Sunday, 13 January 2019

The NUMBER 18 Route

Sudbury Railway Station to Euston Station
Thursday January 10 2019

We had arrived in Sudbury via a ‘cross-country’ bus from Edgware so today was very much about North-West London.  It had also been a very cold bus on a grey day so with our extremities frozen we scurried from the forecourt of the Piccadilly Line station round the corner to see a row of 18s patiently waiting.
The last time we rode this route the 18 had been a ‘bendy bus’ (remember those?) and the police had put us in lock down while they checked the tickets. No such adventures this time and whatever the bus company (nice blue upholstery) they had rejected replacing their bendys with a Boris bus so we travelled comfortably, with heating and reasonable visibility.
Having only ever whizzed in and out of Sudbury it remains an enigma but it does have a large and largely open park.

St John  the  Evangelist, just as you approach Wembley Central, has a very pretty lych gate (with a clock, just what the coffins pausing there needed?) and is apparently a Giles Gilbert Scott design. The churchyard looked very extensive for a parish, but I learn it included Wembley old burial ground.

Wembley, on the other hand, seemed very familiar and was bustling today.  The national stadium completed just before the last project, had brought a lot of new building to the area and it seems to continue to thrive – there were four vegetarian outlets next to each other, and without the boost and enterprise of many incomers this High Street might be declining also. And the entrepreneurs manage to send money home.

Surprisingly there were two large construction sites on the main road. I am not a crane geek but  I gather from this the crane is something special. I am interested that ‘luffing’ and ‘jibbing’ seem to have been carried over from the sailships as the last time I met these words was when we visited the Cutty Sark.   Henry would appear to be a construction company, as opposed to a developer and we were certainly dogged by a scaffolding lorry on both this trip and the previous 204. 

Down the road, past the Best Western was another site, this time Henley, who are apparently developing the site of the old Brent Town Hall – this must be how local authorities, who have had to prune their staffing and services radically, try and make up the budget deficits resulting from this government’s continuing ‘austerity’ measures.

Once through Wembley the 18 continued to be busy – not entirely surprising as it seems to be the only bus route between here and Harlesden, passing through Stonebridge Park after crossing the North Circular. There was a bus lane all of the way so we could keep up a good steady speed.

Housing is fairly densely packed round here and there was no shortage of religion either with a Moravian Church next to St Margaret’s joined with St George (two saints couple up) and then a United Reform . The Moravians, although originally from what used to be Czechoslovakia, seem to have popularised their Christian beliefs worldwide and have a strong Caribbean following – hence presumably the presence in Harlesden.

Harlesden has a one way system, flowing freely today, which brought us into Kensal Rise – we were promised an ‘Artisan Quarter’  but could not really identify what was meant by this. Apart from Gallego offering us specialities from Galicia we had a run of Brazilian enterprises: Sabor Brasileiro, Brazilian Steak house and Sunshine Brazilian  hair . I don’t imagine Brazilian hair could not be catered for elsewhere in the borough but I expect if offers a good level of gossip also.

Jo was a bit surprised at the unsold advertising space though I pointed out that the ‘folk’ opposite in Kensal  Green Cemetery would not be that interested..
 The Cemetery was the last resting place of  Dr. James Barry,  who served as an Army surgeon at the Crimea  but became even more renowned after ‘their ‘ death. There are many other more famous names buried here.

Talking of gossip we were both entranced by the conversations behind us –  friends discussing the one’s pregnancy and her determination not to know the sex of her expected child  via the ultrasound process but prepared to  flirt with the traditional methods – pointy front or back, needle on thread  suspended above the bump?  There was also an extensive list of her food cravings. As they stayed on the bus till the end I can only hope they were heading for a conventional check at the nearby University College Hospital.
Were they talking rubbish? – no they weren’t but we were also taken with a van of that name  passing in front of the bus – its website  explains what it does.

We were still on the Harrow Road and passed several closed pubs – the Nelson Arms and more controversially the Windsor Castle, once famous as a music venue. By now we were close to crossing the Edgware Road, busier than last week on the 16.  

