Tuesday, 26 January 2010

The Number 53 Route

Plumstead to Whitehall

Monday January 25th 2010

We (that is the three of us) had arrived at Plumstead Garage via a rather tortuous route on a dirty, very cold and unfriendly bus that turfed us out in the middle of Eltham Common to freeze further waiting for the next in that irregular service (of which more anon) but it did deposit us at Plumstead garage just adjacent to a 53 all fired up to go – so we went pleased to get shelter on what I believe the Scots call a 'dreich' day – ‘snell’ too – that is, that quintessentially British combination of cold and wet causing the windows to steam up. We spent much of the trip wiping patches to de-mist, but as our photos indicate barely succeeding: in spite of the very helpful passenger who gave us a variety of mopping cloths, we could not keep things clear – hence the look of peering through curtains of condensation. It was a shame as clearly this route does pass a range of good photo opportunities.

We whirled out of the garage and round various roundabouts and one way systems to the first actual stop – interestingly the 53 goes steep uphill then down again back to the river in an alternative loop round Plumstead. There must be a college round here as groups of students were toiling uphill. In fact this early part of the trip passed at least four primary schools indicating the density of the population hereabouts. Another Brewery Road crosses the Green Chain Walk (enjoy this revamped site looking very seasonal) which covers the green bits of this part of London. The RCCG Victory Centre proved to be a church rather than a military rest home (hereabouts who knows?). We did spot our first Camellia in flower but believe me the photo thereof is unusable!Back down in Woolwich we were bombarded by urges to buy property ‘in the historic heart/dynamic future’ in what is now Royal Arsenal Riverside. With ¼ million beds for sale there will clearly be a major impact on this area. What started as a huge complex of armouries, barracks, dockyards etc one to two centuries ago has gradually been closed down and sites variously now house Thamesmead housing, Belmarsh prison and the new ‘dynamic development’.

Across the road on the non-river side, not so dynamic Woolwich continues with Plan B offering us both hairdressing and tattooing service under one roof. The old Woolwich Equitable Building still just about dominates the town centre of Woolwich though most of the core business has moved to Bexleyheath. Uphill from there to the Repository Woods (which still are off limits and with the Ministry of Defence) and onto Charlton Park Road – Charlton Village does really retain its villagy feel together with its Bugle Horn pub, formed of three old cottages. I’m sure there is no shortage of urban foxes round this way, if the ghosts of the huntsmen were to return.

Charlton merges into the fringes of Blackheath (as all good estate agents will tell you) with its Rugby Club and private school, and eventually down Blackheath Hill to Deptford. Crossing Blackheath can be lovely but all we managed to glimpse was Wat Tyler Way reminding us that he led his fellows to challenge King Richard II, in what was later generally known as the Peasants’ Revolt (or Pheasants’ Revolt, in ‘1066 and All That’). The King rode ‘out of London’ to meet them (and probably took less time than we did). A hundred or so years later Jack Cade led the men of Kent to rebel against Henry VI but he does not seem to have a road named after him, perhaps because he lost his head?

Deptford and round the one way system at New Cross was markedly jam-free. Talking of jam, the bus between Woolwich and Elephant was jam-packed; with few seats upstairs and people standing downstairs, although often at this time of day we have the upstairs virtually to ourselves. Jam was also our only sustenance, Jo having brought some pots of home-made marmalade. The delays made us so hungry we were close to eating our gifts there and then, but in the end made do with some slightly fuzzy peppermints. The Marquis of Granby, a pub on a prominent corner in New Cross, is one of several named for a popular army commander – evidence of the number of disabled sergeants that he set up as publicans.

New Cross Road turns into the Old Kent Road, and then the New Kent Road and today we covered its full length. ‘Ossory’ Road off to the left always catches my attention and it’s hard to ignore East Street Market. The newer arrivals such as ‘Parillas de Sur’, a Latin American restaurant, add some colour on a dull dull day.

Traffic was flowing pretty well at Elephant & Castle - I was pleased to be on a 53 as it’s always the bus that comes instead of the one I really want so next time I’ll know it a little better. The London School of Communication was extremely busy with students outdoors even on such a cold day.

On past Lower Marsh where Mary recommended a small Sushi place handy for lunchtime meetings and then past St. Thomas’s, that other great South London Hospital, and over Westminster Bridge passing Boadicea. Sadly, the bus does not actually finish adjacent to the Horse Guards – I was all poised to take a photo but round the back in Northumberland Avenue it was less photogenic. One hour twenty minutes plus for what is a very long way in not unreasonable and on a warmer brighter day would have been delightful, however that was not the experience today as on disembarking we had a quick, almost undignified dash to Charing Cross to use the facilities and thaw a little.

