Tuesday, 22 December 2009

The Number 49 Route

Clapham Junction to White City Bus Garage

Monday November 9th 2009

(Clearly one we prepared earlier as London is experiencing significant snow this Christmas week)

Our connections today were not quite as seamless as they often are, due I might say not to the buses themselves but to some careless map reading and chatting. We managed to overshoot the head stop and found ourselves walking down Northcote Road Market (Smug website alert!), which seemed to have more sourdough and olive oil shops than you can shake a stick at, in stark contrast to Falcon Road, which is pretty run of the mill.

However Northcote Road does not have a 49 bus, which we finally ran to earth in Battersea Rise and boarded at about 1.10. It was pleasingly warm and very clean too and by the time we were cruising down Falcon Road it was pretty busy. There is a large house, situated on the main road appropriately enough between Khyber and Afghanistan roads, which has been converted into the Islamic Cultural and Education centre. Learn more here.

Most of Battersea Bridge Road is densely built up with social housing (as opposed to the mansions along by the park) so we assume either major wartime bomb damage or post war inadequate housing clearance or more likely a combination of the two. So it’s always a nice surprise to get to Battersea Bridge, which has one of the best views of the houseboats and the loveliness that is the Chelsea Embankment and Cheyne Walk. To live here you needed to be rich, famous or dead or probably all three but it’s almost certainly worth walking in historical steps.

The mansion housing is as densely packed north of the river and these mansion blocks lead us out into the Kings Road – though only briefly as the 49 takes a turning off down Sydney Street – houses remain beautifully uniform here with glimpses of market stalls that look like beach huts, announced as the Chelsea Farmers’ market. The reviews indicate that actually it’s more a cluster of eateries as opposed to somewhere where you can get, as it were, home-made sausages brought up from Kent. It looks very pretty though. The parish church of St. Luke’s, though only built in 1820 to cater for a growing congregation, is most impressive and apparently has the tallest tower of any London parish church.

As Jo rightly deduced, the signs for King’s College (which we are used to seeing round the Strand) refer to the science departments – largely Pharmacology, from when King’s took over Chelsea college. Things get even grander round Onslow Square and by the time we get to South Kensington it is definitely lunch-time and the cafes and restaurants, by the look of them, are full of ‘ladies who lunch’.

Encouragingly the road works, which had delayed many of our earlier trips on 14 and other ‘return’ buses, seem to be clearing and both traffic and pedestrians are flowing very well. This is also very much hotel territory and there were some smaller gems which had taken over older buildings, rather than building new and big and impersonal. Not surprisingly some of the embassies have established themselves here also and we flag spotted both Korea and Zambia.

Palace Gate, as the name implies brings you out at the very end of Kensington Gardens and straight into the High Street, which is agreeable enough but unremarkable. Today certainly the shoppers/tourists were out in force and stopping for them lost the bus some time, not that we were in any hurry! More greenery, or autumn leafery courtesy of Holland Park and another lament for the Commonwealth Institute—it used to offer an excellent wet Sunday’s free entertainment for children with its ramped floors and generous display of cocoa beans. Even if displaying Commonwealth products is an outdated concept no one seems to have found a use for either building or site?

Before you know where you are the 49 is braving the 6 lane wide roundabout that is now Shepherds Bush and it then travels alongside the railway to get to both Westfield and the bus garage. Westfield has been open a year and doubtless has taken trade both from shops in Hammersmith and Kensington, where we had just been. We have enjoyed the very quiet and well ordered bus garage before and this time the operative in charge of the information kiosk let us into the free and very swish public toilets. The renovated garage is well worth a visit, and though not originally built as a garage has served as a factory and a film location.

The contrasts between Battersea and Chelsea and Kensington are probably not as extreme as they once were, but the 49 is still, to some extent, a bus of two halves. Also for such an urban bus it touches on three large green spaces Battersea Park, Kensington gardens and Holland Park.

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