Tiers, Trees & Termini (Part 2)

7) Paddington (1838)

I am now halfway through my walk. It is lunch time so I decide to visit my first pub. The barman at the Fountains Abbey just outside Paddington explains the new ordering system to me.  As expected, as we are in tier 2, I will need to order a substantial meal with my drink.  When I ask exactly how substantial a dish I will need, he tells me that if I get a small plate of chips I can have a pint of Reindeer Ale. 


The beer is excellent and so are the chips.  I sit there reading the display on the pub wall which tells the story of Alexander Fleming who discovered Penicillin at St Mary’s Hospital just across the road.   Unsure if I will need to order more chips, I decide to forgo another pint and I head out towards the station.


Brunel’s Paddington is, without any doubt, my favourite terminus.   It was actually the first London station I ever departed from:  I was ten years old and on the way to Cornwall with my parents.  I thought it was magical back then and that feeling has never quite left me.  Whenever I pass through I always try to make a bit of extra time to have a walk around.    


Although it has been modernised a few times over the years, Paddington retains quite a lot of its original atmosphere.  The three-arched roof is especially magnificent and the fact that the arches are linked by transepts is pretty unique.  In London, only St. Pancras has a roof to rival Paddington’s.


With a normal total of almost 40 million passengers, the station occupies sixth place on the list. Although the number of users is probably destined to fall soon when the much-anticipated Elizabeth (Crossrail) Line opens and takes a lot of people who would have used Paddington further into the city.


I locate the Christmas tree on the concourse.  It is accompanied by a seasonal message from Network Rail and the three train companies who use the station; Great Western, TFL Rail and Heathrow Express.

The train to Penzance

I set off again. I turn onto the Euston Road near Edgware Road station before diverting  northwards to reach my next station. (7.2 miles from London Bridge) 

8) Marylebone (1899)

There is quite a long line of taxis waiting outside Marylebone.   There don’t seem to be any passengers coming out of the station so it is doubtful they will get much trade anytime soon.  The famous London black cab is yet another victim of the virus.  Only a few weeks ago the papers were reporting that around 150 vehicles a week are now being de-licensed.


Marylebone is the youngest of all the main stations built in the 19th century.  It was opened by the Great Central Railway whose ambitious plan to extend their line down from Nottingham and Leicester involved a tunnel near Lords cricket ground which led to this small but functional station.  It was opened just before the turn of the 20th century.


The Great Central line was never a big success and finally closed in the 1960s, but the station itself found a new role serving the commuters of the Chilterns and the West Midlands.    In 2019-20 it served around 15 million passengers making it the 12th busiest terminal in the city.  It is now the only London terminus not to have electric trains.


Marylebone was the last London station I ever visited; I don’t ever recall having been there before the late 1990s.  I am still an infrequent visitor today but I do make the occasional business trip on the Chiltern line up to Birmingham. 

Despite its unfamiliarity, there is something about Marylebone that really appeals to me.  Perhaps it is that wonderful late Victorian architecture or perhaps it is the unusual L-shaped layout and modest size which help to make it feel relaxing. 


This afternoon there a few people queuing to board trains but the place is relatively quiet.  The Victoria and Albert, the station pub, is closed but M&S is open and has an offer on poinsettias. There is a very attractive Christmas tree just outside the shop.

The train to Aylesbury



I pass Baker Street and then make a small detour that takes me along the southern edge of Regent’s Park.  Eventually I go back along Euston Road and arrive at my next station. (8.6 miles from London Bridge)  

9) Euston (1837)

At the Euston Tap, just in front of the station, the “substantial meal” of choice is a warm sausage roll.  I get one to accompany another pint and then sit chatting to a ticket inspector who has just come off duty. He is a great drinking companion and we have a fascinating conversation about how COVID has impacted the railway in general and how things are looking for the Christmas travel period in particular. 


Euston was the first long distance station to open in the capital.  It served as the southern terminus of the London to Birmingham Railway which eventually grew to become the West Coast Main Line stretching north to Manchester, Liverpool and Glasgow.  In 2019 it was the fifth busiest with over 40 million users.


For many years, when I lived in the north, Euston was London to me.  In my late teens and early twenties I would arrive in its dark train shed full of anticipation at visiting the capital.  I would also get a feeling of frustration whilst standing on its concourse waiting for the vast “flapper” train indicator to show the platform of my, often delayed, train home.


Almost all of the original buildings at Euston were swept away during the rebuilding of the station in the 1960s and replaced by a modernist box design.  Euston is a bit of a paradox: although it is the only London station that retains nothing of its former self, it now feels quite old fashioned and dated when compared with the much older stations that were modernised whilst retaining their basic structures.     


