The Waterloo & City line is a funny one, having just two stations, Waterloo and Bank. At only 1.5 miles long, it is easily the shortest line on the Underground, and it is the only line that runs underground for its entire length (the Victoria line almost manages this, but it runs overground to its depot, while the entire Waterloo & City line is underground). It also has no direct connection to the rest of the rail network, so carriages are hoisted in and out using a road-mounted crane just south of Waterloo railway station, and even weirder, it's the only Tube line whose speed limits and speedometers are in kilometres per hour; the rest of the network uses miles per hour.
Opened in 1898, the Waterloo & City line was the world's second deep-level Tube railway, the first being the Northern line (though I'm walking this one first as it was much more convenient to slot it in with my Circle line walks). It didn't become part of London Underground until 1990, over 100 years after it was opened, when British Rail – who operated it until that point – was nationalised. Locally known as 'the Drain', the Waterloo & City line is a lot more pleasurable to walk along than its nickname might imply...
Waterloo to Bank
The journey by Tube might be short and sweet, but it's quite a lot slower by foot, as there's so much to see. When walking through the centre of town on the District line, I was slightly uninspired by the tourist areas of the City itself, having seen them so many times before; but I never tire of walking along the river, so that's where I headed from Waterloo station. The best exit to head for is the one that comes out in the middle of the main line station, as all you need to do is turn left onto the pedestrian bridge over York Road, pop down the steps to the left, and then turn right into Jubilee Gardens, home of the London Eye.
It's all river walking from here to the Millennium Bridge, and what a fantastic walk it is too. The South Bank is a real tourist delight, and justifiably so, especially on a sunny day, as the sun lights up the north bank without once getting in your eyes. Starting out from the massive wheel of the Eye, the walkway goes past Hungerford Bridge (from where Terry and Julie watched the sunset in the Kinks' classic 'Waterloo Sunset'), in front of the Royal Festival Hall and along to Queen Elizabeth Hall. The latter still sports the graffiti of the skateboard fraternity, who have made the architectural dead-zone under the hall their own since the early 1970s, but there are plans to close it down (despite it being the UK's most busiest skate park and the spiritual home of British skateboarding). The graffiti isn't as talented as some I've seen on my walks, and I wasn't too pleased to have to stand in pools of piss to take photos of the more impressive designs, but that's urban living for you. It'll still be a shame to see it go, the acrid stench notwithstanding.
The walkway continues past the National Theatre to a corner with fantastic views of St Paul's Cathedral and the Millennium Bridge, with Somerset House and the Victoria Embankment opposite. There's a collection of restaurants back from the river here, as well as a little garden, and just along the river is the Oxo Tower, an Art Deco building that dates from between 1928 and 1929. The company wanted to advertise its products on the building, but when permission was refused, the architect designed the upper windows so that they just happened to have an 'O', an 'X' and another 'O' in a vertical row; very sneaky. The tower has since been refurbished to include a restaurant, shops and exhibition space for design-related exhibits, though it was still swathed in scaffolding as I walked past.
Blackfriars Bridge is next, followed by the strange sight of the stumps of the old Blackfriars Railway Bridge still poking up from the water, just before the new railway bridge. Beyond the bridges are some wonderfully located flats and a pub, and then the huge tower of Tate Modern thrusts into the sky. Housed in the former Bankside Power Station, which was designed by the same man who designed Battersea Power Station, it sits at the southern end of the Millennium Bridge, while St Paul's Cathedral sits proudly at the northern end. There can be few more beautiful river crossings in the world, and the views from the bridge are breathtaking.
The dome of St Paul's Cathedral dominates the view as you walk north to Cannon Street, the sheer size of the building becoming more and more impressive as you get closer. It's hard to tear your eyes away, especially in bright sunlight, but the end is near, just down Queen Victoria Street. Walking through the City is a much more claustrophobic experience than walking along the river, and Queen Victoria Street is possibly not the most interesting road in town, but before reaching Bank, it's worth taking a little detour to St Stephen Wallbrook Church, where you can wander around the lanes behind Mansion House before bursting out into the junction of Poultry and King William Street, where the Bank of England and the Royal Exchange form an impressive finale to this walk.
Bank station itself lives underground, and the only evidence of its existence are the signed staircases heading under the road. The station is actually in two parts; the other part is called Monument and is shown as a separate station on the Tube map, though officially this is regarded as one station, called the Bank-Monument complex. Somehow, I think the two names sound better...