Access All Areas: Charing Cross station tour

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Underground at Charing Cross, waiting to go through the barriers

The tube is one of my obsessions, and I’ve already toured the closed Aldwych/Strand station, so I was thrilled to have the chance to tour the disused Jubilee Line platforms of Charing Cross station. The tours, organised by the London Transport Museum and Hidden London, sold out almost as soon as they went on sale. We were told to meet by the barriers in Charing Cross underground station – this was unusually quiet for a Sunday, perhaps because the main line station was closed.

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This walled-up entrance was once the way to the Jubilee line

We were issued with wristbands and taken through the barrier and down the escalator. Once we had reached the bottom, a door in the unassuming wall directly in front of us was opened and we were ushered through to find another escalator, this time switched off, so that we had to walk down it. At the bottom were the platforms, decorated with film posters left over from the Underground Film Club‘s recent residency.

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Hidden London poster

The Jubilee line was first opened in 1979, two years after the Queen’s Silver Jubilee which lent its name to the line as well as the silver/grey colour of the line on the tube map. Known prior to its construction as the Fleet line, after the tributary of the Thames that also gave its name to Fleet Street, it took over what was formerly the Bakerloo line between Stanmore and Baker Street, continuing on to Charing Cross, a station with a chequered history, having originally been two separate stations that were united only when the Jubilee line platforms opened.

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Poster showing the stations along the Jubilee line when it first opened

For twenty years the Jubilee line served Charing Cross, alongside the Bakerloo and Northern lines. However, in 1999 the Jubilee line was extended: the line was rerouted from Green Park to Westminster, carrying on south of the river to the Docklands area and the O2 (then the Millennium Dome), curving back up and terminating at Stratford. The Green Park-Charing Cross section of the line has been closed to regular tube trains ever since, though it is still used as a sidings and in certain circumstances trains can be sent down here to help avoid congestion – one of my friends was once on a train that was temporarily rerouted down here, and when she told me about it I was VERY jealous.

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One of the platforms

Our knowledgeable and informative volunteer guides told us all about the station, its history, and how it is used today. It is often used for testing new features.

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The yellow wall signifies that there is an exit on the opposite side
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For the first time in this station, the name of the station was positioned lower on the wall so it could be read from the train
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In case of emergency, shining a light on these yellow panels makes them glow green, so that they stand out in the darkness

The station is sometimes used for storage.

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You wouldn’t get this in a normal station – it is used for moving things off and on trains

The station has a distinctive look that you can recognise if you see it on screen – so long as you know what to look for.

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The open ceiling signifies air vents.

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We were shown a series of short film clips featuring Skyfall (2011/12), Paddington (2013) and the TV show 24 (2014), filmed on these platforms. As I had learned at Aldwych station, historical TV programmes and films tend to be filmed in that station, whereas more modern shows tend to be shot here at Charing Cross.

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This is the escalator that Bond slid down in Skyfall: thankfully with the spikes at the bottom removed!

After we had explored the platforms we were divided into two groups and taken to see more hidden parts of the station.

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In the film Creep (2004) a creature comes out of this very hole.

My group visited a construction tunnel first – entering via the door that Daniel Craig pops out of in Skyfall, blending in seamlessly with the hordes of commuters.

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It was dark and rather disgusting in the tunnel – but still incredibly exciting

When the Jubilee line was first being built, constructors couldn’t dig directly beneath Charing Cross station, as this would have been too disruptive for traffic. Instead, they sunk a hole next to the National Gallery – where the Sainsbury Wing is located now – and tunnelled along from there.

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We were walking under Trafalgar Square at this point

An older part of the tunnel is now entirely blocked up, in a location directly beneath the Fourth Plinth.

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The tunnellers used the same methods as the original Underground workers did back in the nineteenth century.

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Posters comparing the construction of Underground tunnels, almost a century apart

Once out of the tunnel, we changed places with the other group, causing passing tube-travellers to look somewhat bemused as we emerged from one door in the wall only to enter another one shortly afterwards.

We had to don hard hats for this part of the journey.

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This is the cooling system for parts of Charing Cross station. I had no idea, waiting for a train, that there was all this space above my head.

