For years, I thought the best way to get from Euston to St Pancras and King's Cross was along the Euston Road. It's a grim, battered, clogged up artery that sends thousands of miserable drivers around the congestion zone. Trucks belch pollution directly into the faces of unsuspecting pedestrians. The footpaths are clogged by German backpackers who've stumbled out of the local hostels and befuddled Japanese people trying to find Madam Tussaud's. It's not pleasant, but it's still easier than taking the Tube one stop, especially while the escalators at Euston are under repair and you have to negotiate a spiral staircase with a load of suitcase carrying weekenders from Preston who are finding the capital overwhelming already and they only got off the train ten minutes ago.
A couple of years ago, after a Christmas visit to my mum, I came out of the Thameslink bit of St Pancras and, instead of pushing on through the station to the Euston Road, I turned right. I found a whole new, charming, pleasant and eminently preferable walk between the two stations. It's now my preferred route,
It's not perfect. The first few yards up Eversholt Street, to the side of Euston, are grim. On the left is the impassable grey wall of the station, ugly and uncompromising, brutal in its refusal to engage with the street. On the right are dingy cafes, "private shops", bars where you can't see in through the dark windows.
I turned right at the Avis car hire place and entered the appropriately named Phoenix Road. Here it suddenly became pleasant, liveable. There was a church, a school, blocks of flats. A pleasing rack of housing association apartments overlooked a private patch of green.
It was a little before 9 and a gaggle of women were bringing their little ones to the school. A tiny boy broke free from his mum and ran away giggling; she followed him down the path, unable to stop laughing herself.
It felt like a proper community place. People were talking to one another. A man sat in his front yard, reading the paper and smoking a fag. It was a place for people to live.
I wondered how long it had left. At the end of the street, the Francis Crick Institute is being finished off. There are huge transport termini within spitting distance. The British Library took over the old goods yard. It's becoming desirable, and all these poor people are in the way of fashionable flats and office towers.
I was only in London for one day. The BF had a meeting, and he dragged me along so he'd have someone to talk to on the 06:05 from Lime Street. He promptly got on board and fell asleep, so that was marvellous. I waved him off at Euston and walked down my short cut to St Pancras. In the new part of the station, the Midland Main Line section, it lacks grandeur, but there's still an elegance to it. It fits.
Regular readers (hello you!) might recall that back in July I tried to visit all the stations on the Victoria Line a.k.a the best Underground line. It was a sweltering hot day, I was a bit lazy, and I basically gave up after Euston and went to the pub and had a pint. Now I was back, and this time I was determined to finish the job: the final seven stations on the line.
I ignored the tempting curve of King's Cross mainline station and instead turned up King's Boulevard, the grandiosely titled pedestrian street that leads to Granary Square and the new developments behind the stations. On the left is One Pancras Square, a new office block wrapped in iron columns, and in its basement is a tube station.
Actually that's not true. In the basement is a corridor to King's Cross St Pancras tube station - yes, another one. The developers constructed it as a way of drawing people straight into the heart of their development. It's like they imagine commuters are very easily distracted.
At street level, and in the escalator area, it's very ordinary. There are no ticket machines or ticket hall - because pretty much everyone who'll use this entrance will have an Oyster card ready - and it's lined with plain white tiles. Underground though, it becomes a strange glowing new world.
Colours strobe down an LED wall on your left, light carrying you along the passageway. The black darts in the ceiling and the wall on your right, meanwhile, create a hypnotic repetition, mirrored in the floor patterns. It's a weird, brilliant space, for what is basically just a corridor, like a 1970s space station.
I followed the corridor into another corridor, and from there into King's Cross's Northern Ticket Hall. It seems baffling now, but there used to be only one Tube ticket hall serving both mainline stations. The arrival of Eurostar caused a massive rebuild underground, and now there's a St Pancras ticket hall, the old one in the middle (greatly expanded) and the northern ticket hall under King's Cross's new plaza. Plus, the old Thameslink entrance is open as a way into the Tube on weekdays.
The ticket hall is so big TfL were able to carve out a corner to plug its New Tube for London, the futuristic new train that might be arriving on the Piccadilly Line in the future. I stopped and watched a CGI video that promoted all its fancy new features, then bent down for a better look at the little model of the train underneath. I particularly liked the liveried Underground workers, though I couldn't help noticing they weren't actually driving the train; the new Tube will have the facility to be completely automated, eliminating all those pesky drivers who make outrageous demands to be paid and have holidays and things.
I passed through the ticket gates and headed into the warren of passages that thread beneath ground. Six Tube lines connect at King's Cross St Pancras and so it's a confusing network of stairs, corridors and ramps that try to separate passengers out without too much bother. It's only going to get bigger, too; Crossrail 2, necessary to carry passengers off the High Speed Line into London, will pass through here. The station will be so long, it'll have King's Cross St Pancras at one end and Euston at the other, creating a behemoth of a station rivalled only by Chatelet-Les Halles in Paris. In fact, add in the scheme to (finally) connect Euston Square station to the mainline one and it means that one day you'll be able to walk almost a mile entirely beneath the Euston Road. Handy for the mole people (don't tell me there aren't any mole people in London, I know there are. WAKE UP SHEEPLE).
