Archive for December, 2016


Northern Line

Total distance run: 21.3 miles

Time taken: 3 hours 45 minutes

So in case you’re late to the party, I’ve been running the London tube lines. For fun. Well, and to keep fit, and because there’s probably going to be some sense of achievement when I’ve run them all and because I kinda wanted to see what was going on at Theydon Bois and so forth. But mostly for fun. Running the London Underground network might seem like quite a thing to do, and as I was now discovering, it was. Quite a thing.

So far I’d run the entire length of the Victoria Line, the Bakerloo Line and the  Circle Line¹. Not insignificant runs, for sure, and at just under 17 miles, the Circle Line run had been a good day out. But now it was time to start taking down the big ones. From here on in runs were going to be 20miles and more. And just like Christopher Walken says in True Romance while gradually beating Dennis Hopper to death, “This is as good as it gets, and it aint gonna get this good again.”

The Northern Line, like several of the tube lines, is actually more than one line, branching off to end at two separate destinations.img_4036 I chose to begin at Edgeware rather than High Barnet, partly because I think it meant a slightly shorter run, but also because I wanted to see that part of town. I’ve worked in roughly that ‘hood for many years, but I rarely leave the office. It felt like it would be good to get to know the place. And there was a little family history to check out too. Around 70 years ago my dad had lived in Burnt Oak briefly, as a consequence of the upheaval and transience that accompanied the chaos of war on the home front. So my first stop was a little terraced street that probably didn’t look all that different than it had in 1942.

There wasn’t much else to hang around for in this part of town, and my next destination was the Grahame Park housing estate, a sprawling collection of 1970s clapboard houses and low-rise concrete blocks, built on the site of what was once Hendon Aerodrome. I’d wanted to run through here as it was notorious at the school where I worked as being home to the institution’s more ‘challenging’ students. And from the tales that circulated around the schoolyard, running through it was going to be a better option than walking through it². It was actually surprisingly pretty, the clapboard houses giving a sort of New England feel to the place.

As I emerged from Grahame Park into Collindale the scenery changed again and I was in the middle of a full blown gentrification: upscale flats and expensively landscaped public spaces. It was one of the most fascinating parts of my tube runs, to see how rapidly the city changed, from urban squalor to swanky millionaire pads in a heartbeat.

I made my way across the north circular at Brent Cross and after a short period where I wasn’t entirely sure where I was, I soon popped out into Golders Green. From here I was fairly confident of the route, at least until I crossed the river. I stopped for an expresso in GG to give me the necessary boost to run up the hill to the top of Hampstead Heath. From there it was a long straight run down through Belsize Park, Chalk Farm, Camden, Mornington Crescent³, another brief stop, this time for a cheeseburger at Warren St. McD’s, down Charing Cross Road and over the river at Embankment at around mile 12. I ‘d ventured into south London on a couple of the previous tube line runs and I knew my knowledge of the geography was a little shaky. Of course I had Google Maps, but whenever I can I like to rely on my wolf-like navigational powers. And so it wasn’t long before I as lost again. Honestly, I swear they change all the roads around down here every few weeks.

I think it also had something to do with the effects of the run; by the time I hit Stockwell  I was struggling. I’d left it too long in between fluid stops and I was paying the price. It was only around mile 14 but I definitely hit a wall of some kind. I was having trouble picking my feet up and nearly went down, snagged on a dodgy paving stone, a couple of times. It was still another 6-7 miles before the end of the line. But a shot of Joe and handful of my go-to snack for the long runs, Shot Bloks, at the tiny little café in Stockwell tube station and the world suddenly seemed a kinder, more forgiving place. There is no doubt that one of the key joys of city running is that you’re never far away from an espresso and some kind of food. And if you can hold out long enough that food can usually be whatever you like and not just some grainy muesli bar. I was on the look out for tacos. Not only were my fuel levels back up but as luck would have it, or maybe the running gods, as I set off on the long road to Morden, I got Taylor Swift on my iPod shuffle, who, it turns out, I totally love!

