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.