Hot Spot islington & hoxton canalside, north london; Georgian houses by the Grand Union Canal rarely come on the market. So if you see one, you'll have to paddle quickly. By Robert Liebman
IF LITTLE Venice and Maida Vale are miles away, in west London, and mirages occur only in deserts and the movies, then this delightful vision of period canalside homes in Islington must be real.

As the Grand Union Canal passes Battlebridge Basin near King's Cross, en route to Hoxton, it tunnels invisibly beneath most of Islington. It then emerges on the edge of the Angel, at Colebrooke Row, in a pocket of gorgeous Georgian terraces along a section of canal that is mostly warehouse territory.

Unfortunately, this residential enclave is small; it contains barely a handful of houses, which rarely change hands. Tony Steer, branch manager of Kinleigh, Folkard & Hayward, says: "We conducted a survey and discovered that the Islington occupancy average is about four years. But these canalside properties are so spectacular that people tend to stay much longer, and they don't come up for sale often. Turnover on the other side of Noel Road is more like the Islington average."

The number of potentially available properties is further limited by the fact that almost none of these houses has been converted into flats.

The "other side" of Noel Road is the non-canal side. Of the two roads adjacent to the canal, Vincent Terrace is separated from it by the roadway and a fenced verge that allows no pedestrian access. The canal is distanced and remote, whereas the properties on the south side of Noel Road have gardens that gently slope all the way down to the canal footpath.

This area is exceptionally convenient as well as attractive. Nearby are Angel Tube station, City Road, and the boom town known as Upper Street.

But if the blue ribbon is a canalside property, the consolation prize is not so bad: attractive period properties are also available on the "wrong" side of Noel Road and in many nearby streets.

Until recently, almost no other canalside residential housing was available in this area, but several warehouse conversions closer to Hoxton will meet some of the current high demand.

The Royle Building on Wenlock Basin is a Thirties print works that will yield 90 units, most of which overlook the canal. The Canal Building, situated on Shepherdess Walk, is a long, L-shaped former manufacturer's warehouse being converted into 79 loft apartments. Other canalside commercial buildings will follow.

Closer to Hoxton, the nearby residential areas are fairly dreary, but a few character properties and attractive newly built flats and town houses add some lustre. Major cosmetic surgery to a pub bordering the canal is one of several signs of incipient gentrification.

This is a mostly forgotten part of Islington which, because it is terra incognita even to many of the area's estate agents, initially may best be explored solo. It lacks the amenities of the nearby Angel, but the City is within easy walking distance, and some early buyers will have struck gold when, as appears likely, values eventually soar. Determined prospectors could start digging in the area around Rosemary Branch Bridge.