Thursday, October 31, 2013

NORTHERN: Up the line

According to my 1971 Guinness Book of Records, the world's longest continuous vehicular tunnel is the London Transport Board underground railway line from Morden to East Finchley via Bank. In use since 1939, it is 17 miles 528 yards long. Alas the record didn't hold into the 1980s, thanks to burrowing in Moscow, but this is still the longest continuous tunnel on the tube network. The ex-record-breaker provides the setting for the majority of today's end-to-end end journey up the Northern line, bar half a dozen open-air stations at the Barnet end of the line. By which I mean sorry, most of what follows is underground, so don't expect narrative excitement.

Morden is as far south as the Underground goes, so it's somewhat ironic that the station's on the Northern line. Charles Holden's consummate entrance is embedded in a parade of shops and offices, with passengers sweeping in beneath a chandelier, through a circular ticket hall and down to the platforms. There are five of these, but only three tracks, making Morden one of the few stations on the network where doors open on both sides. For the full tunnel experience make sure it's a High Barnet train you board, and so long as it's not rush hour you'll almost certainly be riding the correct route via Bank. The tunnel portal rears up only a few hundred yards beyond the station, extinguishing daylight for what'll be just under an hour.

South Wimbledon is the first of a number of very similar-looking stations. That's tiled and tubular, mostly white but with turquoise and then silvery grey tiles bordering each advertising panel. The roundels here have a slightly peculiar font that doesn't quite look the way you'd expect to see today, and at least one sign still says South Wimbledon (Merton), because that's really where this station is located. Colliers Wood has the same turquoise-grey-white pallete, plus a border of blue around the roundel board to complete the pattern. Then Tooting Broadway's the same (but busier), ditto the wonderfully named Tooting Bec, ditto Balham (gateway to the south). Even the adverts are much the same on every platform, but shuffled into a different order, from the latest Jessie J album to an Irish American Football game. By Clapham South (ditto) I have resorted to counting the number of consecutive high pitched beeps that play out every time the doors are about to shut. I make it 28, and I do not waver in that assertion further down the line.

Whoa, Clapham Common! Its island platform is almost unique on the underground, a long straight refuge with trains pulling in on both sides. I suspect there are several local residents who refuse to use this station, so queasy does the narrow giddying platform make them feel. I suspect that's also why so many passengers wait at the foot of the steps and then bundle into the rear carriage, to save having to negotiate past those lingering awkwardly further along. Clapham North looks much the same, but with a distinct kink - this the only other tube station still with its original island platform because nobody's ever had the money to dig anything wider. By now the train is probably rather full, as south London's residents crowd aboard the only rail service that can take them to the heart of town. But Stockwell acts as a release, its ever-so-convenient Victoria line connection attracting many from their seats. It also doesn't have that turquoise-grey-white look, having been upgraded to a more modern Victoria-like design in the 1960s.

Oval has that familiar colour scheme again, as does Kennington, but this time with a twist. Kennington's where the Northern line divides, one branch through the West End and the other through the City. These days trains rarely run directly onto the former, so another exodus sees passengers slipping across the passage to continue their "via Charing Cross" journey. Look, now there are seats again, and not that many people dashing aboard to sit on them. The decor at Elephant & Castle has been upgraded, almost sympathetically, with a more modern vinyl strip along the top of the platform. Borough meanwhile is a symphony in black, with the tiling detail for once reflecting the Northern line's designated colour. And it turns out London Bridge is precisely half an hour from Morden, almost all of which has been spent travelling directly beneath the same road (that's the A24/A3).

Here we are at Bank, the station that's going to see a major upgrade over the next few years. This northbound tunnel will survive, but had we been travelling south the tracks would eventually be converted to a passenger concourse. I breathe a sigh of relief at Moorgate because, after seventeen stations, finally an interesting group of passengers board who I'll be able to write about. They're a Japanese family - mum, dad and two young sons - who immediately pose for a thumbs-up photo (as tourists do on the tube). The youngest son is grinningly excitable and starts to squawk, which mother isn't at all keen on. "If you scream," she says, "a policeman will come and catch you and take you to jail." He squawks again, and indeed again, having ascertained that arrest is not imminent, but so endearingly that the rest of the carriage merely smiles.

By Old Street the social mix has switched from those departing South London to those journeying North. Trainers are swisher, carrier bags are hipper, and the tone is only lowered (at Angel) by a middle-aged man entering with a rolled-up music magazine protruding somewhat suggestively between his legs. I note that King's Cross St Pancras has brand new white-on-black tourist signs above the platforms pointing towards the British Library. These'll be really useful if you ever alight here, because now you can always follow these yellow arrows to avoid TfL sending you on an unnecessarily devious route to your destination. Interchange is much easier at Euston, a simple switcheroo across to the northbound Victoria line platform (although admittedly rather more complicated if heading anywhere else).

At Camden Town the last set of doors will not open. A recorded message announces this in advance of arrival, but the volume's not especially high and I think I was the only person in the last carriage to hear it. I deduced this when 21 people stood at Camden Town and walked towards the last set of doors, including the Japanese family who'd boarded earlier. They stood expectantly as absolutely nothing happened, then twigged they'd need to walk down the carriage to the penultimate doors to escape. Turning round the Japanese toddler proved problematic, blocking progress for a few crucial seconds, so when the door beep came there were still six would-be market-goers trapped aboard the train. This half dozen continued to Kentish Town (Chalk Farm wouldn't have been so bad), unexpectedly good-natured about their unnecessary diversion. But when quite so many people fail to spot an important announcement about not being able to alight, you have to wonder if there's a better way to get the message across.

The train's much emptier by Tufnell Park, or :TUFNELL:PARK: as the tiling on the platform wall has it. We're in the middle of a run of three Leslie Green stations, each with marvellous tiling similar to that seen on the original Piccadilly line. Kentish Town's signature hue is a darker brown, whereas Tufnell Park's is lighter, the colour of smokers' fingernails. Archway goes for emerald, and then Highgate breaks the pattern entirely with a much more clinical white and green, in matching style to the southern Hainault Loop.

And that's it for underground. We've been in the former record-breaking tunnel for 56 minutes as we emerge into daylight at East Finchley. This is a lovely Art Deco station, another of Charles Holden's, with semi-spiral stairwells rising (inaccessibly) within curved glass buildings on the platforms. At last there are views of London to enjoy, this the thick of suburban Barnet, as allotments, rooftops and a series of arched road bridges roll by. Finchley Central's flowerbeds are still blooming strong, alongside an array of pot plants and a small wishing well which would look more at home outside a bungalow. Ahead the tracks strike out for Mill Hill East, but the mainline veers right and the banks become a little woodier.

