It's a bit of a happy coincidence that most of the Beatles-related locations I've managed to track down for my tubewalk appear on the same day's walk – this one. I've been a fan of the Beatles ever since my parents introduced me to the 'Red' album (their 1962-1966 hits) when I was a kid; however, they never played anything later than Revolver, so imagine my excitement when I discovered the 'Blue' album (their 1967-1970 hits) as a teenager, which soon led to a fascination with the psychedelia of Sgt Pepper and the brooding menace of the White Album.
Since those early days of discovery, sometimes I've played the Beatles non-stop and sometimes I haven't played them for months, but I've never stopped being utterly fascinated by the story of how the Beatles changed the world. They split up just before I was born – as my girlfriend, who was around for their entire career, never ceases to remind me – and that only serves to make the myth stronger. So it's a thrill to walk past such seminal places as the houses where Paul wrote 'Yesterday' and 'Hey Jude', the zebra crossing from the cover of Abbey Road, and the old Decca office where they failed their first audition... and it's even better to visit so many in one day.
I was also lucky to share today's walk with my sister Julie, particularly given the name of the street we managed to visit on our way from Baker Street to Bond Street. I suppose you might call it a pilgrimage; it was certainly a thrill. God bless Moxon Street and all who tubewalk through her!
Dollis Hill to Willesden Green
Before all the excitement further south, today's walk starts off in slightly more subdued surroundings, in the quiet streets of Dollis Hill. I've a friend who used to live in Dollis Hill, and when I was having difficulties finding anything interesting to walk past on the first two stretches of this walk, he told me that that's because there isn't anything interesting in between Dollis Hill and Kilburn. Having walked through the area, I think he's right; it's perfectly pleasant round here, but it isn't exactly throbbing with attractions for the casual walker.
However, in suburbia, still waters run deep, and they run very deep indeed in the backstreets of Dollis Hill. At 195 Melrose Avenue, near the southeast corner of Gladstone Park (which I visited yesterday), lived a certain Dennis Nilsen. He killed at least 15 men between 1978 and 1983, and he killed the first 12 of those in Melrose Avenue. He would leave the bodies around the house, sometimes for several months, before dismembering them and disposing of them in various ways, either by burning them in the back garden or by dumping their entrails over the fence for wildlife to eat.
Nilsen moved to Muswell Hill in 1981 (close to where I walked on the Northern line) and killed three more victims there, but was finally caught when he tried to dispose of the bodies down the drain, which got blocked and attracted the attention of the police. Melrose Avenue is an anonymous street and number 195 is a typical and rather well kept suburban house, which makes Nilsen's story all the more amazing.
Willesden Green station is a short walk through more suburbia, and it's a cracking building. The original Metropolitan Railway station was opened in 1879, but the current building dates from the station reconstruction of 1925, when the company's architect, CW Clark, designed a magnificent marble-white building with 'Metropolitan Railway Willesden Green Station' emblazoned round the eaves that's as grand today as when it was unveiled. It's deservedly a Grade II-listed building.
Willesden Green to Kilburn
I couldn't find anything worth detouring for between Willesden Green and Kilburn, so we simply walked along Chatsworth Road, past a variety of fairly typical suburban homes, some pretty, some less so. It's on stretches like this that company really helps, especially after yesterday's lonely wander through more of the same, and I was glad to have Julie to talk to.
Kilburn station is at the junction of Christchurch Avenue and the A5, and the entrances sit under the northernmost of three large railway bridges that cross Kilburn High Road (one carrying the Metropolitan line straight past Kilburn station, and the other two carrying the Jubilee line up to Stanmore). There's an impressive mural on one of the walls supporting the Metropolitan line bridge, which brightens things up considerably. Apparently it was commissioned by the council to deter graffiti, and it seems to have worked as it was completed in and is still tag-free; it's also the largest mural of its kind in London and has won accolades from the likes of Time Out. You can find out more about the characters in the mural – which was expertly drawn by a group of street artists called Busk, Dane, Bleach and Tizer – on the project's website.
Kilburn to West Hampstead
Kilburn High Road, which passes Kilburn station, is dead straight. This isn't surprising, as this is the old Roman road Watling Street, which starts in Dover and goes through London all the way to Wroxeter in Shropshire. The buildings along the road are in an interesting variety of styles, but we had to turn off before reaching the heart of Kilburn to the south, as the Jubilee line heads east at this point while the Roman road heads southeast, heading for Dover.
