Red Telephone Box Seen at Queen's Park
My overall impression of the Bakerloo line was not altogether favourable when I visited the stations, and initially, walking it does little to improve this. However, this is due as much to mistakes on my part as anything else.
I'm walking the Bakerloo line from Harrow & Wealdstone in far north-west London to Elephant & Castle in the south-east. It's a cool, overcast day in October when I begin – the perfect weather for walking. Nevertheless, things begin to go wrong almost immediately.
A Shaky Beginning
First of all, I'm sleepy because I stayed out late at a work party the night before, which means I am slightly hungover as well. Far worse is the realisation that the internet on my phone is no longer working. For most experienced and/or prepared walkers this wouldn't be a problem, but for me it is.
While I don't have the best phone, it's perfectly sufficient to run Google Maps. Within a very short period of time, I've become wholly dependent on it to navigate London's streets. Why use an A to Z when you have a map with GPS right in your pocket?
Fortunately, because I did the station visits the weekend before, my phone still has a rough map of the area – I'm just not able to zoom in. This is a problem because I want to know where to find the tube stations. At least the GPS still works so I can see where I am on the blurry, zoomed out map.
Side entrance to Harrow & Wealdstone Station
I set off from Harrow & Wealdstone station, through the car park hoping to follow the tracks until the internet on my phone resumes working. I quickly realise that this is perhaps not the best way to go and decide to take Station Road instead.
The area seems to have a mix of independent Middle Eastern, Indian, and Chinese stores and restaurants. Unlike so many other high streets in the UK, this gives the area a small bit of character. This is a good thing, because while the area seems relatively nice, this seems to be about the only thing it really has going for it.
As I continue my walk, the shops peter out and the road is lined with relatively new houses and low-rise flats; my impressions of dullness continue. The low point is probably Northwick Park Roundabout, which, like most suburban roundabouts, has no pedestrian signals or zebra crossings and is clearly not designed for humans.
Thirst, Wrong Turns & The Future of London
Churchill Hall Home to the Wembley North Conservative Club
Kenton Road offers no real improvement. I pass the rather sad looking Churchill Hall – seat of the Wembley North Conservative Club – just before reaching Kenton. At this point my lack of preparation shows again. I'm feeling rather thirsty, and of course, brought no water.
Instead, I decide to pop into the giant Sainsbury's for a bottle. The size of store and the car park just reinforce the feeling of being in suburbia and contrast sharply with most of central London. Why walk when you can drive?
From here, the plan is to walk along the eastern side of the Bakerloo line tracks down to South Kenton. However, I decide to make a last minute diversion over the tracks to try and walk through Northwick Park.
Should have cut through Northwick Park Station (Metropolitan Line)
The problem is that the Metropolitan line tracks block all access to the park from the north. I keep walking until I reach Northwick Park tube station (on the Metropolitan line) and briefly wonder if I should go into the station to see if I can cut though. (I later find out you can.)
However, I decide to press on – figuring that another entrance to the park must exist. Turns out it doesn't and I end up back at the lovely Northwick Park Roundabout. Knowing I've made an error I now have a choice to make; I can either try to retrace my steps or carry on from here. I opt for the latter.
I head generally south along the edge of Northwick Park, eventually reaching a sign that proclaims "Welcome to Brent Home of Wembley." I know at roughly this point that I need to head east again, I'm just not sure where. I end up strolling along Carlton Ave. West, which is an unremarkable suburban street if I ever I saw one.
Welcome to Brent Home of Wembley
While there aren't many people about, the few I do see are from a mix of ethnic backgrounds. This clearly demonstrates that London's multicultural and global character is not confined to any one corner. Carlton Ave. West is but one small part of the next chapter in London's continuous demographic change and evolution.
More Suburbs, More Getting Lost & A Small Reminder of Home
This line of thinking comes to an end, as I need to make a quick course correction back north to arrive at South Kenton – one of my favourite stations along the Bakerloo line. However, because of the wrong turns, I'm already behind schedule. The first thought that I might not be able to complete this walk in one day creeps into my mind.
South Kenton - the perfect suburban station
I do however take the time to have a quick look at the lovely – and completely deserted – Northwick Park. This is a great place if you want to be on your own or watch trains. I then make yet another mistake by going through South Kenton and walking down the other side of the tracks; another detour that I could have avoided if the internet on my phone was working.
