Thursday, 9 June 2011

The Number 185 Route

Lewisham Bus Station to Victoria Station

Wednesday June 1st 2011

I did wonder about sitting at home and writing up this bus route from the comfort of my home without ever venturing out based solely on memory and familiarity but that would not be in the spirit of the Project and called cheating. I also could not ask Jo, who knows the route far less well, to give it a fresh eye so here goes anyway.

Revived by our lunch in Lewisham, we (Mary & Linda) stepped briskly onto the tail end of a queue already boarding outside the bus garage but managed to get our normal top deck seats and off we went. Very soon we were sitting outside imressive, newish  Lewisham Police Station, which prompted Mary to reminisce about time spent at different stations (purely in a professional capacity) and how well provided for the Police are, when it became clear we were not going anywhere. It seemed unlikely the driver was having difficulties with passengers as we were so overlooked by said police they could more or less arrest from their desks, but eschewing the technology he yelled up the stairs ‘Everybody off and on the bus behind’ so there we were on our second 185 already nearly full to capacity, and very much so by the time we had passed the market and shopping centre stops.

Various landmarks include the rather on-the-cheap Art Deco ex cinema (?) now housing a snooker hall and the fire station and swimming pool, which has had various refits in its 50 year lifespan. Then comes the long straggle, which is University Hospital Lewisham – a collection of different and differently aged buildings from the near original portico to the most recent Ravensbourne block, with everything in between, including a very nondescript Registry office.

Lewisham High Street merges into Rushey Green, actually a pleasant broad street with wide pavements and grassy areas – it might even count as a square somewhere else. Catford continues to thrive as they have a large captive population of local government types working in the Town Hall and opposite who need to do their shopping somewhere, plus not a few locals, usually to be found near the Post office, an experience in itself; I say no more.

From Catford the bus is of course following the famous South Circular route (famous for not being ‘proper’ like its North London counterpart) for some of its way – it is also one of only 2 routes, later 1, that joins Catford with Forest Hill and beyond, and as such is much needed. The bus naturally gets to use the bus lanes, which means it’s really the only fast way into and out of town when all the rest of the traffic is bunched and cross in the other lane. St Dunstan’s College, which dominated the corner the South Circular takes here, has recently had its brickwork cleaned which means it has put the ‘red’ back into  redbrick.

More turns occur on this route on the approach into Forest Hill, now on the Overground , and up the not inconsiderable hill to the Horniman gardens at the top.

[About a year ago, and quite unexpectedly a large hole appeared in the road and the whole section was shut for some weeks, bringing peace and calm to Forest Hill but huge disruption to several bus routes. No trace now remains, but here’s a picture to bring it all back.].

Talking of disruption, the Horniman Gardens (not the Museum which is fine and thriving) are having a major makeover so are currently a muddy field and little more  but fear not, I also have a photo of the borders that I prepared earlier ..

Just over the crest of the hill towards Lordship Lane there is on the right a mysterious and totally decrepit house which has become more derelict over the years – the fence is plastered with ‘Final warning Notices’ from Southwark council but the landlord, if he is still alive, has failed to respond. Unfortunately what was once a property which could be rescued is now well beyond any such attempt. We anticipate some kind of implosion.

The 185 of course passes Dulwich Library in all its glory, the starting point of the very popular Number 12 route, but the two routes do not overlap at all: the 185 pushes on into East Dulwich. Today this very popular, trendy and sought-after district was remarkably quiet (normally you cannot pass on the pavements for major 4 x 4 buggies or on the streets for ditto ditto. There wasn’t even a queue at the organic butchers or the Cheese Block, where customers spill into the street come the weekend.

This route has another major hill to climb (this is why it fares so badly when it snows and might as well turn round in Camberwell) – Dog Kennel Hill. Mary pointed out that all the spacious LCC-built flats here have been refurbished and are now up for sale – this depleting Southwark's Housing stock even further.
We are not alone in thinking this not right.

More turns and then downhill again to take this bus right past King’s College Hospital – one of its ‘raison d’etre’s’ for sure. King’s wreaks magic out of seeming chaos as so aptly captured by the recent ’24 hours in A&E’ programmes. It has local, regional and highly specialist units, as does the Maudsley across the road, and we Ladies Who Bus will not have a word said against it.

It was quite a relief to get to Camberwell and NOT head on either into Peckham or along the interminable Walworth Road to the Elephant instead but to take the Camberwell New Road and the really pretty snappy route up to the Oval. It was very quick, there are lovely old houses on the way and even a pretty shop that designs and makes exclusive dresses.

The Oval, apart from the Northern Line station named for the grounds, is the home base of Surrey County Cricket Club – I always wonder how the gentlemen cricketers from the gracious Home Counties cope with the inner city grit of the Kennington / Vauxhall borders? No sign of any play today but the gasworks are still there in order to determine the gasworks end..

Traffic flow gets quite complex round here way and there are even some little houses with gardens tucked away – one had let its wisteria go so far it was beginning to ensnare a passing traffic light…Talking of tucked away Mary tells me the whole of Cobalt Square houses police officers but has spare capacity for training venues. It is certainly very central and handy for M16 just by the river at Vauxhall Bridge.

The approach from this direction, unlike most of the other routes that troll through Vauxhall, is very direct so were up on the bridge very quickly but just time to grab photos both up and down river – the view being quite different from our more usual Waterloo Bridge crossings.

And then suddenly the of modest origins 185 could indeed become a tourist bus as we pass the beautiful buildings of Bessborough Gardens, all cream and sedate, the Tate gallery a few steps along the Embankment (Millbank as is), all with picturesque Pimlico on the left and weighty Westminster to the right: it was a straight run up to Victoria Station, just nodding at the  CEOP Building as we passed

I had forgotten before we were blessed with more trains, that the 185 used to be our quickest if not most reliable route into town and today’s trip lasting just an hour reminded me of that – it also remains hugely popular and was full to capacity upstairs and down for the whole route with scarcely a seat to be had so it must be doing something right!

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