Man v Machine: Cranky commuter races District line from Aldgate East to Wimbledon

From tea that’s too milky to dark evenings, us Brits love nothing more than a good moan — and none more so than about public transport. 

My pet hate? The District line.

It stops at every other lamppost and takes its sweet time to trundle from south west London into the heart of the capital.

Unfortunately for people who live in Wimbledon and work in the city there is little choice but to accept the rattling box.

Head down, elbows out, get on with it. Right?

While nestled underneath someone’s armpit and stood on someone’s feet one day I had an idea — why not run?

The 23 painstaking stops from Wimbledon to Aldgate East take about an hour — and with the walk either side taken into account we’re talking a good hour and a half.

After consulting Google Maps — well, drawing a straight line between the two places — I worked out there are 11 miles between my office and my house.

Aldgate to Wimbledon route

In the spirit of the good bits of Top Gear (i.e. the bits without cars) I decided I would ‘race’ the District line home.

So, after a day of typing I changed into running attire, deposited my clutter, said goodbye to my bemused colleagues and set off.

As I sauntered past Aldgate East tube station I felt free — but that feeling didn’t last long.

I was soon bogged down in suits — sardined in a throng of self-important men moving at a curious pace between a gentle canter and a brisk walk.

I did little actual running for the first mile. While veering in and out of the bike lane I realised why people don’t go for a jog at rush hour in central London and visions of a leisurely stroll down the bank of the Thames quickly evaporated.

If I was on a Top Gear jaunt I’d have received a smug phone call from Jeremy Clarkson right about now.

I could have been midway through a crumpled Evening Standard by now. I was behind schedule. The tube was winning.

Once over London Bridge I began to move out of the packed peloton and into open pavement.

The Oval came and went as I sped up to avoid the wrath of an angry taxi driver.

Pedestrian crossings weren’t my only hindrance as Clapham approached — I was enticed by the open green space of the common, so much so I strayed from my route to take it in.

Brief respite over I was soon back into the groove, passing through cigarette smoke, around bin bags and taking in the other sights the A3 has to offer.

By the time Tooting came into view the bus stop adverts for KFC’s latest burger were looking appealing, the kebab shops were kicking out glorious smells and people were getting stuck into their post-work pints.

This mild form of torture was still preferable to the tube.

Colliers Wood bought a wobble — I wasn’t sure I was heading in the right direction. At least on the tube the driver’s constant apologies for red signals leaves you in no doubt of which station you’re stranded nearest to.

But as South Wimbledon station approached a jolt of excitement flooded through me.

Then it dawned on me that I had in fact just followed the Northern line’s route — undermining the whole venture somewhat.

I glanced at the time. If I pushed on I could arrive home at the same time as my tube-riding clone.

Once past the Croydon-bound tram which gave me a honk — perhaps of encouragement, more likely of warning — I flew down the familiar streets to my front door.

One hour and 32 minutes after I had set off I was opening the door. Sweaty, tired and disgruntled. But none more so than if I’d caught the District line.

Image courtesy of Google Maps, with thanks

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