I snapped a picture of the Victoria Line seat backing - it's crowns forming a cross, geddit? - and boarded a train north. It was almost empty. The commuters had all headed south; now this was just a stock movement and I happened to be on board.
The seat backs at Highbury & Islington, meanwhile, depict a castle that once stood on this spot, the "High Bury". It was destroyed by revolting peasants ("you said it, they stink on ice").
Highbury & Islington is less an interchange station, more a place where a load of railway lines crash into one another. It's a mess. Running parallel to the Victoria Line are the Northern City lines, the route between Hertford and Moorgate, and which used to be part of the Underground. There's easy transfer through to the other platforms, meaning that you can poke your head through and see an underground station that's not got TfL branding - a slightly disconcerting experience.
Dirty corridors and staircase after staircase send you up towards the surface. It's a busy station but it doesn't feel like anyone wants it. Even the arrival of Overground services didn't see much improvement; some lifts were installed but that was about it.
In all fairness, the Germans did fire a V2 rocket at the station, so there wasn't a fantastic railway terminus here that was cruelly demolished. But the arrival of the Victoria Line should have made something out of the station instead of what we currently have; a lean to on a back street.
It is my duty to inform you that the pub next door to the station is called "The Famous Cock". Rumours that it is to be renamed "The Matt Smith" were, sadly, made up by me just then.
On the opposite side of Upper Street there's a far more attractive railway building, built for those Northern City lines. It hasn't been used since the Victoria Line came along, and though it's garishly painted, I can't help thinking it would be a much better way into the station than what's currently there.
Holloway Road's also called the A1, and its long straight form gives a hint to its importance as a main road. The shops on either side are buried in the ground floors of turn of the century terraces, their brickwork blackened by decades of soot and bus exhausts. There are the occasional Islington-ish businesses - a large art supplier, a kitchen designer, Waitrose - but it's mostly newsagents and ethnic food shops. At the top the London Metropolitan University's staked its claim with an angled, stainless steel building fronting some far less distinguished grey office blocks.
The big attraction round here is, of course, the Emirates, Arsenal's flying saucer of a stadium. It lurches out of the side street, a weird, alien presence that doesn't really belong. It's not like the Etihad, which dominates the world around it, and it's not like Anfield, a cobbled together mess of different shaped stands that have grown over the years. The Emirates is a cold green steel disc that frowns at passers by.
A handful of Asian tourists stumbled out of the club shop with carrier bags full of overpriced souvenirs. They then paused outside so they could all have their picture taken in front of the Arsenal sign. I took my own picture of the Arsenal sign.
I'm such a child.
In an ideal world, Arsenal would have given TfL a huge amount of money when they built the stadium so that all the local stations could be rebuilt to accommodate the thousands of people who pass through on a weekly basis. They didn't, of course, instead preferring to chuck their millions into the grasping hands of sports agents and hormonal cases who can kick a ball a bit. The result is the two nearest stations - Holloway Road on the Piccadilly Line and Drayton Park on the Northern City - have to be closed on matchdays because they can't handle the traffic. A slight flaw, I'm sure you'll agree.
Behind the station, London went back to being normal again. Stucco'd houses glistening in the warm October sun. A leisure centre advertising mum and tots sessions. Blocks of flats. There was a moment of horror when I saw this:
Obviously my first thought was, "I bet it isn't." Someone's overcompensating. My second thought was, why would you buy that? I mean, you're driving a BMW, so everyone knows you're a wanker already. Why compound things?
I was now in the vicinity of the infamous Finsbury Park Mosque. Obviously I kept an eye out for insane jihadists intent on destroying me and my entire way of life. I didn't see any. All I saw was the same kind of people you see everywhere in London - a bit miserable, a bit harassed, a bit busy. A mix of colours and shapes but all with a vaguely distracted look on their face as they tried to get somewhere else, quickly.
I passed the Supreme Supermarket and Top Pizza - neither of which seemed to have a very good claim to the title - and reached Finsbury Park station. There's a larger, more impressive entrance behind the bus station, but I used the little side exit, tucked under the railway lines.
Nice lamp, though.
I pushed my way down the corridor to the platform. Finsbury Park has the misfortune of being the Underground's slightly dim child, the one who eats the paper he's meant to be drawing on. Its platform motifs are very pretty, depicting pistols as a representation of when Finsbury was a spot for duelling in the 18th century.
Except that's a different Finsbury; that's the one three miles south of this spot. Finsbury Park is effectively commemorating someone else's achievement.
On top of that, as I headed down the steps, I spotted this:
Here it is enhanced for those of you without Robocop-style laser sighted eyeballs:
You mean Stansted, Finsbury Park. You can get trains to Stansted from Tottenham Hale, not Luton. Bless.
Being a non-fan of 22 men kicking a ball around for an hour and a half, I feel the need to congratulate you on your excellent picture of the Arsenal sign.
Phoenix Road is great well-kept secret.
I have to admit I was confused when I went down that spiral staircase the other day, I was sure I'd never been that way before and now I know why.
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