HAMMERSMITH & CITY: Walk the line 125 years before the Hammersmith & City line there was the Hammersmith & City Railway. Opened in 1864, it was built as an offshoot of the Great Western Railway to carry passengers from Paddington to Hammersmith. The new tracks left the GWR mainline at Westbourne Park and ran on a curving viaduct through mostly undeveloped fields. At Latimer Road the line split, one branch to Hammersmith, the other to Kensington. The latter branch is now part of the Overground, while the former remains the Hammersmith & City. I thought I'd walk it, following a four mile arc alongside the viaduct.[map]
There are two Hammersmith stations, as every local knows, but which still comes as a surprise to visitors attempting what appears a simple interchange on the tube map. Instead there's a busy gyratory to cross, on one side a modern shopping mall, on the other the H&C station. This is a fine Edwardian edifice, a symmetrical structure with pedimented gable end, mostly unencumbered by modernity. Only the far right entrance is used these days, while Alexander's barbershop soldiers on in the central retail space. Something much less memorable is going up alongside, an eight-storey glass block called 10 Hammersmith Grove, into which developers would simply lurrve your business to relocate. Just not yet, because it's a right mess at ground level while builders complete the concrete piazza outside. Beyond the gym and training centre the rest of Hammersmith Grove is much more desirably residential. Most of the streets ahead are similarly blessed, lined by tall terraced houses with white bay windows and fortunate tenants. Only when a road slips off to the right is the reality behind revealed, with a builders yard and a secure facility lodged up against the railway.
Trussley Road provides a rare crossing beneath the viaduct, but the sight of businesses in the arches will become more familiar as the walk progresses. Shoots and Leaves is one of the more upmarket outlets - they do landscape design and garden maintenance - with neighbours involved in bathrooms suites and paint. Sulgrave Road is currently a riot of pink cherry blossom, most appropriate on a Hammersmith & City line walk, but alas only a temporary signposting system. An unexpected sight is the back of a busgarage, accessed on foot up a "no public access" alleyway which all the local public seem to use. This emerges into the heart of the machine, where terminating buses turn into the front of the depot and where the drivers park their cars under the viaduct. It's no safe place to be, hence no footpath, but it is the perfect shortcut to the shops. [Here be Goldhawk Road]
Goldhawk Road has loads of shops, surviving as best they can in the shadow of Westfield and under imminentthreat from developers. There are some ace survivors, including several eateries dating back to the glory days of the 60s. The Zippy Diner has a Wimpyesque interior, rarely preserved, nextdoor to the darker Rostomia cafe/restaurant. Further down is a pie and mash outpost, courtesy of ACooke's, where a QPR 2010/11 Champions banner hangs well past its sell by date above the tables. I ventured inside Vivian Patisserie, a Chinese Food Bakery where cheap sweet treats are laid out and inventively labelled. A 'Lemond Tart' appealed, but instead I plumped for a large juicy 'Raisimg Danish', a sub-£1 snack that put corporate coffeeshop fare to shame.
For further bargains, try the market. Shepherd's Bush Market runs along the edge of the railway viaduct, all the way from one station to the next. This characterful multi-ethnic bazaar is the place to come for shoes, foam, unlocked phones and halal cuts... but not on a Sunday. On a Sunday the arched entrances are shuttered shut and the usual retail cut-through is unavailable, so you'll have to make do with some words I blogged 18 months ago. Instead the shortest route north is via Lime Grove, past where the BBC studios used to be but where there are now bland flats. The rest of the road maintains smart residential decorum, or so you'd think by the looks of it, but the sight of two late-middle-aged ladies in hoodies squabbling over a recently-purchased aerosol of glue told me otherwise. [Here be Shepherd's Bush Market]
The Uxbridge Road has a more Middle Eastern flavour, ideal if you need a jilbaab or Damascene cuisine. It's also not the place to dash across the street without looking, as I deduced from the ambulance staff tending to a prone body in the middle of the road beside a knocked down suitcase. I crossed more safely, lest the rubberneckers turn their steady gaze on me instead. The bustle of Shepherd's Bush Green can be avoided by turning left at the Bush Theatre to follow MacFarlane Road. This is another desirable residential street, right up to Auntie's massive satellitedishes hanging over the railway viaduct at the end of the road. Here you'll find the back entrance to BBC Television Centre, the direct route to the rear of the scenery block, now deceased. When this end of the site is redeveloped for flats, expect renewed interest. [Here be Wood Lane]
Redevelopment has already transformed the next part of the walk. You'll know it as Westfield, rather than the Central LineRailway Generating Station and Depot. No shops stretch up here by the pink railway bridge, instead there's an unexpectedly underused bus station and an expanse of warehouses. One of these belches out multi-coloured Ocado lorries on a regular basis, so best cross the entrance with care. To avoid the crowds follow the broad pavement along Ariel Way, where no shopper has any need to go, and where of course a large hire bike docking station has been installed. Planners kindly installed a pedestrian footbridge over the Overground when the megamall complex opened, allowing the estatefolk beyond to avoid a long detour. It's cut my H&C walk by half a mile too, for which I am forever grateful. Let's pause here above the dual carriageway, and continue into Kensington & Chelsea tomorrow.