Monday, 18 April 2011

The Number 165 Route

Monday 18 April 2011

 Our first bus of this sunny day had brought Linda and me to the Abbey Wood Lane area of Rainham  (Mary was in Devon)  The 165, a single decker, was waiting, so we were able to board within minutes, at 10.55.  This was the only stage of the journey where the bus was empty:  clearly Romford is a desirable destination.

This area is residential, with a lot of bungalows of varying periods, and, interestingly, no public housing that we could detect.  The roads are quite narrow, and most front gardens had been converted to hard standing.

We soon passed the sizeable Rainham cemetery and came into Rainham village, still with a number of shops, despite the proximity of Dagenham, and the enormous Asda and Tesco's in the neighbourhood.  We noted a patriotic 'Essex' fish bar, and also a large Reptile Centre. According to a number of web forums, it's called The Cold Blooded Reptile Centre, leaving us wondering what warm blooded reptiles there are, but all these sites say that it is a splendid place with very helpful staff and, in these days of laws preventing the importation of rare species, it is a breeding centre as well.

Rainham Village School looked rather like a library or even a telephone exchange and of course, in the holidays, was quiet (I'm not suggesting it would be noisy in term time, of course) with a few staff cars parked outside it.  If they are doing the SATs this year, it will be a bit difficult with all the bank holidays following so closely after Easter.

After we had passed Rainham Recreation Ground, we were held up for some time by a white van and then a car:  both reluctant to reverse, although the parked cars narrowing the road were on their side, they prevented the bus getting past for several minutes.  The handsome war memorial, erected in 1920, has four clock faces as well as a list or those who died.

Rainham has various handsome old houses, and the National Trust is planning to restore Rainham Hall, though presumably not at the moment.

 As we left Rainham, we came to the large Tesco's  and noted that Havering has decided that climate change could lead to less rain:  the roundabout, like several others we passed, was designed with gravel and shrubs rather than grass.  It may also have to do with reduced maintenance, though there was someone sorting out the gravel as we passed.  Unusually, not many people got off as we looped through Tesco's.

  By now there were very few spare seats on the bus.  We whipped past the derelict Ford works of Dagenham, and turned right to enter Hornchurch.  We noted Mungo Park Road, but cannot explain why a road should be named after him here, as his links are all Scottish and African.  This was still a predominantly residential area, with several roof extensions and proches added to the houses.

We came to Elm Park Station, and passed a charity shop for the Richard House Hospice.  They had had 29 supporters run the London Marathon yesterday, including one in an enormous puppet costume, which shows dedication beyond the average.

The huge Elm Park Pharmacy, meanwhile, occupies the building that was once the Grays Co-op (according to the stonework on the building).  Abbs Cross School, now an Academy, had clearly had substantial building works, one of the lucky schools to get in before the freeze.

This was to be a two reptile shop journey, as we passed Jungle Phase, here in Hornchurch.  Otherwise we remarked upon the Wildwood Restaurant and Bar, which looked as if it had been some kind of municipal building in its past.  Also the Chequers Pub, whose inn sign showed a knight and his horse in 'chequered' accoutrements, rather than a draughts board or something similar.

As we headed uphill, the houses got bigger, and we were amused by a notice saying  'Golf is not permitted in this park'.  Several of the houses had wonderful wisterias, but a single decker bus, many fellow passengers and a phone camera do not make for fast photography, so you will have to imagine them.  Back down the hill, we came into Romford.  All the roadworks we remembered from previous visits appeared to have been completed, and everyone but us got off in the town centre.  We stayed on, noting 'Bureaulogic Recruitment' as we passed, and looped round the edge of Romford Market and on, to reach The Brewery Centre, with its cinema, shops and bus station.  We arrived at 11.50, having taken almost an hour to visit this corner of south Essex.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

The Number 164 Route

Wimbledon (Worple Road) to Sutton Station

Monday April 11th 2011

Mary was wearing her best fell boots today so that meant she was well equipped for the three metres we had to walk from getting off the 163 to boarding the 164 – consecutive routes in and out of Wimbledon, which has not happened since routes 9 and 10!!
We boarded with a young mother expecting Number 2 and she charmingly asked to have all the windows opened so the trip proceeded with fresh air galore. Spring clearly in the air.