West Finchley has an almost rural air, Woodside Park definitely so. Both have short gabled shelters on their platforms with green and white wooden canopies, both have a lattice footbridge, and one even boasts a period signal box. Not so much happens passenger-wise this far up the line, not off-peak northbound, apart from a few local souls nipping aboard to go shopping in Barnet. Thence to Totteridge and Whetstone, one of the longest station names on the network, with the unexpected appearance of plain brick as the dominant building material. And then we're nearly at our destination, rising up on a viaduct at Underhill before waiting to dive into cutting once a final platform becomes available. The station at High Barnet is distinctly low, with a long ramp to climb to escape upwards towards the town centre. An hour and a quarter all told, joining two sides of London, to the most northern the Northern line gets.

NORTHERN: Down the line

The Northern line is essentially two entirely separate lines. That's not historical, it's a position TfL have been slowly edging towards with an eye on increased capacity. Outside peak hours they've split the line at Kennington, with trains on the Charing Cross branch turning back via an underground loop. If only Camden Town station could be upgraded then the line could be split full time, but TfL have never had the planning permission and sufficient money to make the break. Which means I can take a ride back down the line from Edgware and only repeat three of the 32 stations I travelled through yesterday on the way up.

Edgware was little more than a village when the Northern line arrived in 1924, but today the surrounding area's anything but. A run of decent shops is broken by the station's pillared frontage, with a taxi drop-off circle in front and a bland bus station tucked behind. Head inside and down the stairs and three spacious platforms are to be found beneath a wide iron arch. It feels like a proper terminus at the start of a journey to somewhere exciting, which may or may not be your description of Kennington 40 minutes hence. The indicator board offers no clues to how long it'll be before the next train departs, so you might rush unnecessarily, or you might saunter and miss the beeping doors. We'll assume the former.

The run to Burnt Oak is indicative of what's to come - the backs of gardens, the occasional overbridge, plenty of trees. The station's typical too, accessed from above down gentle steps to an island platform. The same at Colindale, though a little busier here, perhaps with folk departing the RAF Museum up the road. Thus far you've been allowed to take your bike on the train but no further. Ahead is a brief tunnel to negotiate beneath the M1 and bits of Hendon, only a minute long but enough for TfL to bar two-wheeled steeds forthwith. Before the tunnel portal watch out for the Met Police's Hendon training centre, and yes that really is a blue police box through the fence alongside the cadets' perimeter road.

The tracks emerge into cutting at Hendon Central, then skirt the longest edge of Hendon Park. Crossing the North Circular provides a grand panorama, from a hilltop spire round to Wembley's arch, plus the largest shopping centre in northwest London. Brent Cross isn't quite ideally located for its eponymous mall - that's on the opposite side of a brutal arterial roundabout, which is what happens when you open the tube station first rather than second. Nice station entrance, by the way, very Edgware-esque, which unusually you can see clearly from the train window above. We roll into Golders Green at rooftop level, this a busy multi-platform station with several platforms (and gold clocks, and benches with integrated roundels, and timber canopies, and lovely).

That's it for above ground. Immediately ahead is the entrance to a tunnel, and shortly after that the deepest point below ground on the entire tube network, 69m beneath Holly Bush Hill. Close by is the lost station that never opened, that's North End, its platforms slipping by unnoticed in the dark. Hampstead station's deep too, 320 steps to the surface if you're either very fit or borderline suicidal. This is the start of another run of Leslie Green tiling, with a design on the platform walls that looks a bit like the Millennium bug. Belsize Park's pattern is a richer brown and a little more involved, while Chalk Farm's struck me as more of a sawtooth, although Leslie probably had something completely different in mind.

I made this journey on a Sunday afternoon, hence the platforms at Camden Town were mercifully clear. Entrance from above is barred for four and a half hours while Camden's streets and markets are flooded with yoof, so only those changing between branches stand waiting. One consequence of this shutdown is hordes lined up at Mornington Crescent, this the only time the station's busy, waiting to board en masse with designer bags a-dangle. As the doors start to close one surly shopper jams her torso through, delaying our progress, and another dozen latecomers take the opportunity to squeeze inside.

Next is Euston, approached via completely different tunnels to those on the City branch, indeed almost perpendicular. The platform walls here are decorated with an abstract red, blue and yellow design based on some shield or coat of arms that's locally relevant. All is explained in an information panel for the benefit of inquisitive passengers, but reading that would have involved getting off so I continued in ignorance. Warren Street is the only station on the Northern line where the accent colour is pure black, and which according to Mr Green's tiles still goes by its former name of Euston Road. As for Goodge Street its most notable feature must be the ridiculously overdone pronunciation of "Goooodge" on the in-train announcements, which had two American tourists in fits.

Tottenham Court Road looks a mess, with splashes of mosaic to brighten extensive surfaces of pre-Crossrail concrete. It also signals the start of a flurry of West End activity, lots getting off, lots getting on, ditto Leicester Square. Two grannies make a play to grab adjacent seats, but fail, which is about as exciting, characterfully, as my entire journey gets. I like the black and white mural at Charing Cross, a selection of medieval craftspeople toiling to build the Eleanor Cross above, courtesy of David Gentleman. And from here it's barely any distance at all beneath Villiers Street to Embankment, indeed a mere 260 metres, making this the second shortest journey on the underground network.

We pass beneath the Thames in the vicinity of Hungerford Bridge (Ian can tell you about the sealed-off Northern line loop beneath the river). A mass exodus of passengers departs at Waterloo, because there's only one destination left, and that's South London. It feels quite a long way to the next station, but that's only relative compared to the baby steps we've taken through the West End. And this is Kennington, the 90%-of-the-time end of the line, where every traveller disembarks. A few leave to rise to the streets of Lambeth, but most walk through the cross-passage and onto the next Morden-bound train, departing now. Nobody stopped to check the train was empty, so I should have stayed aboard to ride the Kennington Loop round in a great circle... to emerge on the other side of the station as the next northbound train. But enough already.

(+10 years)

From here the train continues through what used to be the Kennington Loop. The carriages are rammed, as usual, with socialites and boutique shoppers heading to MallAsia in Battersea at the end of the line. The tunnel follows a roundabout route to extension station one, that's Barclays Nine Elms, with its characteristic lightbox adverts all along the platform. Nobody's yet seen anyone from the adjacent US Embassy alighting here, because they go everywhere by car, but the American security guards by the automatic smartcard barriers still give every departing passenger an X-ray once-over. Our driverless service has one more stop to go. "We are now arriving at Prada Battersea MallAsia. Please remember to take all your purchases with you when leaving the train." Most take the lifts, because it's less effort than walking to the escalators. And their final destination is the glass boulevard through the old power station, where the chimneys used to cast their shadow. Such prosperity, such conspicuous consumption, even if there's barely a true Londoner in sight. Whatever your view of the half billion overspend, the Johnson Line Extension has sprinkled its magic dust on Battersea.