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From here we could LOOK DIRECTLY ONTO THE PLATFORM AND THE TRAINS.

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Train is gone…
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Train has arrived

I had hoped that somebody on the platform would look up and get a shock, but sadly it was not to be. However, the guy in front of me later managed to frighten a tourist by waving to her from the passage.

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We went off down the passage in the other direction to see where the cooling system begins. It’s possible to see it from outside the station, if you know where to look. It was raining outside and we could feel the rain on our faces.

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That was the end of the tour. We were taken back to the top of the escalators to make our own way home.

I had an AMAZING time and would definitely recommend the tour to anyone who might be interested. It is sold out at the moment but there may be more tours announced in the future, so I’d recommend signing up to the London Transport Museum’s mailing list to be the first to find out about any future dates. The guides hinted that there would be more exciting tours to look forward to – I’m hoping for Down Street but I’ll have to wait and see!

Shoreditch Underground Station (Pillow Cinema)

This post should probably be about Pillow Cinema, the east London phenomenon dreamed up by the same people who founded Hot Tub Cinema. The idea of sitting in a hot tub surrounded by strangers has never particularly appealed to me, but the Pillow Cinema idea is much better-sounding – sprawl out on a giant bean bag, pillow behind your head, and relax while watching a classic movie. I saw Billy Elliot on Saturday, and the experience was a great one – but that’s not why I wanted to write this post, and it isn’t why I wanted to go in the first place. After all, I could probably have recreated the experience much more cheaply in my front room with a couple of duvets and a pile of cushions.

No, it was the location of Pillow Cinema that appealed to me, much more than the concept itself. Screenings are held in the former Shoreditch Underground station, and being the Tube obsessive that I am – particularly when it comes to disused or “ghost” stations – I was certain that I wanted to get inside.

Shoreditch Underground Station is located near Brick Lane, at the end of Code Street. It’s covered in graffiti so it’s not hard to spot. The station used to be the northern terminus of the East London Line, and it closed in 2006 in preparation for the development of the Overground network, which now runs through Shoreditch High Street station.

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Approaching the station from Brick Lane
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Sideways view
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View from Code Street
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The original entrance
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Inside the building
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Looking west
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Trains still run past the station towards Liverpool Street

Originally opened in 1876, the station had only one platform and track in use towards the end of its life. It had low passenger footfall, and when it was closed, the platform and track area was filled in.

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Inside the cinema
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The arches
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The opposite wall

The cinema is located where the platform and the track used to be. You can see the walls with their filled-in arches, and the hooks on the side designed to hold the cables. I’m probably the only person who got excited by this, but I kept imagining ghostly trains moving through the space where we were sitting, one era layered upon another like Russian dolls. Pretty impressive to me.

The end of an era – the last wooden escalator on the Tube

Yesterday, I saw quite a few tweets linking to articles (like this one on london24.com) announcing the wooden escalator at Greenford station’s last day of operation. The escalator was first installed in 1947, and was the last remaining wooden escalator on the Underground. Most were taken out of service after the King’s Cross fire, seeing as they pose obvious fire risks; Greenford’s presumably lasted longer as it was in the open air.

A new, temporary escalator has been installed for the time being, meaning that the tube’s oldest and newest escalators were positioned alongside each other. In the longer term, the wooden escalator is due to be replaced by an innovative glass incline lift: the introduction of step-free access is obviously great news but it’s sad to say goodbye to a piece of history.

As it happened, I had the day off work, and Greenford is close to where I live, so I had time to pop down to the station hoping to ride the wooden escalator for the last time (yes, I am a massive geek). Sadly, the escalator had already been cordoned off: apparently it stopped running several days ago. This was disappointing, but I still managed to get some pictures before it vanished completely.

Wooden escalator at Greenford station
The wooden escalator, disappointingly out of use
Wooden escalator at Greenford station
End of an era for the last wooden escalator on the tube
New escalator at Greenford tube station
Looking to the future: the newest escalator on the tube network

Tube project

Ever since I moved to London at the beginning of 2011, I have been trying to complete a project which involved visiting every single Underground station. More specifically, I wanted to visit every station on the Underground map, which included the DLR, the Overground network and the cable car as well as the Tube itself. On Friday 29 November, I finally completed my challenge.