Kilburn Grange Park is a small green space to the east of the main road, with a wide open area for kicking a football about and a small flower display in the far end, but it's over quickly and then it's back into the suburbs for the walk to West Hampstead. The standard of housing slowly improves as you approach West End Lane, and the terraces along Sherriff Road are very pleasant indeed, which is perhaps not surprising as we're getting closer to Hampstead, one of the most affluent areas of London.
West Hampstead station is to the left along West End Lane, its curved gables lending the red-brick building the air of a school. There are, in fact, three stations in the area called West Hampstead: there's the Tube station serving the Jubilee line; there's a London Overground station about 100m north along the main road; and then there's a Thameslink station even further to the north, down a side street. It's clearly a popular name...
West Hampstead to Finchley Road
A few yards from the Tube station is Broadhurst Gardens, and on the right at number 165 is an office belonging to the English National Opera. However, back in the 1960s, this was Decca Records, and this is where the Beatles came on to audition for the label. They performed 15 songs in just under an hour, including some Lennon-McCartney originals, and Mike Smith, the producer of the sessions, told them he would let the group know of his decisions in a few weeks. But eventually Dick Rowe, the A&R man at Decca, rejected the group, saying, 'We don't like their sound, and "guitar music" is on the way out.' It's one of the most well-known miscalculations in pop history, and by the end of the year the Beatles would be at the top of the charts, but on EMI's label Parlophone.
From the dizzying heights of the pop world, the trail continues through the dizzying heights at the top of the property ladder, and the housing along Canfield Gardens is particularly lovely. The gardens are lusher and better tended than in the suburbs so far on this line, the mansion blocks are grander, and the cars are shinier and more expensive. There are even signs built into the pavement to remind you that you're not allowed to let your dog leave presents for unsuspecting passers-by, though the message is so tastefully illustrated that it appears to say you shouldn't let your dog turn its back on any fires in the vicinity; still, the pavements are very clean, so they obviously work.
The station building at Finchley Road station, where I ended my first ever tubewalk back on 2 June, dates from 1914, though the original station was opened way back in 1879 by the Metropolitan Railway. It's a busy part of the world, this, and it's not a place to linger for too long.
Finchley Road to Swiss Cottage
Although Swiss Cottage station is a short walk south along Finchley Road, it's worth exploring the backstreets to the east of the main road, as the number of blue plaques along the likes of Netherhall Road and Maresfield Gardens is truly impressive. As per usual, most of the names on the plaques are of politicians from long ago, and I'm afraid my knowledge of political history is shaky enough to make most of them complete strangers to me, but there are two houses along Maresfield Gardens where even I've heard of the erstwhile occupants.
At number 20 is the Freud Museum, where Sigmund Freud and his family lived after fleeing the Nazi invasion of Austria in 1938. Freud himself died just one year later, in 1939, though the house remained the family home, and his daughter Anna lived there for 44 years, where she developed her own pioneering psychoanalytical work, particularly with children. On her wishes the house became a museum, and there are two blue plaques on the outside, one for Sigmund and one for Anna.
Meanwhile, at number 4, there's a plaque to Cecil Sharp, the collector of English folk songs and dances. Now I love English folk music, particularly the 1960s revival when the likes of Fairport Convention merged folk and rock to produce a whole new art-form, but it's arguable that none of this would have happened without Cecil Sharp. In 1903 Sharp cycled around England collecting ballads and tunes, and in 1911 he formed the English Folk Dance Society, now the English Folk Song and Dance Society, which is based at Cecil Sharp House on the other side of Regent's Park. It was by leafing through the archives at Cecil Sharp House that Ashley Hutchings discovered the ancient folk songs that would make up all but two songs on Fairport Convention's seminal Liege and Lief album, including the stunning 'Matty Groves', which is a personal favourite. Without Cecil Sharp, there would be no Liege and Lief, and that's enough to deserve a blue plaque all by itself.
Swiss Cottage station is not far south along yet more backstreets of enjoyable housing, though the station itself is all but hidden underground. There's a staircase on Eton Avenue and another on Avenue Road, but there's not a lot to see of the 1939 station, which was added to the Stanmore branch of the Metropolitan line when it switched to being part of the Bakerloo line.