NORTHERN: Bank/Monument upgrade

A consultation has just been launched into plans for a Bank station upgrade. We've had draft plans before, indeed there's already work underway to add a step-free entrance to the Waterloo & City line. But this is on a completely different level, indeed over several levels, and you may be surprised by the degree of change.

Bank station has two major problems. Firstly it's a very busy interchange, so it gets very crowded down there. In particular the two Northern line platforms are rather narrow and very close together and a persistent bottleneck. And secondly it's a very complicated interchange, which means trekking from one platform to another can take a while. So TfL plan to make the station considerably more complicated, cramming in extra links and passages everywhere possible, and in doing so they hope to greatly ease overcrowding.

• The Northern line's southbound platform will permanently close and a new parallel tunnel will be dug. This might sound radical, but it's a solution that's already been tried successfully up the line at Angel and Euston. In these cases the former platform was knocked through to create considerably more waiting space, whereas at Bank the disused tunnel will become a new parallel concourse. No longer will you have to fight your way along the northbound platform, you'll be able to stroll through the tube where southbound trains used to go. Result.
• A new station entrance/exit will be built in Cannon Street. This'll be a major street-level access, between the Pret on Abchurch Lane and the McDonalds on Nicholas Lane, presumably as part of upcoming office redevelopment. And it'll only be a couple of minutes away from Cannon Street station, providing an alternative route to the District line and mainline rail services.
• Lifts will provide step-free access to the Northern line, from the new ticket hall and from the DLR below.
• A new bank of escalators will be added from the Central line down to Northern line level. It'll head down from the top of one of the spiral staircases, which by the looks of it will disappear. But the foot of the escalator will be some distance from the Northern line platforms, so TfL are planning to install a moving walkway (à la Waterloo) to speed you along the passage. That's a new passage, burrowed inbetween the existing DLR subway and the new southbound tunnel. Told you this was major.
• Want more escalators? Have more escalators. One new set will head down, opposite the end of the moving walkway, as additional access to the DLR. And one new set will head up, from between the Northern line platforms to the brand new exit on Cannon Street. No station in London will be quite so rammed with escalators and moving walkways as Bank/Monument.
If you like 3D cutaway diagrams, it's your lucky day. TfL have produced several so you can get your head round what they plan to do. A mighty complex rabbit warren is on the cards, promising faster interchange times via more direct routes and greatly improving capacity. If you like what you see, or if you don't, the consultation runs until 8th November and you should have your say. There'll also be a public exhibition next week at St Mary Abchurch (Tue-Fri, 11am-7pm) where you can see a proper 3D model, watch a film and grill some staff.

If all goes to plan, building work at Bank will commence in April 2016 and be complete by July 2021. Expect a miserable series of closures, diversions and general awkwardness for five years while that's underway. In particular the Northern line will be closed through Bank between April and August 2020 while the station undergoes the peak of its radical transformation. But the end result should be an interchange that's easier and quicker to negotiate, and not a moment too soon.

NORTHERN: The Bridge To Nowhere

Come with me to Colliers Wood, two stops from the southern end of the Northern line. This historic corner of Merton (William Morris, Admiral Nelson, etc) lies on the Wandle, one of London's non-lost rivers. A 14 mile foot- and cycle-path, the Wandle Trail, follows the stream all the way from Croydon to the Thames at Wandsworth. But in some places, due to inadequate access, the path is forced to deviate from the river along less appropriate routes. And one of these is in Colliers Wood, at Wandle Meadow Nature Park, thanks to the Bridge To Nowhere.

I rather like Wandle Meadow Nature Park. It's not a landscaped beauty, more a patch of scrubby flood plain on the site of a former sewage works with pylons running up the centre. But it's got a bit of character, a splash of unkempt charm, and it's also where I met my very first urban fox in a sudden footpath face-off. The Wandle Trail passes through, but away from the river, forced to deviate on approach from the south up the side of a pumping station. There ought to be a path along the edge of the concrete culvert, indeed there is initially, it's the pavement of a road called Wandle Bank. A row of terraced houses leads downstream to the site of Merton Mill, once one of the largest corn mills in London, now more flats. But then beyond Byegrove Road comes a new estate, built quite recently on the site of the Connolly Leatherworks, and that's where the riverside path runs out. At the Bridge To Nowhere.

The plan was for Bewley Homes to build a footbridge over the Wandle as part of their Section 106 obligation. This bridge would allow the Wandle Trail to pass through the new estate and across the river, entering the foot of Wandle Meadow Nature Park without the need for a diversion. They designed a bridge that sloped down from the estate bank to the park bank, there being a 2m drop from one to the other. But the Environment Agency said no, the low bridge might obstruct the flow in flood conditions, so go away and think again. The housing company took their time, then returned with revised drawings showing the level structure that's in place today. They stated they'd be installing it with "the access being blocked off as we will not be constructing an access ramp", leaving this for the local authority to complete. And somebody at the council signed these plans off, so on 20th June 2007 a Bridge To Nowhere was installed.

It does look bloody stupid today. A wooden footbridge heads off from the riverbank opposite number 15 Bewley Street, part chained-off to prevent non-existent kids from running into the road. Walk part-way across and the Wandle flows beneath, relatively swiftly, then disappears behind a curtain of foliage. Step further and the trees part to reveal a scrubby corner of Wandle Meadow Nature Park. But you can't get down there, the bridge stops in mid-air, reduced in function to little more than a viewing platform. If you stood in this corner of park you'd see a wooden structure flying in at about head height, supported on a concrete plinth. But there's no way of clambering up or down, not unless you're an urban monkey, this is a split-level dead end.

Merton Council got cross and accused the builders of going back on their legal obligation. The builders waved their planning permission document, finished their houses and moved on. And so the bridge remains incomplete, a pointless missing link requiring a sinuous detour. The Colliers Wood Residents Association recognised the absurdity of the situation early on, in 2008 creating an 'art installation' to draw media attention. On 20th June 2009 they held a birthday party, inviting local residents and the media to turn up for a singsong and cake on the bridge, and they've been holding one annually ever since. [full backstory]

Alas the residents of Bewley Street have never been supportive. They like living in a cul-de-sac on their own private waterfront, and they're happy for the bridge to stay blocked. The estate's builders laid a narrow footpath alongside their parking spaces, wiggling north along the Wandle, but someone's erected a laminated sign saying "Footbridge closed" in an attempt to keep speculative ramblers out. Attempt to walk past the footbridge towards North Road and you're met by an impenetrable fence labelled "Private Road" and "Private Keep Off". There used to be through access here before the new houses came, but no more, and a detour is required for anyone attempting to continue to the north. Inaccessibility is what local homeowners expected when they moved in, and it's how they'd like things to stay.