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I marked off all the stations as I completed them

I went to Northfields station, on the Piccadilly line, last and celebrated with friends in a local pub. I felt so happy to have finally completed my challenge, but now I need a new one for 2014. Someone suggested bus stops, but I don’t think that is a particularly good idea…

Uxbridge – The Penultimate Tube Jaunt

As the title suggests – I visited Uxbridge in order to tick the last-but-one station off my list. I’m sorry I didn’t go earlier, as it is quite a nice little town, with an old street full of pubs and some decent shops. There’s also a Liquid nightclub – I made a mental note to tell my friends.

The station itself was pretty impressive, a fine terminus to the Metropolitan and Piccadilly lines.

Uxbridge station

Uxbridge station

Uxbridge station

Uxbridge station

Uxbridge station

Metroland

The end is in sight for my visit-every-Underground-station project – after Saturday’s excursion I only have fifteen stations to do. Fifteen! I can hardly believe it.

So what did I do on my Saturday excursion? I did something I’ve been meaning to do for a while – I headed to the end of the Metropolitan Line, one of the oldest parts of the network, to check out the stations there. These were built before the Green Belt around London was constructed, hence why they are so far out compared to the rest of the stations (Zone 9 no less!). The villages here are actually in Buckinghamshire, and you can hardly believe you’ve just got off the tube, so different is the entire area to busy central London.

First of all, Chalfont & Latimer station (the junction from which you branch off to either Chesham or Amersham) seems to be a housing estate with a main road running past. It was very quiet: this attractive-looking tree and bench seemed the most noteworthy landmark in the place.

Just outside Chalfont & Latimer station

I visited Chesham first. I really liked Chesham – it had a really old villagey feel and I could see the hills on one side. There was a market on when I was there, too.

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Chesham town centre

I didn’t like Amersham quite so much, as it wasn’t as pretty – I suspect Old Amersham is the ‘pretty’ village, but I didn’t have time to go there. What I did like – in both Chesham and Amersham – was the number of charity shops. I love a good old charity shop rummage: on this occasion I came back with two bags, one from each town. I love them both, especially the leather one, which is basically Proper Vintage.

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Leather bag
Leather bag

A weekend of theatre

Theatre obsessive though I am, it’s not often that I find myself booked in for four theatrical performances over one weekend. In my defence, they were all completely different. They were also completely fantastic, every one of them, albeit for completely different reasons.

Little Angel Theatre
Little Angel Theatre

First up was Platero: Travels With a Donkey. This intrigued me as it was performed at a puppet theatre (the Little Angel in Islington). I hadn’t realised that there was such a thing as a puppet show for adults. The production appealed because it was based on a series of short stories by Spanish author Juan Ramón Jiménez, about a man and his donkey Platero.

The production was narrated by Mike Maran, a Scottish storyteller who held the audience in raptures with his gentle tales of life in a small Spanish town. Platero the little donkey was a marionette beautifully handled by Nino Namitcheishvili; adorable with a distinct personality, he appeared wonderfully lifelike. I fell in love with the production, and could almost imagine that I was in Spain myself.

The ending, though, was very sad. I won’t give it away, but it reduced me to tears. Impressive stuff for a puppet show!

Watford Palace Theatre
Watford Palace Theatre

Next I headed all the way up to Watford to visit the Palace Theatre, which was hosting a production of Chekhov’s The Seagull. This play is my absolute favourite and I try to see as many different productions as I can.  This version by Headlong Theatre was challenging and fresh. It used an adaptation of the text rather than a strict translation, but I felt that the new script still kept the spirit of the original. The cast were brilliant and the whole thing was up-to-date without being gimmicky.

I did overhear a disturbing exchange during the interval:

First woman: “I don’t like it”
Second woman: “I know, there’s no plot is there?”
First woman: “It’s just about how great it is to be an actress”

Aargh! Clearly these people completely missed the point of Chekhov’s masterpiece. Doh.