Aimg_4039nd it was a long road, down through Clapham and into Tooting (there’s another good example of how quickly the feel of the place can change), a right turn at Collier’s Wood tube and the last mile around retail parks, roundabouts, past South Wimbledon station and the final slow climb up Morden Road to Morden tube station, last stop on the Northern line. When I tried to buy a bottle of Lucozade Sport and a banana with plastic the man in the shop began to shake his head and point at the ‘minimum purchase with card £10’ sign, but he stopped, smiled and said, “Okay, you look like you’ve come a long way”.


¹Can you technically run the length of a circle? Doesn’t sound quite right, but you KWIM.

²I don’t want to exaggerate the level of criminality in the area but over the years that I’ve taken field trips with my sociology students to look at examples of  crime prevention through environmental design on the estate, we have run across a police raid on a block of flats in full swing (the kids thought I’d set it up!), a still burning moped in the local park and a decidedly unsettling man carrying a large sword.

³Although as I’d previously agreed on playing reverse diagonals (Zatopek variation), technically of course I should have gone via Somers Town).


I’m reposting this short review of Crouch End’s lovely Hot Pepper Jelly café just because I happened to be there again the other day after a gap of far too long and you know what? It’s still great. What did I eat? The fantastic Hot Pepper Jelly sandwich of course (see below). Still unusual (I don’t know anywhere else that throws this oddball combination of awesomeness into a sandwich), still delicious.

As promised in my recent  Man vs Food post, today I returned to lovely Crouch End cafe, Hot Pepper Jelly on the Broadway, to take down The Inferno.

HPJ is famed for its awesome bacon, peanut butter and chilli-jam sandwiches, and on my last visit I noticed the addition of a new and hotter version, featuring a chill-jam made with scotch bonnets or habaneros, a chilli registering an impressive 350,000 Scoville units. This is for most people the hottest chilli you’re going to come across (although by no means the hottest around, about which more in a minute).

Here’s a pic of the little beauty:

which looks harmless and  pretty much like any of their other eats. It took a couple of bites for the chilli to kick in and it immediately had that unmistakable, fruity fire you get with habaneros. It’s not unpleasant (you know, if you like that kind of thing) and is certainly not just pure heat.  It was a delicious sandwich and I ate the whole thing with little problem. My mouth went a little numb, but in a good way.

To be honest I was a little disappointed it wasn’t hotter. But then I have recently, after a long search, managed to get my hands on some of the elusive naga or ghost chillies (in Tesco of all places!), reputed to be the hottest in the world (although some will tell you it’s the Trinidad Scorpion and yet others say the Hoxton Serenity) and coming in at a neuron-frying 1,000,000 Scovilles. I made my own ghost chilli sauce and of course couldn’t resit having a little bite of the raw fruit. Shitballs, it was hot! Within seconds my mouth was a sea of pain and within minutes my hands had pretty much seized up, I guess paralysed with whatever neuro-toxins I’d released into my nervous system. So maybe I’m getting a little used to this stuff. Either way it was still a truly excellent sandwich.

More local food challenges please – Crouch end cafes, take note.

In other news, House of Dreams is now on sale at the fantastic Big Green Bookshop in Wood Green. And the charming waitress at HPJ took some of my House of Dreams postcards to display, and even said she’d put one up on the loo door – now that’s service!


tube-mapThe Circle Line
Total distance run: 16.5 miles
Time taken: 2 hours 56 minutes

‘Thanks for coming, but you’ve just missed it,’ said my neighbour a little breathlessly as I jogged towards her at the foot of Broadgate Tower in the heart of London’s financial quarter.

‘Damn. Did I? That’s a shame. Damn,’ I shook my head, slowing up until I came to a stop in front of her, her husband and daughter. I decided to come clean. ‘Sorry, missed what?’

‘I just abseiled down the side of that.’ She pointed up to the top of the 33 floors of the building high above us.

‘Fuck me. Really? Well done.’

‘Isn’t that why you’re here?’

It wasn’t. Now she said it I recalled the email I’d received a week or so before informing me of this feat of ridiculous bravery in aid of charity. I’d been suitably impressed  at the time but to be honest had quite forgotten about it. Total coincidence then that I happened to begin my circle line run moments after my neighbour had hurled herself down the 165 metres of sheer skyscraper. Small world, huh?