But maybe not for long. I spotted two unexpected signs attached to the footbridge when I visited at the weekend, one on the Bewley Street side, the other dangling above the park. Each sign announces that "an application has been submitted" for "completion of footbridge via completion of DDA compliant ramp and steps. Hallelujah! The ramp will have a scissor turn at one end where those with pushchairs or wheelchairs can double back, while those more able can head straight down via a flight of ten steps. This steel-framed timber structure will take up a fair bit of space, all to ensure 100% accessibility, but this is a very quiet corner of the park where hopefully a few square metres of vegetation won't be missed. [Elevations] [Location plans] [Artists impression]

The money's come from TfL, who've funded a local government grant to improve various parts of the Wandle Trail for walkers and cyclists alike. If you'd like to look up the fine detail of this particular footbridge scheme you can - it's Merton Council planning application 13/P2573. This went live on 4th September and interested parties had 21 days to submit support or opposition, a period which ended just over a week ago. Merton's planning portal reveals that nobody stood up and spoke in favour - how would they have noticed when the signs went up on two ends of a dead-end bridge? But three residents of Bewley Street noticed, and felt strongly enough to email their objections...
"We are concerned that many people would use this as a short cut through the Nature Park rather than having to go over the main bridge and would bring more people into Bewley Street, with all the subsequent problems that can bring."

"Kindly note that the nature park opposite Bewley Street is a local gathering area for anti-social behaviour. The current incomplete footbridge is the only element preventing much of this anti-social behaviour from spilling over into Bewley Street."

"Furthermore there is only a small number of non-residence petitioning for the completion of the footbridge. It would not seem to make sense to invite additional crime and anti-social behaviour onto Bewley Street and potentially put the safety of the residence (including a number of young families) at risk just so that a handful of non-residence don't have to walk a small extra distance around the block to access Wandle Meadow Nature Park."
I met some of this anti-social element when I walked down, along, back up and across to reach the parkside end of the Bridge To Nowhere. A bunch of kids on bikes rode in from the estate opposite, gabbling in some Eastern European language, to hide away in the thicket and perch atop some logs. To be honest they looked like they were having a great time exploring their own local wilderness, as if taking part in some nostalgic Enid Blyton adventure. But evidence elsewhere suggested not every visitor to the park behaves so well, indeed I spotted enough used tinfoil discarded by the end of the footbridge to wrap a brace of Christmas turkeys.

The council initially demanded a footbridge to complete a missing link along the Wandle Trail, and to give residents of the new estate access to their nearest recreational amenity. Merton's planners have already declared the status quo "unfit for purpose", so I'd expect the voices of the three Bewley Street complainants to be outgunned by the needs of the wider community. If all goes to plan construction could begin next month, with completion due in spring 2014. And by next summer there'll be ramblers and cyclists passing through, and a valuable shortcut provided for nearby residents, and a brand new circuit those kids on bikes will be able to enjoy. Because the Wandle shouldn't be a private river, it's for everyone, and what's needed here is clearly a Bridge To Somewhere.

NORTHERN: Northern South

Shall we just talk about stations? You like it when we talk about stations.

Morden: We started here on a journey last week (Charles Holden, yadda yadda). This wasn't supposed to be the terminus, the Northern line was hoped to extend to Sutton (I'm reading this off Wikipedia, you could do that, all by yourself). Merton Council have a major consultation up and running at the moment for their Morden Masterplan which'll see the area around the station redeveloped (but with Holden's facade remaining "a visual focal point and strengthened"). But let's step back a bit and walk up the long footpath beside the station to the point where the Northern line plunges into tunnel. Because it doesn't plunge very deep, not for the first 500 metres, and certainly not deep enough to build houses on top. And so the authorities did what any good developer would do, they slapped a park on top. That's Kendor Gardens, a linear park just wide enough to cover the two tunnels below, and then some. It's nothing hugely special, indeed it's devoid of all amenities (bar a few benches in memory of John Innes). But the council gardeners have done a fine job with the flowerbeds, with one variegated rosebush still ablaze even in October. And then there's the vibrations. Stand (or sit) here long enough and the ground briefly rumbles, a wholly unexpected tremble, as a Northern line train passes directly beneath. If you're at the southern end of the park you might then hear that train whistle as it emerges from its tunnel a few seconds later and brakes to enter the station. But further north there's just a peculiar judder underfoot, and then the ordinary dogwalking parkspace returns. [photo]

South Wimbledon: It's not in Wimbledon, more in Merton. They were going to call it Merton Grove, but eventually they didn't (that's Wikipedia again). Charles Holden did the station (he did all these really) (there's going to be a lot of photos of the same style of Holden station today, but a bit varied depending on what the shape of the street corner was) [photo]
Colliers Wood: We did this place yesterday, remember. The station's near the tower block that's regularly voted the ugliest in London (in years when the Archway one doesn't win). Across the road is a pub called The Charles Holden - the ideal drinking spot for tube architecture aficionados (although they seemed to be going for more of the rugby crowd, I thought) (until April this was the Colliers Tup, and before that The Victory, so one senses they're just jumping on the Tube150 bandwagon) [photo]

Tooting Broadway: This is the busiest station down this section of the line, in terms of its location, that is. Its curving frontage faces a teeming crossroads, bustling with shoppers and snarled up with traffic (or it was at the weekend). Outside the entrance, a colourful flower stall, plus a mirrored cross propped up against the statue of Edward VII with a keen-looking vicar sitting alongside. You don't get this in Balham. [photo]
Tooting Bec: Blimey don't the shops change as you walk along the Upper Tooting Road. At the Broadway end are more major chains like Sainsbury's, then slowly the retail offering evolves into almost-entirely Asian outlets. Tooting Bec station has entrances on two opposite corners of a crossroads, one extremely narrow, and boasting three glass roundels (plus a chandelier ring light if you venture inside). Holdenesque, obviously, in spades. [photo]
Balham: An actual interchange, this with the tube station in dominant position and the less characterful National Rail platforms tucked behind. By this point, to be frank, the façades of al these Holden stations are starting to look a bit samey (but then most people don't deliberately walk past half a dozen of them in a row) [photo]

Clapham South: The final Holden bastion (or the first if you're travelling the other way). Was nearly named Balham North (which would at least have evened out the Balhams and Claphams somewhat). Sort-of alongside, on the corner of Clapham Common, are the surface buildings of a deep-level wartime air-raid shelter (but we did those on this blog in 2007, so you're not getting them again).
Clapham Common: For a start, much love for the domed entrance on an island in the street. And for the "To the trains" sign pointing down into the ticket hall. But mostly for the island platform down below (unbelievably once the southern terminus of the line). This is the straight one, and most people don't walk all the way down to the end (unless they have a camera) [photo] [photo]
Clapham North: This one's none too thrilling on the surface, at least not in comparison with what's gone before. But the uplighters on the escalator have character. And then there's the tube's other island platform, this the curved one (which means you can get a slightly different photo at the end from the tip of the hockey stick). South London may not have many Underground stations, but it has more than its fair share of splendid ones. [photo] [photo]

NORTHERN: Totteridge (and Whetstone)

Up at the northern end of the Northern line, one stop before High Barnet, lie Totteridge and Whetstone. One is a commuter settlement built around a coaching inn on the great North Road. That's Whetstone, with its Waitrose and its Griffin pub, a pleasant enough place to live. But the other is something else, a medieval village made good and a bolthole for millionaires. That's Totteridge, the last syllable of its name describing its position on a crest between two valleys. Part of Hertfordshire until 1965, it was swallowed up somewhat grudgingly by the new borough of Barnet. An aspirational location surrounded by rolling farmland, it's easily the most rural place in Greater London to be served by the Underground.