Our first landmark was Wimbledon Station and transformation works had started just a month ago with plans for major overhaul of the  town centre - not suggesting anyone reads an 8 page leaflet but the artist’s impression should help. Perhaps when Merton council are finished they could spend some money in Mitcham?

There is another modern development which seems to comprise an Odeon, a Fitness centre, a Morrisons and a Bus station and so we called in there briefly before heading out of Wimbledon, direction Morden.

We passed a little block of flats called ‘The Pointe’ leading to pointless (groan) speculation as to whether this was a spelling mistake, an attempt to sound posh or some obscure reference to ballet in a place famed for tennis?

After bumping across the unguarded tram tracks – clearly not considered as dangerous as trains – we arrived at Wimbledon Chase and found two wedding dress shops going head to head. Jo thought one might be ‘wholesale’ but no sale might be nearer the mark. Nice day for a White Wedding, you might say…

The Wimbledon telephone Exchange has that classic look found in many of the London exchanges and well maintained but with some strange add-on bit at the back which must have happened before we all went mobile phones and digital.

Merton seems to enjoy remembering its MPs as after the Cyril Black Bus Station we had the range of facilities round the Martin Way estates named after another long-sitting Wimbledon MP, Joseph Hood.

Our swift progress was slowed down somewhat at Morden when a boarding passenger dithered as to whether this route would get her where she wanted to go – having engaged the attention of most of the passengers she then decided against the 164 and we carried on, back round to Morden Hall. There are quite a few roundabouts encircling Morden and we noticed they (presumably the council unless they have found a private sponsor as is often the case) were in planting transition between spring and summer bedding plants with a work in progress. Mary recommended the nearby Garden Centre inside Morden Hall’s grounds.

Meanwhile we were pondering what a Cheestrings van was doing in Morden – we can only assume it was full of what we think of us as stretchy cheese derivatives – but obviously a popular snack!

At the second roundabout we headed, straight as a ruler, down the very segregated and organised St Helier Avenue (see the photo in the 157). Talking of things in full bloom, we noted some sprightly Japanese Knotweed in the otherwise well manicured central reservation leaving by now Sutton council with a major eradication and disposal problem.

Maybe it was because much of this trip was rather ‘dejà -vu’ places we had passed through not so long ago, some of them as little an hour earlier, we felt there was a sense of stability and continuity about this steady and sturdy corner of SW London – glamorous not but certainly home to many.

Our last section if the trip was familiar too: Mary noted that 15 routes including the letter buses pass this way – the bottom end of Sutton High Street is always a bit slow but the one way climb up the back of the High Street shops goes quite quickly. Jo commented on the similarity between Sutton’s logo and that of the Conservative party – see what you think but I suspect Sutton got there first.

By this time few people wanted to board a bus that was actually only going to take them round the corner dominated by the newish police station named in honour of Patrick Dunne, killed on duty, to stop at the very usefully served Sutton Station.

This was a short trip, barely 40 minutes but served as a good companion piece to the previous few routes

Monday, 11 April 2011

The Number 163 Route

Monday 11 April 2011

 This was the middle ride of a three single decker bus day.  We had barely a step from our first bus, opposite Morden Station, and were lucky to get straight onto a 163, as this is not a particularly frequent route.  Mary, Linda and I were enjoying what may be the last day of sun for some time.  We boarded our bus, and headed for a while along Mary's special way to get to the A3 when she heads west.

On our way out of Morden, we noted how the smallish terraced cottages, in their neat front gardens, are soon replaced by more suburban semis and large terraces, still with attractive and well tended front gardens, including the splash of pink that comes from pollarded cherry trees.  We could see that all these houses back onto the green of Morden Park.

