London for Dummies

Travel and lifestyle journalist and author Helen Ochyra writes about travelling in London with children.

Photo by Tom Parsons on Unsplash

I’ve lived in London my entire adult life and thought I knew the tube network extremely well. Certainly well enough to be very comfortable on every journey. That is, until I had children.

Travelling with a pushchair makes me feel like a novice all over again. On a recent journey to Covent Garden to take my toddler to the theatre I completely forgot that there’s a small flight of stairs between the platform and the lifts, and when I decided to take her to the zoo to meet a friend I was wracking my brains to try and remember whether Camden Town has lifts (good) or escalators (awkward, if not terrifying).

I tried to find this information online, of course. But I couldn’t. Completely step free stations are marked clearly on the maps, but I couldn’t easily find information to tell me whether there was a lift or not at one specific station.

When I arrived at Camden Town I got off the train just behind another parent. She had a double buggy, which was even harder for her to manoeuvre around the barriers at the platform and through the tunnel to reach the bottom of the escalator. When we arrived there we both stopped, I imagine with the same stricken look on our faces. Was there a lift? And if so, where? She asked me if I knew – which of course I didn’t – and we went to the information point together to press the button to speak to staff. We were told there is no lift but no assistance was offered. So we both gamely clambered onto the escalators holding buggies with white knuckles.

I thought about how I would have managed this when I was pregnant. I wondered how a parent with multiple children, or accessibility requirements of their own, or a more unwieldy buggy, would cope. I wondered if there were going to be any steps to deal with at the exit, and I wondered why this was all so difficult.

I understand that the tube network is old, that it wasn’t designed for our modern lives. But I cannot understand why information – specific, clear, easy to access information – is so hard to get hold of.

We were able to go to the zoo that day, but when we returned to the station – my daughter asleep in the pushchair – I discovered a short flight of steps at the entrance. Fortunately, somebody offered to help me (in my experience, they pretty much always do) but I thought about what would have happened if I’d had to wake my daughter and carry her and the pushchair up those stairs. I thought about my fellow passenger with the double buggy and how for her that would maybe not even be possible. And I thought about not doing this again in a hurry.

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