Swiss Cottage to St John's Wood
Just over the road from the station entrance on Avenue Road is Ye Olde Swiss Cottage pub, from which the area gets its name. The pub you see today dates from 1965, though there has been a pub on this site since 1803, when it was called the Swiss Tavern. It's on a busy triangle of land between Finchley Road and Avenue Road, and it's a good idea to duck off down St John's Wood Park for a bit of peace, passing a ventilation shaft for the Jubilee line just before the turn.
The housing along St John's Wood Park is impressive, though there are quite a few tower blocks in the area that dominate the skyline, dwarfing the neo-Georgian terraces and stucco townhouses along the road. The residences along Acacia Road are even more exquisite, and this signals the move into St John's Wood, another rather exclusive part of London.
St John's Wood station is hidden away on the corner of Finchley Road and Acacia Road, and as with Swiss Cottage, it was opened in 1939 when the Stanmore extension switched to the Bakerloo line. It's a pleasantly curved building in the corner of a large block of apartments, and it's home to the Beatles coffee shop, an indication that we're in Beatles territory once again.
St John's Wood to Baker Street
Roll up, roll up for the mystery tour, because this is the section where the Beatles start to take over this tubewalk (at least, as far as I'm concerned). It's a short walk through some sumptuous suburbs to Abbey Road, where a double-whammy awaits Beatles fans just north of the junction with Grove End Road. First up is Abbey Road Studios, arguably the most famous recording studios in the world; the studios were created in 1931 in a century-old Georgian townhouse by the Gramophone Company, which later merged with the Columbia Graphophone Company to form EMI, the label whose subsidiary Parlophone eventually signed the Beatles. The biggest group in the history of popular music recorded almost all of their music here, at what was then known as EMI Studios (they were renamed Abbey Road Studios after the last Beatles album in 1969). Pink Floyd recorded all their albums from Piper at the Gates of Dawn through to Wish You Were Here at Abbey Road (which includes The Dark Side of the Moon), and other notable clients include Oasis, Radiohead, U2, Green Day, Cliff Richard, the Shadows, Elliot Smith and Madness.
Not surprisingly, the studios are a Mecca for Beatles fans, and the walls outside the studio are smothered with graffiti, most of them quoting Beatles lyrics (a favourite is, of course, 'And in the end the love you take is equal to the love you make'). However, the real draw-card is the zebra crossing from the cover of Abbey Road, and small crowds of tourists gather around the edges, trying to set up photos of their fellow travellers walking across the road in Beatles fashion. They tend to wait for the traffic to settle down before setting off, though that might be because zebra crossings are treated differently abroad; when we strode across in true London style, forcing a car to stop, there was an audible gasp from one family, who probably thought we were going to be mown down on this most hallowed of turfs. Luckily, we survived, though the temptation for the drivers to keep on going through yet another line of bloody Beatles fans blocking the road must be pretty tempting...
Another Beatles location is not far along Circus Road. Paul McCartney bought 7 Cavendish Avenue in for £40,000 and spent a further £20,000 doing it up, and in he moved into the house with his girlfriend, Jane Asher. In the music den on the top floor he wrote songs such as 'Penny Lane', 'Getting Better' and 'Hey Jude', on a piano painted in psychedelic colours. This was where McCartney reportedly offered Mick Jagger his first ever joint, and it was where Paul brought John Lennon after John had accidentally taken acid during a Sgt Pepper recording session in (Paul also took LSD that night to keep John company; it was his second acid trip, and he later said about his experience, 'I could feel every inch of the house, and John seemed like some sort of emperor in control of it all. It was quite strange.'). It was also in Cavendish Avenue where Jane Asher caught McCartney in bed with another woman in 1968, leading to the break up of their engagement. There's a tiny bit of graffiti on the walls outside the house, but the large wooden gate is firmly locked up; McCartney still owns the house, and it's definitely off-limits to fans.
At the end of Cavendish Avenue is Lord's Cricket Ground, though there's not a lot to see of the home of English cricket from the road; however, there is a rather attractive cricket-themed fresco around the corner where Wellington Road meets St John's Wood Road, opposite the impressive St John's Wood Church. The walk down Park Road is enjoyable, and you pass some very impressive mansion blocks and a row of Georgian town houses that is home to the London Business School. There's a florist in an old petrol station (called, amusingly, the Flower Station), and then Baker Street takes over, with the Sherlock Holmes museum at 221b, the London Underground Lost Property Office at 200, and finally Baker Street station on the corner with Marylebone Road. Also of interest is Chiltern Court, which is where both Arnold Bennett and HG Wells lived and worked, and in the case of the former, died.
