hidden europe co-editor Nicky Gardner has always been one to go that extra mile. Or, when it comes to trains, to go one stop further. Here she reflects on the special appeal of going the whole way to the very end of the line.
The transit maps of many European cities are powerful tools, shaping both residents’ and visitors’ perceptions of those cities. Be it the London Underground map, Berlin’s S-Bahn network or the straggly pattern of RER routes around Paris, these diagrammatic renderings of travel opportunities influence our understanding of a city and the latent possibilities of its hinterland.
Sometimes, there are places far out at the very end of metro rail routes which achieve a certain prominence in the imagination merely because they are routinely signed as a train’s final destination. In London, for example, I have never actually taken the Northern Line right out to Edgware or the District Line to Upminster, but I have seen trains bound for those destinations so very often. So Edgware and Upminster, respectively north and east of London, flourish in my imagination as possible Arcadian outposts within easy reach of London.
I did once venture to the most distant extremity of London’s Metropolitan Line. There lies the market town of Chesham, which today is the furthest one can travel from London on the Underground — although the outer reaches of the so-called Underground are very much above ground. As I recall, the journey from Liverpool Street in London to Chesham took about 75 minutes, swapping tunnels under the city for the residential suburbs so gently celebrated fifty years ago in Betjeman’s Metroland. The final stretch of the journey recalls English rural railways of yesteryear and Chesham, set by the small but beautiful River Chess, ticks all the boxes for smalltown charm. Those who know London’s edgelands better than I have confided that Chesham was a lucky strike. So I now judge it best never to go to Upminster or Edgware for fear of disappointment.