Jonn Elledge: In search of London’s longest journey

Jonn Elledge: In search of London’s longest journey

A Twitter mutual recently tweeted that she had been invited to a housewarming party in Hillingdon. She lives in Eltham. As a result, CityMapper was, and I quote, “LOSING ITS SHIT”.

This is a distressingly long way to go for a party – I mean, the hosts would have to be both close friends AND notoriously debauched for it to seem remotely worth it. But it gave me an idea for a far more fun* way of spending an evening. To whit: working out which is the single most difficult journey to make by public transport without stepping outside the boundaries of Greater London. 

Anyone lucky enough to have lived in Zone 1 has long known there is an effective minimum journey time in this town: however centrally you’re based, there are almost no journeys for which you should set aside less than 20 minutes. But is there an equivalent maximum? What’s the longest time you might realistically need to be travelling, without ever setting foot outside the city limits?

My quest began, as so many London journeys now do, with CityMapper. I started by simply asking the app how to get between two of the most geographically extreme points in London: Havering-atte-Bower, the village from which London’s least London-y borough takes its name, and the amusingly named Pratts Bottom in the far south of Bromley. As the crow flies these are only around 20 miles apart, which isn’t that far really. But any journey from north east to south east is a nightmare so it seemed a good place to start. 

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This journey would take around 175 minutes. So that’s the number to beat. 

Next I tried a geographically longer journey – from Pratts Bottom to Harefield at the northern tip of Hillingdon, a distance of around 33 miles. For a moment I was baffled to learn that it could be done in barely half the time. Then I realised it was such a difficult journey that CityMapper was proposing doing it by cab – two of them, if fact – which is not really in the spirit of the exercise.

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One of the difficulties I kept running into is that on the semi-rural fringes it’s often quite difficult to tell exactly where London ends. A journey from Cudham (south east) to Cowley (west) seemed to take us above the three hour mark, but my finding instantly sparked Twitter debates about whether or not the former is actually in London.

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It is, but before I’d managed to confirm the fact a chap named Ollie had found something longer: trekking from the road over the M25, at which Enfield turns to Hertfordshire, to a farm named Four Winds in the Bromley/Kent borderlands, took nearly three and a half hours.

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That’s an extremely long time. Might be unbeatable. But how could I be certain? What if there was a longer journey I was missing? It was time to take a more scientific approach.

Transport for London’s WebCAT planning tool enables you to see average journey times from any point in London to any other. Here’s a map of journey times from Westminster – reds are quickest, dark greens and blues the longest.

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That suggests that my instincts that Harefield and south eastern Bromley were the farthest flung had been correct. But it also showed there was one I’d missed, which seems to be the hardest to reach of all: Coldharbour Point, a forgotten spot in Rainham Marshes two miles or more from not just the nearest station but from any road that might see a bus. Even journeying from there to Romford, the commercial centre of the same borough, will take the better part of two hours: so logically, the journey from Coldharbour to the point that takes longest to reach must be the longest journey of all.

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That point, WebCat suggests, is a familiar one: getting to Harefield in the northern corner of Hillingdon is a journey that will take an average of 3.5-4 hours. That, too, seems to give CityMapper a nervous breakdown. The app gives up on public transport altogether, suggesting instead a choice of 80 minute cab journeys, a 280 minute bike ride or a nearly 800 minute walk.

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But nowhere else reached from Harefield’s Mill End Pumping Station at the very tip of Hillingdon seems to take quite that long. And so, I think we can be pretty confident that this is our answer: the longest and most difficult journey to make by transport within Greater London is from Mill End Pumping Station to Coldharbour Point, a journey of around 31 miles right across Greater London, which you’ll be lucky to complete in under three and a half hours.

So, now we know. 

I haven’t actually been invited to any parties for a while. What’s with that?

*Definitions of fun may vary, terms and conditions apply.

Photograph of Mill End Pumping station from Google streetview.

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