Monday, 18 January 2010

The Number 52 Route

Monday 18 January 2010

We met at Victoria, Mary. Linda and me; only I was wearing the hoody, but it was cold and miserable enough for it to be hidden beneath other layers. We were off at 10.25, up past Buckingham Palace to Hyde Park Corner, and left towards Knightsbridge. We passed the amazing One Hyde Park development, and the Paxton's Head Pub. We have linked you to the pub before, so here is some information about Joseph himself.

Rightish just before Harrods, to pass a lot of embassies and the Royal Albert Hall, not to mention a statue of Robert Napier on horseback, before passing what was Barkers and turning up Kensington Church Street. We must mention the Churchill Arms (never mind why) which we passed before going left right at Notting Hill to get into Kensington Park Road.

Linda thought that the Hill Nursery was where Princess Diana briefly worked, but I have been unable to verify this. Still, there were some handsome houses and misty square gardens as well as some pretty posh shops, such as 'Their Nibs'. Soon we were heading along Ladbroke Grove, past the Elgin Pub, embellished with a photograph of a horse's head from what we must learn to call the Parthenon Marbles.

Under the Westway we saw a sign to Equal People, which looks to be a very interesting project. Then we were past 'Sylvia's Sainsbury's' and over the still frozen canal to cross the Harrow Road to get into Kilburn Lane. After Kensal Rise Station, we passed the Lexi Cinema and the New Testament Church of God before reaching the end of the route by 11.15, slightly faster than the advertised time, despite pausing once 'to regulate the service'.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

The Number 51 Route

Orpington Railway Station to Woolwich
Monday January 12th 2010

Undeterred by the freezing (though technically thawing) conditions, we boarded this bus very neatly at Orpington Station having got ourselves there via a 2 part 208 – a tale for much later. Given the temperature we also ‘hopped on a bus’ back from Perry Hall to Orpington Station. A big Tesco with green aspirations has taken over a prominent corner near the station, the development including flats in red-and-blue colours. Notwithstanding I am sure it has had its usual impact on the already existing businesses.

The High Street was lively with the shoppers pleased to be able to get out – there were still some Christmas offers going and a wide range of charity shops and not a few hairdressers with the usual bad-pun names. All sorts of pets are similarly catered for. We noted the war memorial, and the White Hart, which seemed a pretty little pub that must have once served this High Street when it was more of a village and less just South London spread. We spotted the near-frozen River Cray where it has its source in the Priory Gardens Ponds (it later joins the Darenth and then the Thames) as we left Orpington behind and though I thought we might be bound for a scenic country route along the Cray in fact what followed was industrial estate, light industrial estate and then retail estate!. Also a garden centre offering rock salt, so I expect they were doing good business.

The 51 bus serves St Mary Cray rather than St Paul’s Cray and is the only service along here, apart from one of the special school bus routes. . Kemnal College caught our eye and seems to be run by a Trust, which has taken over previously failing schools in Bromley, Welling and Debden. Speaking of private enterprise we then arrived at Crittalls Corner – which is now part of B&Q but has not been renamed B&Q corner – at the point where we passed under the A20 Sidcup By-Pass. The window factory, as such it is, has now moved to Essex but quite quaintly the name lives on. The route is popular and well-used – we admired someone managing to conduct two mobile phone conversations at once by switching between numbers so hopefully she gave the right road and bus instructions to the right person.

At Sidcup we crossed the London Loop which Jo has walked in her time. Sidcup has quite a long High Street, which might account for some of the shops not being used. About half way along we turned right down the hill for Sidcup Station and what looks like the older parts of Sidcup. There were some very prominent electioneering posters by the station indicating what kind of year 2010 will be, but unless we can show pictures from both main parties we will not show any.

Sidcup kind of merges into Blackfen and Welling through lots of 1930s building of semis, some larger some smaller. The Oval Shopping Parade with its Tudorbethan frontage is now a conservation area. A small sign to 'The Hollies' was a reminder that this was once the site of a huge complex of children’s homes, originally Poor Law, then London County Council and from 1965-1998 Southwark run. It must have seemed a very long way from home for any but the most local children who were placed here, but presumably did offer the benefits of ‘fresh air’ for their health.

Blackfen is what it sounds like – dark wet soil prone to flooding - whence we went on down to Welling: more thirties details evident in the shopping parades as the 51 continues to wend its quite serpentine way back towards Plumstead. The bus has to cope with both hills and valleys while following what must have been old winding lanes, so not an easy route to drive, but its many residents must value it highly. Welling also boasts a Crimean War era Russian cannon (just visible in our photo) as a reminder of the links between Woolwich and Welling, which has in its time housed workers from the ‘Arsenal’. Plumstead Common is pretty extensive and the bus even crosses what looks like a ravine and is known as such locally – Slade’s ponds being part of the natural features – with the snow still on the ground it was difficult to make out details but like much of the trip this was one of the surprises for us. Where we expected more rural out beyond Orpington we had industrial and where we expected inner city we got commons and ponds.

