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 clich├ęs 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.


  1. Thanks to the combined expertise of Mary's family, we are now able to identify the egg-shaped trees as 'European Hornbeams'.

  2. I think you must have missed the Bankers Draft on the opposite corner as you turned left at Eltham Church.

  3. Another of my pedantic responses!

    There aren't any other direct routes between Eltham and Beckenham. And it's journey time (end to end) can't currently be beaten by whatever means, despite its apparently 'curvy and complex' nature!

    I use it myself, but then I'm a 'twirly' to whom time perhaps matters less than convenience.


  4. you can get bus 160 from Eltham to Catford then bus 54 to Beckenham Jct. it is take 45 - 50 minutes during the daytimes. Depends on the traffic.