Leaving aside other routes we found ourselves running parallel to Westway  above us , and with good views of the canal to the left and Paddington basin to the right . Though clearly the traffic  pounds and pollutes overhead it seemed quite calm at this level with green spaces between the blocks and a still leafy aspect to what is very much Inner London.

Paddington Green Children’s Hospital, to which I once escorted a reluctant attender, is long gone with parts of the building residential , though some adolescent mental health is on offer. Paddington Green Police Station, on the other hand, hangs in there. 

Happy in our bus lane we continued alongside the heavier traffic and passed some dowdy buildings to one side (?due for demolition) and some brightly clad ones across the way. By now we were on the Marylebone Road passing Regents Park, a good view of the GPO Tower,  the turning to the station of the same name and the various civic buildings that grace this thoroughfare – the courts, the former Town hall and the Landmark Hotel which will celebrate 120 years since its July 1899 opening. .
The Wedding Gallery perhaps showing pictures of nuptials that did and didn’t work turns out to be a ‘luxury department store’ for planning would-be-weds. Enough said.

We spotted what looked like a glass  protected  art installation on the pavement but it turned out to have several nifty bird feeders on offer, to birds of course . 
Enough travelled too as we had arrived outside Euston station, having made it from the further reaches of the NW bit of the Piccadilly line in Sudbury in just over the  hour, as promised.

PS I promise no more birds next week.

Tuesday, 8 January 2019

The NUMBER 17 Route

London Bridge Station to Archway
Thursday October 10 2018

This trip was to access the Number 4 at Archway and to reverse the journeys taken by Jo and her family back in early 2009.
Since then London Bridge has become a transformed station albeit with some cosmetic and commercial stuff still to come. Improvements already complete include a makeover of the Undercroft linking rail to tube, where lurk some currently free and fine loos.

Above ground there is a bus station too, admittedly not nearly as smart as the revamped train one but rebuilt nevertheless. BUT the poor old 17 has been ostracized and starts from outside the fitness centre in London Bridge Street. As you can see from the picture he had not changed his destination board.  Getting on,  we asked the driver why was he excluded; he looked bemused and said ‘they don’t like us?’ and we drove off turning right to cross the bridge. We had plenty of time (like nearly  10 minutes ) to admire the  neighbouring bridges,  the river at low tide again and such  riverside buildings as the  Glaziers Hall at the south end and the Fishmongers' Hall at the North as it took that long to cross due more to an overflowing building development  than to road works. Some of the construction appeared to belong to Wells Fargo
. ‘It’s a stagecoach’ said Jo thinking perhaps of the right to drive sheep across London Bridge. I believe it’s a bank… but a very recent arrival in the City. It would be nice to think they might drive a stage coach with a sheriff and gold on board? 

Once past these works and the poor invisible Monument we headed left past Cannon Street, and apparently the back of Bank Station – can they really need 12 more escalators at this station? As it is you wander in endless circles trying to find the right exit.
The main roads apart,  one of the attractions  of the City of London, not yet obliterated by all the building, is the charming  names of some  side streets – Plumtree Court or Bread Street (not far from Pudding Lane of course)
Leaving the financial sectors behind we made swifter progress along past St Paul’s and briefly along Farringdon, for once open to traffic,  carrying on through Holborn, the untrendy end of Clerkenwell.  I thought it was interesting that the Staple Inn (which is as old as it looks) now houses the HQ for the Actuaries opposite the once thriving Prudential Assurance Company whose unmissable red brick building now houses a variety of bars and other firms. Actuaries, and their close relatives,  auditors, have not performed well recently with several big firms going under despite having seemingly healthy balance sheets, which had supposedly been fully audited?? The Prudential Building is currently housing the Grenfell Enquiry.

But we were leaving big business behind and heading into the more Dickensian parts of Clerkenwell with legal firms and the Foundling Hospital, all off to the side  of the Gray’s Inn Road , which also follows a similar  North South route to the River Fleet.

