Columbia Road, London, First Stop Cake Hole


Several weeks ago I arrived in London after the red eye from Boston. It was a Sunday morning, but noontime by the time I’d settled in my hotel. The bed was calling me, but not as strongly as the Sunday-only markets of London. I set out for Columbia Road and its famous Sunday flower market and quirky vintage, art, and design shops—many with limited open hours on any other day of the week.

I have a lilt in my step. I am in London, and I love the place. My parents brought me here as a child and I keep returning—like a moth to flame. {Only not singed by the light, but illuminated.} London has sights to break ones’ heart, but also beauty and ingenuity to fuel hours, weeks, months, years of creative endeavors. For me, at least.

So onto the Tube train—smelling familiar like shoe leather, hint of tobacco, mesh of cooking spice, body odors and damp newspaper. On the familiar Northern Line—the one I lived closest to when I spent a college term in London—I head north to Old Street Station. From here a short walk brings me to one end of Columbia Road, chock full of wonders.

First, I need sustenance. It occurs to me that I last ate something on the airplane hours—seeming lifetimes—ago.

Vintage Heaven and Cake Hole {the cafe through and behind} lure me in. Vintage Heaven is true to its name—a beautifully curated shop of color-grouped cups, plates and teapots. Books, textiles, and various ephemera linger among the kitchen goods, paired for color and theme very cleverly. I would take most of the shop’s contents home with me, but this is day one of an eleven day trip, and I can’t coddle breakables from here to Paris and home.

A small apple green book called Wild Life of Britain, with a jaunty illustrated squirrel on the cover, is the backdrop for a tableaux of jade cups and saucers. Its binding is slightly damaged, and as I buy it the shop’s owner and I discuss the beauty of the book. She says how some would pass over it for the marks on the top of the spine. It does look like a mouse has snacked on it. But I prefer to imagine a squirrel is the one who took a bite, and say so aloud. She and I laugh at this idea and page through admiring the illustrations and sampling bits of the writing by author F. Fraser Darling (whose name is yet another reason why I choose to buy this book).

If you are ever in East London on a Sunday go to Vintage Heaven and chat with the owner. She is marvelous and so is her shop.

Cake Hole is just the place to sit with my new book and eat my first meal in London (and drink my first cup of quality English tea). The cafe is intimate and charming, with some of the qualities of Vintage Heaven spilling over into its decor. Throughout the shop and cafe mismatched Scrabble letters are used to label things—tea, scones, Victoria sponge cake.

I share my table with two different couples—both friendly and carting their flower purchases and other goodies from their amble on Columbia Road. My smoked salmon sandwich and scone with jam and clotted cream are served upon 70s era china. The tea takes a swing at my mild jetlag headache and the food is a good start to establishing me in Greenwich Mean Time, plus one.

More Columbia Road discoveries coming soon. Stay tuned.


Join the discussion and tell us your opinion.

kate Georgereply
October 7, 2012 at 11:04 am

One of the places I love in England is a town called Muzzle which is actually spelled Mouse Hole! Cake Hole sounds better. God, I need to get back to Great Brittain. I so love going there.

Sue Schlabach 129twigandvinereply
October 10, 2012 at 11:03 am
– In reply to: kate George

Kate! Great time last night. Maybe Cake Hole is really pronounced Cuckle? I’d love to visit Mouse Hole someday.

October 7, 2012 at 11:39 am

Columbia Road with the Cake Hole is such a great place. Glad you did it there !

Sue Schlabach 129twigandvinereply
October 10, 2012 at 11:04 am
– In reply to: Britta

Someday we’ll go together, Britta.

October 7, 2012 at 12:18 pm

Makes me want to head for London!

The Siren’s Talereply
October 7, 2012 at 7:43 pm

Gorgeous, inspiring photos and writing as always!

October 8, 2012 at 11:13 am

Lovely shop feature on Vintage Heaven!
I had the opportunity to study Art History abroad in London during graduate school, and wish I would have known about this shop back then! 🙂

Wishing you all the best,
Mary (from BYW Bootcamp)

Sue Schlabach 129twigandvinereply
October 8, 2012 at 11:16 am
– In reply to: marycnasser

Thanks Mary. Great to meet you!

October 8, 2012 at 5:33 pm

Sounds delightful!

October 9, 2012 at 7:04 am

I’m fortunate enough to live very close to Columbia Market. Unfortunately, I don’t take advantage of it enough! I have been to Columbia Road on numerous occasions for dinner, but I’ve only been to the flower markets once. You have inspired me to go this weekend. Maybe…

Sue Schlabach 129twigandvinereply
October 10, 2012 at 11:09 am
– In reply to: creeped

I hope you get there on an upcoming Sunday. I liked the feel of the neighborhoods around there. Lucky you. I wish I’d had time to eat or drink at Printers and Stationers. Have you been there?

October 9, 2012 at 6:54 pm

Great post. I love Cake Hole too – such a great name. Next time you come to the market please do pop in to the little shop we’ve just opened at Top Floor, 144 Columbia Road. It’s a bit hidden away, through a narrow doorway and up a flight of old wooden stairs opposite the Royal Oak, but it’s full of art, design and interesting objects. There’s also a great view of the market and down the cobbles of Ezra Street from up there..

Sue Schlabach 129twigandvinereply
October 10, 2012 at 11:07 am
– In reply to: livewithmeblog

I’m sorry I missed you last month. Your shop looks like a trove of delights. I walked up Ezra Street onto Columbia Road so I was so, so close. Next time for sure.

Welsh Countryside on a London Street «reply
November 29, 2012 at 7:49 am

[…] I left you on Columbia Road in London, not so long ago, was Vintage Heaven and Cake Hole. Oh to be there today, nibbling cake and sipping tea. I am, however content to be here this […]

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