Tube geek (33)The Mill Hill East shuttle While I'm talking tube shuttle services, let's do another. To Mill Hill East, which is that sticky-out spur up at the top of the Northern line. This distant outpost still gets a few through services during peak hours, but the rest of the time you have to go to Finchley Central and change. You could be here for up to 15 minutes, which is nothing in some parts of the country but a lifetime on the tube. Don't worry, there's a (soulless) waiting room if your feet can't take the strain. The train, when it arrives, is a full 6-car job, even though the number of passengers usually barely requires 2. If you want a carriage to yourself head up to the front, while the driver's changing ends, because all the 'in the know' passengers sit further back. And don't get too comfy, you'll not be on here long.
It may be only a mile to Mill Hill East, but there's a significant natural barrier in the way. That'll be the Dollis Brook, a minor stream by London standards although active enough to have carved out a fairly deep valley over the years. Railways can't go down and up, so a lengthy viaduct has been constructed which bestrides the gap across tall brick arches [photo with train]. About halfway along is the point where London's tube tracks are at their highest above the ground - it's a full 60 feet down to the brook below. The view from the train is of rooftops and a golf course, although the Dollis Brook Viaduct is far more impressive from underneath. Lofty Victorian brickwork loops high overhead, and a series of thin arched gaps recede geometrically into the distance on both sides. You'll want a camera with you, although it's not easy to capture the besteffect in 4:3 ratio [photo]. And mind out for the steady stream of water dripping from a pipe way above your head - it's more dank and muddy down here beside the river than you might expect. Ian can tell you more.
Back on the train, it's not far from here into Mill Hill East station. Three minutes tops to complete the entire journey, sidling in beside Waitrose and crawling to a halt beside the long curving platform [photo]. Now you'll see why getting in nearer the back was a good idea - it enables faster exit down the staircase and out to the street. There's no ticket barrier, and the ticket office is probably closed (not yet for good), giving the place more the feel of a deep suburban National Rail station.
For those alighting at the front of the train, however, do stop and take a look to your left [photo]. The tracks continue for about a train's length beyond the red lights, and then there's a green hump stretching off into some newbuild houses. That's because the line used to go further, all the way to Edgware in fact, but ceased carrying passengers after World War 2. That scuppered plans to take this rail line under Underground control, and means London never gained an additional intermediate tube stop at Mill Hill. The line as far as Mill Hill East survived only because it had been electrified to aid troop movements, while the rest became a freight line, then a footpath, and then (in some places) a route-destroying housing estate. I'll walk it one day, tell you all about it, although quite frankly Jay's excellent video will explain the whole story in a far more entertaining way. And rejoice that the shuttle still ventures out this far, because one day you never know it might not.