My notes, which can be both illegible and out of order, referred to Hubbards Cupboards which at a swift glance looked like the sort of slightly down at heel shop that might be found on the Caledonian Road but research indicates it is indeed on the Grays Inn Road and actually sells better office furniture!

Our journey round King’s Cross was remarkably smooth and we sailed past the waiting buses (joys yet to come) and a sharp right and left took us through to the Caledonian Road, generally known as the Cally, as various cafes, swimming pools and even the station call themselves (I have a son who takes exception to the misuses of reflexive pronouns but there you go). Cosprop more or less does what you might expect  

The cafes and pubs give this sometimes shabby road a cheering aspect – who could resist the Rabbit Hole café, New Rook café, the Owl and Hitchhiker Pub (Owl for Edward Lear, youngest of 19 or 21 (Jo couldn’t remember) and Hitchhiker for Douglas Adams – apparently they sell pan- galactic gargle blasters…) probably best of all is the Breakout café opposite Pentonville  which looks grim and run down rather than forbidding, the prison that is not the café.

Shortly after this we arrived at what Jo assured me was the Nag’s Head junction with the Holloway Road – I could see no pub after which it was presumably named but then it went in 2004. The route from here is definitely uphill and not very far to our finishing point for this bus, namely Archway, another major road interchange. Somehow we missed the last stop and were swept on to the number 17’s resting place alongside the oldest bits of the Whittington Hospital so we apologised to our patient driver after a trip which had taken closer to 1½ hours rather than the 1¼ expected.

We admired all the pedestrian-controlled crossings which took us safely back to the departure point of the Number 4 which I maintain, out of Jo’s earshot, is a pretty crazy route.

Sunday, 6 January 2019

The NUMBER 16 Route

Cricklewood Bus Garage  to Victoria Station
Thursday  January 3 2019

This was our third bus of what had so far been a very slick day – the charismatic 31 and the interesting 316 had led us to the start of the – well – ordinary Number 16. It goes essentially in a straight line from Cricklewood Broadway to Marble Arch where it takes a right for Victoria. I could stop there and say that was that but will attempt to make a ‘pedestrian’ (wrong use) journey more interesting.

In fact the most entertaining factor was a Spanish family who boarded very early on and stayed to the end: they took the other front seat and dad was encouraging his somewhat restless daughter to guess what the English shop signs might mean via a sort of Spanish ‘I-Spy’. As my newly acquired Spanish is at a pretty rudimentary (Intermediate) level I was trying to follow the conversation.

The first part of the trip, down to the end of Kilburn High Road, duplicates that of several routes but certainly the 316. After the rather  desolate area of closed wholesale outlets and some abandoned shops (Toys R Us) (Decks)  it was good to get into Kilburn proper  which has always had a buzz – it must get even livelier at the weekends with the Bingo halls and large pubs, once for the Irish locals,  still open for business.

The area is much more multi-cultural now with a well-established Muslim Charity and a Polski Sklep still hanging in there. Meanwhile our travelling companion was being asked to work out what Fried Chicken might be in Spanish ‘pollo?’ she hazarded correctly.

I am not sure what either of them would have made of the ‘Beaten Docket’ pub whose curious name we had looked up ten years ago and alas forgotten – thanks to the Wetherspoons websites ( not their politics thank you) we can refresh ourselves:
A beaten docket is a losing ticket, often associated with horse racing – a feature of this area in the late 19th century. Attracting thousands of race-goers, Kingsbury Races were held five times a year, on land leased by William Perkins Warner, proprietor of the nearby Old Welsh Harp.

As NW2 gives way to NW6 there are some homes between the parades of shops, Watling Gardens reminding us this was once the Roman Watling Street. Also there are references to Brondesbury, not an estate agent’s way of gentrifying Kilburn but a genuine name (origins of which are undoubtedly historical but a bit murky) and with two stations, just off the route. Clearly on the route is the well- used Kilburn Station, now Jubilee but with the Metropolitan Line whizzing through too and whom we have to thank for the well maintained 100 year old bridge.

Alongside, way past its heyday there was a launderette with a strangely ornate pediment.

