The line of beauty

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Since moving to Kew Gardens last year, a fair portion of my life has been spent on the rattly, elegant and idiosyncratic District line. Here is my love letter to- in my opinion – the best of all the London Underground railways.

Firstly, the District line is most definitely a railway, rather than a tube. Most of the time it’s actually above the ground, and even when it does as its name commands and goes under, it’s barely below the surface of the Earth.

The trains are tall with high ceilings. In the older trains on the network, the seats are arranged in a baffling orientation. In the centre of the carriage, a cluster of eight are positioned as if passengers were sat around a picnic bench. This leaves space for just one solitary seat before the doors. A seat that is encased in two walls of clear plastic, giving its inhabitant the overall impression of being sat in a fish tank.

The stations along the route vary from the grubby gloom of Mansion House to the graceful arches of Gloucester Road – curiously a station where no-one appears to board and no-one seems to disembark. There’s the futuristic chrome of Westminster and the sense of occasion at South Kensingston (“change here for the Museums and the Royal Albert Hall”). Generally speaking, the stations are quite beautiful, old-fashioned and filled with flowers. Cones of geraniums, little fenced off areas with ramshackle community gardens, in the spring – box after box of daffodils. The signs are hung from ornate metal beams, thick and rounded from years of repainting.

The line’s attitude to timekeeping is reminiscent of an eccentric, stubborn old aunt, arriving when it suits them, in their own time. The trains are every ten minutes at best – they keep you waiting and offer no apology. No other line could get away with a 13 minute wait with no explanation. No passenger alarm has been pulled, the rain is of the right kind, the leaves have been swept from the track. The train is not delayed. It’s just 13 minutes away. Is there a problem?

From Earl’s Court heading West, the signage simply isn’t interested in letting you know how long you will be waiting. Most of the time they tell you what train is on its way, but sometimes they don’t even bother with that. At Earl’s Court, the perplexing board of stations with its pop up arrows, is like something Alice would be confronted with in Wonderland.

Then, just after Gunnersbury, there’s the bit where the train crosses the river. Even to a regular District line commuter, the view is worth lowering one’s book for. Through one window you can see a view of the picturesque strand-on-the-green, through the other Oliver’s Island – a mysterious little wooded patch of land in the middle of the water.

And finally, did I mention that the District line has the best taste in colour? That green!

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Pantone 356

District line, I love you.