This route was not new to us, and the Beverley Pub reminded us that we were near to the Beverley Brook;  as we went over it, it appeared very small and ditchlike at this stage of its journey to join the Thames near Putney.  Andrew and I enjoyed the Beverley Brook Walk a couple of years ago, though I hope Merton Council have updated the leaflet a bit since then.

Coming into Raynes Park, we were impressed by the amount of New Build, including some by Bellway.  It seems that the name 'Grand Drive' is not their view of their building, but the name of the area.  As far as we could tell, they seem to be building on part of the green space that was the Prince George Playing Field and bowling alley.

We have passed Raynes Park Station before but this time, affected no doubt by lifting the ancestral Meccano down as part of the roof-clearing-for insulation project, I noted for the first time the footbridge:  almost as remarkable as Willesden Junction, I thought.

Linda disapproved of a venue called 'Funktion', objecting to the spelling.  But I quite like the word 'funky' and so thought the pun was acceptable.

 We also passed a range of religious options, starting with the stern brickwork of St Saviour's Parish Church, then the Shofar Christian Church, which is a South African foundation, and then the Dundonald Church, which is evangelical and Anglican.  We were not clear whether the 'Options' pregnancy advice service next door was part of the church or not.

Along the road, workmen were digging (and fencing) small holes outside each garden.  I assume this was gas works, though it was strangely reminiscent of when we were all cabled, whether we wanted to be or not!  Here we were in territory that we had visited in January (on the 152) and we were saddened to see that nothing (other than having been closed for months) has happened to the Emma Hamilton Pub.  'Nothing Happening' could never be used to describe the life of woman for whom the pub is named, the quintessential 'other woman' of the late 18th century.  The 'save our parade' signs that we passed soon afterwards indicated that it was not only the pub that was at risk of change, but we were pleased to see that the reason the clock shop was closed was that it was Monday, rather than anything more worrying.

At Wiimbledon Chase we passed the handsome telephone exchange with its unsightly extension, and soon we were into Wimbledon, with its wittily named 'Centre Court' Shopping Mall.  We could see that Wimbledon station was having improvements, which slowed the traffic down.  Many people got off here, but we stayed on the otherwise empty bus to get to Worple Street, the terminating point.  We were held up while we waited for a 3663 van to move away from the double yellow lined, buses only stand space.

Even with this annoyance, we were off the bus by 11.45, ready to step onto the next bus in every sense of the word:  this is the first time since the 9/10 combination that we have travelled two consecutive routes in the right order, on the same journey.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

The Number 162 Route

Eltham Station to Beckenham Junction Station
Monday April 4th 2011

By the time we had made our way to Eltham Station (grabbing a short trip on a 233, not to be counted yet) and waited for a bus service that only runs three times an hour the bright early sun had turned to slightly chilly wind and cloud, and breakfast had worn off for Linda and Jo, less for Mary who had started the day with a genuine Catford Jamaican patty. Quite often we carry ‘emergency snacks’ such as crumbly mints or genuine Turkish delight but today we had all failed on the food stakes.

This is not a route you would ever take to get from Eltham to Beckenham as there must be more direct routes but all credit to the drivers for it is quite a curvy and complex journey linking what were once all separate settlements and villages in the Kent countryside, but even today retaining their individual characters.

Shortly after we set off the stop is named ‘Lassa Road’ and we were not sure why a remote spot in Nigeria, which has given its name to a nasty haemorrhagic fever, should also have a road named after it in SE9?

No matter - we comforted ourselves with the by now familiar sights of Eltham, the parish church, the Village sign and the excellent plasterwork on the Rising Sun pub, which had been rebuilt 1904 and nicely restored more recently. Eltham has quite a few intriguing pub names – the Bankers Draft is not on this route but we did spot the Old Post Office Pub in the Chequers Shopping area.

The 162 seems slightly less popular than some other routes so we did not linger for long in Eltham but sped down the hill to the huge Avery Hill Park and University of  Greenwich Campus . The buildings seemed  extensive (rooms for 1200) so I was really tickled to discover that the halls of residence are named after Henry Tudor and the six wives, now quite ingrained in my mind after the very unhistorical but strangely compelling TV series that was ‘The Tudors’ with a cast of very attractive Irish actors. Eye-candy yes – history no. Sadly it finished last week with Henry VIII dying a dignified death off screen.