As I approach Wembley Central, I walk through seemingly endless and unchanging suburban streets. The only problem is that I realise I've skipped North Wembley station. Now at this point I to make yet another decision: continue on or go back and visit the station I skipped. Even though I'm probably the only one who cares, I decide to do the walk properly and make the trek back to North Wembley.
Although I'm not happy about backtracking, the walk does yield one interesting find. On the way back up to the station I pass the closed Norfolk Arms pub. While the pub's appearance and location are both somewhat interesting (it looks like a big house and it’s in the middle of a quiet suburban street), something else catches my eye.
Sign for Labatt's Canadian Lager at the closed Norfolk Arms pub
As a Canadian, I seem to be drawn to maple leaves and there is a big one on the sign. Thinking this is just a coincidence, I'm even more surprised when I see that it's a sign for Labatt's Canadian Lager – a beer that isn't too popular in the UK.
Moreover, if I could choose any Canadian beer to drink, Labatt's would be near the bottom of the list. It's sad to see yet another pub that's closed its doors. In my opinion, this is a less positive trend that's also reshaping the face of London.
Finally, I reach North Wembley station, where I turn around and go back the way I came. Here, I spot another former pub, but this one has been converted into a Tesco Express.
Tesco Express in an old pub
If I had walked the quickest route possible it would have been only 2.7 miles between Kenton and Wembley Central. However, my detours mean that I've actually walked 5.6 miles – adding more than an hour of extra walking time to my whole journey.
The Suburbs (Briefly) Come To an End
The walk from North Wembley to Wembley Central is short enough distance-wise, but the two stations feel worlds apart. Wembley Central is a hive of activity and people which is somewhat jarring after traipsing for 3 hours through the nearly deserted suburban reaches of North London.
It also feels as though we've left the suburbs behind and are now entering central London. However, this is somewhat of an illusion.
Not being a football fan, this is the first time I've visited Wembley. The high street is packed with people out on a Saturday. I pass by kebab, fried chicken, and every other sort of fast food take-away you could ever want. There are betting shops and banks. In short: it's a very typical UK high street.
The one thing I do notice that sets it apart is a shop selling human hair – I assume for hair extensions or wigs, but I can't be 100% sure.
Modern flats at Wembley Central
The new plaza in front of the station is nice, new, and clean and has a new low-rise tower block on the eastern side of it. Bizarrely, there are still signs for the 2012 Olympics despite the fact that they finished 3 month previously. I suppose they're trying to hold on to the glory for as long as possible.
From here it's off down High Road towards Stonebridge Park. I get a close-up glimpse of the stadium on my right, which somehow seems less impressive when up close. As I continue walking, the shops abruptly end and the street is once again lined with suburban-style homes.
After the buzz and crowds of Wembley it's a little strange to feel like I've returned to the suburbs, even though I’m still walking towards central London. I reach the desolate Stonebridge Park station in almost no time at all, which is good because there is no reason to linger here.
Abandoned office building at Stonebridge Park
Terraced Houses, Poorly Placed Stations & Brazilian London
I quickly follow and then cross the North Circular Road and continue on. Once again, it's a fairly short walk to reach Harlesden but along the way the suburban homes give way once again to traditional terraced houses in addition to newly built low-rise flats.
Interesting small park near Harlesden
The station building is both tiny and somewhat poorly placed – an afterthought sandwiched into small parcel of land off Acton Lane with views of the industrial estates across the tracks.
I depart immediately, once again passing a multitude of decent-sized terraced homes on my short walk to Willesden Junction. Along the way I pass the Girls & Boys mural from the Harley Road Public Art Project which aims to end racial stereotypes. It's a noble project, but will probably not significantly reduce racism in this country.
Girls & Boys art project
As I approach Willesden Junction the area takes on a decidedly Brazilian feel, as I pass the Amber Grill, corner shops offering calling cards for Brazil, and of course, the Brazil Emporio Butchers. The station building is isolated from the surrounding streets and hemmed in by the various rail lines that pass through here.
As I continue my walk, I pass by Tubbs Road Pocket Park. I've never heard this term before, but considering that Wikipedia has an article about them, I suspect this just reflects my own ignorance. The park itself is small (as you'd expect) but provides a welcome bit of green to the area.
