No direction home? Dylan tries Crouch End

THE TIMES they may be a- changin' for Crouch End, a stretch of north London that estate agents used to talk up by referring to it as 'Highgate borders'.

A trickle of mildly glamorous media types who have recently made their homes in the suburb, perched near fashionable Highgate and Hampstead, include the disc jockey Andy Kershaw, the writer and director Anthony Minghella (Truly, Madly, Deeply), the television writer Laurence Marks (The New Statesman, Birds of a Feather), and Kara Noble, of Capital Radio's Chris Tarrant Show.

But now a name to eclipse them all is on the scene - Bob Dylan has been house- hunting in Crouch End.

The free-wheeling doyen of folk-rock, who already owns homes in California and New York, viewed a semi-detached house priced at around pounds 310,000 two weeks ago. Sandra Parker, who owns it with her husband, Stephen, answered the door to a tall man and a woman. 'Behind them was a little guy,' she said. 'I was a bit annoyed because they were an hour early and I told them to wait so I could get the dog out. When I realised who the little one was, I was speechless.'

The home has a large, secluded back garden, with a patio and a sloping lawn, one of the features which the estate agents say attracted Dylan.

Dylan, now 52, got to know Crouch End - the prosaic name is said to come from the Latin crux, a cross or crossroads, plus 'End', as it is at the eastern end of a valley - because Dave Stewart, formerly of the Eurythmics, lives there and owns a recording studio, The Church, just down the road. Dylan worked on an album there.

Dylan is also a regular at Shamrats, one of many local Indian restaurants (the district is reputed to have more than the whole of Austria). 'He was in here two weeks ago,' said the owner, Faruque Ali. 'I recognised him from the telly, but I'm more of a Beatles fan myself.'

Restaurants are an important reason for Crouch End's blossoming reputation: new ones include two of the most highly rated in London: Banners (Cajun/Mexican mixture, lots of wood, live Irish music, a fax machine, weird breakfasts, and couples who bring their babies) and Florians (traditional Italian, more than 60 types of grappa and, above all, no pizza).

In the Seventies, Crouch End was a popular retirement area for elderly London gangsters. It is still 'undiscovered', its humble roots evident. The only supermarket is the downmarket Budgens; nearby is a large Woolworth's. But upmarket giftshops sell iron candlesticks and 'home-made' cards and an organic hairdresser's is well established.

However, Dylan's possible arrival was not being viewed with unmitigated joy last week. Nick Jones, of Rock Around the Clock, a guitar shop which ranks among its customers another celebrated Bob - Geldof - commented: 'This is a great area for music, but Bob Dylan's past it. He used to be good, but he's rubbish now.'

Mr Jones need not worry and Crouch End residents should not count on property values soaring just yet. The estate agent says Dylan has not yet made an offer to buy the house.

(Photograph omitted)