District Line

Victoria to Embankment, featuring boozy politicians and secret glimpses of Tube trains

Big Ben

This walk takes us along a stretch of the Tube's second-oldest line.

Starting at Victoria, we'll encounter a statue of the woman after whom the pavlova was named (and find out why she herself refused to look at it) ... discover a tower that gives you one of the best views of London ... hear whose is the only tomb you're not allowed to walk over in Westminster Abbey ... and learn who is the only person allowed to drink alcohol in the House of Commons chamber.

I'll also show you a place from where you can see the District Line trains passing below - it's so secret that even confirmed Tube nerds don't know about it ...

There's no need to pre-book - just turn up. Meet in Lower Grosvenor Gardens, by the statue of Marshal Foch. The gardens are opposite Victoria station on Buckingham Palace Road (directly opposite The Shakespeare pub). Click on the link at bottom right for a map.



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Big Ben

On a visit to Big Ben, I was told that if you stand at the bottom of the tower with a portable radio and listen to the chimes on Radio 4 (they still transmit them live), you hear them on the radio before you hear them ‘for real’. I couldn’t believe it – but was intrigued enough to try it for myself. And you know what? It’s absolutely true. The bongs come out of the radio a fraction of a second before they reach your ears from the top of the tower. It’s something so silly, so counter-intuitive, that you have to tell people. (Well, I did.) Researching the explanation, I found that it’s because radio waves travel at the speed of light (186,000 miles per second) rather than the 700 or so miles per hour at which sound waves travel. The signal travelling down the wire from the microphone to the BBC goes at the speed of light too. Hence the radio version overtaking the real one.

I realised that this would be the perfect way to teach the principle in school physics lessons. Instead of a boring teacher droning on that ‘radio waves travel at the speed of light’, illustrate it with this beautiful and quirky little fact. The kids will remember it then. I certainly would have done if my physics teacher had taken this approach. As it was I had to wait until I heard a piece of so-called ‘trivia’ in my thirties.