For Totteridge turn right, not left, outside the station. The road leads down to the Dollis Brook, the main watercourse hereabouts and (further upstream) the northern perimeter of Totteridge proper. One day I'll walk the Greenwalk from source to Hampstead, but on this occasion let's continue on up the other side past the Totteridge Garden Chinese takeaway. That's it for shops, this short parade, they don't sully the village proper with a retail outlet. Totteridge Lane climbs slowly from the affordable end to the less-so, past multi-car households and a defunct library. In a nice touch, the larger houses announce their names and numbers via a series of curved posts dug into the verge - not always easy to read but consistent and cohesive.

Entry into the village proper is signalled on a wooden board labelled "Manor of Totteridge", because it once was. Some of the luckier houseowners reside around the triangular village green, blessed with just enough trees to make a game of cricket impractical. A glance at a satellite photo of the immediate neighbourhood reveals a majority of back gardens boast gleaming blue swimming pools - unseen from the front drive, but always hinted at. Divert up Pine Grove or Northcliffe Drive to enjoy a run of Tudorbethan detached houses, the very pinnacle of suburbia, oh so very Chorleywood. Or more likely stop at The Orange Tree by the pond, the sort of pub that has "Sparkling Thursdays" rather than "Curry Wednesdays", and maybe enjoy a pint outside on the lawn.

For a glimpse into why folk like to live round here, divert off behind the pub to explore the valley below. No public footpath sign is obvious, because this isn't one, but keep the faith and stroll brazenly through the gate into The Close Private Estate No Parking Warning High Speed Crime Response Force. And don't be put off by the lamppost further down, with three security cameras, two motion detectors and a reversing mirror. A path leads straight on to the edge of a field, and from here a 30 metre descent with woody views to the south. Much of London might look this glorious had suburban sprawl not covered it with streets and gardens. Indeed the valley slopes in neighbouring Woodside Park have suffered precisely this fate, but Totteridge's golden grassland provides a pointed reminder of the swallowed past.

At the foot of the hill is Darlands Lake Nature Reserve, a ring of green around a shallow dammed pool. A footbridge leads across the Folly Brook, the minor stream marking Totteridge's southern edge, then a circuitous path heads off around the lake. Only rarely does it scrape the water's edge, but the vegetation is lush and brimming (in places) with wild pink orchids. To return to Totteridge proper a path leads northwest up the feeder stream - a minor earthy channel for much of the year, but enough to make mudbaths of the adjacent ground at others so choose your footwear with care. Pass fields recently-harvested, follow tracks rarely trod, to complete the optimum Totteridge dog-walking loop.

You'll emerge opposite Totteridge's white-towered church, which you could alternatively have reached via a short stroll from the pub. St Andrew's goes back 750 years, while the yew in the churchyard is said to date back over 1000, making it (reputedly) London's oldest tree. Inside is a broad lofty space, with bright hand-sewn kneelers hanging from the back of four ranks of pews. Outside are the remains of the village pound, built for 16th century miscreants, marked by a small plaque. And just round the corner, on a triangle of grass that's the nearest Totteridge comes to a roundabout, stands a slender cross-topped war memorial.

To find the most expensive homes in the village, continue west along the ridgetop. There would be excellent views of central London, less than ten miles distant, except a string of properties along the southern side of the road hog the panorama for their own. Ditto views of Barnet to the north, the fields beyond blocked by cottages, then villas, then mansions. Arsene Wenger lives in Totteridge, and Cliff Richard and Des O'Connor once did, it's that kind of place. The only gap in the fences and high hedges comes at the Long Pond, an appropriately named artificial pool located at the highest point in the village, where the fishing is Private Members only. And that's probably as far as you need to walk, as this linear village finally peters out after two long miles. Best catch the regular 251 bus back to the station... not, one suspects, that Totteridge's genuine residents use it much.


One day maybe, even probably, the Northern line will be extended west from Kennington to Battersea. All sorts of government and commercial pressure is coming to bear to ensure that the line gets built, with the earliest date of operation now 2020. The entire project is inextricably linked to the development of the Vauxhall Nine Elms Battersea Opportunity Area (or VNEB OA as the official documents have it), a swathe of riverside along the southern bank of the Thames. It's rare to have so large a development zone so close to central London (less than a mile from the Houses of Parliament), so a radical transformation is planned. Acres of warehouses and industrial units will be (or have been) swept away, and in their place will rise a new district of enterprise, diplomacy and high rise accommodation. I thought I'd go for a walk (from V to B via NE) to see how it's coming along.

Vauxhall: Or Vauxhall Cross, as estate agents know the area between the bridge and the station. The major development here is St George Wharf, its owl-like apartments having stared down the Thames for many a year now. This is now firmly embedded into the neighbourhood, with offices, health/fitness facility, restaurant units and a Tesco Express helping to ensure its residents don't have to walk too far to do stuff. Expect many more such mixed-use complexes, with very similar facilities, to spring up over the kilometre between here and Battersea over the next few years. Already up is The Tower, a 52-storey cylindrical pillar of glass that's wildly out of scale with existing local buildings, but much more in tune with what's coming next. The crane on the top's come down now - the crane a helicopter flew into back in January remember - but the interior's not yet complete and the ground floors remain behind hoardings. Sorry pedestrians, you'll have to cross the road until they're done. Meanwhile, that new-ish swooping bus station everyone likes is destined for demolition if plans for Lambeth's "Heart of Vauxhall" come to fruition. They want to "transform Bondway into a two sided high street, with new buildings on the west side and regenerate the existing buildings on the east", then "activate with shops, cafes, restaurants and other town centre uses." There'd still be a transport interchange but more a boulevard with bus stops, and long-term even the surrounding gyratory might be swept away. The Northern line extension will not be stopping here.