Once again the bus veers off down hill and Plumstead has some hidden gems such as the Crescent where the graciousness of the housing still shines through the later wear and tear. On a good day you can doubtless see North of the River and all its charms but today we turned onto the very busy Plumstead Road and Beresford Street where the bus terminated, having taken the promised 55 minutes for this very unique, and firmly South East London Route.

We were determined to prove that unlike some people who only go swimming when the weather is warm that we are not just fair-weather friends of the buses but by the end we did resemble God’s frozen people.

PS. Today, unusually we had two female drivers in double deckers and our key Number 51 was beautifully driven through its twists and turns with due attention to those passengers still struggling across slush to board it safely.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

The Number 50 Route

Tuesday 5 January 2010

We were four for our first trip of the new decade: Mary nearly recovered from her virus, and Sue G to help us with details as we toured South London. The team was dressed in our new logoed hoodies, but it was too cold to display more than our extremities. Still, Linda gave one of our cards to the slightly bemused driver at the end of our journey. So thanks, 63 Regular, for a brilliant surprise on New Year's Eve (actually it was the start of New Year's Day). But enough of the team kit, and onto the bus.

We met at Stockwell Station and crossed the road to the conveniently placed head stop M. We noticed the stars in the pavement, which are indeed EU stars, and the subject of some angry politicking back in 2006. We were off by 10.10, and headed down the Clapham Road, past St Bede's Centre (was St Bede's Church) and was built in 1924 for the Royal Assoociation in Aid of the Deaf and Dumb, now the Royal Association for Deaf People. It was a sister church of St Saviour, Acton, and both churches were designed by Edward Maufe. It is faced with brown brick and Clipsham stone. there are two pulpits, the second being for a signer (info courtesy of Sue, of course).

We were heading down the Northern Line, and soon passed Clapham North Tube Station, and Dentons, for all your catering needs, as well as Lambeth Sixth Form College. We swung sharply left into Cavendish Street: we are used to this kind of bus route being served by single deckers, so being on the top deck was especially pleasurable. Streatham has a range of fun palaces: though one cinema is now shut, the second is still there as is the skating rink, sorry, Ice Arena, and the Kart Raceway. We admired the newly planted espaliered trees along the middle of the road and hope they will survive: we'll find out on future journeys.

Our driver seemed to be in a slight hurry, and yet we were twice held to 'regulate the service', once at Streatham Common and once just after there had been a certain amount of hooting at a Veolia Rubbish truck which held us up in Norbury Crescent. This is a long road, not particulary Crescent shaped, with at least 6 bus stops for the 5o along its length. It brought us to the Shree Sakthy Ghanapathy Temple and so into Thornton Heath, and then Croydon.

The modern (well, 20th century) feel of Croydon can be credited to the wartime misinformation fed to the Nazis by the BBC: on government instruction they broadcast the lie that all the new Flying Bombs of 1944 were overshooting London by about 13 miles. Lucky Croydon 'benefited' as the Wehrmacht recalibrated its V1s: Croydon got more doodlebugs than anywhere else.

At least the handsome Town Hall and Clocktower survived, and we admired the trams, the only ones in London. My south London travelling companions noticed with sadness that Turtles had closed, but we liked the facade of Grants. We were soon disembarking,after a journey of 50 minutes, an appropriate length of time for this bus. The sun, which had not been in evidence on the way south, now appeared, without affecting the temperature much, but brightening Katherine Street.

Friday, 1 January 2010

The Project – UPDATE

Start of a New Year and we are close to the Jubilee number namely Route 50 of our Project so it seemed a good occasion to look back and forward.

We had always meant to ride the buses, in their entirety and in sequence; if another complete route is possible as part of the outing, we do that. Hence we sometimes post routes ‘we have prepared earlier’. The blog came as something of an afterthought – the pictures were to prove we had been there (as opposed to sitting in John Lewis and chatting) and one thing led to another.

But the real stars have been the buses, or more specifically their drivers. Without exception the driving has been safe, measured and mostly to time (I know we travel out of the rush hour mainly and commuters may have a different view); the drivers are courteous to passengers and other road users and they manage to stay patient when traffic clogs round major thoroughfares. The other star is London – what a privilege to cross the river on the top deck – earth truly has nothing to show more fair – and so varied. We have been to areas known to us previously only from maps, and everywhere there is something to see. We have also noted that people are both possessive and protective of ‘their’ bus routes so if we have been less than complimentary please don’t take it personally. Some routes are routine.

We are assuming that the lower numbers are by and large the central London routes and we have far more of suburbia to go but at this point, our spirit of adventure and persistence remain undimmed so ho for the next 50 routes and bring it on…

Our 1st anniversary will happen in mid -March, when the weather should be better, so we may invite any followers who wish to join us on a round trip.

PS Two of our followers (63 regular abetted by Little Gooner) have kindly taken the time to prepare a logo for us, which appears to the right. Watch this space for other applications and thanks for their support.