Tuesday, 8 December 2009

The Number 46 Route

Lancaster Gate to Farringdon
Tuesday December 8th 2009

For our first December outing the weather was kind enough to be both brighter and drier than last week’s outing, which regular readers will remember produced some much admired Turneresque photos.

We were starting opposite Hyde Park at Lancaster Gate and for a while we were the only passengers on this single decker – it seemed a rather creaky old model, where the springs were audible and added to the moderate discomfort.

Appropriately the bus turns away from Hyde Park and into Spring Street, which brought us out, a little to our surprise, alongside Paddington Station and ‘old friend’ bus routes we’ve travelled before. However, once over the Bishops (rail) bridge our bus was able because of our smaller size to weave round Paddington basin, much of Little Venice and the newish landscaping that is Rembrandt gardens.

This being the kind of area where you probably have a car, if not a chauffeur, or a boat, passenger numbers remained low and entirely female until Kentish Town. In Clifton Gardens there was a blue plaque for Sir Alexander Fleming, who we know from earlier routes worked at nearby St. Mary’s, so we presume it was somewhere near here that he left his washing up undone, or his food unwrapped and watched the mould grow. Thankfully we crossed the Edgware Road and went up Hall Road – again large and imposing houses including one where JW Waterhouse lived - I know a recent Royal Academy show tried to re-evaluate Waterhouse, but for me his paintings remain technically rather than emotionally memorable.

Somewhere along the Finchley Road Jo and I got into a dispute about Fatsias, which I think look their best at this time of year – all that fluffy white seems like a harbinger of snow – however she dislikes them although they meet her very strict criteria of all year round interest. Needless to say the front and communal gardens of the expensive housing that is St John’s Wood was well endowed with full flowering fatsias. As we eventually came into Swiss Cottage we noticed Overground House where they are finally joining up the trains and undergrounds into one seamless and Oyster friendly network.

From here the bus takes a brave route up the not inconsiderable hill that is Fitzjohn’s Avenue, resplendent with large redbrick houses, now all flats. My old school is a turning off and my memories of the Avenue are mixed – in the dire endless winter of 1963, when our playing fields in Regent's Park were still under snow, we were forced to run up and down the entire hill each week supposedly improving on our ‘times’, and how relieved we were when the thaw finally arrived.

Memories of forced exercise apart, the route 46 is at its most attractive here and at the Hampstead cross roads turns right down Hampstead High Street still retaining that village-y feel, though lacking the individuality it once had. Money is clearly no object between a whole Farrow and Ball shop and Bang & Olufsen. A ‘local’ blue plaque tells us David Low (see the 27 and 28 routes) had his studios here. Camden had provided Hampstead with hanging baskets and LED lights infinitely superior to the ones in Kentish Town. Just off to the left is a National Trust sign (very rare in Inner London) for 2 Willow Road, a 1930's Modernist house designed by Goldfinger. There is an old entrance for drays still visible in the Brewery Buildings rebuilt 1869.

As said before the bus was quite densely packed by now and a woman pushing a child in a wheelchair was told to get off and on again by the central doors which she refused to do, even though she could not progress down the bus. The passengers meanwhile were discussing their shopping & deciding ‘You can give cat food to your cat even when it’s past its sell by date…’

The bus turns left into Pond Street, thus passing the Royal Free Hospital, and it was here it became so much busier. Heading towards Kentish and Camden towns you pass several Camden estates and the primary schools, non-and denominational come thick and fast. Fleet School tells you what used to run here.Camden has improved the leisure facilities round here with newly vamped basketball courts and then the new Talacre Community Sports Centre. There is also a Camden Community Law centre on the corner and then Jews for Jesus. So if this particular combination of law and faith does not fix it for you, further down towards St Pancras the Al Rahma Mosque Community Centre has been given some space at the bottom of a council block.

If all variations of God, the law and exercise still do not appeal, a quick getaway via St Pancras International might be the answer. After which the number 46 turns into the Euston Road, past the arches now being re –occupied by the purveyors of large-scale junk, and passes King’s Cross Station. We spotted the memorial garden for the victims of the 7/7 bombings, while the plaque for 1987 fire is down in the Underground station. Wren Street Gardens are very pretty, just behind the dental school, and there is also the Calthorpe Project, which combines a teaching and community garden, off the Grays Inn Road.

A Japanese restaurant (though reviewers see it as more bar than eatery) is called the Crane and the Tortoise, reminding one of some of their garden designs. The sandwich bars were coming thick and fast and were busy as it was pretty much lunchtime, and suddenly we were again alone on the bus as it crossed over Holborn and left us in Stonecutter Street just south of Ludgate Circus. Quite an interesting East/West journey with a substantial loop north included and water features aplenty.

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