Wednesday, 21 July 2010

The Number 85 Route

Kingston (Kingston Hall Road) to Putney Bridge Underground Station
Tuesday July 20th 2010

My regular travelling companions were both holidaying with grand children so I had the benefit of a guest companion today – confusingly also Mary, whose specialisms include Garden History, plants and the local knowledge of living in outer South West London for all of her life.
We walked from the station through historic bits of Kingston – Kings’ tun or homestead I gather (outside the Guildhall is the Coronation stone for the seven Saxon kings) beyond the shopping malls and stores to reach the start of Route 85 close to the courts. Given that Kingston has not just one but 2 bus stations, it was a bit puzzling that this route should choose to start here.

Once aboard we crossed the Hogsmill River, almost hidden from view. By Kingston it has come quite far (Epsom & Ewell) and is about to join the Thames. In Medieval times this would have been one of the key Thames crossings outside London. Also past the Market Place so it’s quite a shock to come out by all the modern buildings with the Kingston Club Oceana and the Wilkinson chain taking over the old C&A building on a prime corner. There is the ‘ghost’ of a sign for the Empire but the cinemas are new build also – Kingston town seems somewhat to have segregated its historical bits from its modern shops.

Mary was pleased to see the very well laid-out Cromwell Road bus station (that’s what I call a proper bus station) before we rounded the corner by Tiffin School ( a mere newcomer founded well after the Grammar school) and the Lovekyn Chapel opposite, apparently presented by Elizabeth 1 to the Grammar school post Reformation. It seems a shame that both these older buildings are on such a busy thorough fare and exposed to the traffic fumes of the Kingston one-way system.

On we went past St Peter’s church closely followed by Kingston Hospital on the right – the fact that the car parks seems to loom more impressively than any ward buildings seems to say something about modern planning – it does sit quite handily close to a roundabout and range of bus routes.

However with the hospital and central Kingston behind us the bus becomes the sole route hereabouts (there is a University bus though) and heads up Kingston Hill. I had had high hopes that once on the top deck I would be able to see over the trees and peer at the range of expensive properties hereabouts but that seemed not to be the case – for the most part they remain safely cocooned behind gated and private (of the unmade up sort) roads in an area called Coombe, known already in Domesday times. However I suspect the residents are far too exclusive to allow mere bus passengers to peer over into their properties…The only grand building clearly visible is Galsworthy House, now refurbished as a nursing home, but I like to fantasise this was the property Soames Forsyte built for himself when his fortunes were on the rise ( The Forsyte Saga) Galsworthy was born on Kingston Hill though there is no blue plaque.

Kingston University has parts of its campus up here, with superb views over towards Richmond and Wimbledon Common. According to its website it has more applications than any other London university, which is not really surprising given its proximity to London but airy feel.

Still we were about to leave ‘airiness behind’ and hit the more prosaic A3 – not for long though as after a little detour across or rather under the dual carriageway to serve the 24 hour Asda (the 85 is a 24 hour bus also) we then turned down a narrow bus only snicket in order to serve the pretty densely populated Alton Estate. Mary and I had both worked here in our time and felt some of the blocks were in need of TLC although the trees were looking good – some big enough to predate the estate, others having matured over the years. Not surprisingly many passengers boarded along here. Mary noticed a walnut tree and a wellingtonia and we were both very aware of the low flying aircraft hereabouts. Just as the bus approaches Roehampton Village, which obviously pre-dates the 1950s estate, there are several churches of all persuasions including the RC one with its open air Madonna.

This bus then has to negotiate some quite tight turns through the village, complete with period cottages, before it emerges alongside Putney Heath – here there are prestigious private estates cheek by jowl with the Ashburton estate, all of them situated opposite the greenery of Putney Heath – however the greenery was by now looking sadly dry and yellow as a result of too little rain. Perhaps ‘The Green Man’ can work his magic – the bus stops alongside the handsome pub of that name as well as the terminus of our old bus friends the 14 and 37. Having climbed up and over Kingston and up to here it was now downhill all the way to the Thames.

The bus had made excellent time so far but this is always something of a bottle neck and we lingered awhile in the traffic at the junction of the South Circular and Putney Hill and its continuation Putney High Street. This gave us time to admire a Millenium memorial sundial with its quotation from a well known hymn identified NOT by yours truly, whose sole memorable hymn was ‘All things Bright & Beautiful’ but I digress .This, I am reliably informed, comes from verse 5 of ‘O God Our Help in Ages Past’. There is a lot going on along Putney Hill: new buildings galore – a former college (according to some helpful fellow passengers) now a Marketing Site & Suite for Barratt Homes.

We liked Gentle Dental but were a bit puzzled by the Citizen Smith bar as we remembered him as hanging around rather less smart Tooting and so long ago we wondered whether modern customers would even get the reference??

Putney High Street is traditional with turn of the 19th century grand buildings clustered around its rail station but modern shop fronts with a road built wide enough for one or two trams but certainly not for a full range of buses, delivery lorries etc so progress was slow but we weren’t in a hurry and our prize at the end of the High Street is of course Putney Bridge and an excellent way to cross the Thames – today pretty full. The last church in Putney also boasts a sundial and then it’s past the Bishop’s Park and turn right to the elevated Putney Bridge Underground station, which is of course a contradiction in terms …

For a change and to cool down we took a relaxed and very interesting lunch break in the Bishop’s Park, where you can walk along the river in the shade complete with newly-restored Fulham Palace (the Bishop of London moved out in the Thirties and Hammersmith & Fulham have used grants to restore it as a local amenity.

Just under an hour from Kingston and passing some pleasant open spaces (I can’t honestly say they were still green) and lovely trees en route.

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