I began the circle line run at Moorgate. moorgateThe third of my London underground runs and at an estimated 16 miles I figured on around about 3 hours. Once I’d waved goodbye to the neighbours I continued on through the City, admiring the public art in the form of huge angular sculptures, and the glass and steel canyons that rose up around me. I love running through this part of London at the weekend; it’s often virtually deserted and feels like being allowed to mess about in the office after everyone else has gone home. There’s a beautiful mixture of old and new, as the 18th and 19th centuries rub up against the 21st, every square inch of space pounced upon and swallowed up.

It wasn’t long before the shiny new buildings began to lose ground to the old and battered ones around Middlesex Street, home of Petticoat Lane market, and the heart of London’s old east end. This was the area once known to its residents, (my grandparents and dad amongst them) as the tenterground, a reference to its roots in the textile industry of the 19th century and the frames or “tenters” used for drying dyed cloth¹. It’s a part of the city well worth a leisurely stroll around to spot the hidden history of London’s immigrants through the ages.

But today I had places to be. Even if that was technically just to get back to where I started.

I ran past Aldgate² tube station and down to Tower Hill. The route turning West then took me along the north bank of the Thames, which is a little trickier to navigate than the south bank. For some years now there’s been a continuous path along the southern edge of the river, allowing you to run for miles without interruption. Not so to the north. From mile 2 to  mile 4 I was dodging up and down paths and alleyways as I tried to stick as close to the river as I could. There were pedestrian walkways that suddenly ended with aggressive spiked gates belonging to some bank or other private corporation who think it’s okay to keep people from accessing the best parts of the city. Well, it’s not okay! Give us back our river path you mercenary fucks³.

By the time I got to Blackfriars it got a little easier and I ran along the embankment towards the Houses of Parliament and then along Victoria Street, past Victoria Station and barely getting lost at all, ending up at Sloan Square. I stopped for a quick espresso on the King’s Road before turning north once more as the circle line begins to make it’s way back around to where I’d started from. Over the years I have seen many famous people on the King’s Road: Kylie Minogue, Bob Geldof, Dolph Lundgren. Today was no exception and I passed a very grumpy looking Professor Brian Cox⁴.

The next moment, as so often occurs on my runs through London, I was transported back to days of youthful shenanigans. This time I found myself following the route that I used to cycle at two in the morning, drunk on tequila, from my Mexican girlfriend’s flat in Chelsea to the nearest all night shop by South Kensington tube to buy cigarettes; it’s a miracle any of us make it past our twenties!

As I made my way up through Kensington I ran along Launceston Road which I’m claiming to be the prettiest street in London. From  Notting Hill it was a right turn and I was heading back eastwards with a little jiggle to get up to the northwest corner of the circle line at Edgeware Road. From then on it was an uneventful and traffic heavy four miles or so along Marylebone Road, Euston Road and Farringdon Road and back to Moorgate, a shade under three hours on the road.

Next time out I was  going to be taking on one of the monsters: Northern Line here I come!


¹And from whence we get the phrase to be on tenterhooks.

²’Aldgate East, all git out’ as my east end dad used to say.

³I’m a big fan of the place hacking movement, the idea that the city shouldn’t be closed off to the people who live in it and that a no entry sign or a locked gate should be viewed as a challenge not an impediment.

⁴I mentioned this later to a friend, Brian Cox’s grumpy expression, who replied, ‘No, dude, he was probably just thinking really hard about the universe.’

tube-mapThe Bakerloo Line
Total distance run: 14.8 miles
Time taken: 2 hours 40 minutes

The inaugural run in my quest to run the length of all of London’s underground lines had gone well. I’d taken down the Victoria Line in a little under two hours and with barely a hitch (bar the early navigational issues resolved by the kindly old lady, and the ill advised bacon roll). Second on the list in terms of distance was the Bakerloo Line¹.

This was going to be my first real foray into significant uncharted territory. My Victoria Line run was for the most part through areas of London I knew well. This time, things were different. Sure I’d heard of Harlesden, Wembley, Harrow and Wealdstone, but I’d never thought to actually go there. But this was why I wanted to run the tube lines – to get out to these unknown quarters of London, to see what exactly was lurking out there beyond zone 1.