Today, unsurprisingly, the concourse is not anywhere near as busy as I know it can be.  The tree is nice though and it is surrounded by banners that explain the improvements being made to the mezzanine this Christmas.  

As well as the main tree there is also a smaller sunflower one too.  The flower has become a symbol to indicate hidden disability; during the pandemic it has been used on badges especially to show that not everyone is able to wear a face mask. 


As I am leaving I notice a musician who standing in the dedicated busker’s corner and singing Christmas songs.  I stand and enjoy the music for a while.  She has a little card machine with a sign that says contactless payments are welcome.  I consider using it but then I manage to find some coins in my wallet. 

The train to Watford

The short walk along the Euston Road is a familiar one.  It takes me past the British Library to my next station. (9 miles from London Bridge)


10) St. Pancras (1868)

There is certainly more of a Christmas buzz at St Pancras than any of the other stations I have seen today.   People even seem to be enjoying a bit of Christmas shopping and there is a friendly member of staff dressed in a Santa hat, with flashing lights on it, to direct people. 


Perhaps on a par with some of the great American stations like Grand Central in New York or Union Station in Washington, St Pancras has now become a destination in its own right.  People visit, not just to catch trains, but simply to eat, drink and shop.  I am actually here to buy cakes.  


Whilst not to everyone’s taste, the Victorian gothic exterior of St Pancras and Barlow’s incredible roof have always inspired me.  Now, since the incredible makeover to accommodate Eurostar, I find the interior of the station even more stunning than the outside. 


Originally opened by the Midland Railway, the station is still the southern terminus of the Midland Main Line and it continues to offer the services to Leicester, Nottingham, Derby and Sheffield that it always has. 


Since its Cinderella-style transformation it now also offers local services to Kent on the high speed line and Eurostar services to Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam.  Sadly Eurostar is another high profile casualty of the pandemic. Up to 90% of employees have been furloughed and there are currently just a few services a day to Paris left.


The Christmas tree at St Pancras has developed quite a reputation and it often features on lists of the best 10 in the capital. Last year it was actually an Eifel Tower which controversially pushed the boundaries of what could possibly be called a tree. 


This year it is a more traditional carousel design.  It is sponsored by the EL & N café and dressed in their pink colours.  It is nicknamed “the tree of hope” and includes 1200 metres of ribbons with quotes of love and hope from the team at Imperial College Healthcare and other NHS trusts.  


They are actually selling miniature pink cakes based on the tree at the new branch of EL & N inside the station.  I am on a little mission to get two to take home for tonight’s dessert, so I head over there. 


Whilst the friendly assistant wraps my purchases and puts them into a large pink carrier bag, I look around the rest of the shop.  It is all very stylish and very, very pink; there is a large pink model dog in the window and even the notice they have on the wall in tribute to the NHS is in pink.  

The train to Paris

It is just a few steps across the road to the next station.  (9.1 miles from London Bridge)

11) Kings Cross (1852)

I stand outside the Harry Potter shop.  There are a few people lining up to get in but it is by no means crowded.   Waterloo may have the most platforms but Kings Cross has the most unusually named: as well as the fictional 9 ¾ there is also a real platform 0. 


Just across from the shop is another decent looking tree. This is a little ironic because Kings Cross won’t have much of a festive season this year: the station will close on Christmas Eve for several days of engineering work on the track leading to it.    


The station is the southern terminus of the East Coast Main Line which serves Leeds, York, Newcastle and Edinburgh.  There are also local services as far as Peterborough, Cambridge and Kings Lynn.  In annual passenger numbers Kings Cross is just behind St Pancras and is the eighth busiest in the capital.  


Business and leisure trips have led to me being a relatively frequent user of the station over the years.  I have always had a soft spot for the place and I am a big fan of its transformation in recent years.  They have repositioned the main concourse from the front to the side of the train shed and created a wonderful feeling of space.


I am amused by something connected with LNER who are the main train operator here.  The food served in their buffet cars is often sourced in the towns and cities along the route and they are a big supporter of local producers.  Train catering is very limited at the moment due to COVID, but LNER haven’t given up on their local sourcing.  Their website now contains recommendations for quality face masks from small companies on the line in Durham, Harrogate and York.   

The train to Newcastle

It is starting to go dark as I set out from Kings Cross on the longish walk through Clerkenwell to my penultimate station. (11.5 miles from London Bridge) 

12)  Liverpool Street (1874)

My third and final watering hole of the day is the Great Eastern Hotel just outside the station.  It is worth popping inside just for a look at the magnificent ceiling of the Hamilton Hall.  I am now used to the “substantial” system and before choosing a beer I ask what I will need to order to pass the meal test. 