Kilburn High Road can be slow but perhaps folk were still at home for the seasonal break: whatever the reason we pushed on through at a very steady pleasant pace. As Brent & Camden give way to Westminster  we passed  Maida Vale  with its grand and gracious mansion blocks each with its own  style, some art deco some pseudo Tudor. Towards Edgware Road Station there was building that seems to have been underway for the last ten years but promises to deliver many homes with all the usual in-house facilities.

I am not sure what our Spanish travellers made of the shops and restaurants lining the route to Marble Arch as many of them have Arabic or Arabic derived scripts with the odd ‘Fatoush’ thrown in.. Even Robertsons with its venerable three golden balls must be a bit of a mystery to non-English speakers. Pawnbroking (or lending against goods) is a very old trade and interesting it has retained its sign, where few other shops or dealers do.

Peering down Oxford Street as we turned right at Marble Arch made us glad we were not going straight on at this point as it looked busy – reducing the number of buses down Oxford Street can only be a good thing really. As we glimpsed the green of Hyde Park the daughter asked whether there were ‘flamencos rosas en el parque’ and Jo and I both said no in unison.   I love that the Spanish for flamingo is flamenco which conjures up the exuberance of this florid tropical bird, not usually found amongst our homelier park waterfowl.

In spite of a lingering police presence along Park Lane following a New Year’s Eve ‘incident’ we progressed on to Hyde Park Corner – there were queues, or rather the 21st century equivalent of hustles of people at the bus stops but few interested in the 16 which remained empty upstairs.

The portrayal of the Queen as a large stamp (well she is on all the real ones) has intrigued Jo and this was her best photo yet. She also admires all the Commonwealth War memorials round the Wellington Arch from the cheeky backside of the Machine Gun Corp’s  ‘David’ to the graceful Haka-like plinths of the New Zealand tribute.

The building site at Hyde Park Corner, like many of those we had passed today, seemed quiet and we passed on by another garden, that of HM the Queen – no use trying to peer over – even when the leaves fall there are thick shrubs behind the even thicker walls topped with plenteous wire, so privacy is maintained.
After the statutory turns to get round into Victoria this was really a very straight and uneventful trip enlivened mainly by trying to see well known bits of your  home city through the eyes of strangers, who like us disembarked at the station.  

A last lingering lonely Christmas tree to remind you today is the last day of Christmas, but HAPPY NEW YEAR is still OK.  

Saturday, 22 December 2018

The NUMBER 15 Route

Trafalgar Square   to Blackwall
Thursday  December 19 2018

Jo was preparing for an ‘away from home’ Christmas so I decided  to travel on my own and at mid-day, once the rain had passed, on this rather odd route that does not  connect very usefully.  The USP of the 15 is that it offers, on the most touristy bit of the journey a heritage Bus experience.  Luckily I managed to get one of the more modern vehicles albeit the unloved Boris Bus which is at least safe (and occasionally heated). The driver earned maximum brownie points by lowering the bus for a passenger with sticks. I thought three homeless guys plus dog might be intending to board but they were in an animated conversation about shelters. (Of course it used to run from Paddington Basin..

Setting off from just opposite Charing Cross station this bus picked up passengers steadily along the Strand and I was surrounded by the happy chatter of tourists. Less happily behind me sat the bus germ zone – namely the man who coughed and sneezed into  my neck. Thank goodness for scarves which can double as surgical masks...

I noticed, as the signs were at eye level, that Westminster council dubs the Strand (and Aldwych) as Theatre land and indeed theatres and hotels more or less alternate along here. The bus slowed down considerably towards the confines of Fleet Street where there was plenty of time to admire the public clocks – on the whole keeping good time. It was also possible to deduce the reason for the protesters on hunger strike in front of the Royal Courts of Justice – they clearly see the Family Division Judges as child snatchers. In my experience, having tried to intervene in families to stop them getting into the court process and possibly losing their children, the judges themselves bend over backwards to be fair.   Ironically someone was eating his sandwich barely a metre from the Hunger Strike notices.