By the time we passed the University the bus route arrives at New Eltham, which is less real and a little pseudo-Tudor, more of the 1930s/1940s onwards. We enjoyed a range of suburban houses with different sorts of tiles and straight roads lined with beautiful trees about to leaf. William Barefoot Drive is named not for a poor medieval monk but a 19th – 20th century local Labour politician.

The front gardens along Edgebury and other roads such as Molescroft were in full spring splendour – today we enjoyed aubrietia, magnolias pink and white, camellias of all sorts and mystery elegant egg-shaped trees, somehow familiar but we could not agree as to what they might be?
By the time we came to the Belmont bit of Chislehurst many passengers got off including a push-chair with an excellent bendy balloon attached; mostly bendy balloons get turned into ‘sausage dogs’ but some-one had attempted to make a pink petalled flower with green leaves which showed a little more imagination.

Famously Chislehurst is the place with a ‘Beware Ducks Crossing ‘ sign and sure enough this route, the 162 just skirts one side of the pond – for duck house remarks please see the 161.

This was probably as close as we were going to get to the Chislehurst Caves, which unfortunately are only open from mid-week onwards, and we left Chislehurst passing both the Common and the war memorial, where the local council had added pansies to the usual poppy wreaths.

Jo got very excited as we were passing Camden Park Road, just past  Chislehurst Common. This Camden seemed to be a long way and far cry from her rather more famous North London one – it commemorates the building of  Camden Place by William Camden in 1609. The question is does he have links north of the river too? Emperor Napoleon III and his family lived in Camden Place after being kicked out of France. We also spotted Prince Imperial Road, named for the only son of the exiled Emperor –  the prince  is remembered because he got himself killed fighting for the British Army against the Zulus!

We had always known that Chislehurst was expensive but taking this route through Bickley our jaws dropped further as we passed significant numbers of large, detached, gated and drived properties both old (one had the date of 1599 set in its gate) and new. This side of Bromley is not far from the also affluent Sundridge Park area; complete with its golf courses .

With all these venues potentially offering wedding receptions it was not surprising that we had passed several more bridal shops than is usual. All we managed to do was photograph the Bickley Cricket Club, which I hope has remained in the right place. Sports Clubs seem to have a habit of migrating out of their home patches and confusing the ‘Ladies Who Bus’ with the exception of the ex Woolwich Gunners of course.

There were no passengers getting on through Bickley (it’s not a bus sort of place) but a chap got off and the woman sitting next him noticed he had left his quite important looking phone plus gadget on the seat – much window tapping on the inside and sprinting on the outside and phone and owner were re-united at the next set of lights. His lucky day I think and not a situation that could have been resolved so easily in Inner London.

By the time we arrived at Bromley North we had returned to more modest housing and took a swift turn down the Kentish Way between the Glades Shopping Centre and its car parks; the central reservations were, as the clichés would have it, ‘a riot of colour’: nature tolerates clashing tones better than artifice.

Having disposed of both North and South Bromley Stations we turned briefly north again to follow the different lanes – Westmoreland Road, which is built up with many blocks of commuter flats, and Hayes Lane, complete with its speed cameras always on the alert. My hairdresser lives along here though I usually land up walking to her, as the 162 is a rather infrequent service if you are in a hurry. A mother and toddler joined the passengers with her son going from high pitched wailing and breath holding temper tantrum to slightly more coherent sobs; by the looks of things mother was used to his objection which seemed to be about being on a bus and he gradually calmed down.

Hayes lane has more solid homes and the 162 progresses round the Chinese Garage roundabout to approach Beckenham, where on the Green by the church we had just missed their Spring Food fair, with visiting Italian stallholders. Beckenham too has a village sign.