Nine Elms Road: Two roads head southwest from Vauxhall Cross, one on either side of the Flower Market. Head away from the river, as I did last year, and you'll soon reach an existing community down the Wandsworth Road. The new Nine Elms tube station is due to be built here, at the foot of Sainsbury's car park, requiring the demolition of the petrol station and the head office of burglar alarm company Banhams. But on this occasion I'm heading down the other side of the railway viaduct, down Nine Elms Lane, which is a completely different prospect. Few people live here, yet, apart from a couple of riverside courts that squeezed in over a decade ago. Instead this is most definitely a building site corridor, with cranes poking up all along the left-hand side. In case you're thinking of buying property, a brightly illuminated set of letters beneath some trees announces "Embassy gardens" "By Ballymore". This is the largest development opportunity hereabouts, covering 15 acres surrounding the new US Embassy. At the moment all there is to see is a concrete lift shaft, not yet 19 storeys high, and of course an Eg: Marketing Suite (if sir and madam would like to come this way, thank you). Later a linear park will swish through, running all the way from New Vauxhall to New Battersea, but picturing that takes a considerable leap of imagination at present.

As for the US Embassy itself, nothing's poking up above the hoardings but a lot of cranes and lifting equipment, plus a sign (with a US seal) announcing this as the domain of "Overseas Buildings Operations". Liz from builders Sir Robert McAlpine provides a monthly newsletter update, pasted into a frame on the wall, with news that they're busy continuing the main piling work to the Diaphragm Wall. A photo reveals what passers-by can't see, which is that the security moat has been dug, and the foundations of Obama's Cuboid are rising on the island within. A new road has appeared, named "Private Road" according to the street sign, which can only get less welcoming as development continues. And Ponton Road has been relocated to make way, continuing to provide access to the Royal Mail and Yodel depots behind, but soon to be lined by a canyon of glass with stacked balconies. Ultimately this'll lead to Nine Elms station, pedestrians only, through "an arcade of retail/commercial units" beneath the railway viaduct. Lambeth and Wandsworth councils are already rather excited.

Back on Nine Elms Lane, up next is the Royal Mail's main South London sorting office, employing over 1000 staff. But maybe not for long because this site's earmarked for 1900 new homes - undoubtedly nothing the existing posties will be able to afford, but ideal pied-à-terres for foreign investors. Meanwhile on the Thames-side flank, six octagonal blocks are already rising under the brand name Riverlight. This is "an exciting new residential development", "an architectural classic of the future" with "exclusive residents' clubhouse" featuring "private cinema and virtual golf". On the edge of the site is a Sales and Marketing Office, probably bigger than your house, resembling the prow of a liner with an electric blue hull. You can't just turn up and request a look, oh no, visits are "by appointment only". I watched yesterday as the salesman welcomed a chauffeured Mercedes bearing potential customers, then ushered the group inside before securely closing the car park gate behind them. If the new Northern line extension benefits the existing community on the other side of the viaduct, all well and good, but the project is really being driven through for wealthy residents such as these.

Battersea: One concentrated pocket of rundown industrial units remains. Follow Cringle Street to discover gated yards, empty warehouses and the hideaway HQ of combustible London Duck Tours. Thames Water are eyeing up one plot as a Thames Tunnel worksite - nobody would complain - while at the far end is the none too fragrant Cringle Dock Solid Waste Transfer Station. I've not seen any mention of this in any of the promotional videos praising the ideal location of the Nine Elms site. And there, beyond a locked gate, stands Sir Giles Gilbert Scott's magnificent power station. It still looks forlorn and at risk, but its brickwork awaits transformation into "the real estate investment opportunity of a lifetime". A cluster of planning notices are tied to lampposts on Cringle Street requesting alcohol licences for the final flurry of events to take place before construction begins. But what's planned for Battersea puts the rest of Nine Elms in the shade, as a Malaysian consortium hopes (finally) to build 3500 homes, 157,777m2 of office space and 14,681m2 of retail. You might well get to work here, they'll need waitresses and cleaners, but the majority of the influx will be the already-rich and foreign investors.

Forgive me if I state my case a little more strongly than usual, but what the hell is happening to London's property market? The city's crying out for affordable places to live, and yet we seem hellbent on building high-end apartments and then flogging them abroad. Great for profits, if you're a shareholder in the construction company, but a lunatic policy for the future wellbeing of London's existing residents. The Vauxhall Nine Elms Battersea Opportunity Area could work wonders for the local area and its surroundings, but threatens instead to create an exclusive enclave of privilege in SW8. And the proposed Northern line extension is merely stoking the flames, a runty two-stop diversion created solely to link an investment opportunity to the West End. All hail the New London... assuming, that is, you can afford to stay living here while it's built.

NORTHERN: Mill Hill East to Edgware

There is a reason why the Mill Hill East branch of the Northern line stops suddenly, one stop from Finchley Central. It's because this was once the main line, part of a pre-tube railway linking Finsbury Park to Edgware, with tracks to High Barnet a later addition. There were plans in the 1930s and 1940s to revive the old line as part of London Underground's Northern Heights plan, but these fell through when wartime austerity burst ambition. The eastern end of the old railway, from Finsbury Park to Highgate, is now the Parkland Walk and a lovely place for a stroll. The middle of the old railway, close to Finchley Central, is now part the Northern line. And the western end of the old railway, from Mill Hill East to Edgware, that's unexpectedly mostly walkable. And that's where we're going today.

The single track at Mill Hill East runs a few yards beyond the station and then halts at some buffers. Alight here and you head out to a bus stop, turn right and you'll end up at Waitrose. But turn left, then left again into Bittacy Road, and the old railway's much easier to follow than you'd imagine. A broad embankment rises up between rows of flat-roofed houses, a blatant continuation of the old route exiting the station through a fence. OK, so it continues into a house and backyard almost immediately, but there's plenty of green space on either side... ideal for a kickabout if only this wasn't "No Ball Games Allowed". And straight ahead through the trees is what can only be a railway bridge. Two open arches carry Sanders Lane over the old tracks, with a line of black on the brickwork above marking what looks like years of funnel-soot. Lower down comes more modern decoration from a wall of graffiti, more scrawl than art, there are no Banksys here.

And then, blimey, it looks like we're off out into the country, but that's an illusion brought about by entering a cutting. In fact there are still houses up there, but the wooded slopes and earthy track camouflage them well. Oak and sycamore rise to either side, indeed there are acorns scattered everywhere at this time of year, and squadrons of squirrels cavorting in the trees with their treasure. Look carefully at the edge of the undergrowth and you'll spot rows of posts, the sort they use on the tube to hold the lineside cables up. These were installed along the entire line in readiness for its post-war upgrade, but that never came so now they decay slowly in situ, overrun by ivy or with bits of concrete falling off. It's quite pothole-y here, and potentially muddy. It's also really quiet. I bumped into absolutely nobody at all along the entire mile ahead, with the exception of two retired cyclists pedalling and splashing through. Occasionally a large hole has been dug, with red barriers all around, and the smell of gas suggesting some utilities project is exploiting the railway corridor. And just once there's a deep dip down that couldn't possibly have been part of the original trackbed, unless perhaps this was a rollercoaster ride.

