Visiting Wimbledon

Yesterday was quite an interesting day, if a bit of a long one. I had been thinking about trying to go to Wimbledon for a few days: the tennis championships are on TV, of course, and it’s an area of London I’d never visited before. The thing is, it seemed rather hard to get to: unlike when I want to go to Stratford or up to Wembley, there is no direct tube line, and the tube line which does serve the area, the District Line, isn’t very convenient as it would require changing at least twice. There was, however, another option: the tram.

I’d tried out the trams before about eight years ago, but that was just a short trial run and since then I had sort of left them alone. Even getting down to the track takes quite a long bus ride. Yesterday, however, was the sort of day which made me feel like exploring. At about noon, I trundled over to the Royal Standard, then caught the 54 to Elmer’s End. I knew it was going to be a long trip, but such excursions are good for thinking, and if I was back in time for dinner I’d be ok. There is something about long, quiet rides on public transport which make it easier for me to ponder all kinds of things.

The 54 isn’t a very fast bus, weaving it’s way through Lewisham and across south-east London. In what felt like about an hour, we reached Elmer’s End Interchange, a quiet little corner of the city. After finding my bearings, I got down to the tram station, and was soon aboard probably London’s least well known form of public transport. When you hear the word ‘tram’, you might think of somewhere like Blackpool, with it’s decades-old carriages trundling along the seafront. London’s trams, though, are modern, sleek vehicles: London’s tram system is essentially a tube line for the south of the city, built on the surface rather than having to dig more tunnels.

I must admit it was a lot of fun. As the tram wound it’s way across south London, I got to see so much more of the city, from bustling high streets to into people’s back gardens. The tube might be faster and more direct, but you don’t get very good views. It felt like a pleasant, Sunday afternoon tour of a part of the metropolis I’d never seen before. Every thirty seconds or so, we stopped briefly at a station, but between them it felt like we were whizzing across the city.

The only problem was I couldn’t see a map, so I had no way of knowing where we were or how much further we had to go. It came as something of a surprise, then, when the automatic voice on the tram announced that it had reached Wimbledon. I was there, and the real exploration could finally begin.

By then, of course, it was about half three or four in the afternoon, and I knew it wouldn’t be too long before I would need to start thinking about getting home. Leaving the station, I tried to get my bearings, looking for directions to the tennis club. It was obviously a well-to-do area, with high-end stores and gin bars lining the street. Turning the wrong way at first, I eventually found the way up quite a long hill and down a lane bustling with spectators and security people. It all looked very prestigious.

I reached the All England Tennis Club about three hours after leaving home. It had been a long journey, especially given that my only reason in going was to see if I could get there. Yet I had made it; and, having got there and having looked at all the posh looking people outside the club, it was time to start my journey back.

Fortunately I realised there was a special bus from the club back to Wimbledon station, and from there it was just a case of getting the tram and bus home. Strangely, the journey back felt quicker than the journey there, but then I knew where I was going and wasn’t so concerned. I must say, though, that I really like London’s trams: they are sleek, modern and accessible; faster and less dependent on traffic than busses, but without the obvious costs of building a new tube line (or risking disturbing any balrogs). Yesterday afternoon I began to wonder whether the tram system could ever be extended, perhaps up to Woolwich to connect with the Elisabeth Line. Yet that is an entry and exploration for another day.

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