UPDATE: #WalkTheTube How We Did It
5:30 at Kennsington Olympia, a station TfL would rather you not know about, and already a group of motley strangers huddle outside the gateline. I didn’t have time to get excited at the old Motorail terminal building it was time for the brief and to meet our new friends.
The train out of Olympia towards High Street Ken was an unceremonious affair, the driver toyed with us by changing the destination of the train to Wimbledon and back again. I think he knew what we were up to and wanted to have some fun, this is nothing more than a chance for the District Line to move stock about and is almost parliamentary. We made our first change at Earl’s Court in the hope to be up at Edgware Road as early as possible, but ended up being on our original train due to a slight delay. 2 changes and only 3 stations down. This was going to be a long day.
Doubling back at Edgware Road we arrive at Hammersmith on the fringes of Rush Hour. Our first “Walk” and out-of-station transfer awaited. A brisk sprint across the road (somewhat a repetitive motif) and we were down on the Piccadilly Line. Rumours were we’d missed the Terminal 4 train because of the lethargic District Line but it transpires that the T4 train never ran (or at least it didn’t at it’s advertised time). Our run down to the airport was full of sleepy tourists and Londoners alike off to jetset. By Hatton Cross we were already 10 minutes down, which doesn’t sound a lot, but for a day planned to the second, this would cause us problems later on. T5 was the first loo break of the day, something I’d been fretting over for some time. I quickly learnt, go when you can even if you’re not desperate.
At 7:30 we’re back up the Piccadilly towards Acton Town for the 2nd time, a station we’d soon grow weary of. A quick hop over to Ealing Broadway where Tom, the lad who can only be described as #WalkTheTube’s own Del Boy (for reasons which will soon become apparent), had arranged a Maccy D’s breakfast drop. Fellow crew member David Griffin-Mead also had twisted coffee shop Prett’s arm and scored us some free goodies. Although this was all highly welcome, trying to distribute it on the now packed Central Line train heading into town was difficult and no doubt frustrating for the regular commuters (sorry!).
Our earlier delays were now impacting our route – we’ve dropped to 15 minutes off the pace. Geoff’s team of tube-geniuses Chris, Kirk, Matt and Vicki recommended we got White City out the way now instead of later (It would prevent doubling back mid afternoon). Waving goodbye to the upset commuters we turn back on ourselves and head out to West Ruislip where we’d bus and walk (and to be fair, this was actually a walk) over to Ickenham to do the Uxbridge branch of the Met.
9:30, Rayners Lane. Station 50 and we’re back on the Pic to… Acton Town. Again. Bloody Hell. Chiswick Park, Turnham Green and Richmond (a perennial pain in the arse for Tube-Challengers) done.
Earl’s Court now and… Back. On. The. Pic. Boy do I hate this line. But we’re off on our first long haul trip through town to Cockfosters to kill it off: our first line fully complete. Station 88 and we’re cracking on for 6 and half hours on the go. A bus takes us from Oakwood to High Barnet where some of our party were accosted by the local UKIP fold… The less about that the better.
It’s midday and we’ve only travelled on 4 lines. It’s time to make that 5 as we head south on the Northern. We make as good a connection as we can but awkward Mill Hill East adds to our increasing delay time. Thoughts are on another quick loo break back at Finchley at their single toilet.
Camden Town makes it 100 … Goodge Street … Reverse to Warren Street … The number of stations racks up and London no doubt bustles overhead but we’ve got no time to stop and think. A sprint through the station and we’re off on our 23rd train of the day. The ever efficient Victoria Line whisks us towards Walthamstow Central: Home Turf is coming.
Time for a selfie and another loo break at Walthamstow Central bus station. I’ve been here before. It’s all starting to look familiar. I scoffed at the timetabled 25 minutes to get from Walthamstow to Leyton by bus. “We’ll make back time easily, it’s 10 minutes tops” Hmmm.. maybe in a car perhaps, but the bus down Midland Road was lazy, stopping for the midday mums with buggies.
We’re approaching a tricky part of the network: The Loop. Trains are few and far between and missing a connection is not an option. News filters through that the Woodford via Hainault is at Stratford. We’re still at the lights next to Orient’s Brisbane Road. This will be tight.
We’re already on our feet as the bus crosses the A12 and the Central Line’s tracks. Nothing in the platform and nothing on the approach, maybe we can do this. The bus seems to take ages to pull into it’s stop. We’re off in a flash but I can hear that familiar sound of an approaching train banking up from the tunnels. I’ve been to enough football matches here to know the single exit at Leyton can get woefully clogged, hopefully we won’t encounter too many people coming up the stairs. The gates are already open and it appears the station staff are waving us through – we’re doing this on paper tickets incidentally and any open gates come as a welcome surprise. We hit the platform. Red signal. Enough time for everyone in the team to get on board and regroup.
