Amazingly enough the day of my Victoria line walk happens to be another sunny Saturday in September. I've decided walk the line in the reverse order from the station visits – Walthamstow Central to Brixton this time. Walking north to south is a deliberate decision; psychologically, it feels like you're going downhill.
I set off out of the station at full speed along Selborne Road, passing an Asda and a passed out drunk, then walk parallel to Walthamstow High Street, where you can find Walthamstow Market – Europe's longest daily outdoor market.
Walthamstow Central Station, the start of my walk
I decide against my normal better judgement to cut over to the High Street. Normally I avoid crowds whenever I can. I love living in big cities, except for having to deal with all the other people.
Global Markets & Reservoirs
The last time I walked along the Market/High-Street was in the middle of a snow storm. Today the market shows its true colours. It's as much a part of London's commercial life as City banks.
It's rammed full of people and you can buy everything and anything along here – from vegetables with names I can't read to "designer" handbags. With people from all sorts of different ethnic and national backgrounds, it's one of London's cultural intersections and a global market of its own kind.
The quiet end of Walthamstow Market.
As a short, chubby, pasty white Canadian, carrying a camera and wearing shorts and a Bowel Cancer UK t-shirt, I stand out like a sore thumb, or at least I feel like I do. Moreover, the area clearly still has issues with crime as I pass two sites cordoned off by police.
Yet despite these two observations, no one bothers to take a second look at me. Here, as elsewhere in London, people just get on with it.
After taking only a couple of photos, I'm on to Blackhorse Road. The area seems to have little of note, besides a few moderately attractive and well-kept homes. I quickly reach the nondescript Blackhorse Road Station. From here it's on to Forest Road, through the middle of some of the reservoirs that quench London's thirst for fresh, clean water.
Section of River Lea just past the reservoirs.
Unlike the crowds at Walthamstow Market, this area is almost totally devoid of people on foot. However, the busy road means you never for a moment feel like you're alone. For safety reasons you can't go right up to the reservoirs without a permit, but I do spy a fair number of men who've managed to get them so they can attempt to fish (not sure if there are any fish actually in them).
Distractions & Better Second Impressions
River Lea, a very tempting diversion.
After the reservoirs, I come to and cross the River Lea. I almost regret deciding to walk the Victoria line on such a beautiful day, because at this point the walking path along the River Lea looks far more attractive and inviting than carrying on to Tottenham Hale Station.
My original opinion of Tottenham Hale from my station visit was not positive. However, I have to admit feeling differently this time around, given its proximity to the River Lea and to the Paddock Community Nature Park – a small, pleasant nature reserve.
The walk from Tottenham Hale to Seven Sisters is entirely unremarkable except for one wrong turn, which I quickly fix, and a few houses near Seven Sisters with German names above the door.
The area immediately around Seven Sisters is quite lively but becomes quiet again soon enough. Objectively, there is not a lot to differentiate the area immediately leading to Seven Sisters from the area leading away from it. Yet after I pass the station, I find the walk more enjoyable.
The Long Walk & Other Tube Stations
That is, until I cross the Capital Ring along Seven Sisters Road. The Capital Ring is one of two orbital walks in London and again I find myself wishing I were walking it rather than along the next section of Seven Sisters Road.
Seven Sisters Road, probably the ugliest bit of the walk.
The stretch of road between here and Manor House Tube Station (a Piccadilly line-only station and the first tube station I cross that isn't on the line I'm walking) is one of the ugliest in London. At this point, Seven Sisters widens to 6 lanes (4 for cars, 2 for buses) and is thronged with ugly mid-rise tower blocks.
Even once I reach Manor House, I'm still only roughly half-way between Seven Sisters and the next station at Finsbury Park. The distance between the two is the longest between two deep level stations, excluding those at Heathrow.
Finsbury Park looks a lot more inviting than continuing to walk along Seven Sisters Road, so I turn in to the park. It's busy with all kinds of people from 20-somethings playing football and young kids learning how to Rollerblade to a group of Rastas playing some reggae music and smoking weed. Another of London's cultural intersections.
Welcome to Finsbury Park
Gillespie Road & Arsenal
Once I leave the Park the mood begins to change; the pubs here are packed with Arsenal fans. Since I don't really care about or follow football, I had no idea there was a game on or who they were playing.
Now I like a few beers as much as the next man, but as a Canadian whose sports teams wins or loses never result in violence, pubs filled with football fans always put me a little on edge.
It's not clear to me at this point whether Arsenal have won or lost, but either way the fans seem to be intent on getting drunk. [Note: When writing this article I discovered that Arsenal were playing their London rival Chelsea and lost 2-1.]
At Finsbury Park Station, I get slightly turned around again, but quickly head off in the right direction towards Highbury & Islington. Along the way I decide to take a slight detour along Gillespie Road, past Arsenal Tube Station (another Piccadilly-only station) and Emirates Stadium, home of Arsenal Football Club.
I figure I might as well see what the area looks like on game day, but it turns out to be quiet. The game obviously ended some time ago.
