The north Londoner’s guide to Pokémon Go

PUBLISHED: 16:37 20 July 2016 | UPDATED: 16:52 21 July 2016

L-r: A Poliwag at the Vale of Health; A Horsea on the Heath; A Poliwhirl in Church Row, Hampstead

L-r: A Poliwag at the Vale of Health; A Horsea on the Heath; A Poliwhirl in Church Row, Hampstead


You’ve read the scare stories, you’ve heard people talk about it, but do you know what Pokémon Go really is? And did you know that north London is a particularly great place to play it?

Hampstead Heath is a great place to collect water, grass and woodland-dwelling PokémonHampstead Heath is a great place to collect water, grass and woodland-dwelling Pokémon

I’m not a big one for video games, I tend to regard anyone I see playing Candy Crush on the tube with disdain – “you’re an adult, read the paper,” I want to scream at them.

But Pokémon Go is supposedly different. I’ve heard of too many weekends lost wholesomely chasing cartoon animals with ridiculous names around Hampstead Heath not to be intrigued.

My colleague Imogen, is a huge fan and early adopter – five years younger than me, she was also a fan of the original Japanese Game Boy game when it came out in the 1990s – it also spawned a cartoon series, which is where the catchy “Pokémon, gotta catch ‘em all!” slogan comes from.

North London is a great place to play Pokémon Go, Imogen tells me – and she swears she’s not just saying that for the sake of a feature on everyone’s new favourite subject. But why would that be?

Well, for starters Imogen hails originally from the wilds of rural Suffolk. Firing up her app when she got to Nowhere-in-the-Sticks on a visit home last weekend she was greeted by a desolate landscape with not a Pokémon, Pokéstop or Pokégym in sight.

The difference between Pokémon Go in Suffolk (left) and Hampstead (right)The difference between Pokémon Go in Suffolk (left) and Hampstead (right)

It was as if the virtual nuclear apocalypse had arrived. Urban areas are far better populated with Pokémon paraphernalia than most rural ones as there are so many more people participating and adding features.


Six of our favourite Pokéstops in Hampstead

What is Pokémon Go and how do you play it?

North London also has a fabulously varied topography – if you want to catch a water Pokémon, a Tentacool for example, your best bet is to head to the Heath ponds, or the Regent’s Canal in Little Venice; on Parkland Walk you might find a Caterpie in the trees while Highgate Cemetery is the ideal breeding ground for a Jinx. And as in real London life where you’re never more than 10 feet from a rat, in urban Pokémon Go, you’re sure to encounter several Rattata, their Pokémon equivalents.

A Rattata on Finchley RoadA Rattata on Finchley Road

The game has its roots in an equally dorky sounding augmented reality game Ingress, which was based around user-generated portals, typically associated with buildings and landmarks of historic or architectural significance. Those landmarks have now become Pokéstops, represented as blue towers on the map.


Meet the neighbours: A walking tour of Hampstead’s blue plaques

A walking (and property buying) tour of Camden’s Modernist estates

This is another reason north London is a great place to play Pokémon Go – because the original Ingress portals were created following player requests, portals are more densely located in more highly populated areas, like London, and in areas with high numbers of plaques, public art, and historic sites. Can Hampstead be beaten in this respect? I don’t think so.

Imogen Blake, Pokémon master, demonstrating the game in Ham&High HQImogen Blake, Pokémon master, demonstrating the game in Ham&High HQ

On my guided beginners’ tour with Imogen we discover a whole host of hidden treasures, things we pass every day without noticing or knowing a thing about.

This is a particular joy in an area like Hampstead where so much of the history is so well trodden it’s easy to become blasé.

We’ve rounded up a few of our favourites discovered around Hampstead and Swiss Cottage but there are sure to be many more nuggets throughout Hampstead and Highgate.

For all you’ve heard of street robberies, injuries and car crashes associated with Pokémon Go, it’s worth bearing in mind this positive side of the game.

I would recommend firing it up yourself – you never know what you might discover on your own street and it’s easy enough to get past the general silliness of being an adult discussing your rare Pokémon catch for the trade off of being out and about exploring with fresh eyes.

Spend the summer chasing PokémonSpend the summer chasing Pokémon

And if you (or your children) are going to waste the summer playing video games, you might as well be outside getting some exercise while you do it.

If all this still seems like so much gibberish then be sure to read Imogen’s indispensable guide to playing the game.

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