How To Walk Underground from Liverpool Street to Farringdon
One of the byproducts of Crossrail is a network of fantastically long passageways underground. They're at their densest underneath the City of London where two Crossrail stations somehow manage to link four consecutive Circle line stations. And this means it's now possible to walk all the way from Liverpool Street station to Farringdon station via a subterranean route, a distance of one mile, which is simultaneously unexpected, ridiculous and amazing.
We enter the labyrinth here, which is the entrance to the Underground ticket hall from the mainline station. Note how purple signage is now present to clarify cross-station routes for those planning a disjoint Crossrail journey. Head down the 11 steps, sweep through the extended gateline and turn right away from the Circle line platforms. This passageway has become a point of conflict since Tuesday as the one-way system at the top of the Central line escalators has not been adjusted to take account of passengers surging up from Down Below, so you may need to step aside occasionally. Then step through the silver gateway and down the ramp into the newly-opened ticket hall (which is where you'd have arrived if you descended via the glass wedge in Broadgate).
It's time to enter the switchback proper as telltale Crossrail architecture begins and a deep bank of escalators appears. Don't be tempted by the 'incline lift' that runs diagonallydown alongside, partly because it's not as exciting as it looks like it's going to be, but mainly because this is supposed to be a walk from Liverpool Street to Farringdon so progress should not be made by mechanical means. For similar reasons you need to walk down these escalators rather than standing idly on the right and admiring the view. If it's all been too much effort so far, a two-person bench has been provided at the foot of the slope. What follows is a zig-zag passage, a full 40 seconds in length, which is going to demoralise many a Crossrail passenger who'd wrongly assumed they must surely be there by now. And then we face another set of escalators down to the deepest point on our walk, this time with no funny lift as a visual distraction.
Liverpool Street is the only Crossrail station comprising three parallel bores, that's two for the platforms and a separate walkway down the centre. We'll be following the central passage past a fairytale forest of uplighters, 21 in total in case you'd like to keep count as a measure of forward progress. Most passengers won't be going this way, they're heading to or from the platforms rather than being stupid enough to walk down into the station and back up the other side. Their loss, because this passage is one of the new railway's finest features. It won't surprise you to hear that what's waiting at the far end is another set of escalators, this time upwards and with a ribbon of adverts. And at the top of these is another long passageway, certain to inspire a 'FFS' from some passengers when they spot the foot of yet another set of escalators at the very far end.
This set are more architecturally distinguished, for which read 'advertising-free', as is best seen if you can manage to look behind you. Also if you look up to your right you'll see a long thin mezzanine added especially for those using the lifts, whose route up is differently tortuous to ours, because everything we're walking can be done in a wheelchair too. And all of this brings us to the new Moorgate ticket hall (which technically is back at ground level rather than under it, but that's only for a few paces). It's now time for the only other staircase on this mile-long safari, 28 steps in total, which twists down to the westbound Circle line platform at Moorgate station.
And this, you might think, is where our underground walk falters. Moorgate and Barbican stations are not connected by public passageway, only by train, but I'm going to argue that technically it's OK if you walk along that train while you're riding it.
We need to get from the back of the train at this station to the front of the train at the next, and the journey time turns out to be precisely sufficient to achieve this. Best wait for a Metropolitan line train because this only started two stops earlier so is probably quite empty. I tried this on a semi-fast Chesham and managed to weave successfully between a few bags and feet in the allocated time, gaining only a few strange looks as I passed.
The lift portal at the far end of Barbican's westbound platform is deliberately badly signed. There's not a single mention of it anywhere unless you think to duck into the gloomy arch, and even then the word 'Lift' is in much bigger text than the name of the line. And the lift still isn't immediately obvious, it's round two corners behind a door marked Danger 400 Volts alongside several other locked access points. We need to press the button labelled '-3', and then not be perturbed when we step out below to see signs saying this is 'Level 4'. The lift is slightly easier to spot in the opposite direction but only just... again it's hidden through an obtusely-labelled roundel-free doorway, with all mentions of 'Barbican' meant to lure you up the escalators instead.
I hope you're ready to go down and back up again, again. The next set of escalators has another of those incline lifts, which we must ignore, and looks a lot less impressive than the first set everyone else has just ridden down. At the foot of the escalators it might initially look a bit like Liverpool Street, except this central passageway falters after the fourth totem so we're going to have to divert off onto a platform. Turning left is fractionally shorter than turning right. And here we go walking the entire length of the westbound platform, that's 244m in total, which is impressive when the trains themselves are only 205m long. As you slog your way along past 27 doors, five sets of benches and an increasing number of waiting passengers, reflect on the fact that you're tackling the longest platform anywhere on the Crossrail core.
At the very far end it's time to wiggle back to the central passageway and plan your assault on the penultimate climb. This is a set of escalators in a long concrete tube and the chief connection between Crossrail and Thameslink, so is bedecked with a ribbon of adverts on the way up and then another big screen bang in front of you at the top. Turn back and there's one final set of escalators to climb, a short set this time, and hey presto you've emerged in Farringdon's enormous new-ish ticket hall. It's taken 20 minutes to get here via seven escalators, two staircases, one ambulatory train ride and one lift. You may quibble that the train ride was a cheat and that a couple of bits weren't technically below ground, but you can't argue with the extraordinariness of such a long artificial subterranean connection.
I walked the mile back to Liverpool Street at street level, passing through historic Smithfield Market, the Brutalist slabs of the Barbican estate and the old bandstand in Finsbury Circus, and not only did I get wet but it took three minutes longer and everything I saw was old hat. The only way is purple, even when all you want to do is walk.