Surfacing at Newbury Park and suburbia starts to race by. We take the opportunity at Hainault to move down a few cars – every split second counts on this journey so being at the right set of doors for the nearest exit/transfer is vital. There are only a handful of regular passengers, clearly confused that their train is so unusually crowded as we pass through some of London Underground’s least used stations. The connection at Woodford is good, and we’ve been blessed with an Epping, none of this Loughton/Debden nonsense.
Growing up here I remember the days when arriving in platform 2 was like winning the lottery – it meant not having to cross the bridge! Never would I have thought I’d arrive at Epping and then have to cross it deliberately. Time was of the essence and we needed to get back into town sharpish, our knock on delays were building. Only half the group was over the bridge as the signal turned green. The driver didn’t seem bothered that we held the door for everyone to make it in – he was more concerned that someone had been sick in car 4, (Not us incidentally) and was making announcements accordingly.
South Woodford. I can see familiar pubs and restaurants from the window. Home. And suddenly a moment of real exhaustion as I worked out I wouldn’t be back here for at least another 9 hours – and that’s a best case scenario. It was announced that the vomit comet was to be cleaned at Leytonstone so we decamped to another Central Line service coming off the loop. I think runners call it hitting the wall, I was feeling tired and drained – we wouldn’t even be half way until St. Paul’s. We literally had this all to do again. Try as I might I couldn’t quite nod off, which is unusual as I have absolutely no problems doing this on my commute…
St. Paul’s. About 3:30pm. 135. Half Way.
It was mid-afternoon, we had nearly completed the Central Line and we’d taken the opportunity out in deepest Essex to make our way up to the front of the train in preparation for Shepherd’s Bush. This was the big one. We were now 25 minutes down but knew we could make up significant ground with a well-executed transfer to the Overground. The transfer time: 2 minutes.
The doors opened and we bolted up the stairs, dodging the parents ambling up the steps with a buggy. Round the corner and up the escalator, out of our way people we’re on a mission! We darted across the road, where luckily the lights had turned red, and into Shepherd’s Bush Overground. The staff cheered us on as we raced down what seemed like an endless corridor, we could see the train pulling in – Why did they build the entrance so far away! We huddled round two of the doors knowing they’d not shut if we were all still getting on. We’d made it. We’d gained around 14 minutes.
Spirits were high at West Brompton, things were going well. The invigorating run had re-energised and Tom ‘Del-Boy’ Kell had had a word with one of his associates and arranged for a tea drop at Putney. The wait at Wimbledon seemed like an eternity, but it was an opportune moment to have a loo break and a snack. We met the world’s angriest cleaner who forgot to close the gate meaning we all got to take a wiz for free. We met a madman and his drunk friend who gave us a lecture on the best routes to Morden as we made our way to Merton.
A Sutton Loop Thameslink service took us to South Merton, a station with such low footfall the driver had to be asked to re-open the doors as he hadn’t allowed enough time for everyone to get off. Well, either that or the ageing Class 319 was broken – both plausible answers. A bus took us round the corner to Morden where traffic was starting to build. Rush Hour was on the horizon, but we congratulated ourselves that our day had been relatively tube-disruption free.
Back underground and there’s another deposit from one of Tom’s many contacts. Up to Kennington where we agonised over which platform would bare the next train. We got it wrong, but hoped it would have only lost us a minute or so. Stockwell, Brixton and north to finish the Victoria line at it’s namesake where we ploughed head first into rush hour. The interchanges slowed down and we knew we had to briefly head in the wrong direction to cover Slone Square. The double-back was not slick and we missed a Circle line service needed to tick-off Aldgate. Had the “Kennington Cautiousness” cost us?
We headed east again to Tower Hill where we’d wait for the next Circle Line service. Once we were there we’d head over to Aldgate East on foot where a bounty of pizza and encouragement from friends and #WalkTheTube Alumni awaited.
DISASTER. In the height of rush hour word came through from our friends waiting ahead that Aldgate was being evacuated. A fire alert!
The Circle line train arrived at Tower Hill.
Do we get on?
Will it terminate here?
WHAT’S GOING ON?!
It won’t stop at Aldgate but we could pass through the station and double back at Liverpool Street. Would this work? There was panic and we seemed to get on and off the train 2 or 3 times.
We got on.
