I’m sure that most people see the London Underground as purely functional; a means of getting to one’s intended destination with the minimum of fuss, and passing the journey engrossed in a newspaper or audio entertainment, paying little regard to the world outside their carriage.
However, I suggest that one short stretch of the network is an attraction in its own right. In fact, a journey awash with history and all available to enjoy without ever having to depart outside the stations.
Harrow & Wealdstone to Queens Park on the Bakerloo line is unique in being the only significant stretch of the London Underground which runs parallel to the National Rail network.
Harrow & Wealdstone has two station entrances. Before boarding your train, it’s worth contemplating the memorial plaque outside the main entrance. This commemorates the UK’s second worst rail disaster which occurred in October 1952, loss of life exceeding 100 people.
The newish blocks of flats at the back of the station may look prosaic, but they’ve been built on the site of rock and roll history. It is generally accepted that one of the finest bands this country has ever produced were “discovered” at the Railway Hotel, which formerly occupied this site. Who are we talking about? The Who, of course. Listen very carefully and you may hear the ghost of Pete Townshend mashing up his guitar. Take a walk round the complex and note that the flats have been named after two of the band members.
At South Kenton station facing backwards and looking out to your left, admire the Betjemanesque view of Metroland. The spire belongs to the 900 year old St. Mary’s church on Harrow-on-the-Hill.
Wembley Central station has recently had a makeover to get it looking up to scratch for the new stadium. The line now dives under the national rail network, and it’s at Stonebridge Park, facing backwards and looking out to your right that affords you a fine view of the edifice. Here you can dream for a few moments that one day your team might contest a cup final here.
Just after Stonebridge Park, you travel over the busy North Circular Road; on a winter’s evening in rush hour, the vehicle light trails can look impressive.
By the way, the tube map is misleading from here on. You train is travelling in a west to east direction, and not north to south as depicted by the map. Why? I don’t know. Send a polite enquiring email to the Transport For London people.
Approaching Harlesden, facing forward, sitting on your left, but looking out to the right, you may just see the blue corrugated biscuit factory. When independent local radio first took to the air in the 1970’s, it was to the United Biscuit Network that the stations looked to for many of their presenters and DJs, and a few later-to-become household names learned their trade at this factory.
If you’re a trainspotting enthusiast, then all along this stretch now, you’ll note plenty of activity involving shunting locomotives and their carriages. At Willesden Junction, it’s worth breaking your journey and climbing the steps to the overhead North London line, where on a clear day, good views may be afforded to the east and west, including a large car breaking plant. You can also watch the mainline trains speed on their way north to such places as Holyhead and the connecting ferries to Ireland, the picturesque Lake District, and bonnie Scotland.
It’s not really possible to see Kensal Green cemetery from the train, so here we break the rules and alight at Kensal Green station for a wander round London’s first commercial burial ground. Hopefully you’ll locate the final resting places of some famous people from the past, but one person you’ll not find is Louie The Ring.
Who’s Louie The Ring ? He got his own episode in that excellent 1970s drama Budgie, entitled: Louie The Ring Is Dead and Buried in Kensal Green Cemetery.
As the train trundles into Queens Park station via the train sheds, our journey is at an end, and you have a choice. Stay on the train which now descends into tube, and in 20 minutes you’ll be seeing the bright lights at Piccadilly Circus. Or you could cross over the platform and make the return journey and enjoy any bits you may have missed.
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