Once again I’d chosen a beautiful day for the run. I stepped out of the tube at Harrow and Wealdstone into a bright morning.hw And a car park. Keen not to repeat the fiasco of the Walthamstow bus terminal, I’d studied Google maps carefully and was fairly sure that I needed to turn left through the car park and head south on the A409 Station Road.

Once I start running, I don’t really like to stop to check the map unless I have to; it feels like I’m messing the with flow of the run or something. I don’t know. Anyway, this means I tend to take a fairly relaxed approach when it comes to running past every single station on the route. I made my peace with this early on. You could get all hung up on adhering to some set of self-imposed rules about running the tube lines, but, this was my thing. This kind of bespoke running was what really appealed to me. Don’t get me wrong, I like organised races, but this was just about taking it easy and being flexible; a reed bending in the wind.

Which it turned out was just as well, being a bending reed, as within the first few minutes I was totally lost again. I was heading for stop number two on the line, Kenton, but never found it. I did however spend a delightful few miles running through the suburbs in what felt like a trip back to the 1970s. The ‘burbs will always be the ‘burbs. Before long I spotted the enormous Wembley Stadium arch and headed towards it. This is something else I was learning on my quest to run around the fringes of the capital, that no matter how lost you think you are, just keep on going and sooner or later you’re sure to see something you recognise. I picked up the Bakerloo Line again at Stonebridge Park and a mile or so later I was crossing the North Circular somewhere just east of Ikea².

I was about five miles into the route by this stage and miles 5- 7 were through Harlesden. Unlike the area around Wembley which appeared to be predominantly Asian, Harlesden was full of jerk chicken shops and Caribbean groceries with amazing smells to match; there was even some guy with a big old oil drum barbecue right out in the middle of the street cooking up some kind of gnarly old blackened hunks of meat; it was all I could do to keep myself from grabbing one right off the grill as I raced past. In the end I stopped at Costa for an espresso and a croissant instead.

After the earthy streets of Harlesden became Kensal Green and the Harrow Road, I took the opportunity to cross the footbridge over the Regent’s Canal and run along the towpath for half a mile, popping out just before Little Venice. I was now in the decidedly upscale Maida Vale, home to hedge fund managers, plastic surgeons and old school rock stars. Here was another part of town I wasn’t totally sure of w/r/t geography, but with a pretty firm idea of the general direction I needed to go, before long I found myself around the back of Paddington Station. Always happy to run by the water’s edge I dropped back down to the canal as it enters Paddington Basin and ran through the new development there of apartment blocks and swanky restaurants.Up ahead I could see one of those public squares with the crazy fountain jets that shoot up straight out of the concrete at random intervals and ran straight through the middle of it, enjoying the refreshing spritzing³.

The last few miles were familiar territory as I headed along Marylebone High Street, past Baker Street and Regent’s Park and through Oxford Circus. As I crossed into Regent Street I was delighted to find that it was closed to traffic and I was able to run right down the middle of it, which as everyone knows is always way more fun than running on a pavement. I had to get back on the pavement fairly quickly however when the reason for the road closure became apparent: the cycling Tour of Britain was about to come through. I stopped to watch for a few minutes. This is another great pleasure of the bespoke run, that when wierd shit turns up out of the blue, you can just take a little break and enjoy it. Once I’d seen enough of the crazy guys on bikes I carried on for the final few miles. Except now I couldn’t seem to shake them. Every time I tried to go south the road had a peleton tearing along it at fifty miles and hour. Eventually I manged to find a stewarded crossing by Charing Cross and soon I was over the river, through the South Bank Centre, past Waterloo station and the final mile to the finish line at Elephant and Castle station. Two hours and forty minutes and a shade under fifteen miles.


.¹I’m not going to include the Waterloo and City line. Partly because at only about 25 centimetres long it surely can’t qualify as a proper tube line and partly because personally, I don’t feel anything added to the tube network post 1977 really counts.

²That is so going to be the name of my fourth novel.

³If I’m honest this was less of a ‘spritzing’ and more of a ‘drenching’; it’s hard to judge just how much water those things pump out.