Tubbs Road Pocket Park
The Return of the Internet!
As I approach Harrow Road, I decide it might be time to check if the internet on my phone has resumed working. I've managed to get all the way from Wembley Central to here without getting lost, but from here, I'm a bit unsure as to which direction is best.
Miraculously, it is! This makes completing the rest of the walk much, much easier. It's good news because the direction I thought to go turns out to be completely wrong. I'm beginning to feel the effects of walking for several hours and I start to seriously wish I was done.
Not sure where the so called "Artisan Quarter" is located
While there are still many Brazilian shops, there are also an increasing number of Middle Eastern ones. Yet, virtually all the shops here are independent, with almost no high street chain stores save William Hill. Another noticeable difference is the lack of pubs; I don't pass a single one on this section of the road.
Parks, Trains & A Difficult Decision
Further along, I pass the West London Crematorium, the Hazel Road Open Space (another word for park it seems) and the Mason's Arms pub. Then I'm at Kensal Green, which looks more like a barn than an underground station. I continue along Mortimer Road, which is lined with very smart, well cared for terraced houses, and the odd business thrown in here and there.
The Mews Coachworks
It feels like it would be a very nice place to live. The pattern continues right along to Queen's Park – which interestingly is owned and run by the City of London, despite being several miles to the Northwest of it. After this rather pleasant walk it's a shame that I have to turn off towards Queen's Park Station – a concrete mess with entrances that loom like giant metal detectors.
As I pass over the railway bridge, I notice a rather bizarre sight: a plume of smoke coming straight towards me. It takes me a second or two to realise that it must be the steam train going along the tracks. However, the walls on the bridge are too high to see over and there isn't enough time to get into the station to take a photo. Yet another opportunity missed.
Kilburn Park home of the council estate
Instead, I continue on to Kilburn Park and it's a stark contrast to Queen's Park. Kilburn Park has the feeling of literally being on the wrong side of the tracks. It's getting dark out, and while I've never had a problem going through council estates, it's not something I set out to do. However, in Kilburn Park they are impossible to avoid. I make my way quickly enough and fortunately don't get lost.
On my way to the station, I pass the former Brondesbury Arms pub. The pub closed somewhat recently but the sign and the original tiling around the door remain. I wish more converted pubs would follow this convention; it serves as a reminder of what used to be there. That said, it can prove a bit confusing at times if you're looking for a drink in a unfamiliar area.
Former Brondesbury Arms Pub
Finally, I reach Kilburn Park and it's getting even darker out. All the detours at the start of the walk put me much farther behind than I would have liked. While continuing would be possible, it would mean not being able to take any decent photos.
Thus, I decide to stop here and continue on the next Saturday. It's far from ideal because I had hoped not to have to split walks over multiple weekends until my sixth walk (the Jubilee line), but there's nothing else for it.
The Journey Resumes and This Time It's Sunny
Kilburn Park Station in the Sun
The second day of the Bakerloo line walk begins on a cool, cloudless Saturday at the end of October. Kilburn Park station looks fantastic in the sun and the surrounding area doesn't look as bad as it had previously. I pass a medium-rise tower block being demolished but no sign of what will replace it. Yet another reminder that London's face never truly stays the same for long, no matter where you live.
From here it's a very quick walk down Maida Vale to Maida Vale Station. However, the area has once again transformed completely. Maida Vale is far and away the poshest and best kept area I've been to on the Bakerloo line.
I love seeing all the grand Victorian and Edwardian homes that have been lovingly maintained and they look particularly beautiful on a sunny day like today. I also have a twinge of envy as I walk among the rows of houses, knowing I'll almost certainly never be able to afford any of them.
His life story and work is both fascinating and tragic and helps to put things into perspective a little bit. Soon I reach Warwick Avenue. From past experience, I know that another change in scenery is about to occur.
Canals, Motorways and Rail Stations
I've now reached Little Venice and the end (or beginning) of both the Regent's Canal and the Paddington arm of the Grand Union Canal. The path along the Regent's Canal is my favourite walking route in London and today is as nice a day as you get in London. So, the temptation to go off-path is very strong.