The railway runs beneath Pursley Road, permitting the opportunity for walkers to pop up and peek. And then more greenery beyond, which turns out to be Copthall - the sporting heart of Barnet. It's like some council planner once got out a thick pen and coloured in umpteen acres north of the A1 as a recreational zone. First up is one proper golf course, then a ladz-friendly Golf Centre that's all driving range, equipment shop and par 3s. On the opposite side of the footpath those shouts you can hear are soccerblokes kicking a ball around on 14 resolutely artificial pitches. This isn't jumpers for goalposts, this is "Lucozade Powerleague Mill Hill", offering special packages for lonely players who can't live without mini-tournaments. Barnet have one of their main leisure centres ahead, a short jog from the footpath, for racket sports and pilates and whatever other activities might need such a big car park. And beyond that, somewhere almost famous.

Saracens are currently the top performing Rugby Union side in England. Until earlier this year they ground-shared Watford's pitch at Vicarage Road, a crumbling pile that's seen considerably better days. More recently they've relocated to their own ground at Copthall, a more modern athletics track conversion, and much more open to view. Step through the leisure centre car park and you can walk right up to the fence at Allianz Park, named after the insurance company willing to fork out the most. One minor ancient grandstand faces one giant modern one, its seats grouped artistically in blocks of autumn colour. The team plays on artificial turf in the centre of an athletics track, but now with permanent trappings (like a team shop in a trailer) dotted around. If only the railway still stopped at the top of the drive supporters might get here more easily, but it's 49 years since this wooded footpath last saw even a freight train (and anyway, that house back at Mill Hill East now blocks the way).

The first mile from MHE, a pleasant woodland walk, continues a little further past the arenas of Copthall. Leaves are slowly browning, nuts are falling, and squirrels are still the busiest creatures hereabouts. But up ahead very soon is a gate, and a road, and a tunnel. It's not an original railway tunnel, the circular cross section is too narrow even for a tube train. What it is is a subway, a means of crossing under Page Street, installed by town planners for the non-existent hordes passing along this footpath. Eventually this tube became an unsavoury damp hideaway beneath the road and some council employee came along and shut it off. On the western side at present you'll find crisp packets and a discarded printer. But cross the road (up top, it's easy) and descend past the 'Subway closed' sign and, ooh, the opposite door is open. Peer inside to spot a pair of fetid shoes and what might be other belongings, suggesting a shelter of last resort for one Mill Hill resident. A housing estate has arisen here, with flats swarming along minor cul-de-sacs, and a later infill of more flats along the precise line of the railway. The street signs are labelled 'Private Development', so there's no point in entering because there's no longer anything to follow.

So yes, in the absence of disused railway track we get to follow a nearby road instead. It's Bunn's Lane, initially a residential road, whose most interesting feature is probably its name. That or the two major roads which career across it halfway down, the first the A1 'Watford Way', the second the M1. Metal steps lead up to pavements on either side of the A-road dual carriageway, should anyone want to walk this way, although I saw no evidence. What I did see was an overgrown road running underneath, one lane wide, and assumed perhaps it might be the old railway. And so it was, up until 1964 when it was converted into an entirely different form of transport. This was an old M1-to-A1 slip road, originally the southern end of the motorway until the current terminus at Staples Corner was opened in 1977. If you were trespass-minded you could easily hop through or over a fence and explore further. I walked on instead towards the parallel M1 overpass, a tediously featureless construction, at some point crossing the path of the old railway inbetween. It's not a lovely spot, this, but some speculator has it earmarked for flats, because even a noisy polluted scrap of wasteland can be home one day.

Bunn's Lane continues north towards Mill Hill Broadway station, somewhere you might know. Along the way it crosses an entirely unnecessary bridge, which is a telltale sign that the original east/west railway ran underneath. Indeed there was a station down below, with the none-too-snappy title of Mill Hill (The Hale), which would have been a familiar name on the tube map if only the Northern Heights plan had come to fruition. Nowadays a line of car parking spaces and several more flats fill the space, which'd mean umpteen evictions if anyone ever planned to recreate the railway. But that's pretty much the final residential blockage. Cross into Lyndhurst Park and you can step off the path into the undergrowth to see some bricked up railway bridge arches. The entire northern edge of the park is the old railway trackbed, but you'd only notice if you deliberately walked into the trees and spotted some old posts. This is proper urban safari stuff, a 1000-foot strip of untended land that's all mounds and thickets and groundcover and discarded cans and adventure. I can well imagine if you're a local pre-teenager this being your secret woodland hideout (or if a little older your drinking den), and all within convenient stepping distance of the park proper should Mum and Dad call out. Passing through felt like exploring uncharted territory, so this was my favourite bit of the entire walk.

Very well hidden in the northwest corner of the park, really very well hidden indeed, is a locked gate. This is one entrance to the Mill Hill Old Railway Local Nature Reserve, a linear enclave owned by the London Wildlife Trust. They've preserved the line of the old railway for half a mile ahead, a pleasant green footpath sandwiched between the backs of houses, occasionally opening out to broader spaces. But yes, a locked gate, which a notice announced was only unlocked every Sunday between 10am and 3pm. I'd gone on the wrong day, which was sad, so I made a superhuman effort to return to the same part of the back of beyond the following Sunday to gain access. Damn, still locked. OK, so it was chucking down with rain so no sane naturalist would have been out hunting slow-worms, waxwings and saxifrage. And OK, maybe the keyholder had slept in, or was ill, or was on holiday or something. But when a sign says "Open every Sunday" and you come bang in the middle of the appointed time and it's shut, that's a huge disappointment.

Instead I had to divert through the roads of Burnt Oak, which wasn't quite the same. The Watling Estate was a grand London County Council project of the 1920s to rehouse inner city dwellers, my great grandmother included. The area now sees taxi drivers and Asian pensioners living side by side, all part of the capital's generally unseen suburban hinterland. My detour included a stretch along the landscaped Burnt Oak Brook, gushing with rainfall runoff, then some more ordinary residential streets to, yes, another locked gate at the other end. It's easy to see where the railway went next - along a road that's now the entrance to a Northern line facility. "Tube Lines Welcomes You To Edgware Track Depot", says the sign, but not if you're an urban rambler, so I had to divert again elsewhere. A series of streets and alleyways led eventually to the existing Edgware station, which isn't where the old railway ended up at all. That terminated a little closer to Edgware village, on a site now covered by the Broadwalk shopping centre. For a last peek at the old trackbed check the far corner of Sainsbury's car park for an alternative entrance to the Edgware Track Depot. And should you ever want to ride from here to Mill Hill East by train today, it's all the way back down to Camden Town and change.

» My map of the walk
» Other people who've walked this walk
» More about the Northern Heights project
» Northern Line Disused Features

NORTHERN: Charing Cross

It's one of my favourite Northern line stations. Not the top level bit, which is an austere subway. Not the ticket hall, which is a wholly unwelcoming brown. Not the mid-level passages, which are over-long. But the platforms themselves, both north and south, which have the most delightful monochrome artwork.