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The set of Mister Holgado at the Unicorn Theatre

Anyway, I digress. My Sunday began with a trip to the Unicorn Theatre near London Bridge. Now I know that this theatre is aimed at children, but I really wanted to see Mister Holgado, having read several glowing reviews of it. I was not disappointed. The play is about a young boy, Conrad, who tells his parents that there is a tiger living on top of his wardrobe (as if this is not strange enough, the tiger is named Sigmund and eats nothing but champagne truffles). His father – a child psychologist – invents a creepy man named Mister Holgado who, so he tells Conrad one morning, stole the tiger away in the night; in this way he hopes to get rid of the ‘tiger’ once and for all. However, things don’t quite go according to plan, and in the end Conrad’s father has to become Mister Holgado – a mustachioed man in a top hat with an evil grin, a mysterious box of glass eyes and a tendency to eat children – himself. What results is a macabre, unsettling tale with a great deal of dark humour: at one point Conrad’s father/Mister Holgado is chasing Conrad around the apartment in a bloodstained apron, wielding his knife and fork. The children in the audience loved it. I loved it.

Rosemary Branch Theatre
Rosemary Branch Theatre

Finally, I ventured north to the Rosemary Branch Theatre, which was showing a production of Jane Eyre. This is my all-time favourite book and I was hoping that the adaptation would be good. I was not disappointed. Performed by just six actors – two playing Jane and Rochester, the other four portraying every other character between them – the play was simply designed but beautifully executed. Jane and Rochester had fantastic chemistry and the whole thing was very moving.

Vestry House Museum
Vestry House Museum

I didn’t just go to the theatre this weekend. I also managed to tick off several tube stations, mostly at the north east end of the city. In Walthamstow, I also found the time to pop into the local museum, the Vestry House, for a look around. Interesting stuff!

A busy Saturday in east London

I had a very busy and tiring Saturday. I visited 11 tube stations. Eleven! And they were all in east London, most of them on the Central Line.

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I began with a visit to Bethnal Green, as I wanted to go to the nearby Museum of Childhood. I tell you what, you know you’re getting old when the toys you played with as a child go on display in a museum. I enjoyed reminiscing about the 90s and learning about toys in ages gone by – some of the dolls from a century or half a century ago were terrifying.

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I took a walk through Victoria Park; the day was cold and cloudy but I enjoyed the walk. The park was the first royal park open to the public, and it provides a much-needed recreational green space in east London. I imagine it is lovely in the summer.

My travels took me through Leyton and Leytonstone up to Woodford and Snaresbrook. The most notable part of my journey was seeing the Hitchcock mosaics at Leytonstone tube station. Director Alfred Hitchcock grew up in the area and a few years ago several mosaics picturing scenes from his films were installed in the corridor leading to the ticket hall. I had fun trying to guess which film each mosaic represented.

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Hitchcock as a child, outside his father’s grocery shop
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Hitchcock, directing
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The Pleasure Garden
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Strangers on a Train
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Psycho
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Vertigo
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Suspicion
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Saboteur
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The Skin Game
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The Birds
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North By Northwest
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Hitchcock with Marlene Dietrich
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Rear Window
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Rebecca

Steam returns to the London Underground for the 150th anniversary

I make no secret of the fact that I have a bit of an obsession with the Tube. So, it seems, do plenty of other people, given the popularity of the heritage train trips that have taken place over the last couple of weekends. I entered the ballot and was lucky enough to be allocated a ticket for Sunday night’s run from Kensington Olympia to Moorgate. I was sent the details in the post, including this beautiful purple celebratory ticket.

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This train was comprised of the Metropolitan Railway’s ‘Jubilee’ carriage no. 353 (built in 1892) and the Chesham set of coaches loaned from the Bluebell Railway. At one end of the train was the newly-restored Met Locomotive No. 1; at the other was the Metropolitan Railway electric locomotive ‘Sarah Siddons’.

This journey involved being pulled by the steam locomotive for the first few minutes, after which the train moved in the other direction towards Moorgate, pulled by the electric locomotive. I chose this journey because of the price – £50 as opposed to £150. This way I was able to experience a steam journey as well as an electric one.