Very strong temptation to follow the Regent's Canal instead
While I continue on with Bakerloo line, I do linger a bit to take some photos of the canal. This area would be perfect if not for the Westway, which is an affront to the eyes and seems to loom over and darken the area. Once on the other side, I have a quick look around the Paddington Basin and then on to Paddington Station, passing signs of the new station that is being built for Crossrail.
The Westway ruining views since 1970
Continuing along Praed Street past St. Mary's Hospital and the blue plaque for Sir Alexander Fleming, I quickly reach the busy Edgware Road. On my left is the Hilton Metropole, one of the ugliest buildings in London. If I continue straight ahead, I'll reach Edgware Road station, but it would be the wrong one. Confusingly, there are two Edgware Road stations on the underground.
To make matters even more confusing, while the two stations are less than a 5 minute walk from each other, they are not connected underground nor do they count as interchange stations for ticketing purposes. The fact that I've been asked for directions to these stations more than once suggests that it may be more than a trivial issue.
In any case, to reach the Bakerloo Edgware Road station I have to go back under the Westway at the Marylebone Flyover. This is another reminder of how much the motorway dominates this small section of London.
Very sneaky sign at the Green Man Pub
While the Westway is grey slab of concrete, the area is not entirely devoid of green. First, there is the Green Man Pub whose amusing sign you can see above. Second, there is a green wall just around the corner from the station entrance which offers a much needed bit of vegetation.
A very short stroll brings me to Marylebone station, which doesn't look like much of a station at all. If anything, it looks more like a hotel when approaching from the west. We've once again entered one of the richer parts of London, just a stone's throw from the more down-at-heel Edgware Road.
Marylebone Station looks more like a hotel than train station.
On The Nature of London Tourists
While not the absolute shortest distance between two stations, the walk between Marylebone and Baker Street goes by in the blink of an eye. As you approach the station, the crowds noticeably build and the number of obvious tourists seems to multiply exponentially.
There are three reasons why there are so many tourists here. One, Baker Street is a major interchange station. Two, the Sherlock Holmes museum is just up the street from here. Finally, Madame Tussauds – which gets a rare mention on the tube as you reach Baker Street.
Not sure why this is so popular...
While I tend to rant about tourists a fair bit on this blog, in my heart of hearts I don't really dislike them. They are often clueless and get in the way more often than not (especially while entering or exiting the tube), but as a non-native Londoner, I too was once a tourist here and have done things that now make me cringe. Yet, I still find some tourist behaviour baffling.
I can understand wanting to see the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, St. Paul's, Tower Bridge, etc. I can also understand wanting to go on the London Eye or go up the Shard. I can even understand wanting to visit famous markets such as Portobello Road or Borough. What I can't understand are attractions like Madame Tussauds.
I understand that it's famous, and given that it opened in its current location in 1836, there is obviously some history to it. However, if you're reading this blog I suspect you have no idea how much it costs. The answer is that tickets at the door cost £30 per adult or £108 for a family of 4. You can save up to 50% by booking online and visiting at the end of the day – but let’s face it – that's still insanely expensive!
But that's not even the most remarkable thing – as I walk past, there is a huge queue that goes half-way towards York Bridge. So not only are people being charged an arm and a leg for the experience, they likely have to queue for a non-trivial amount of time to do so. I just don't understand the appeal.
Fortunately, I've chosen to walk along the other side of Marylebone Road so there's lots of space on the rather wide pavement. Another very short stroll later and I'm at Regent's Park Station. While the second day of walking started off sunny enough, I notice that the sky has darkened considerably in the last 15 minutes.
Intersections & Clichés Come To Life
The curved terrace houses (now mostly offices) along Park Crescent
Regent's Park is a fantastic little station and the area around it is wonderful as well. To the north, you have Regent's Park proper and to the south you have Park Crescent, which boasts a collection of unique and stunning stuccoed terraced houses that curve along with the road. At the same time, I’m heading south and bracing myself for what I know is coming.
The walk down Portland Place is quiet and deceiving. One of the few people I come across is a lone Falun Gong supporter protesting across from the Chinese embassy Mind you, the two sides of the pavement are separated by four lanes of traffic and a pedestrian island. It's amazing how quiet this street always seems when I'm walking along it, but it's an illusion that will not last.