Baker Street to Bond Street
The Beatles sights keep on rolling, and the next one is south of the station at 94 Baker Street, where the band opened the Apple Boutique in 1968. The store, which was on the corner with Paddington Street, was famous for having a massive, psychedelic mural painted on the walls, to which the local businesses objected, resulting in its removal. The boutique was a disaster and lost money from the start, mainly because people kept shoplifting goods. The business opened on and shut on ; it was one of the first business ventures by the Beatles' Apple Corps, and it foreshadowed just how sour the hippie dream would become over the next couple of years.
On the other side of a small park – the Garden on Paddington Street, which was formed from consecrated ground in 1885 – is Moxon Street. Clearly, Moxon Street is of little interest to people whose surnames aren't Moxon, but for me and my sister (if you consider her maiden name) it's a special place. How many other places can we have our photo taken while pointing gormlessly at a street sign with our name on it? And what about the fantastic Moxon House on Moxon Street, which, by rights, should be ours? And the fact that on this tiny street there are no fewer than six signs sporting 'Moxon Street W1'? What a street!
And it's in good company too, because on the other side of Marylebone High Street is Wimpole Street, and it was at 57 Wimpole Street that Paul McCartney lived with Jane Asher and her parents from 1963 to 1966, before he moved to Cavendish Avenue. This is where Lennon and McCartney wrote their first US number one, 'I Want to Hold Your Hand', and Paul bashed out 'Yesterday' in the music room in the basement.
The final Beatles location on this tubewalk is back on the other side of Marylebone High Street, past some amazing mansion blocks and a huge Roman Catholic church. Manchester Square is not only home to the Wallace Collection, one of the world's best collections of fine and decorative arts, but 20 Manchester Square was the headquarters of EMI when the Beatles were on their roster, and it was in this building that the cover shot for Please Please Me was taken, with the Beatles looking down the stairwell into the camera. A similar photo was take in 1969 for the unreleased Get Back album, though this picture later saw the light of day as the cover of the 'Blue' greatest hits album (and they reused the Please Please Me shot for the cover of the 'Red' album). The building has been completely renovated since, and the stairwell is, alas, no more.
With all the Beatles memories out of the way, what better way to relax than with a quick bit of shopping? Actually, I couldn't give a monkeys about shopping, but even I liked St Christopher's Place, a tiny backstreet that leads from Wigmore Street to Oxford Street, and which is peppered with all sorts of shops, cafés and restaurants. It's amazing to think that this enjoyable place is so close to the tourist chaos of Oxford Street, and the southern end of St Christopher's Place is practically opposite Bond Street station, where the crowds are just as fierce as the last time I came this way on my Central line walk from Shepherd's Bush to Liverpool Street.
Bond Street to Green Park
The backstreet shopping experience continues down Avery Row, which is a short walk southeast of the Tube station, though the shops here aren't a patch on St Christopher's Place (though there is a nice pub halfway down called the Iron Duke, so it isn't all bad). Crossing the road at the end of Avery Row, you enter Bourdon Street, where there are some delightful little houses that used to be stables and coach-houses; the basements are now garages, and they're extremely cute. Around the corner is Berkeley Square, which was laid out in the 18th century, and it's home to some of the most exclusive residences in London, though one wonders who lives at number 50, which is said to be the most haunted house in London.
I thought we should check out some more backstreets on the way to Green Park, and while Bruton Place is a pleasant diversion, with an attractive pub and a lovely looking restaurant, Bruton Lane is home to little else except for the backs of buildings, so we didn't waste any time heading along Berkeley Street to Piccadilly, where Green Park station hides under the carriageway.
So that's the end of an unapologetically Beatles-themed walk through some lovely parts of London, and I'm now set up to finish off my last line with some walking south of the river, a rarity in the world of tubewalking. I can't wait: with less than 30 miles of walking to go and nearly 410 miles under my belt, the finishing line is so close I can almost touch it. As Paul McCartney sang on Let It Be, it's a long and winding road...