Hackney top 10: places to discover in 2016

A hugely diverse and multicultural community, Hackney harbours a wonderful array of sights and stories that surprise and delight.

Think you already know the borough? Make it your mission to seek out these 10 lesser-known Hackney spots in 2016.

1. Clown Museum

The engaging Clown Museum is in Holy Trinity, where the clown community used to hold its annual church service; this now takes place at nearby All Saints (first Sun in Feb). Among the exhibits are Coco the Clown’s last costume and the fascinating Clowns International Egg Register, a form of clown-face patenting whereby a look is painted onto a carefully stored egg.

2. Umit & Son and Ciné-real

Umit & Son (35 Lower Clapton Road) is an extraordinary and fantastically jumbled shop selling cinema collectibles, including rare Soviet cameras, Super 8 and Super 16 reels, VHS tapes, posters and toys. Umit is the projectionist at Ciné-real, a not-for-profit 16mm film club, where film fans can share their love of the medium. See the likes of Jaws, Cathy Come Home and Bicycle Thieves at lovely café The Russet.

3. West Reservoir Centre

Take to the water at this surprisingly huge Stoke Newington reservoir and enjoy an open-water swim, plus sailing and kayaking classes for both kids and adults. The neighbouring east reservoir is a wetlands nature reserve.

4. Ship of Adventures

This ship-shaped shop, kitted out like a galleon, supports the work of brilliant literacy charity Hackney Pirates. Browse Hackney guides and audio projects created by local children, and buy jewellery handmade by HP volunteers, ethical gifts and kids’ books. There’s also a zero-waste café.

5. National Centre for Circus Arts

The erstwhile Shoreditch Electric Light Station is now home to the improbable National Centre for Circus Arts, which runs a BA honours degree and recreational courses.

6. Rhythm Studio Rock and Pop Academy

A chance for parents to say ‘it wasn’t like this in my day’, as their kids spend a week forming a band, recording a CD and finally getting a gig at a local venue. In addition, they can join production classes learning composition, video-making, remixing and DJing. Rhythm Studio East also runs regular classes, with one-to-one tuition or band sessions.

7. Stamford Road’s Mole Man

De Beauvoir was the location for one of Hackney’s weirder happenings, exposed when a 2.5m hole appeared in Stamford Road in 2001. It turned out that electrical engineer William Lyttle, aka the Mole Man, had spent forty years excavating tunnels and caverns under his twenty-room home, some up to 18m long and 8m deep. An unrepentant Lyttle was evicted, and after his death in 2010 the derelict house was sold. The new artist owners are restoring it, keeping some of the caverns in situ.

8. Bellerby & Co

Bellerby & Co makes beautiful old-fashioned terrestrial and celestial globes, handcrafted in a Stokey warehouse and sold around the world.

9. Castle Climbing Centre

Based in a brilliantly eccentric castle-like folly (a Victorian pumping station redesigned in the 1990s by Nicholas Grimshaw, architect of the Eden Project), Castle Climbing features varied bouldering surfaces and more than 450 roped and led routes from 8 to 13m high. In the dramatic surrounds you’ll also find the Castle Café, a sustainable café, where much of the delicious and affordable food comes from the kitchen garden.

10. Georgian Orthodox Cathedral Church

North of Clapton Common, the Georgian Orthodox Cathedral Church was built by the Somerset-based nineteenth-century Agapemonite sect and funded by their wealthy female recruits, with whom the founder and his successor enthusiastically practised free love. The interior, restored by the Georgian Orthodox Church, is dazzling, with a wide hammer-beam roof and Art Nouveau/Arts and Crafts stained glass, some of it inspired by William Blake’s fiery images of the apocalypse.