The source of our delay was soon apparent – Farringdon closed (again) presumably for Crossrail: someone must regret naming this venture CROSSrail. It was not to be our last road closure . The 15 itself remained on track, so to speak, but all sorts of other random displaced buses were clogging Ludgate Hill and points east.  One of the joys of travelling at this time of year is the chance to admire less the street decorations, which were not special this year, but the municipal and company trees. St Paul’s had put theirs up on the portico . In the grassy areas beyond/behind the cathedral people were out enjoying their lunch hours in the winter sunshine.

We passed a few of the Heritage 15s, some on the return trip to Trafalgar Square, some just standing empty. Cars are discouraged from the major road junction by the Bank and Mansion House, which too had big trees.
Further along King William Street there were signs of more diversions but we kept going, emptier now as the road widens towards  the Tower. We had visited the large church which is All Hallows by the Tower and hard to miss. Most of the Heritage routes terminate at Tower gateway – the end of one of DLR lines.

The top of a double decker offers you one of the more comprehensive views of the Tower of London which also marks the boundary of the City as we headed into Tower Hamlets.  We had accounted for the Tower, now for the hamlets – presumably all former villages Stepney, Whitechapel fringes and Poplar were such.

Just past Aldgate East a poster proclaimed Fotografiska Opening Spring 2019 – this proves to be a branch of the Stockholm Photography Museum 
So the 15 may prove the way to go?

Once out of the City the bus speeded up, and avoided yet another set of road works as we took the Commercial rather than the Whitechapel Road.  Built originally as a private enterprise to take goods from the East and West India docks to the City, this was once a toll road that made an awful lot of money, but later adopted as a public road, and still very much an artery... and as a result looks rather run-down. Small clothing outlets predominate which reminded me that the East End was the heart of the ‘rag trade’ well remembered  here
I missed photographing Watney market but at a glance right it looked busy enough. and the buildings of the London Metropolitan University are not immediately obvious though announced as a bus stop – this may be because they are located in the old Wash Houses which I had noticed.
The Troxy really caught my attention though – someone having a mash up of Roxy and Trocadero perhaps.  It proves to be a Music Venue – there is a very good history here

Back on the other side we passed Stephen Hawking School and Salmon Lane and Tequila Wharf (a little optimistic I fear) which indicated that we might be getting close to water and indeed we crossed first the Regent’s Canal and then the Limehouse Cut. By now the Commercial Road, still the A13, had turned into Burdett Road and East India Dock Road and we were heading firmly for Poplar. It was clear to see that the war damaged surrounds had been  frequently replaced  by Fifties and Sixties era public housing which was again showing its age…  Other reminders of  this area’s past can be seen in the various buildings called Seamen’s  Missions – there are several including the Poplar one shown on this useful site.

Islam, not to be outdone has taken over a former bank for one of its charities.
Slightly odd was the announcement for the University of Cumbria in London – there is real one up in the Lake District and Carlisle but they seem to want to run a spin-off? 

There was a crowd at the bus stop for All Saints Church Poplar (currently being restored)  but they weren’t catching this bus which was near its end . It turns off the main road and takes a couple of turns down Poplar High Street which as you might guess from its name is quite low key and small scale so it was quite a surprise when we emerged at Blackwall DLR Station to find myself in the middle of a number of large scale building sites; demolition and construction . Clearly there is a lot of development going on at Blackwall
Indeed, and I quote:   

Blackwall Reach is an unparalleled project of innovative design and visionary schemes. Realised in a magnificent collection of more than 1,500 new apartments and a sustainable community, the development is the very pinnacle of fresh thinking and celebrates the area’s magnificent history by putting its values at the forefront of the future

Sadly we shall not be back to view its progress as the rather generous station approach hosts only the 15 bus route – whether more transport links are planned we shall see.
This is a route well worth taking – in either direction you get the old and the new – the most touristy bits of London and some older historic parts – and it’s the first route, this time round in the Project, that kept to its promised 65 minute timing.

PS Shortly after I published this entry the following link appeared on the BBC website - excellent  40+ year old colour photos of many of the places this route passes.. do have a look