117. The end of the line at Amersham

AmershamdyIn the top left-hand corner of the Underground map, the short, stubby branch lines that run to Amersham and Chesham sit there like a two-fingered salute to the empty space beyond.

You think we’re going to come any further into Buckinghamshire, they pout. Well ha ha, we’re not. You’re going to have to come to us. We’re not coming to you.

Our loyalties and life support lie south-east, in the metropolis, not north-west, in the middle of nowhere. We’ve planted our toes beyond your boundaries, and we’re not budging. So there. Cue enormous raspberry.

But this – adopts Adam Curtis voice – is a fantasy.

Trains do run beyond Amersham, despite it appearing on the map as the end of the line.

They run deep into Buckinghamshire, albeit not under the purview of Transport for London. They do, however, run on tracks that once belonged to the Underground – tracks that caterpaulted out of the city in the hope of one day becoming part of a hilariously ambitious uber-network that would link northern England with the continent.

Now look at it.

Red hat not picturedThat’s the very last roundel passengers on the mainline get to see.

No longer does the Metropolitan sneak its way up to Aylesbury. That ended in 1961. It used to puff its chest out even further, stretching the elasticity of the system to breaking point in order to poke a smoke-filled nose into Verney Junction. That ended in 1936.

I like the way things are now.

I’m taken with the frontier feel of Amersham – a place, before I moved to London, I knew only as the one and only sighting of the dreaded Red Hat of Pat Ferrick.

It’s just far enough out of London for the Underground to venture and still allow you to sense the faint pulse of the city. It has a rather attractive trace of desolation that never threatens to develop into full-blown abandonment.

Travelling up the Metropolitan line, you’ve unwound your ball of purple wool as far as it can go, threading it all the way from Baker Street through Wembley, Harrow, Pinner and Rickmansworth.

Now the wool has run out. But one tug of the strand and you can find your safely way back home again.

British Rail lives onSure, there’s always platform 1, with its bittersweet invocation of British Rail above its promise of the faintly exotic-sounding Great Missenden and Wendover.

But platform 3 is where London begins, and where the Underground devotee can affirm their love affair all over again.

You can stare all you like at the countryside beyond the buffers. But “in those wet fields the railway didn’t pay. The Metro stops at Amersham today.”

In those wet fields the railway didn't pay

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