I am told a plate of nachos will do the trick, so I order some to go along with my pint and then go outside.    Most of the other tables out here are taken but it is a far cry from the busy scene you usually get on Friday nights when drinkers fill the whole entrance to the station and spill out onto the pavement beyond.  


I have been using Liverpool Street on and off since the 1980s.  At one time I used to pass through on the way to visiting relatives in Norwich; more recently I have used it to catch trains to Stansted Airport or London Fields. 


The station was the last large terminus to be completed and it replaced an earlier one at nearby Bishopsgate.    Before the Second World War Liverpool Street, which has connections to the Netherlands and Germany via the port of Harwich, was the arrival point for thousands of child refugees fleeing the Nazis as part of the Kindertransport rescue plan.

Kindertransport memorial

The layout of the station used to be a total mess but it was completely redesigned in 1991 and is now a very pleasant place to be.  It is the third busiest station in the UK with around 65 million people using it in 2019-2020.


The concourse is split between two levels and has an attractive mezzanine with shops and restaurants. Today part of this top level along with many of the outlets is closed.   Even though it is past 4pm and getting on for rush hour there just aren’t that many people around.  There is another nice Christmas tree though.

The train to Norwich

The walk on from Liverpool Street takes me deeper into the City and through Leadenhall Market where there is yet another impressive but quite lonely-looking Christmas Tree.


I continue to wind my way through narrow streets before I arrive at my final station. (12.1 miles from London Bridge)


13) Fenchurch Street (1841)

It is now past 5pm and even though I have been seeing under-used stations all day, I am not really prepared for the scene at Fenchurch Street. This  terminus, at what normally would be the height of rush hour, feels more like a quiet branch line halt on a Sunday morning. 


There is a small Christmas tree on the concourse, but all but one of the station’s retail outlets is closed.  There really is hardly anyone around and it all feels quite depressing. 


I can count on one hand the number of times I have actually used Fenchurch Street and I would have to admit that I hardly know it at all.    It has an attractive frontage but the interior is pretty basic with just a small concourse and four platforms.


The station serves southern Essex, notably Tilbury and the resort of Southend.  It is normally intensively worked and despite having only four platforms it normally boasts around 16 million passengers a year. It is the only London terminus not to have a London Underground station of its own.

The train to Shoeburyness


On my way down to Tower Hill I pass a pub that has a notice on the door indicating it has been closed since March and is yet to reopen.  There is no getting away from it; London’s economy is suffering badly.  It is obviously not the most devastating thing that has happened in this miserable year, but seeing it this quiet makes me feel quite sad.


As I cross Tower Bridge I get a great view of the Shard building decorated in green light but it doesn’t really do much to lift my mood.  I don’t think I have ever felt less festive.   I doubt I am alone in that.


I pause for a while next to an illuminated reindeer and enjoy the view of the Tower of London and Tower Bridge behind it. Then I walk the short distance back to my start point: London Bridge Station. (13 miles total)


The train that I catch home leaves London just after 6pm. There are less than ten people in my carriage.  In fact it is so quiet that I can hear a young girl speaking on the phone three rows in front of me.  

She is telling whoever is listening all about the new COVID vaccines.  There is a website apparently where you can enter your details and check when exactly you are likely to have it.  She sounds confident that it won’t be too long in 2021 before we can all get the jab and things can finally get back to normal.  

Let’s hope so!

Happy New Year!      

The train home

Back to Part One


London Termini in order of annual entries / exits (2017-8)








South West England including Southampton, Bournemouth, Salisbury and Exeter




Kent, Brighton and the South Coast


Liverpool Street


Essex and East Anglia including Cambridge and Norwich


London Bridge


Kent, Brighton and the South Coast




West Coast Main Line to Birmingham, North Wales, Manchester, Liverpool and Glasgow




Devon and Cornwall, Bristol, South Wales


St Pancras


Eurostar to Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam;  Midland Main Line to Leicester, Nottingham and Sheffield; High Speed One to Kent


King’s Cross


East Coast Main Line to Leeds, York, Newcastle, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Inverness


Charing Cross


Kent and Sussex


Cannon Street


Kent and Hastings


Fenchurch Street


South Essex including Southend and Tilbury




The Chilterns and Birmingham




North to Luton, Bedford and Cambridge; South to Gatwick Airport, Sevenoaks, Sutton and Brighton

Note – I chose not to include Moorgate (near Liverpool Street) on my walk.  Although it has two terminal platforms for Network Rail services, they are basically underground-style platforms.  For much of their existence (until 1975) they were actually part of the London Underground.  If it was included, Moorgate would be the 14th busiest terminus.  


London Termini in order of opening





London Bridge









Fenchurch Street






Kings Cross






Charing Cross






Cannon Street



St Pancras



Liverpool Street