It sometimes makes sense to vary or change your routine. It can open your eyes to new perspectives, to things you hadn't considered before. A walk to work is the perfect solution for urban commuter fatigue syndrome, which city dwellers the world over will have experienced at some point or other.
The Piccadilly line, which opened in 1906, is reasonably efficient at dealing with the 210 million passengers it carries every year. It serves the needs of those arriving at Heathrow Airport and travelling into central London relatively well. It is also a lifeline for commuters in the west, south-west and north London who, I assume, feel some sense of affinity with the line they use day-in, day-out. In fact, one might suppose that the line becomes part of them and they become part of the line. This line has been a constant in my own life since moving to London in 2005, and had even been part of it before I use to take the coach from Hampshire to Hammersmith for onwards travel to London gigs in the late 1990s.
The dark blue - officially named Corporate Blue Pantone 072 and inspired by Harry Beck's 1930s diagrammatic map of the London Underground - has now seeped into my commuter veins, affecting the way I see the world. Like others, I memorise the names of the stations that form my part of the line, adapt to the particular rhythms of the trains and to the characters of the assortment of other regular passengers getting on and off at the various stations. Many have a preference for a particular car in order to (apparently) make their exit from their target destination more efficient. Some will even almost injure themselves when they jump through the closing doors of a departing train and fight among themselves to get a particular seat. I am not immune from this myself.
Some people believe that Tube lines themselves have personalities of their own. In a recent BBC documentary, The Tube, a chirpy Piccadilly line driver summed up his views on the nature of his favourite (male) Tube line: "He doesn’t say a lot; he’s very cool. But when the proverbial hits the fan, he pulls it out the bag every time. He’s really slick."
In turn, the character of the line itself is affected by the various personalities who use it. Consider, for instance, the different types of people who might use the Jubilee line as opposed to the Central line or the Piccadilly line, and you probably get my point. It goes without saying that particular social groups tend to use particular modes of transport. And think of all the people who don't use the Tube at all: those who travel by bus, car, bike, taxi or chauffeured limousine.
Anyway, it is good to distance yourself from these things occasionally. And a walk to work might just be the best way of doing this, and it will also benefit your physical health and your mental well-being.
For no particular reason, I just kept on walking
Inspired by some of my colleagues who regularly walk to work, on a bright day in June I decided to do part of my commute on foot. At first, I thought I could only be bothered to do an hour or two. And then, like Forrest Gump, for no particular reason I just kept on going.
Although they may seem like they are worlds apart, only 12 miles (19.3 km) lie between my home near Hounslow and Stanfords in Covent Garden, and the Piccadilly line follows a wiggly line between the two. Walking this stretch of the 44-mile (71-km) Piccadilly line - roughly 20 of the 53 stations - takes around four hours, at least at my sluggish pace. The route got progressively more boring the closer I got to central London, perhaps because I was already familiar with Knightsbridge, Kensington Gore and Piccadilly, and all they have to offer.
The most fun I had, was closer to home. Here I offer a few of the sights along the way:
- The majestic Sri Guru Singh Sabha Gurdwara (Sikh temple) on the Hanworth Road in Hounslow, outside which I got talking to a devotee about what he was doing up so early in the morning and we discussed the route I would take to London (no maps were needed after this discussion).
- In the overspill car park of the gurdwara, I noticed how a thoughtful tagger had painted poetry onto the sides of a few slabs of concrete - for the edification of passers-by.
- Some of the historic milestones that can be found on the road from Staines to London (the A315), at once both iconic and practical for the pedestrian.
- A very old fountain at the side of the road at Isleworth, presumably built for walkers and animals in a bygone age when people would customarily walk to central London to sell the wares and produce.
- The delightfully minute, landscaped Watermans Park alongside the Thames at Brentford.
- Numerous historic pubs lining this historic thoroughfare, often with pro-Royalist names and interesting pub signs.
- If you are interested in both the London Underground and walking in London, you may wish to try the following:
- > Walk the Lines: The London Underground, Overground by Mark Mason
- > London Underground Facts by Stephen Halliday
- > What's in a Name by Cyril Harris
- > Stanfords print-on-demand Tube maps, showing the true course of the London Underground lines over a topographic map
Author: Tim Cleary