Nobody around the Arsenal Sign after the game
It's a very strange place – very residential with some rather nice looking homes. The sort of place on first inspection you'd almost call quiet. Yet, there are also all sorts of seemingly homemade stalls with people selling food and souvenirs.
I can only imagine the area must be anything but quiet on game days. Still I love that these sort of seeming anomalies continue to exist throughout London.
The Sun & The Cally
From Emirates Stadium, I follow Drayton Park to the rather busy Holloway Road and then make my way down to Highbury & Islington Station. It's amazing how busy the station gets as the evening approaches. The setting sun blinds me as I head west towards Caledonian Road. The Cally – as the street is known locally – is a little rough around the edges, but it’s full of surprises too.
Although I've never walked along Caledonian Road before, I feel as if I know it already from the BBC's Secret History of our Streets. One of the first things I see is the Prince Pub and its landlord Eileen Christie; she gave some of the most memorable quotes about the Cally for the BBC series.
Attempts to appeal to young home buyers and keep the area safe.
No time to stop for a pint though. I continue heading roughly south and pass a sign for an estate agent called MySpace – obviously trying to cash in on the latest social networking craze.
The area's rougher side becomes somewhat apparent once I reach the Regent's Canal. Right beside the entrance is a bin to get rid of knives. This is the first time I've ever seen a bin like this in London and I can guess that it's here because knife crime is a problem for the area. Passing over the Regent's Canal, I once again get the urge to go off path.
Regent's Canal, best walk in London
The walk along the Regent's Canal is my favourite walk in London full-stop. However, I'm rewarded for sticking to my original plan just before I get to King's Cross with Keystone Crescent, perhaps one of the nicest streets in London. It's one of those rare hidden gems you likely won't find unless you know about it.
Sherlock & Fitzrovia
I quickly pass King's Cross, St. Pancras and Euston stations, all of which I'll see several more times before this whole series of walks is over. Just past Euston, I make a slight detour up North Gower Street to grab a photo of Speedy's Cafe and "221B Baker Street", where Sherlock is filmed. Worth a quick visit if you're in the area and a fan of the show.
Speedy's Cafe and "221B Baker Street"
From here I briefly walk along the ugliest bit of Euston Road and then on to entirely forgettable Warren Street Station. London quickly changes once I enter Fitzrovia – gone is the din of traffic, in its place are quiet streets of understated affluence.
The BT Tower seems to loom around every corner of Fitzrovia
That and the BT Tower, which wholly dominates the area, popping up around almost every corner. Banksy fans may be interested to know that they can find one of his more famous works very near the base of the Tower, just past the end of Maple Street and across from the Tower Tavern.
Poor picture of Banksy's work, the glass doesn't feel quite right.
After a few more random lefts and rights I'm on Langham Street, confronted with a somewhat out of place modern glass and concrete building. On closer inspection, it turns out to be BBC Broadcasting House, which I failed to recognise on first inspection as it looks completely different (although not in a bad way) from the Art Deco portion on Portland Place. It can also mean only one thing.
Modern Side and Art Deco Front of BBC Broadcasting House
The Hell of Oxford Circus & Mayfair
BBC Broadcasting House and the very unique and impressive looking All Souls Church are like a sea of tranquillity before the hell I know I'm about to face. It's uncanny – once the road changes its name to Regent Street, the crowds begin.
Small at first, they get progressively worse as you head south – each block worse than the one before it. And then you're at the worst point in all of London – Oxford Circus!
The worst point in London, why do some many people voluntarily choose to come here?
I think there are very few places on this earth that so perfectly combine two of my most hated things – crowds and shopping. Not being too much of a masochist, I try and plot a quick escape.
However, I'm left with a dilemma of picking between the lesser of two evils: go south along Regent Street for a block or west along Oxford Street for a block? Sticking to my personal goal of avoiding walking along Oxford Street at all costs, I opt for the southern route.
I quickly cut over to Hanover Square and then down through the streets of Mayfair. The area just oozes wealth out of every pore. As I make my way down to Old Bond Street, with its shops full of things I don't want and can't afford, a sudden realisation hits me: I feel as out of place here, with my shorts and Bowel Cancer UK t-shirt, as I did up in Walthamstow.
Nevertheless, as I pass a group of Italian, Chinese, and Russian tourists stopping to take photos of a parked Lamborghini, I can also see that Mayfair is another cultural intersection, this time at the top end of the income scale.
Dusk & The Palace
Caviar House, we're not in Walthamstow any more.
At the end of Old Bond Street I make a right along Piccadilly. The signs of wealth remain all around me, the most noticeable of which is Caviar House. An entire restaurant devoted solely to fish eggs. Just past here I reach Green Park Station. It is now dusk and I have no hope of finishing the walk while it's still light outside like I originally planned.
The good thing is that since it's a bit later, Green Park itself is emptying out. This makes the approach to the most iconic sight of the whole trip that much more enjoyable. Buckingham Palace slowly reveals itself when you come at it from the North.
