Central line

Peace in the 'Valley

A bit of an atypical choice, this. I’ve included it not because of something, but despite.

What’s great about Roding Valley is that despite being the least-used station on the entire Underground, it continues to exist. Moreover, it does so – to paraphrase the Bluetones, another outer-London treasure – with a little charm and a lot of style.

Don’t come here looking for architectural wonder or lashings of imaginative design. Give Roding Valley a miss if you’re out to sample the Underground at its aesthetic finest. Do come here, however, if you want a sense of the network going about its business modestly, extremely quietly, and in the absence of arithmetical tumescence.

Build a station and they will come

Build a station and they will come. Even if it’s around 220,000 people a year. That’s an average of 602 a day – roughly the number who move through Victoria Underground station every 90 seconds.

Compared to central London, every time is off-peak time at Roding Valley. But pass this way in the dead of morning, or in the hollow of an afternoon, and you might not see another soul during the 20 minutes you can spend waiting for a train. I didn’t. And I rather enjoyed it.

You can also, if you want, pretend the place belongs to you. I did. And I rather enjoyed it. Though it’s impossible to ever completely relax and, say, start dancing along the platform. Cameras are in evidence, connected to a location miles away where people are present, watching for unfamiliar faces cutting some rug or loitering to take pictures.

If you’re after that certain kind of stillness that only dwells in barely-breathing stations that are best known for making footnotes rather than headlines, there can be fewer more pleasant locations.

And even if you never have cause to visit, it’s awfully nice to know that Roding Valley is there. Despite… well, despite pretty much everything.

Much Hainault about nothingOnly three trains an hour run north from this station. It’s just as well the platforms are so gorgeous. Chances are you’re going to do a lot of standing around on them.

Passengers wanting to travel south have it much better. They get to pick from around nine trains an hour. No loitering among the beautiful canopies or mooching under the picturesque awnings for them. But then if you’re heading south from Hainault you’re going towards central London, and I imagine you haven’t the time for design fripperies, no matter how elegant.

If you’re travelling north from here, however, I’d guess you’re more than likely returning from something: work, maybe an excursion, perhaps an appointment or a tryst. You’re already resigned to your journey lasting as long as it takes, so hey: another quarter-of-an-hour just means more chance to make Hainault while the sun shines.

Naults and crosses The platforms’ shapely concrete posts and ritzy curves give the discerning (and even the idle) public architecture devotee many reasons to be cheerful.

Less pre-disposed towards Hainault is the “Tube challenger“, for whom the place is often the fly in their diagrammatic soup. Mastering the so-called Fairlop Loop on the Central line necessitates picking a train that avoids having to change here, and possibly endure a wait of up to 20 minutes, which certainly won’t help you set a new world record.

Hence while there is plenty of scope for a bit of infrastructure ogling, these platforms are also the crucible of a fair few thwarted dreams.

Definitely a case of ‘Naults and crosses.

Here's looking at you

Stratford upon havenOK, it’s not a proper Underground station. In fact, Underground trains make up barely a third of what passes through its walls.

But the present incarnation of Stratford would not exist were it not for the extension of the Jubilee line in the 1990s, and that’s enough of a reason to admit it here.

You want more reasons? Why, in the words of the poster for Thunderball: look up, look down – and look out! Stratford does it everywhere!

Watching you watching meThat’s yours truly in the centre, trying to capture some of what Ian Fleming would call the “gunmetal splendour” of this beast of a building.

Chris Wilkinson and Jim Eyre started with a few dashes on a pencil sketch of the roof in 1994 and ended up delivering a resplendent full stop to the Jubilee line in 1999. Or maybe semi-colon is a more apt punctuation point, given Stratford’s purpose as part-terminus, part-gateway to everywhere from mainland Europe to Westfield shopping centre.

In keeping with Thunderball’s tag-line, an exclamation mark would just as well suffice. For this is at heart a confoundedly beautiful place, defying the tangle of lines and tumult of passengers that threaten discord, and instead offering a sort of harmonious, lyrical melee.

It’s all down, or rather up, to the roof.

The roof provides the scope for that dazzling glass facade, reflecting not just you but seemingly half of Stratford and a decent chunk of the sky. It allows for the kind of jutting architectural flourishes featured in the first photo. And its interior curves help to soften an atmosphere that’s already been made to feel as open and airy as is possible in the 20th busiest station in the UK:

The great curveThe multi-level layout plus the enormous mezzanine allow anyone predisposed to milling or moping to get up close to the roof, but also to gaze on people below.

I found that during London 2012 those views down on to the station floor afforded just as much of a spectacle than anything going on inside the Olympic Park. But then watching something working by design, as opposed to luck, chance and accident, is always more preferable. Especially if you’re a non-sportsman.

Parallel linesFrom whatever angle, even when all you’re looking at are angles, Stratford station roof is the hat perched jauntily sideways on the head of the Underground.

You can see for miles. You can also see four miles’ of people. But either is fine.

Look out!

Full stop