Camden isn’t generally known for its peace and quiet. With over 100,000 visitors at the weekend, you end up trudging through an endless stream goths, punks, ravers and emo kids. But if you’ve got a free hour, you can be surrounded by much more interesting creatures. Just ten minutes’ walk from the market, you can be watching wild boar or gawping at giraffes — and it won’t cost you anything.
If you turn right out of the tube on to Camden High Street and walk up to the bridge, you may be greeted by the sound of birdsong. Unfortunately, it will be a hawker selling those irritating bird noise things you put in your mouth. No, I don’t get it either — but the Spanish tourists seem to be impressed.
Head down to the canal tow path and walk past the Lockside Lounge, making a quick diversion round the stalls, then continue up the path with the Holiday Inn to your left. Your safari appetite may be whetted by the ducks, geese and occasional heron that nest on the canal sides. Hardly David Attenborough territory, I know, but in late spring when the goslings, ducklings and cygnets are having their first dips in the water, it’s all right.
After 5 mins, you’ll reach the Chinese floating restaurant. Continue for 5 more mins and across the water you’ll be able to see the outskirts of the zoo.
On your right you’ll see the distinctive Snowdon Aviary (it resembles a half- collapsed tent) where you’ll be able to see peacocks and ibises.
But if you’re with Australians, don’t expect them to be impressed as the beaky freaks can be seen shoulder to shoulder with pigeons and seagulls in the city parks down under. If you're lucky you'll get to see a pigeon displaying all its plumage, but it depends if they're feeling fruity.
On your left, over the canal, there is a pack of African hunting dogs. They could be sleeping or stalking around like hyenas with their ears picked up. They’re quite happy to take on wildebeest, so it’s quite reassuring to have the canal between you and them.
A few metres on and you’ll be able to catch sight of wild boars digging in the mud or rolling around in the dust. From there, walk under the bridge and up the path immediately afterwards. Cross the bridge and you will have a closer view of the boars.
Just after the bridge, on the left, you should be able to see the half-zebra half-giraffe weirdos known as okapi, who look like they’re wearing some stripy tights they nicked from the Stables market. Walk onto the road past the running track and turn left.
Immediately on the left you’ll walk past zebras, then (if it’s a nice day) the giraffes will be out chewing leaves and erm, that’s all they do really – but it’s more interesting than watching Winehouse wannabes flocking towards the Hawley Arms.
50 metres on, if you look through the bushes, you may be able to spot a large sand mound. This is the top of the meerkats enclosure. If you’re lucky there might be one stood on the top. There’s always supposed to one of the pack looking out for birds of prey apparently, but they might have worked out by now that the vultures are safely locked up.
From there, cross over the road and walk up the path into Regent’s Park. The zoo is just over the fence on the right. There isn’t much to see here, apart from the occasional parrot. As you approach the ‘pillar’ in the middle, you might be able to catch sight of an ostrich-like rhea or, if he’s out and about the resident anteater Julio.
I always thought I knew what anteaters looked like from the pink panther cartoons, but this is one weird-looking fella – basically a hairy hoover attachment covered in an old rug then stuffed in a Corby trouser press. You’ll know if he’s out by the cries of ‘what the hell is that’, the screams of children and laughter of adults.
If you turn right at the fountain and follow the path, keeping the hedge on the right, after 5 minutes you’ll return to the bridge you crossed earlier. Any animals who weren’t playing the game earlier, might be on show now. On the way there, you should be able to (7) see glimpses of camels, ostriches and groovy gophers and, disappointingly sheep.
From there you can either retrace your steps to Camden, or walk for another 15 minutes in the opposite direction up to Little Venice. All in all you can do the walk in 45 mins at a push, or a leisurely hour.
Sadly it can’t be guaranteed you’ll see all, or any of the animals mentioned, but it won’t have cost you a bean. The only way you can guarantee sightings is by visiting the zoo. And the ones you’ll see on the walk are just a taster of what’s on offer. Lions, tigers, monkeys, snakes, crocs and bears wait just over the fence…
For more details on visiting London Zoo see www.zsl.org
(All pictures used were taken on the walk)