Monday, 24 January 2011

The Number 139 Route

Waterloo to West End Green
Monday January 24th 2011

Due to the usual Monday morning nonsense that is the Jubilee Line Linda was a bit late for Mary at Waterloo, but no sooner had we seen a 139 sail off then the next one came along. Jo was away in the Midlands doing some essential child-care but even without her master-planning we were able to manage a simple 2-bus combo. Talking of combos, nasty soiled wrappers from a Subway meal marred an otherwise pristine and new bus and it was only 10.05.

While we were debating whether Waterloo was the busiest railway terminus (we think not) we were slowed down on Waterloo Bridge long enough to be able to take a series of photos both up and down the river offering some of the best London panoramas. The buildings at either end are quite a contrast, with the brutalist Royal National Theatre at the south end and the more classical Somerset House at the north end of the bridge. For Somerset House the seasonal ice rink will just be finishing but the Courtauld Institute will continue with round-the-year study and small art exhibitions, with lovely views from the terraces.

The passage down the Strand could have been worse but once past Charing Cross (where we decided it was truly romantic of King Edward I to set up a series of crosses in memory of his dead Queen Eleanor, even if what is there now is a Victorian replica) and Trafalgar Square progress was very slow, as it always is round Piccadilly and the two main shopping streets of central London Regent & Oxford Street. Piccadilly Circus, in our view, is a pale shadow of its former self. Who wants to take pictures of the series of video loops which replaced the once vibrant and intriguing neon lights – we can all download video adverts even to our phones but no-one has multi-coloured neon in their homes and it was so much more unique – its only USP today being the slight and actually rather fragile Eros statue.
The East curve of the wonderfully elegant Regent Street is currently having a makeover and is under wraps but the other side is fine. Oxford Circus was slightly less busy than it can be and we were surprised (we have not been down here for a while) that the big hole was no more and that Mace are now managing an apparently prestigious development. Actually, they use the I word, but we think this is overused so are not going to use it.
At this point the 139 turns off down Gloucester Place and quickly gathers speed past many of the most attractive houses in London. Apart from an ‘official’ blue plaque for John Godley who founded Christchurch in New Zealand (?) there was also a green plaque for Tony Ray Jones, an English photographer whose legacy is small but covers that transition from the Fifties to Sixties. It was one of those sorts of days when there were more blue plaques than we could manage with Sir Gerald Kelly, a society portrait painter, and Haydon & Rossi, two friends who were art critics, also. Sometimes I really struggle with these as even when you look them up and read about their lives: they don’t seem that important now, which makes you wonder who sits on the committee?

By now we had caught up the 139 in front and were making excellent progress – we did more or less have this bus to ourselves and after a difficult right turn into Lisson Grove passed a blue bike stand and over the Grand Union canal.

By now we were in affluent St John’s Wood with its grand series of largely red –brick mansion blocks and a few single homes, which are adopted by the smaller countries as embassies. Wide streets, large trees, any housing well set back and not the sort of people who get on buses – how could we tell? – the bus was empty. Lisson Grove segues into Abbey Road and AGAIN we missed the key zebra crossing which featured on the Beatles Album, so here it is on its web cam....

The end of Abbey Road turns into West End Lane, which really lives up to its name: after the broad avenues of NW8 you are into a winding and narrow lane – the buses pass just about comfortably – and the houses are old and too large for single occupancy so it’s flat conversions in the main. There is a very large council tower block at the lower end of West End lane which then wends its way up past no fewer than THREE stations and many eating opportunities, some of them chains some more local and individual as the local guide
would have it.

One West Hampstead station is on the Jubilee Line and we weren’t talking to the Jubilee line today. This one is the Network Rail and will get you beyond London – just about. There is  extensive building going on.
The third station used to be the neglected North London Line, now reborn Phoenix- like as the Overground and it was to this one we returned once the 139 had terminated at South End Green (very small green space – just about passes the ‘Is it really a green Green?’ test). Once it left the West End it made good time and the trip took an hour.

Actually this is a really good tourist route – frequent, fresh and following one of the best river crossings, high and lower end retail and some of the best of gracious London homes. If you want the Album cover moment you need to be alert for the 1st crossing going north – I say no more.

1 comment:

  1. Is there still no 139 bus stop going north between Piccadilly Circus and Oxford Circus opposite House of Fraser? If you are at Oxford Circus you have to walk almost to Bond Street to catch the bus. Something closer to the Circus would me most appreciated.