Having missed the Italian market stalls for today we would have to make do with supermarket imported food as the 162 routes terminates at Beckenham Junction station where Waitrose lurks on the other side of the railways tracks. No shopping (and no food) today as we leapt onto a passing train going all our ways, quite sorry to leave the little, newly upholstered 162, a modest infrequent route of some complexity, but as close as you might get to a ‘nice day out’ with Green Chain and River Shuttle links, ponds and caves, Tudor echoes and glimpses of how the other half live.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

The Number 161 Route

Chislehurst War Memorial to North Greenwich Station (O2)
Monday March 15th 2010

This route started with a short but pleasant walk (from the stopping point of the 61) round Chislehurst Village’s duck pond complete with its duck house, which really says all you need to know about this pleasant Kent village, now firmly within London’s travel zones. We crossed the Green Chain Walk  and actually bumped into the route at least three times more along this bus route which goes from the Kentish weald steadily downhill to the Thames, far quicker than you might think. Having the first real day of Spring in a year where nature was running late made it especially delightful.

We belted along the aptly named White Horse Hill towards Mottingham (originally recorded as Modingahema – a village part of Eltham back in AD 862, and now administratively divided between three local authorities) – graced with another village sign and we were afforded a wonderful panorama encapsulating the London skyline from the new highrise at the Elephant across to Canary Wharf. From here the passengers boarded steadily, clearly using it as their shopping bus at this time of day. Mottingham station, which was built in 1866, brought London to Mottingham and changed much. The station looked as though set amongst woods however, my London-born assessment of nature is somewhat limited and I clearly got a bit over-excited at the number of trees which the map informs me belong to the Royal Blackheath Golf Club!! (PS This seems to be another example of a sports club being not quite where its name indicates it should be: see comment for 160) Never mind: we passed also such delights as Tilt Yard Walk and were one of the few buses which pass the lovely Eltham Palace – a glorious Thirties Art Deco home bolted onto a medieval Hall, which works better than you might expect.

Eltham itself is more down to earth with its high road, station and bus station, where the drivers changed. On from there the 161 passes the  Well Hall Pleasaunce, which looks to be a well-tended and agreeable public garden. You do of course fly over the A2 at its rather unlovely start.

This part of South East London, in spite of the density of housing, is really pretty well endowed with open green spaces too as we passed on the one side Eltham Common wherein hides  Sevendroog Castle
(the name is enough to conjure up a captive prince or princess in need of rescuing, or perhaps even 7 droogs?) then the expanse that is Woolwich Common. There is a range of imposing buildings in and around Woolwich Common, most of which clearly belong or belonged to the extensive and long-standing military presence round here, but it is sometimes difficult to tell what their current function now is. By the time you read this there should be a shooting range ready and waiting for the 2012 Olympics…The names are all very redolent of soldiery – Master Gunner Place and Grand Depot Road, not to mention the NAAFI. As Napoleon said, an army marches on its stomach and it’s good to see the NAAFI recognised, even if only on a bus-stop!

It was also very positive to be here in weather sunny and clear enough to see beyond the immediate areas with vistas down to the Thames again and small aircraft coming in to land at the City Airport – we had been here in the murky days of snowbound January and February (2010) so good to report the improvement in visibility. We actually crossed Woolwich Town centre quite smartly and then turned a sharp left to follow the river, which does a loop hereabouts. Woolwich Road is fairly unlovely – presumably a victim of extensive bombing and then rebuilt first as warehouses, then later retail parks and depots, with only the odd older building left standing such as the Clockhouse Community Centre in the Customs House located in the wonderfully named Defiance Walk. There is also the intriguing St Catherine Laboure Church – a saint of whom we had never heard. Research indicates she was a nun whose visions suggested the wearing of a medal (medallion) would be helpful to Catholics – any way she was canonized in 1947. There is also an extensive retail park here complete with multi-screen cinema and the  'green' Sainsbury's built with a turf roof and solar panels and wind turbines.

(PS Having since this trip over a year ago walked the Thames path extension – Crayfordness to Thames Barrier – the riverside aspect of this route is less polluted.)

From here it is but a short hop to North Greenwich Station (Bus and Underground) and of course the Millenium Dome, now the O2 venue ( excellent sight-lines if you go to any concerts, and also now a venue for the Olympics) and clear enough to see across to Canary Wharf.

