Friday, 6 May 2011

The Number 168 Route

South End Green (Hampstead) to Old Kent Road (Tescos)
Monday January 24th 2011

Two top deck rides, top class rides after recent  small infrequent country service (138 & 146) – the contrasts could not be greater.

Mary and I had enjoyed a touristy trip through London  (Route 139) and taken 2 stops on the Overground to emerge at Hampstead Heath Station and indeed South End Green. I get very picky about places that call themselves Green and of course with Hampstead Heath just within sight you have more open space than you can cope with; however the amount of ‘green’ here is very small indeed. We had been to this triangle over a year ago when the Route 24 played up but today we were here for the 168, and sure enough there was one we could board immediately.

In contrast to our previous route which we had had to ourselves this was busy from the off, perhaps because the first stop is actually outside the Royal Free Hospital. As you can tell from the photos, the buildings date from the Seventies when several local hospitals were replaced including New End, the Hampstead General and the old Royal Free from the Grays Inn Road – the original foundation was famed for its treatment of cholera victims and Victoria was the Queen who gave it royal approval. It takes up a corner site on Pond Street and the traffic up and down this quite narrow street (it’s not known as Hampstead Village for nothing) is really too much for Pond Street.

The bus then emerges at the top by St Stephen’s Church, which looks fairly derelict having suffered subsidence from its hilly position and undermining by the hospital building – there have been some attempts at restoration though.

Talking of change of usage, the 168 passes the former Hampstead Town Hall, a fine scaled down civic building, where my parents had their wedding during the Second World War, but which is now a community centre and resource.

As the bus continued down hill past Belsize Park towards Chalk Farm it was pretty nearly full. Haverstock Hill is pretty steep and though a grey day from the top deck we could see as far as the Gherkin. The local pub seems to have re-named itself the Havers.

The buildings down the hill are not very cohesive – a few large old houses, doubtless flat conversions, then blocks from the Thirties Fifties and Sixties sitting oddly alongside each other. Then comes Haverstock School, whose former pupils include the Miliband brothers and the novelist Zoë Heller, who set her excellent novel (later film) ‘Notes on a Scandal’ in a North West London comprehensive. It figures.
By now we were edging into the Chalk Farm /Camden borders with lots of eating places to serve both the Roundhouse and the overspill from Camden Lock. For ice-cream you really cannot beat  Marine Ices with this its only real outlet.

We were a bit puzzled by a hairdresser called ‘Enry ‘Iggins – this is presumably after Professor Higgins (the hero or villain of ‘My Fair Lady’ depending on your point of view) but although ‘Enry ‘Iggins ‘ead features in one of the songs, as recalled in this blog-posting on the possible demise of cockney ,  there is no specific reference to hairdressing that we can trace. On the other hand, we found we could understand why you might call yourself ‘Dappa’ especially when your shop also offers vintage clothing.

Equally puzzling but more unsettling was the street fight that seemed to be going on at a key crossroads hereabouts between two groups of youths. The car in front of us seemed transfixed and was not moving off on ‘green lights’ until it became obvious that one its passengers who had been throwing enough punches to draw blood leapt back into the car and we all moved on? Move the scenario to a side street and later at night and you can see how serious damage might occur.

Just as you think the bus will be going straight to Camden it is of course deflected into the massive 1 way system which takes you round the back of Camden Tube Station (renowned for its interesting and intoxicating aromas) and down Bayham Road round by the 2 Camden Venues Koko and Purple Turtle . They may look OK by night but look rather sad by day.

By now the bus was really full up though it is far from being the only route hereabouts, but after passing Euston Station (actually we had come straight down parallel to the Northern Line) we headed into Bloomsbury and London University territory there losing some of our passengers, possibly late rising students (?).. Interspersed with the head quarters of large organisations such as the BMA are sundry hotels, some of the nicer than others. More blue plaques to keep us on our toes include Sir John Barbirolli (a musical conductor). As you cross over to Kingsway if you look down you can see where the old underground Holborn Station used to be – now sometimes used for filming or more recently the art installation by Conrad Shawcross . There was a large van parked close by the entrance so perhaps someone is planning something new.

We passed Bush House and several Japanese restaurants that seem to have sprouted here and then came round back to King’s College, London, Somerset House and back over Waterloo Bridge.

The journey from here is only too familiar, so forgive us if we wrap up our account fairly swiftly – Waterloo station and the mighty Elephant & Castle complete the shadowing of the Northern Line and then it was round the Bricklayers’ Arms. . We decided that the low status of the Old Kent Road on the Monopoly map had never done it any favours and the piecemeal rebuilding after bombing and other destruction makes it disjointed. The Heygate has been empty for some time now – it is seen so often in police dramas on TV that I hope Southwark Council is making some money out of it, but no signs of a rebuild yet?

Very soon it's our final stop outside the mega Tescos – an hour from NW London and familiar stretches apart really quite an interesting journey from classic Hampstead through trendy Camden, the heart of Bloomsbury, cross the river and for Mary and me – nearly home.

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