged the gap between the raw, urban creativity we had seen earlier and this very pretty but more ‘polite’ street of cafes, delis, gift shops and antique dealers.
On our way back, we skirted the edge of Peckham Rye, The green open space offered a breathing space from the pulsating heart of central Peckham before we turned back towards the station and into the fray once more. My mission was firmly accomplished. I felt energised and inspired and so grateful to be living in a city as vibrant and varied as London. As the train made its way towards the familiarity of Clapham Junction, I was already planning my next visit!