We had thought, disembarking our 61 onto the 161 that the routes would duplicate, but far from it the 161 offered lots of unique vistas in completely the other direction. It completes the very extensive trip just within the hour, which is incredible when you consider the distances covered. We felt privileged to get such an expansive view of our city all for nothing! Great ride.

Monday, 4 April 2011

The Number 160 Route

Monday 4 April 2011

 Our bus started on Linda's home (or at least work) turf, so Mary and I followed her directions on this bright spring day, and met at the bus stop just before 10.00.  We set off through Catford, with Linda pointing out how quickly some new-built apartments along our route had sprung into fully occupied use (unlike the blocks of new offices we so often pass).  Out of Catford is an uphill journey, with rather desperate road markings telling people to stick to 20mph.  It seems pretty clear that people don't, unless there are cameras, police with speed guns or other enforcement measures;  though to be fair (as people seem to say a lot when they are not saying 'to be honest') cars parked both sides on a bus route does have quite a traffic calming effect.

At the top of the hill we came to the library, under scaffolding.  We hope that this is for repair rather than some kind of economy measure, but had little time to brood as we turned right to access the South Circular; with a well maintained central reservation, and large front gardens as well as some stretches of service road running parallel, it was a great deal more attractive here than in some parts of its length.

Gardens here, as along the whole route, were luminous with magnolias and camellias, as well as forsythia and, a source of particular envy for Linda and me, glowing clumps of aubretia, unlike the rather nervous and short lived patches we have in our gardens

 We barely recognised Eltham Green in the bright sunshine:  we had had an unpleasant winter experience hereabouts in January, when our 122 bus suddenly announced that it was going out of service, and abandoned us at a bus stop with no shelter and a bleak wind blowing.  We were interested to notice that the bus stops did not have bus numbers on them.  At first I suggested vandalism: perhaps people were collecting and swapping the little squares with the bus numbers like a numerical Pokemon Card activity;  but there were so many without numbers, that we concluded it was probably policy.

The Parish Church of St Saviour appeared rather forbidding:  opened in 1933, its design was influenced by the architectural trends of the day. As we came into Eltham, we noted that Eltham Pools, now closed down, are about to become an 'exciting development' but I have not tracked down what.  The snooker hall is still To Let as well, but once we got into the high street, we found a more lively scene: a Debenhams and a Marks and Spencer as well as a number of Pawn brokers and pound shops.

The Rising Sun Pub was embellished by beautiful pansies, as well as its garlanded plasterwork and its inn sign.  On our left was the grassy mound of Eltham Reservoir, which has had its problems in the past few years, but is apparently back in use now

 We thought Ink and Folly was a good name for a book shop, and were a bit anxious to see its shutters up:  but it's OK:  it does not open on Mondays, since it is open at the weekends.

We turned right into Southend Crescent, where we have changed buses in the past, and headed into Footscray, passing the green spaces of the Rugby Club, and another attractive pub, the  Beehive, with such excellent flowers that we should not have been surprised to see the bees off the inn sign buzzing about for real.  Then we came to the 'With Love' Bridal shop, and as we waited for the lights to change, we spotted two full minibuses from Beths Grammar School  If you go to their website you will find that they assist 'one of Bexley's non-selective schools', an odd way of saying that some schools have able pupils selected away from them.

 We looped around parts of Chislehurst, which we know and like, though I have still not been able to persuade my companions to leap off the bus to visit the fascinating Caves.  We noted the 'ducks crossing' sign as we approached the pond, though no ducks were, since they were clearly having too much fun in the water.

It was around here that Mary used to play hockey when she was a student, a long way to come from Barts, but then the amount of green space in the City is pretty limited!  Blossom covered trees lined the playing fields as well as embellishing most of the gardens.

We came into Sidcup and looped round to get right into the spacious bus station close the the Railway Station:  our journey had taken just inside an hour, and reminded us that, whatever the poet said, April is a pretty nice month.