The walls on the Northern line at Charing Cross were decorated by artist David Gentleman in 1978. He created a 100 metre mural that depicts the creation of the feature on the streets above that gives the station its name, the Eleanor Cross. Queen Eleanor was the wife of Edward I, and died on royal walkabout in Lincolnshire in 1290. The king was so griefstricken he erected a stone cross at each of the locations her body rested on the 12-day journey back to London. The last of these was at what's now Charing Cross, the current ornate pinnacle being a Victorian replica of the original. David's wood-engraved cartoon depicts the construction of the Eleanor Cross and the workers who toiled to create it, in sort-of chronological order from one end of the platform to the other. There are quarrymen, rough-hewers, masons, mortarers, layers, setters, carpenters, thatchers, scaffolders, labourers, crane-men, apprentices, hodmen, drivers, horsemen and boatmen, plus a few incidental animals as well. If the platform's empty enough you can follow the entire story, from the quarrying of the stone to the lowering of a statue of Queen Eleanor onto the cross at the far end. It's a charming concept, lovingly realised, and entirely upper-class-free.

A particularly unusual thing about Gentleman's design is the holes. Back in the 1970s it was perfectly natural to have litter bins on Underground platforms, so David embedded his into the overall design. Every now and again the picture breaks and there's space for a rectangular slot, say in the middle of a woodpile or workbench. Above the gap is the word LITTER in black Johnston capitals, entirely anachronistic but necessarily functional. But then came the IRA bombing campaigns, or rather then came health and safety risk reduction rules related to potential terrorist outrage, and all the litter bin slots were boarded over. They weren't even artfully boarded over, with a vinyl panel of a vaguely similar colour bolted in across the top. Some look neat-ish, but others look more forced, creating an untidy white void in the middle of Gentleman's mural.

Perhaps more evocative, harking back to a simpler age, are the boxes labelled STAFF LETTERS. In the 1970s, long before email, written messages were passed between stations by underground postmen. They trooped round the network delivering letters and notices - one of the cushier jobs on the tube, often given to those who were long-term sick. Their services are no longer required now communication is instantaneous, so all the STAFF LETTERS boxes are boarded up too. It would be unthinkable to have accessible cavities behind vinyl panelling today, and while you could argue that no bomb has ever exploded in an opaque litter bin on the underground, you could also argue that's solely because there aren't any. Never mind, ignore the modern intrusions and revel instead in David Gentleman's effortlessly excellent artwork. One expects Queen Eleanor would be proud.

NORTHERN: Mornington Crescent

1) Listeners to the Radio 4 show I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue have enjoyed the game of Mornington Crescent since 1978. I've blogged about the rules before, so I'll not repeat them here. But it's been a while since we played a game on the blog, so let's have a go in this special comments box. Original Standard Rules apply. Let's play!

2) Mornington Crescent is a Leslie Green station. Between 1903 and 1907 he designed stations on what are now the Bakerloo, Northern and Piccadilly lines, with trademark oxblood tiling exteriors. Mornington Crescent is typical, two storeys high with semicircular windows beneath a flat roof. It's one of three of Green's stations to be listed, the others being Gloucester Road and Holloway Road. Eight other Leslie Green stations survive on the Northern line; these are at Tufnell Park, Kentish Town, Hampstead, Belsize Park, Chalk Farm, Camden Town, Goodge Street and Leicester Square.

3) Mornington Crecent is one of nine stations on the Northern line with lifts, not escalators, down to the platforms. The others are Tufnell Park, Hampstead, Belsize Park, Chalk Farm, Goodge Street, Elephant & Castle, Borough and Kennington. That's a very similar list to above, which is because Leslie Green built his stations just before escalators were introduced on the Underground. The lifts at Mornington Crescent have ornate iron grilles above them, labelled 1 and 2. Alternatively you can take the back stairs down to the platform... or even up, it's only 66 steps, it won't knacker you out.

4) Above the top of the staircase, where it rises up into the ticket hall, is a blue plaque to Willie Rushton (1937-1996, Satirist). He died while the station was being revamped in the 1990s, and the plaque is located here to celebrate his expertise at a certain Radio 4 panel game.

5) The tiles at platform level aren't original, they're part of that major 1990s revamp. But they are closely matched replacements, royal blue and cream in colour with brown lettering at one end of the platform. Lovely.

6) The tube map correctly shows Mornington Crescent on the Charing Cross branch of the Northern line. However the tube map incorrectly shows the City branch running to the east of Mornington Crescent, whereas instead it runs to the west.

7) The Camden Town area gets really busy on Sundays when international youth descend on the markets by the lock. That's why TfL bar entry to Camden Town station every Sunday afternoon between 1pm and 5.30pm, and force travellers to enter the system via one of the neighbouring stations instead. If passengers have any sense they'll use Chalk Farm, which is fairly close to the various market sites. But if they trot back to Camden Town station to discover the entrance is closed, signs then direct them instead to Mornington Crescent. That's a six minute walk down Camden High Street, or longer if the pavements are busy. This is the less touristy end of the street - there are no purple Doc Marten outlets here - but the local shops are varied enough to benefit from TfL-inspired additional footfall every Sunday afternoon. Mornington Crescent also gets a significant boost to passenger numbers. It's one of only five stations on the Underground which more people enter on a Sunday than on an average weekday (the others being Kensington (Olympia) and the Heathrows), in this case 55% extra. It's the only time that Mornington Crescent feels properly busy. You did want the Charing Cross branch, didn't you?

8) The station is named after Mornington Crescent, an adjacent street that curves off, round and back to the Hampstead Road. This fine street dates back to the 1820s, with three curved terraces of elegant townhouses facing a communal garden. The neighbourhood went downhill slightly when the mainline to Euston was dug round the back a decade later, and in the 1930s a tobacco factory was opened on those communal gardens. That's the Art Deco Carreras Building, a splendid sight with Egyptian cat statues out front. The rear elevation facing the crescent is less impressive but still striking, with a tall cream chimney rising into the sky. Most of the street's 36 villas have been divided into flats - you might live down the steps in the basement, or you could live on the first floor with a scaffolded balcony. But the cars parked out front suggest that houseowners hereabouts remain on the right side of the property divide, and hey, there's a tube station at the end of the road too.

9) In Christopher Fowler's series of novels, the offices above Mornington Crescent are the home of the Peculiar Crimes Unit. Detectives Arthur Bryant and John May are based here, or rather were based here until the place blew up, but that's fictional alternative London for you. Ideally you should have started reading the Bryant and May novels back in 2003 - approximately one more adventure is published every year - but this may mean you have a glut of twisted intricate mysterious volumes to enjoy. Highly recommended.

10) Mornington Crescent is an anagram of Concerning Torments (and also of Reconnecting Mr Snot).

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