I’ve lived in London almost all of my life and have been travelling on the Underground since my teens.
Yesterday, Aussie Mate and I completed one of those long held, quirky, fascinations, to travel around the circle line, just for the sake of it, not because we had to actually get anywhere.
Back in the day, the Circle Line Challenge was a pub crawl, to have a drink at every station. But there are 27 stations on this line!
Being older and wiser (?) we created our own bespoke Circle Line Challenge, some coffee stops, some stops to take tourist photos, walking some sections, and yes, alcoholic drinks at some stations. We did exit and / or enter every station, taking a photo of the station sign as we went.
We started at VICTORIA at 10.20 am and took the clockwise route to SLOANE SQUARE. The jewellers Tiffany and Cartier overlook the square. We began our day with a civilised breakfast and cup of English Tea in a nice French style cafe that was extremely busy at this hour of the morning. Business meetings, casual brunch gatherings. We people watched and noticed the expensive cars driving by.
Back on the westbound train, we got off at SOUTH KENSINGTON and walked above ground to the next station, GLOUCESTER ROAD. The properties in this area are blocks of five storey houses, with steps up to the front doors and steps down to the basement entrances. They reflect the historical “upstairs, downstairs” era, some down separated into flats with multiple doorbells.
The station buildings themselves are fascinating, ornate, dating back to 1868 with the opening of the Metropolitan Railway. As a modern day contrast, we looking in the window of the Lamborghini showroom opposite South Ken station.
We took the train, now heading northwards, to HIGH STREET KENSINGTON, a well know shopping street. The fashion market was a famous trend setter back in the 80’s. We found a coffee shop and stopped for a macchiato before getting back on the train.
At NOTTING HILL GATE we turned a corner into a street of antique shops, windows of ornate furniture, chandeliers. The Kensington Wine Bar beckoned to us, so at the 5th station and past midday, we had our first alcoholic drink.
Our walk to BAYSWATER was delightful. The sun came out and the wide open space of Kensington Gardens was alive with snow drops and a very tame robin, hopping on the bushes, happy to be photographed. We got back on the train to the next station.
PADDINGTON is famous for a certain fictional bear, so we wandered around the huge main line station, the city’s link to the west country of England. We found the expected references to the bear, a seat, a small statue.
But the main thing we wanted to find here, was the Statue to the Unknown Soldier, a large bronze statue of a British First World War soldier, dressed in battle gear, a helmet, woollen scarf, a greatcoat, who is looking down, reading a letter from home. This is a stunning war memorial of the Great Western Railway, for their staff who gave their lives in the Great War. In recent months it has inspired a project, where people from the UK and abroad have written letters to this soldier, as part of the WWI 100th anniversary commemorations. Thousands of letters have been received and are available to read online. Very moving.
We got back on the train, now heading eastbound, to EDGWARE ROAD. From here we walked along the busy Marylebone Road, past seven storey red brick Victorian apartment buildings, art deco blocks, offices and residential buildings. Madame Tussaud’s wax works museum has been on this road since 1835.
We detoured at BAKER STREET to find the fictional address of Sherlock Homes at 221B Baker Street. A crowd was gathered, queueing for their turn to have a photo taken in front of the front door. A Sherlock Homes Museum is next door.
An unexpected treat on Baker Street, was the window of the “Transport for London” Lost Property Office, which contained some objects left on the tube and buses over the years.
The train then took us to GREAT PORTLAND STREET. This is a unusual station, sited in the middle of a traffic island. This station opened in 1863 and is a Grade II listed building. This section of circle line between Paddington and Farringdon, is the oldest underground passenger railway in the world. Just around the corner from the station is the beautiful Georgian crescent of townhouses. Regents Park and London Zoo are across the road to the north.
Back on the train to EUSTON SQUARE, we then walked along Euston Road, past the British Library, and the recently refurbished St Pancras Hotel, where we stopped for a cocktail and snacks in the hotel bar. The bar looked out to the Eurostar platforms and the huge “Meeting Place” statue.
KINGS CROSS ST PANCRAS is a shared tube station for the two main line stations that cover the north of England, Scotland. We’re almost half way round. This is turning into a long blog post, but please stay with me.
We got back on the train to FARRINGDON where we had a different view of the station below the exit walkways. The walk to BARBICAN was fascinating, through different eras of history. We started by walking through Smithfield Meat Market built in 1829, destroyed by bombs during the Second World War but still in use today. The iron fencing and gates are original and believed to be in original Victorian colours. Across the street is St Bart’s Hospital and church, the oldest hospital in Europe, still on the same site since 1123. The church is often used in films, including “Four Weddings and a Funeral”. We walked along backstreets that were part of Roman London to the 1960’s built Barbican of today.
We got off the train at MOORGATE and had a glass of wine in a pub I used to frequent regularly during my working life here in the square mile City of London. There are pubs on every corner in this part of London.
Back on the train again to LIVERPOOL STREET, (the main line station for the east of England) where we walked through Spitalfields Market, now a refurbished area of restaurants, food stalls, free staring market stalls and permanent shops. This is an interesting mix of residential area on the border of the the influential finance and city work areas. It was now dark and 6pm so we had another glass of wine and some sliders, near my old office at ALDGATE. The circle line was now heading southward.
Another hop on the train to TOWER HILL, where we had views of a full moon as we exited this station, and Tower Bridge and the Tower of London just over the road. Both iconic buildings looked great in their floodlights. At another pub, full of city workers, I opted for a coffee this time. We were now heading west again and on the last leg of our journey.
One of the exits of MONUMENT station is right beside the tower that is the monument to the Great Fire of London in 1666. It is the tallest free standing stone column in the world and when it was constructed in 1677 it was originally designed to be a telescope as well as a monument.
A short walk took us to CANNON STREET then train to MANSION HOUSE where we got out to view St Paul’s Cathedral in the night light, and had a quick stop in a pub to warm up. We were now drinking shorts, before getting back on the train.
At BLACKFRIARS we went into a pub that we have often driven past. It is called the Blackfriar and is an art nouveau pub dating back to 1905, with friars depicted in reliefs, sculptures and mosaics. A very unusual interior.
The train took us to TEMPLE station, which is to the south of the Law Courts and legal district of London. We walked along the Embankment, overlooking the River Thames, to EMBANKMENT station. We had views of the river, the London Eye. We passed Cleopatra’s Needle, an ancient Egyptian obelisk given to the UK in 1819. The needle is flanked by two sphinxes, one showing holes and damage from a First World War bomb.
At Embankment, we had another glass of wine in Gordon’s Wine Bar, a 19th century bar deep in the vaults below street level. A great atmosphere but very crowded. I’ll write a separate post about some of our favourite London bars and pubs.
We were flagging by the time we got off the train at WESTMINSTER and took the exit to get photos of Big Ben. We heard the familiar chime as the clock tower showed 9pm.
We got back on the train to ST JAMES’S PARK and had a final glass of wine and shared platters in a pub opposite the station. We relaxed for a while, knowing that we were at the end of our challenge. The pedometer on my iphone stated we had walked 33,522 paces, no wonder we felt tired.
We finally got off the train at VICTORIA, twelve hours after we started this adventure. It was a great day. We paced ourselves and enjoyed every stop, every walk. We saw some favourite spots in London and found some new ones, some unexpected treats. Our Circle Line Challenge completed with 1 cup of tea, 2 coffees, 1 cocktail, 2 malibu’s and 5 glasses of wine.