As I pass BBC Broadcasting House and Portland Place turns into Regent's Street, it begins to pour, a reflection of my mood that's so appropriate it feels like I'm living the world’s worst film cliché. Pathetic fallacy come to life. For you see, I'm approaching my most hated intersection in all of London: Oxford Circus.
I suppose I could always pop into McDonald's and wait out the rain
Oxford Circus is exactly how I'd expected it to be – busy with clueless people everywhere. Because it's now raining, huge numbers of umbrellas have been thrown into the mix as well. Yet, Oxford Street also represents a personal intersection because it's the first time that two of my walks have crossed paths. Somehow, it seems appropriate that they should intersect here.
The good news is that I won't have to visit Oxford Circus on any other walks until I do the Central line – the final walk in my series. As I briefly reflect on the intersection between my walks and savour the feeling of knowing I won't have to come through here again for another 9 months or so, I do something very out of character: I decide to walk down Regent's Street.
Twelve Days of Christmas Along Regent's Street
I decide to do this for two reasons: one, there are banners across Regent's Street for each of the twelve days of Christmas and I want to get photos of each one. Two, it's the most direct way I know of getting to Piccadilly Circus. So, while the rain goes from pouring to sputtering, I snap photos as madly as any tourist.
Despite the crowds, I reach Piccadilly Circus relatively quickly. As expected, it's filled with tourists despite the continuing drizzle. Since it's not exactly my favourite part of London, I set off rather quickly.
From here, my best choice would be to walk to the southern section of Regent's Street. For some bizarre reason, I've almost always found it be relatively quiet compared to the section of Regent's Street north of Piccadilly Circus. However, I opt to go down Haymarket instead, which is inexplicably much busier than normal. Fortunately, at least the rain has stopped suddenly.
Traffic on Haymarket
Canadian & American Culture in London
I pass by the 24 hour Spar that once advertised Tim Hortons coffee. For those of you who aren't Canadian, Tim Hortons is Canada's largest fast food chain. I always found it a bit odd that they sold their coffee here from corner shops rather than standalone stores as they do in Canada.
I never went to get any here as I'm one of those rare Canadians who neither loves nor loathes it but now it seems I've missed my chance because it's been replaced by the rather aptly named Costa coffee.
As I continue my descent down Haymarket, I begin to notice more and more men and women wearing NFL jerseys. I now know why there are so many people about, and this is confirmed when I turn the corner towards Trafalgar Square. It's NFL Fan Day and fans of American football have duly taken over the entire square.
NFL fan day at Trafalgar Square
Judging from the voices I hear, not all the fans are American expats. As I walk past I catch snippets of conversion in a variety of English accents, and even hear a Scottish voice thrown in as well.
I pass the always impressive St. Martin-in-the-Fields church as I make the short walk to Charing Cross (once known as Trafalgar Square Station). When I reach the station, I notice a relatively large contingent of police, which I can only assume is a precaution if the crowds in Trafalgar Square get unruly. This appears somewhat unlikely as it's usually the other type of football fans that seem to cause problems here.
A rather wet Villiers Street, quick walk between Charing Cross and Embankment
I get to Embankment (previously known as Charing Cross) with a minimal amount of effort. The distance between the station entrance here and Charing Cross is among the shortest on the network. At around 200m, Usain Bolt could do it in around 19 seconds or perhaps even faster as it's slightly downhill.
Venturing South & Connecting All Three Walks
The next step involves crossing the Thames, but fortunately the Hungerford pedestrian bridge is right here and I make my way across. While I still think Waterloo Bridge gives you the best view over the Thames, the western Hungerford Bridge does provide some great views over the river as well.
Sun shinning everywhere but the Houses of Parliament
While it's no longer raining, the clouds linger over the Houses of Parliament even though the sun is shining down on the Thames. Not sure if I should read too much into it, but it's an interesting sight.
Once over the bridge and in South London, I pass by Royal Festival Hall and some of the temporary art installations. Then it's on to Waterloo, which was the starting point of my first walk. This walk has now intersected with the two previous ones, connecting everything I've done up to this point.
After passing a few police officers dressed up as zombies for Halloween, I decide that the best thing to do is to cut go through the dark Old Vic Tunnels, or as the sign says, 'The Tunnel Authorised Graffiti Area.'
