Saturday, 28 August 2010

The Number 99 Route

Bexleyheath Garage to Woolwich

Monday August 16th 2010

The claim that the route starts at Bexleyheath Bus garage is actually a bit misleading, as the first point to board is a rather nifty bus-only lane squeezed between the shopping centre and the entertainment complex that is central Bexleyheath. The queues indicated this was a popular spot to board a bus with your morning shopping – but not this route apparently, which though a double-decker was never remotely busy at any point.

We had thought it might repeat some of the other routes we were riding today but only at its extremities. The 99 heads very rapidly downhill and East towards the river, and in fact parallels one of the railway lines leading to Dartford and thus through endless Thirties and later inner suburbia. It was not the leafiest of routes as most home-owners had turned their front gardens into off street parking. This is not a new trend so we hoped this area was not prone to flooding, where the water then has nowhere to go?

The 99 touches the railway line at Slade Green, where we passed our old friend the 89 waiting to start its journey – it seemed quite a while ago but in fact only 3 weeks, such is our current rate of progress! Unlike the 89, which heads pretty much straight out, the 99 does a twiddle, serving the local population – there were more unpaved front gardens here, so more to admire plus the range of recent building styles for family homes. These obviously pre-date the current trend for ‘make a quick buck’ housing developments, which only seem able to put up the ubiquitous 2 bed, 2 bath blocks of ‘luxury’ flats which is not what families want or need.

We had to admire the driver’s skill in negotiating some tight turns through suburban streets: even if he had the benefit of odd priority markings from time to time it was no mean feat. .

Slade Green Road and Manor Road, where only the 99 ventures, brings you very close to the Erith reach of the Thames, and while there are vestiges of the old industrial areas – aggregates abound – this is far less busy an area than it used to be. The people of Erith can speak more eloquently about Erith and its history.

From the picture of the Thames clipper at Erith we guessed that the larger ships came this far, docked after which their cargo was transported into London on smaller vessels. We could not see across the Thames here, as it is significantly wider than where we are used to crossing. As Jo so memorably said for the 97 it’s the ‘houses in between’ that stop you seeing the Thames!

Erith town centre was that mixture of derelict pubs and sparkly new supermarkets, with the odd bit of civic art thrown in. Jo and I were guessing the Nordenfelt (the dead pub on the one-way system) was some kind of town twinning with Scandinavia. However my resident military advisor tells me it’s a gun, both military and naval – so take your pick.

Having left Erith and its delights behind, the bus heads uphill again to Belvedere (beautiful view in Italian) and Bostall Heath. At this stage someone I knew got on the bus so while I was exchanging news, comparing employers (Bexley vs. Lewisham) and explaining what I was doing on the bus and not at work (!) I sort of missed what we were passing. My ex-colleague kindly told us we were going the wrong way for Bluewater (see the 96) thus not getting the point.
While I had not been paying attention, the bus climbed up the hill into Bostall Heath and Woods which extend from Abbey Wood to Plumstead. The Friends of Bostall Woods website is not the most well maintained (the web must be littered with abandoned websites?), but the range of fungi found looks truly awesome. No foraging for us today, but time to admire the extensive view down into Plumstead and Woolwich, where we were heading. The 99 is the only bus going this way so is clearly the best access for exploring the woods further.

Plumstead and Woolwich sadly held no novelty for us. As you may have been noticing, we have been spotting round London what are usually referred to as ‘ghost signs’ – old advertisements painted onto the brick sides of houses, usually on main roads. Clearly we are not the only people interested in capturing and locating them . . Not only have they been catalogued and archived by area but now in an interesting development an enterprising advertising agency has started producing ‘false ghost signs’ to sell you Anchor butter. They have chosen good places for the hoardings where the brick colour matches well.

The other thing we spotted on our descent into Woolwich was the claim from a fencing firm that they offer ‘fox proof fencing’ – a claim that surely follows on from the ‘fox bites baby’ scare of recent months. Has anyone else noticed that Blake Morrison’s novel ‘South of the River’ rather eerily foretold these events?

Seemingly not a very popular bus until the last leg of the trip, when it took on some more passengers through Plumstead, but a good outing, up the hills and down to the river (twice), and all in just under an hour, as promised.

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