Mixing with the Hill folk

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Chaos and confusion surround Notting Hill. The conflict between the haves and have nots is centuries old, as is its fluid identity - fighting for space on the broad banner of Notting Hill are the summer hedonism of the carnival, the dodgy underground station and some beautifully extravagant houses.

The problem starts with the title. Notting Hill was originally the name given to Campden Hill, a low peak to the north of High Street Kensington, which is the last in a low range of hills starting at Tower Hill. But to many people, the roads around Ladbroke Grove form the real heart of the area, something which borough maps confirm. To add to the confusion, Ladbroke Grove station was formerly called Notting Hill, before the title was reclaimed, leaving the old Notting Hill stranded on a pink limb of the Metropolitan Line. As with so much of post-underground London, it is an area which has become colloquially defined by its proximity to the tube. The gate of Notting Hill comes after the toll gates which stood here on the main London-Bath road, now an extension of the Bayswater Road.

The Notting Hill that attracts people today lies in the slipstream of the transient chaos of West London. In the underpass of the tube station, drugs are dealt and suspect rendezvous are kept, while above ground, a range of trendy second-hand shops attract customers from across the capital.

The well-stocked Music and Video Exchange chain has a number of shops in the area including two on Pembridge Road, as well as a book exchange, and a bike and computer exchange on Notting Hill Gate itself. The Retro chain on the same street, comprising Man, Woman and Home, offers kitsch clothes and design classics. It's the place to come for Sixties' Poole Pottery, Mickey Mouse clocks and Rolf Harris Stylophones.

The Calzone pizzeria on the corner of Pembridge Road and Kensington Park Road is the ideal place in which to showcase your purchases, as its high windows and prime location make it an unrivalled posing venue for the tortoise-shell glasses and capuccino brigade.

The Cafe at the Old Queen Elizabeth Laundry is a mellower option, serving an all-day Dutch breakfast known as a vitsmijter (pronounced "out-smiter"), and delicious toasted New York bagels.

In 1837, the Kensington Hippodrome Park racecourse was opened on 200 acres between Portobello Road and the notorious slums known as the Potteries, over towards Clarendon Road. John Whyte of Notting Hill leased the land from James Weller Ladbroke and had high hopes. An advert in the Sporting Magazine claimed boldly that it would be: "a racing emporium more extensive and attractive than Ascot or Epsom". An entrance to the course was through an arch at the junction of Pembridge Road and Kensington Park Road - on the approximate site of the recently restored green Cabman's shelter. Crowds congregated on the current site of St John's church on Lansdowne Crescent. This natural vantage point, halfway up Ladbroke Grove, offered a clear view of the horses circling the hill.

Sadly, the Hippodrome closed after four years and only 13 races, due in part to the clay soil which made the going permanently heavy, together with a desire to develop the area with swish housing in the style of Nash's Regent's Park development.

A perfect place to end a stroll is at the anarchic Coronet cinema, built in a low-key Italian Renaissance style. It is a rare cinematic haven for drinkers and smokers and encapsulates the contradictory nature of a area which seems to make its own rules as often as it breaks them.