diamond geezer

 Wednesday, October 04, 2023

Let's celebrate the cancellation of today's tube strike by tackling a really pointless challenge.

The 'Inside The Circle Line' Tube Challenge

There are 21 tube stations inside the Circle line.
The challenge is to enter or exit all of them once.

No station can be visited more than once.
No other stations can be used.
A fair amount of walking is required.

So, for example, you might ride one stop from Queensway to Lancaster Gate, then get out and walk to Marble Arch, then ride one stop to Bond Street, then get out and walk...

Essentially the problem is to divide the network up into pairs of stations and walk between the pairs.

Unfortunately there are 21 stations and 21 doesn't divide nicely into pairs.
I solved that by starting inside the station at Bank.
Here's how it went, along with cumulative timings.

0h 0m: Exit Bank station
Here we go. I have to ignore the 'Way Out' signs because they're desperate to lure me out via the new exit onto Cannon Street. It'll be over an hour until I next reach a step-free station.

Walk up Cheapside. I spot two people wearing bowler hats (but both are being paid to do so).

0h 8m: Enter St Paul's
These timings are for passing through the ticket barriers, by the way. It doesn't take me long to head down the escalator, jump on a Central line train and head up the escalators at the next station.

0h 12m: Exit Chancery Lane
Alongside the escalators there are adverts for Wishmas, a 60-minute immersive festive walk-through adventure at The Old Bauble Factory in Waterloo. It costs £29 minimum, £49 to make something in the workshop and £79 to meet Santa, and that's per person. Three year-olds pay full price. Best go and see the beardy grandad at your local shopping mall instead.

Walk up High Holborn. That's all the stations in the City of London ticked off already.

0h 24m: Enter Holborn
It's a very long way down and round to the northbound Piccadilly line platform. The number of suitcases on the train confirms that not all Heathrow's travellers have switched to Crossrail.

0h 30m: Exit Russell Square
Here's the first of five lifts on this journey. It's that or 175 steps, a staircase not to be trifled with in an upward direction. You have to link Holborn to Russell Square in this challenge, it's the only way to do it.

Weave across Bloomsbury. The bus stop on the north side of Russell Square has a new tile for route 1 which has never stopped here. Walking through the university campus I feel, well, 40 years older than I used to be.

0h 44m: Enter Goodge Street
0h 50m: Exit Warren Street
Six minutes isn't bad for heading down in a lift, catching a train and gliding up two escalators at the other end.

Head along Warren Street rather than Euston Road to protect my lungs. The lunchtime queue at Bento-ya is insane, curling way out of the door. Meanwhile the local builders are making do with a sandwich, a Coke and a vape.

1h 0m: Enter Regent's Park
Like Warren Street, this station is only marginally inside the Circle line but it still counts. What with waiting for a lift and waiting for a Bakerloo line train that's several minutes wasted here.

1h 12m: Exit Oxford Circus
It's a long way to the surface, especially behind dawdly tourists. Every advert up the escalator is for Velo, a nicotine pouch packaged to look like a tin of sweets, and how the hell does this pass TfL's healthy advertising criteria while cheese is banned?

Walk along Oxford Street. I hate to say this but the Christmas decorations are up already, and this year they're small dangling white stars which look cheap and rubbish. We won't know if they look any better after dark until November.

1h 20m: Enter Bond Street
1h 27m: Exit Marble Arch
Seven minutes isn't bad for meandering down through a warren of passageways, catching a train and yomping up at the other end. It's a bit faster than walking would have been but a bit slower than a bus. Also, I'm now halfway!

Ah, I've ended up having to walk the really long gap between stations. At least it's a nice walk across the top of Hyde Park. I hope the rain holds off.

1h 45m: Enter Lancaster Gate
1h 50m: Exit Queensway
Five minutes is really good for heading down in a lift, catching a train and heading back up in a lift. In good news there's only one lift left. In bad news Ed Sheeran appears to have a new album out.

Here's the downside to this challenge, a massive hike diagonally across Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park, but I'm treating it as an upside. It's a lovely early autumn walk through two Royal Parks, past cairn terriers posing for a video, past a woman collecting sweet chestnuts in a King of Trainers carrier bag, past some old equestrian statue, past Londoners chuffed not to be at work, through the temporary Serpentine pavilion, across a carpet of conkers and fungi, past the green cones fencing off part of the slippery Diana fountain, across sandy Rotten Row, round some event being set up, down some chi-chi alleyway and out onto Knightsbridge.

2h 22m: Enter Knightsbridge
2h 28m: Exit Hyde Park Corner
Knightsbridge has to be linked with Hyde Park Corner in this challenge, it's the only way to do it. A lot of the route is forced. It'd be a different matter if Brompton Road and/or Down Street were still open.

Here's a walk through another Royal Park, this time Green Park. It'd be nicer if it hadn't started raining. Tourists are huddling under brollies or wearing those see-through rain macs they give away on open-topped buses. The deckchairs are empty. It's a relief to duck down the passageway into the station.

2h 40m: Enter Green Park
2h 47m: Exit Piccadilly Circus
George Price is playing his guitar really loudly at the bottom of the escalator. OMG that's BestMate'sOtherHalf (2003 version) coming down while I'm going up. This is taking a lot longer than I thought.

I get to walk through Leicester Square and it's really busy. This is where thousands of tourists think they ought to be, with films to be watched, statues to be selfied and M&M's to buy.

2h 54m: Enter Leicester Square
I am actually going to do this, I'm going to ride the tube's shortest journey from Leicester Square to Covent Garden because the challenge says I have to. Initially it's looking good because there's a Piccadilly line train in the platform so I pile on at the nearest door. But it's really crowded in here, which it turns out is because the train hasn't moved for a while and is currently going nowhere. Several more people arrive on the platform and bundle in. One gentleman hurls himself aboard with a heavy suitcase, then apologises, then stands there like a lemon. No announcements are made explaining why we're being delayed, our driver is mute. Instead newly squeezed arrivals slowly work out that nothing's moving so they needn't have rushed. At one point an entire school party arrives (but thankfully doesn't get on, mainly because the train's too full). It's a full eight minutes before the doors close and we head off.

3h 7m: Exit Covent Garden
The wait was ten times longer than the tube journey. Don't try this, kids.

So here's the problem. There are only two stations left - Tottenham Court Road and Charing Cross - but they're not next to each other because Leicester Square is in the way. It all went wrong because Holborn has to be matched with Russell Square, Leicester Square has to be matched with Covent Garden, Oxford Circus has to be matched with Regent's Park and Goodge Street has to be matched with Warren Street. It doesn't matter how you pair up the other stations, Tottenham Court Road always gets left over so the challenge is impossible. But let's finish it for completeness sake.

3h 19m: Enter Tottenham Court Road
3h 25m: Pass through Leicester Square, dammit
3h 30m: Exit Charing Cross

If you do the stats you'll see I spent half my time out in the open and half my time in stations and underground. Altogether I walked 7 miles, of which 5 miles was across London and 2 miles was within stations. And apparently I climbed the equivalent of 65 sets of stairs, because there's a heck of a lot of up and down down there. That's the deep level tube for you.

Do not attempt this challenge, it cannot be completed without changing the rules. But it is a fascinating walk.

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