5 modes of transport, 3 boys, 1 brilliant day

Toby and Isaac at Paddington station

A day out in London riding the Underground? Military campaigns have been planned in less detail than this …

I’ve had some fantastic days out with my kids in the past, but a day out in London this week with Isaac and Toby had all three of us agreeing that this was our best trip ever.

That’s not hyperbole: it’s what both boys said independently to me during our drive home at the end of an exhausting but exhilarating day.

Isaac and Toby are different in many ways. Our oldest son is all about words – and lots of them – whether spoken or written, whereas our middle child is more reflective and as likely to draw a picture of something as he is to write about it.

However, they are united in their love of the London Underground: travelling on it, the engineering behind it and memorising the complex interconnection of stations that make up the network.

This trip had been three weeks in the planning. Objectives were determined. (Photo opportunities were deemed important.) Lists of stations to visit were drawn up. Routes were mapped out. Contingency plans were put in place.

And that was before I even got involved. These boys could teach the army a thing or two about logistics planning.

In the end I was forced to intervene to whittle down what would have been an ambitious week-long itinerary into something achievable in a day (and even then I ended up cutting out some elements on the day).

What we did manage was a day with five modes of transport – car, Underground, cable car, DLR and London taxi – some lessons about different styles and ages of stations and their various engineering challenges (the boys are serious geeks when it comes to the tube) and plenty of sightseeing as I deliberately took them to places they had never visited before but in many cases were already familiar with from books, TV and films, giving them plenty of opportunities to get busy with their cameras.

So our day took in the O2 and some elevated views of London from the Emirates Airline cable car across the river. We saw several of London’s modern buildings – Canary Wharf, the Walkie Talkie, the Shard, the Gherkin and the Cheese Grater – and some of its oldest and most iconic landmarks, such as St Paul’s Cathedral and the Tower of London. We walked across old Tower Bridge (the boys were fascinated to see the hinges where the bridge folds up) and the not-so-old Millennium Bridge. And we swung by Paddington station to check out where a bear from Darkest Peru first met the Brown family (and go shopping at the Paddington store in the process)*.

It was a long day for all three of us – having left home before 8am we didn’t return until 8pm – but the boys loved every minute of it. Even poor Toby, whose little legs were so worn out by mid-afternoon that at one stage he was shuffling along behind me, glassy-eyed and with the gait of an extra from The Walking Dead.

But, after one final stop for dinner at the motorway services, the boys were still merrily chatting away on the drive home and recording their own video diaries of the day. Here’s one from each boy:

We’ve already agreed that we will do another boys’ day out in London like this during the summer holidays. We’d better get cracking on the planning, though – we’ve got a tough act to follow.

* The Paddington store is located above the main-line concourse at Paddington station. Find the short escalator near the main entrance to the Underground station, which takes you up to the shop. The Paddington bench pictured in the header photo is on platform one near the Paperchase shop. The bronze statue of Paddington (not pictured here) is a little further along on platform one, underneath the clock.

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