Buckingham Palace at dusk, still busy with tourists.
After over 2 years in London, and running past it dozens of times, it still impresses me. Unlike palaces in other European capitals, you can wander the parks and get right up to the gates at no cost. Yet, I don't have time to do this. A few quick photos of the palace and St. James Park in the waning light and I'm off.
St. James Park at Dusk
Pasties, Pain & Pimlico
It's just a short walk on to Victoria along Buckingham Palace Road. After several hours walking I'm beginning to feel slightly peckish. Just before I reach the entrance to Victoria Underground Station, I spy a Cornish Bakehouse. I grab a lamb and mint pasty – just what I need to fuel the rest of the walk.
I walk and eat as Victoria turns into Pimlico. At this point the pain begins to noticeably set-in. I'm not used to walking long distances anymore and I can feel my muscles getting sorer and my legs getting more chafed.
Still I carry on, as the end is now coming into reach. I walk through the space where Tachbrook Street Market is normally located, past the council flats on the left and the terraced houses on the right. A wealth divide and encroaching gentrification are two hallmarks of the area.
Great beer, too bad about the prices.
The Cask Pub is but one example; formerly the Pimlico Tram, it has now been upgraded to focus on hand-crafted UK beer. It's exactly the sort of place that appeals to me, but I'll admit it is rather pricey.
Just past the pub is Pimlico Station, my favourite on the Victoria line. From the outside, the station is not too remarkable, but it has the benefit of being quiet. It seems to be a station only locals really seem to know about or use. This will be the last time I pass through Pimlico during my challenge, but there's no time to dwell on it as I still have 3 stations to go.
The River & The Dangers of South London At Night
Mini St. Paul's on Vauxhall Bridge
I've finally reached Vauxhall Bridge and the Thames. This will be my first, but certainly not last, foray into South London. Before I cross over, I take advantage of the waning light to grab a photo of the mini-St. Paul's Cathedral you can find on the upriver side of the bridge. I also grab some snaps of MI6 HQ, St. George's Wharf, and the Battersea Power Station as I cross the bridge.
More Iconic London: MI6 HQ and The Battersea Power Station
Once over the Vauxhall Bridge, I make it my mission to get the whole walk over and done with. I quickly pass over the giant roundabout that surrounds Vauxhall Station entrance. At this point I notice that coincidentally, it seems like other people are doing their own Cancer walk (later research will reveal that it is the Shine night-time walking marathon). Still no time to stop, I've got two stations to go.
With the light now gone, there is no point even trying to take photos with my camera; everything just comes out blurry. Fortunately for me, but unfortunately for residents, there doesn't seem much to see.
Mostly just houses and flats all the way down to Stockwell Station. One interesting thing I do notice at Stockwell, that I neglected to see the last time, is the deep-level shelter entrance, although that's a topic best left for the Northern Line.
Then from Stockwell it's on to the end of my walk at Brixton. Before I moved to London, walking alone at night towards Brixton would probably have filled me with at least some apprehension. However, the streets are filled with people getting ready for their nights out.
The area feels alive and there is a certain buzz in the air. Even at night, my original impression holds, Brixton is changing and gentrifying rapidly. It's become safer, but there is also the risk that it will lose much of its character and become indistinguishable from any other part of London.
End of the walk at Brixton, man are my legs sore.
Obviously you can see a lot of London when you walk a tube line, but the really interesting things are the connections; even if the tube lines themselves are artificial creations. Since the Victoria line is the most connected of all the Tube lines, this is especially true. The Victoria line – running entirely underground – connects areas as diverse as Walthamstow, Buckingham Palace, and Brixton. These are not normally places people think to associate with one another, but for better or worse, they are connected.
Five connections stand out in my head:
First, the reservoirs between Blackhorse Road and Tottenham Hale provide the drinking water for many of the areas further south.
Second, both Blackhorse Road and Stockwell Stations stand out for being particularly ugly stations in particularly boring areas. However, with both you're not too far away from something a bit more interesting.
Third, some of the best walking paths in central London intersect with the route of the Victoria line.
Fourth, the Victoria line is a great line for both tourists and commuters because it provides a quick connection from Victoria to Euston, St. Pancras, and King's Cross. But please refrain from using it between 9 and 9:15am.
Finally, while Walthamstow and Mayfair are about as divided by income and class as you can get, they both share the fact that they are culturally mixed areas with people coming together from around the world. In my opinion, London of the 21st century is going to be more defined by income inequality than by your cultural background.
At 15.5 miles, the Victoria line is a good middle distance walk. I feel very sore at the end, but that is more to do with lack of any recent long distance walking. My initial impressions of most stations remain roughly the same, except Tottenham Hale, which is much improved. Stay tuned for my next challenge: the Bakerloo line.
Victoria Line Walk By The Numbers
- Track Length: 13.3 miles or 21km.
- Walking Distance: 15.5 miles or 24.9 km.
- Time Taken: 5 hours 24 minutes.
- Average speed: 2.87 miles per hour or 4.6 km per hour.
Map of the Walk:
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