Adventures by train. City navigation.

Within ten minutes of my arrival at Liverpool Street Station, I had dropped my train ticket on the floor and walked around the outside of the station twice.

Walking in London circles

The dropping thing had happened to me before.

Possibly on my last London visit. That time I had dropped my credit card in Abbey Road but had found it when I walked back the way I had come.

So I thought it was worth trying the same thing again.

Which explains one of my circuits of Liverpool Street Station.  But I have no idea how I ended up repeating this particular circumnavigation. Perhaps my inner navigator saw it as an opportunity to lay down some landscape knowledge.

Whatever the reason, I eventually found the ticket where I’d left it.

Right at the top of the escalator to street level. 

Train adventures to London

For me, London has to be the ultimate UK adventure by train.

Not because it has any hint of remoteness about it (I’ve never seen so many people) but because being in a city removes so many of the clues and experiences I’m used to having in the outdoors.

That doesn’t mean I don’t love a city adventure.

Just that it takes me longer to orient myself in a city than it does, for example on a wide open moor.

Here are a few examples of why.

  • City skylines disguise the passage of the sun across the sky
  • City streets can funnel in unnatural directions
  • The sounds in cities echo off buildings and are hard to locate
  • Finding space and time to look at a map in a city isn’t always easy
  • Combining underground and overground transport methods is disorienting
  • It’s a rare thing to find a bush you can wee behind in a city

Landscape confusion

I can imagine, in fact I know from some of the people I’ve taught to navigate, that entering a countryside landscape when you’re used to a city one can be just as disorienting. One thing is the same though.

In the country it can also be difficult to find somewhere to wee.

My landscape confusion continued as I ventured away from my circuit of Liverpool Street Station. I was heading to meet a friend (luckily for me a seasoned Londoner) at Spitalfields Market.

Google maps don’t always help

I started off with a Google direction search.

Always tricky in an environment where stopping means you get in someone’s way. Also tricky on a day so sunny it is impossible to view a phone screen.

The Google thing wasn’t working for me.

Then I wished (not for the first time) that I had remembered to bring two things I would never usually leave behind.

  1. A decent London street map
  2. My compass

I know a compass sounds weird in the middle of a city but it has worked for me before.

Then I asked a local.

In such eclectic company (something I do love about the city) it was hard to work out who might be a local but the suit and smart shoes sold this particular chap to me. He had a London accent and was suitably friendly but didn’t seem to know which way I needed to go either.

So he did a Google direction search as well.

‘The easiest way would be to go back through the station.’

My heart sunk.

‘I keep getting lost down there. Is there a way at street level?’

Then he explained the route I had already seen on my own phone but in his words.

Somehow the words helped calm my navigational panic.

So I thanked him and set off. After two left turns and a long street, I was thrilled to see two banners flapping in the sub-tropical breeze (how does London produce so much hot wind?)

I had reached Spitalfields.

But I couldn’t see any evidence of market life. So I wandered a bit further.

State your location please

And felt my panic start to rise again. 

I imagine the same feeling must occur when someone finds themselves out of sight of road, path or person for the first time. I could see plenty of all three but it was all very disconcerting.

There were deckchairs but no beach.

There was a cinema but no roof.

There were elephants but no zoo.

There was a white goat.

That was it. I had reached the limits of my London navigation ability. And, as far as I was concerned, I had also reached Narnia. It was either head back the way I had come or do the next sensible what-to-do-if-you’re-lost thing.

Stay still and tell someone else where you are.

In an emergency situation it can really help to give a description of your location as well as a grid reference. Which is how I found myself sending my friend the following rather unusual text message.

I’m under the white goat.

Not lost, just misplaced

It worked. She knew exactly where I was and came to my rescue. A tour of the area and a very nice lunch followed, and I soon found myself relaxing. You’ll be glad to hear that after conducting my business (if chatting to lovely people about fab outdoor gear can be called business) I found my own way back to Liverpool Street Station.

I have just one more thing to say.

Thank goodness for the Elizabeth Line.

Purple is my new favourite colour!!

Leave a Reply