The Tunnel Authorised Graffiti Area
If you've never been here before, it's well worth a visit. It's entirely free to enter and you can watch some very talented artists create some pretty stunning graffiti. Conveniently, it also brings me to Lambeth North, the penultimate station on this walk.
What is it about South London?
Westminster Bridge House former Necropolis railway terminus
The area around here is a bizarre mishmash of different types of buildings, some commercial, some residential, some privately owned, some council-owned. While I don't really get much of a feel for the area, one thing I do like about this part of South London is the wide pavements, which gives everyone much more space for walking.
Yet, the area doesn't feel particularly pedestrian friendly. While the pavements are wide, the roads are even wider. Thus, it's an area you can easily walk through but not one that makes you want to stay. Few people want to sit at a café facing a very busy road. For now though, I enjoy being able to make quick progress.
The Imperial War Museum
The Imperial War Museum marks the last tourist sight on this walk and it does not disappoint. Although I haven't been in in over 7 years, the building alone is well worth a look. Yet, what relatively few people realise is that the building was not originally a museum.
In fact, it's the former site of the Bethlem Royal Hospital, which gave us the term bedlam and whose staff continue to treat mental illness from their Monks Orchard Road location. Whether the two uses for the building have any connection is up for you to decide.
As I continue the final few hundred meters of my walk it begins to rain again, perfect time to be finishing up. Before I do, I pass by the Prince of Wales pub, which is offering a Sunday Roast for £7.50. Earlier in the day, I'd passed the Warrington Hotel in Maida Vale which had a very similar one on offer for £15.
I think this says something about the differences between the incomes of people in the two areas. On the other hand, it could just mean that I'm hungry and craving a Sunday roast.
Elephant & Castle with London Road sign
Finally, I reach Elephant & Castle. Despite the rain, I force myself to take a few photos. In the process, I notice that the ugly metallic block in the middle of the roundabout is actually a monument to Michael Faraday. As far as I can tell, the monument houses a power substation, so it's perhaps a fitting tribute.
Faraday Monument Elephant & Castle
This brings an end to my third walk. Unfortunately, it didn't exactly go as planned. While it could have easily been done in one day, it has taken me two days to walk it all. My reliance on internet maps has shown its weakness.
Unlike my Victoria line walk, I don't feel that the Bakerloo line has the same level of interconnections, so to speak. Besides being the only line where both the start and terminus stations have ampersands in their names, there isn't much to connect Harrow & Wealdstone and Elephant & Castle. The former is in the quiet reaches of North London, while the latter is stuck in the middle of the busiest roundabout in South London.
Yet while the connections that the line provides are weak or perhaps non-existent, the walk has shown a few interesting about aspects about life in London and the 21st century. Relying on GPS on my phone to navigate is the first thing that comes to mind. Although I've only been able to do this for a few years now, I'm utterly dependent on it, and to be honest, I'm not really sure how I'd navigate London without a GPS map.
The second thing that comes to mind is that while large sections of London are changing all the time, the change is often uneven. I think you'd find few Londoners who like the Westway, but it won't be going anywhere any time soon because, while incredibly ugly, it serves its purpose very well. The same can be said for housing estates; while they may not serve their residents in the best way possible, they may be preferable to the alternative.
Similarly, London's suburban reaches aren't a uniform thing. They can start, end, and be interrupted by places like Wembley. This reflects London's ongoing expansion; throughout its history, London just swallowed up whole villages as it continued to grow.
Finally, London has not only swallowed up a large area of the UK, it's also swallowed up people from around the world. Walking through London, you hear people speaking so many different languages and see people from all sorts of different cultural and racial backgrounds. The interesting thing is that this is a London-wide phenomenon.
So perhaps the best connection between Harrow & Wealdstone and Elephant & Castle is that while they're totally different in look and feel, they do contain diverse groups of people, all of whom have chosen to move to or stay in London. London is as much an idea as a place, and it's one that we all want to feel connected to.
Bakerloo Line Walk By The Numbers
- Track Length: 14.4 miles or 23.2 km.
- Walking Distance: 22.5 miles or 36.2 km.
- Time Taken: 9 hours 17 minutes (over 2 days).
- Average speed: 2.42 miles per hour or 3.89 km per hour.
Approximate Map of the Walk
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