I spent Sunday exploring some tube stations in the north before heading to Kensington Olympia station about an hour before I needed to – I was so paranoid in case I was late. I had time to get a coffee  and sit down for a bit, which was just as well seeing as I was going to be spending a lot of time in the cold!

I got back to the station at 5.20 on the dot as the letter had instructed. There were several people milling around already. I had been worried in case the trip was cancelled due to the snow, but this didn’t happen. We had to register at the table corresponding to our carriage (mine was D), and received a wristband, the kind you get when you go to a gig.

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Clearly this makes the trip so much cooler

After that, it was a matter of waiting for the train to arrive. A couple of District Line shuttle trains from Earl’s Court arrived first and the passengers seemed rather puzzled to find so many people lined up on the platform. It was pretty cold, and it was snowing, but there wasn’t much shelter, so everyone was a bit squashed huddling under the canopy.

Eventually the train arrived and I clambered into my carriage. I was pleased to get a window seat. The train began to move and whistled loudly. Several people armed with cameras waved us off from the road.

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The journey was brilliant. I imagined myself as a nineteenth-century passenger travelling on the Underground. The smoke flew past our carriage, clouding our view of the tunnel walls. I can imagine that this experience would have been none too pleasant one hundred and fifty years ago, with open windows and even more smoke.

I recorded a video showing the train on its way through Earl’s Court station:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H7ZE9zbc8mI]

At every station along the route, from this one to West Kensington where we changed direction, right through to Moorgate via Bayswater, Paddington, Farringdon and Barbican, there were crowds watching and taking photographs. Some people had obviously come prepared with cameras, others appeared bewildered at the sudden appearance of this historical relic. They waved, and I waved back, feeling rather like royalty!

All too soon, it seemed, the train reached Moorgate. Here, we had the chance to take pictures of the train before it set off on its next journey. I took full advantage of this opportunity. I was pleased that one of the brand new Hammersmith & City Line trains was standing alongside the heritage train: an impressive juxtaposition of the old and the new.

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I had a brief look round the London Transport Museum pop-up shop; I didn’t buy anything but I made a mental note of several items to purchase later.

I know spending £50 on an Underground journey sounds crazy, especially since I could use my Travelcard to travel along this stretch of track whenever I like. However I don’t regret it at all: it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience and a journey back into the Underground’s past.

The end of the line

The New Year only began a fortnight ago but already I’ve been keeping up with my exploration of the Tube. Last week I travelled on the eastbound Piccadilly Line and ticked off a few stations. I didn’t quite make it to the end as I had to go back into central London to meet a friend*, but I did manage about four stations and also took a detour to take a look at the window of George Moore Menswear at 99 Myddleton Road, near Bounds Green station. I read about the store in this blog post by Peter Berthoud: this is no ordinary window display. Established during World War II, the business was run first by George and then by his son Brian. When Brian retired, he left the window display as it was on the last day of trading. The items in the window – from shirts and jumpers to underpants and socks – are slowly decaying. I took some pictures, but sadly the window was rather dirty so they didn’t come out very well.

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On Saturday, I set off to finish what I’d started, sitting on the train all the way to where it terminated at Cockfosters.

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The end of the line: Cockfosters station

Out here, it hardly seems as though you’re in London at all. There is a nice park close by, which I walked around for a little bit. I then rode one stop to Oakwood, from where I took the bus to Enfield town centre and from there to Forty Hall. This recently restored seventeenth-century house was home to Sir Nicholas Rainton, a former Mayor of London, and is free to visit. I wandered round for a little while and spent some time looking out onto the lake.

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After taking the bus back to Enfield, I spent some time looking round the shops. There are several decent shops here and I was particularly impressed with the Waitrose, which had a huge alcohol display right across the glass wall.

Afterwards I got on another bus, which took me to Turnpike Lane – another station crossed off the list.

* We went to see Great Expectations at the new Leicester Square Odeon Studio, as we had free cinema tickets thanks to O2. I’m not a huge fan of Charles Dickens, but I enjoyed the film, which was well-acted particularly by Helena Bonham-Carter and Ralph Fiennes.