I saw no fire as the train crawled through Aldgate. Chris explained that under Tube Challenge rules temporary closures still counted as a station visit (the same applies to Holland Park and Paddington undergoing planned upgrades). It was fine – Aldgate was off the list but we were now at Liverpool Street where the temporary closure was playing havoc to Metropolitan Line services. The crowd was a good 5 people deep and we struggled to move over the bridge to head back east, missing a Hammersmith & City service in the process. If Aldgate remained shut, at least the next few trains would either be non-stopping Circles or H&C Barking’s.
This would be good. This is what we wanted.
It didn’t remain shut for much longer however, and suddenly a backlog of Metropolitain Line services ran through to reverse at the now re-opened Aldgate. No Hammersmith & City Line services in sight and the delay was growing exponentially. By the time we had got round to Whitechapel to decamp for an Essex bound District service we were now 35 and minutes down and counting.
Friends and Alumni warmly welcomed us with pizza and goodies whilst we waited 2-3 millennia for the Upminster train. The Aldgate-cock-up had left services severely crowded and an uncomfortable 10-15 minutes ensued as we pushed eastwards.
If you’re wondering where it is everyday Londoners can still afford to live – apparently it’s East Ham. Surely one of the potential reasons (the other being aliens) that the train abruptly emptied here; a phenomenon that we’d go on to ponder throughout the evening. It gave us a chance to take stock of our rush hour shenanigans and what our finish time might look like, or if we could even make it at all. It was looking bad, and a missed connection at Upminster to return to town on the C2C express made it even bleaker. 1 hour down.
As we headed for West Ham the mood was glum. Geoff promised that we’d not know whether we were down and out until we’d finished the Jubilee much later in the evening; but we could all tell he knew there was a real possibility we might not make it.
I’ve never particularly warmed to the Jubilee Line Extension… I mean sure, Canary Wharf is an impressive Death Star shaped cathedral but the rest is awkwardly designed with terrible interchanges and, well, it’s all just rather grey and dull. It personified the mood and many of the team didn’t bat an eye lid that the Isle of Dogs’ monolith was our 200th station. Our heads were down but we carried on…
Then things started to change…
A sprint through London Bridge and the train is waiting.
Down the stairs at Elephant & Castle, we catch the Bakerloo as it’s ready to leave.
Through Baker Street and we’re wiping out tourists like Ron Burgundy trying to catch his news bulletin… commuters are falling like dominos as we make our way through… we get to where the 1990’s departure monitors are lethargically churning out destinations…
Which platform is it?
Met or Circle?!
It’s Met, it’s just upstairs. Another perfect connection.
3 aced interchanges and the team is lifted again. We’ve gained valuable seconds, they might not be a lot but they could play a crucial part later on.
We’re well into the evening now and as we roll through Barbican we’ve covered 80% of the network. We say goodbye to the infernal Circle line at Moorgate and there’s a tense moment where the Northern line can’t make up it’s mind on where it’s going. The destination changes on the displays and then once again on the train. We want Edgware but it might be going to Barnet. If the platform is on the right at Camden Town it’s going to Edgware. Be on the right. Be on the right. Yes! We’re going to Edgware.
The rest of the Northern line is a bit of a haze, we’re getting tired again but there’s a lot at stake. I can barely remember the transfer from Edgware to Cannons Park… It was a bus right? I think it was a bus… We arrive at Canons Park as the train arrives and we hope for a strong turn around at Stanmore. We miss it. Damn.
With just 3 lines left to complete we’re now heading back into town for the last time. Queensbury makes it 230. 50 to go. Time for a team huddle.
Matt and Chris hit the timetables and did what I can only describe as: MATHS.
We can make it… But as services on the Metropolitan slowly start to wind down it would mean finishing on the last Chesham at 01:15. No returning to town. The decision was ours, we’d go to the bitter end but if anyone wanted to drop out to secure their ride back to the city then this was totally understandable, and their efforts still highly commendable. It would however mean no more cockups…
At Baker Street there were no Harrow & Wealdstone trains. Geoff seemed buoyant that we could connect with the Overground at Queen’s Park… Is this cheating to use the Overground to cover the Bakerloo’s stations?…
It was my assumption that we’d be on a fast service heading to the Midlands which would skip some of the local stops. I’d forgot that the Overground stops at all the same stations the Bakerloo line does in these parts and evidently, and rather luckily, it’s not cheating… A consultation of the rulebook states that “where a service is shared by underground and National Rail trains travelling over the same tracks it is permissible to use the National Rail trains.”
We’re back in the game once more.
The out-of-station transfer from Kenton to Northwick Park is more of a gentle plod than a full on sprint. A quick double back to Preston Road and we just miss a Watford. There’s an agonising wait for the next one, and a quick check of Google Maps reveals the daunting amount of mileage still to cover. There may only be 13 stations to go but some of them are nearly 4 miles apart.
