There is another way to leave London. By train. Since the 1990’s it has been possible to travel to both the Belgium and French capitals by train. More importantly, since the opening on the British side of our first (and only) High Speed railway, Europe’s two largest cities are just over two hours away from each other. That’s right, going from London to Paris is easier than travelling from North London to South London (my longest time has been 4 hours in a car).
A little history about the building. The gorgeous St Pancras (and my blurry 5am photos after two hours sleep do no justice to the place) opened in the 1860’s. It was almost demolished in the 1960’s but a campaign headed by John Betjeman saved the station from destruction. Despite this action it was run right into the ground, and by the beginning of the 21st Century, it had become the most dilapidated of London’s termini. But a quick injection of debt serviced cash came in the form of HS1 and St Pancras was transformed, with Sir John given a wonderful little statue on the main concourse, and to be honest, it is the best public are installation in the station complex.
Size is the key to St Pancras International. Just how much is devoted to the Eurostar services to Brussels and Paris is extraordinary, but when you compare it to the dilapidated facilities in Paris’ Gare du Nord, you realise that, yeah, we Londoners know how to send off in a little bit of style!
Okay, okay, back to the history of the station. So after the 1960’s it was run down, with the remaining services being long distance trains to the East Midlands. But come the Early 2000’s the station was shut down and rebuilt. Entirely. Look at the roof – it was black a few years ago. I know, this was a regular place for me to meet up with buddies, as I used to live round the corner from here. Now it is a gorgeous blue – allegedly the original colour. Plus the restoration has been astounding. With the additions too, St Pancras now boasts a colourful array of destinations – possibly the most varied of all the London termini. You can travel on local commuter services to both North and South London as well as the outlying suburbs. The East Midlands are still served and alongside the international trains to Europe, there are also High Speed services to the Kent countryside. Not bad for a station that was earmarked for the scrapheap. See how quickly things can change in a generation?
The attention to detail in St Pancras is exquisite. Is it a listed building so the rebuilding had to be very sympathetic to the original structure while vastly changing its role into a modern gateway for London. It handled 19 million people in 2008-9 compared to the 60 million in and out of Heathrow – and around 9 million of those punters at St Pancras are using the Eurostar services to the continent. So yeah, while it is big and huge, and all of that, it also has a great deal of style, because it enhanced and kept so many of the original pieces of the building, while also opening up a large amount of the station, such as the spaces underneath the platforms which now forms part of the waiting area for the train services!
I am out of here. Normal service has really got to resume on this blog, and after what has been one hell of a past month, I need to get some sleep. I am off to Sri Lanka next month – must see (part of) the family again after what was one hell of a long absence from that island. So expect me to resume my daily blog rants about how much I love/hate London, how the filming is going and the occasional journey to somewhere funky. But until then (tomorrow) here is one last look at what is probably London’s best gateway.