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Tubewalker: The Tube, on Foot

Metropolitan Line: Aldgate to Finchley Road

A rainy London skyline from Primrose Hill
A rainy London skyline from Primrose Hill

This is clearly going to be fun. I've been rained on, I've got a mysterious black stain up the side of my left leg, I've spent ages wandering around, hopelessly lost, at least twice, and I've still had a wonderful day's walking. London bodes well, much to my relief.

Aldgate to Liverpool Street

Aldgate station
Aldgate station

Aldgate station, opened on , feels like an old station; as you get off the train, daylight filters through the roof, an unusual feeling for a city-centre underground stop. The Metropolitan Railway, as the original underground line was called, was built using the cut-and-cover technique, so the lines are nowhere near as deep as the later Tube lines. Indeed, as you walk the Metropolitan line through the City, you can't help but notice the railway popping up here and there, in cuttings or below bridges. It truly is a subterranean railway, rather than a Tube line, and it's all the more charming for it; it feels Victorian, a bit a Heath Robinson even, and the thought that the trains ran on steam until 1905 makes it even more amazing. The Victorians were clearly something else.

Liverpool Street to Moorgate

Finsbury Circus
Finsbury Circus

It isn't far from Devonshire Square to Liverpool Street station, though the 'Street' part of the sign has fallen off, so it's currently called Liverpool Underground Station. I presume this isn't a permanent change, though it wouldn't be the station's first name change, as it originally opened as Bishopsgate on before being renamed Liverpool Street in 1909.

Moorgate to Barbican

The Barbican
The Barbican – what's not to like?

I didn't think it would be, but the Barbican turned out to be the highlight of my walk. Until today I've never explored the Barbican, assuming it was some bizarre post-war concrete experiment that was best avoided. How wrong I was! It's fascinating to wander around, and I got completely lost for the second time when I thought it might be a good idea to try to walk through the complex to the station on the other side. It's a complete maze, but it's great fun, particularly if you climb up a couple of floors to the high walkway that connects all the important bits. I got happily lost here for some time, and even the friendly librarian I asked for directions couldn't stop me from getting lost again within a few steps of leaving her library, but that's the charm of the Barbican. You wander through curved corridors and round concrete corners, and suddenly you bump into monstrous skyscrapers towering over lakes, ancient churches, portions of the original City wall and hordes of schoolchildren screeching their way through their days out. It's been voted London's ugliest building, but I think time will vindicate the designers; I love it, with its rows and rows of apartments decorated with flower boxes spilling their bright colours out over the surrounding streets. It took me ages to track down Barbican station at the end of one of the walkways, but I was a happy wanderer indeed.

Barbican to Farringdon

St Bartholemew the Great Church
St Bartholemew the Great

Not far from the Barbican is the church of St Bartholemew the Great, an early Gothic masterpiece, tucked away on a side street south of Smithfield Market. It's well worth the detour, and is simply charming, not least because it's so easy to miss. It's also a popular spot for office workers having a fag break; I can see the appeal.

Farringdon to King's Cross St Pancras

Farringdon station
Farringdon station

From Farringdon I walked north along St John's Lane, where the impressive stone St John's Gate spans the road before leading into Clerkenwell. It's subtle, but the atmosphere of the buildings starts to change, albeit slowly. There are some lovely mews round the back of St James's Church and some pleasant green spaces in Spa Fields Park and Wilmington Square, but it's a bit of a shock to reach King's Cross Road and the huge open area of the Mount Pleasant Royal Mail Sorting Office. It might date from 1889, but it feels as if you've fallen off the edge of the historical City and into a bland land of commerce and factory.

King's Cross St Pancras to Euston Square

The Meeting Place
The Meeting Place

Not quite so brilliant is the spot a few blocks south of the British Library in Tavistock Square, site of the 7 July Bus Bomb. On an overcast Monday morning it's a peaceful spot, with a leafy garden in the centre of the square quietly minding its own business, and it must have been an incredible shock to see the roof being ripped off the number 30 at 9.47 in the morning. It's a strange feeling, watching double-decker buses driving over the very spot where, nearly three years ago, London was brought to a standstill.

Euston Square to Great Portland Street

Great Portland Street station
Great Portland Street station

Much more obvious is Great Portland Street station, which sits alone at the northern end of Great Portland Street, after a short walk past the looming Euston Tower and the grand entrance to University College Hospital. The station is an oval building housing a restaurant, shops, a florist, subterranean toilets and the Tube station itself, like a Victorian shopping mall in miniature. I like it when Tube stations reveal themselves; it's normal in the suburbs, but in the centre of town, they're so often incorporated into other buildings, or completely hidden underground. Good for Great Portland Street, then, for standing alone on such a busy junction.

Great Portland Street to Baker Street

The Royal College of Music
The Royal College of Music

From Great Portland Street to Baker Street, I followed Marylebone Road with a strong sense of déjà vu, as until Friday this was my commuting route. It might not strike the casual walker as an interesting road to follow, but this entire road was ripped up to build the original Metropolitan line, so in a very real sense the road itself is part of the world's first subterranean railway. Charles Dickens lived at 1 Devonshire Terrace (now 15-17 Marylebone Road) from 1839 to 1851, where he wrote The Old Curiosity Shop, Barnaby Rudge, Martin Chuzzlewit, A Christmas Carol, Dombey and Son, and David Copperfield; and just before Baker Street station you have to fight your way through the tourist chaos outside Madame Tussauds, which is always fun when you're commuting with sharpened brolly in hand. Madame Tussauds now incorporates the old Planetarium, one of my favourite little buildings in the city, with its little Saturnine planet plonked on the top like the architectural equivalent of a springy table tennis antenna hat. It reminds me of the cover to the Pixies' Bossanova, which is a good memory, and every time I go past, I secretly hope it will shake its dome and bounce its antennae around like the mischievous child I imagine it to be. I'm still waiting, but I'm waiting in hope.

Baker Street to Finchley Road

The Holme, Regent's Park
The Holme, Regent's Park

Buried deep in the large building on the corner of Baker Street and Marylebone Road is Baker Street station, the last of the original stations from the first section of the 1863 Metropolitan line (the line actually went on to Paddington, but this part is no longer part of the Metropolitan, but the Hammersmith & City). The station itself is decked out in tiling showing the pipe-smoking profile of Sherlock Holmes, whose fictitious address of 221b Baker Street is just round the corner. It's now home to a Sherlock Holmes museum and shop, of course, and is just up the block from a Beatles store and opposite a rock 'n' roll memorabilia emporium. Holmes would probably approve, and might even deduce that this is a prime tourist spot.

221b Baker Street
221b Baker Street
Primrose Hill
Primrose Hill in the rain