Eventually train 50 takes us up to Watford. The confused driver, no doubt bemused as to why one person would be there at half 11 at night, let alone 20 of them, enquired as to our activities. We explain what we’re up to and that we’d love to make a connection with an upcoming Amersham at Moor Park – it might mean we can finish even earlier than we expected. “You couldn’t leave a minute earlier could you?” one of the group cheekily enquired, but naturally he said there wasn’t much he could do. Then just as we were about to depart, the driver comes over the PA…
“I’ve had a word with the line controller and they’re going to hold the Amersham for you at Moor Park. Good Luck.” A cheer erupted. We were going to make it, and we were going to make it comfortably.
Clapping the driver as we alighted at Moor Park, the finish line was metaphorically in sight, but it was in sight sooo many miles away… Further and further into Metroland we delved until the comforting clutches of the M25 were once again breached.
Amersham now, 269, only one more to go but a massive 15 minute wait for the train to turn around. Another long wait at Chalfont but our last steed finally arrived. We’d saved the longest journey between two tube stations till last. Maybe it was done deliberately to savour that last train, but the ride went on forever.
Then out of nowhere, a platform…
In just under 19 hours: We’ve done it.
Showers After: 2
Hours Of Sleep To Recover: 10
Flights Climbed: 25* (Defined as 3 metres per unit)
Walking/Running Distance: 7 miles*
Quantities of Bacon: 2
Phone Charges: 4
Loo Visits: 7
Moquette Patterns: 7
Stations On Fire: 1
Behind Schedule: 85 minutes
Tube Trains: 54
Total Time: 18 Hours 56 Minutes, 58 Seconds.
Raised For Shelter: £690.50
*Apple’s Fitness app stats which I have no idea how they’re calculated or that it was even turned on on my phone…
Other Accounts Of The Day
- Tom ‘Del Boy’ Kell: And his citywide contacts.
- Geoff Marshall: Mad enough to have done this 28 times.
A special thanks to Geoff, Vicki, Kirk, Chris and Matt for being mad enough to organise such an unforgettable day – you’ve done something AMAZING to create an event that has raised over £17K for collective charities; Simon, Helen, Lana, Omari, Val, Prett (Liz) and all of Tom’s Associates for food drops; The #WalkTheTube Alumni & Supporters, David Brett for taking me back into town and well out of his way on the way home; The Driver at Watford and his line controller; The station staff at Leyton and Shepherd’s Bush; All the commuters we annoyed; All the tourists we knocked over; The 2016 #WalkTheTube crew; And all of YOU who donated, watched, retweeted, and got involved throughout the day.
“We’ll Always Have Shepherd’s Bush”
UPDATE: 14:00 7th April
The big day is nearly upon us! Nerves are building!
I just want to say firstly MASSIVE thank you to everyone who has supported me so far. Yesterday I hit my target of raising £500 for Shelter which is bloody awesome.
Secondly, don’t forget you can follow the whole day tomorrow live here, on my Twitters and probably on Periscope! I’ll try and do a mix of different content on each site.
To mark the occasion I’ve also created a little teaser for tomorrow, please check it out:
UPDATE: 2nd April
We’re now just under a week away! To mark the occasion I have done a video explainer… This was originally on Periscope but as I’m new to that branch of social media I didn’t realise it would disappear after 24 hours, so I’ve stuck it up on The You Tubes instead.
That may sound easy, but remember the combined network covers a whopping 250 route miles! …That and the Central Line is currently 3 for 3 on delayed journeys this week…
Normally the “Tube Challenge”, as it is often known, is conducted under world record conditions and the participants are challenging for the quickest possible time. #WalkTheTube however will be done at a more sedate rate (hence the title). Each participant will be sponsored and will raise money for his or her chosen charity. I have chosen to raise on behalf of Shelter:
Many of you who know me will know I’m constantly moaning about house prices, property ladders and the cost of London living… Well, some folk out there aren’t as lucky me and the majority of us in this city, who enjoy a comfortable, safe roof over our heads every night. Some people have to make ends meet by living in dangerous, cramp and unfit properties. Some don’t have a home at all.
Homelessness and it’s causes are a very real and truly tragic problem in London, as well as the rest of the country. Everyone has the right to a safe, secure and affordable home, and that’s exactly what Shelter are fighting for, and it’s something I feel very passionate about.
It would be absolutely amazing if you could sponsor me and help raise some much needed cash for this great cause. Even if you contribute a couple of quid, every little helps and it all adds up! Please head over to my JustGiving page: www.JustGiving.co.uk/CallingAllStations to Donate.
There will be updates in the run up to the event and I’ll be doing a live blog on the day, so watch this space!
Thanks so much for your support.