Wednesday, 7 September 2011

The Number 214 Route

Liverpool Street Station to Highgate
Thursday May 12th 2011

This was our second bus outing this week to make up for some missed weeks to come… it is certainly different bussing around on a Thursday when everywhere is much busier and buzzier than early Monday morning.

Our key route had left us close to St Paul’s, so for once taking photos was the norm rather than viewed with amusement/puzzlement by our fellow passengers. We nipped 2 stops on the Central Line to Liverpool Street, where we used the well-worth-the-30p facilities and waited in the well-ordered queues for our 214. Whilst waiting we noted three guys in high visibility jackets trying to get some water hydrants to turn on – they were all window cleaners for the block opposite and not getting the water they wanted. Before we could watch the denouement of this domestic drama our 214 arrived and whirled out of the bus station heading along London Wall Buildings where we admired the multiplicity of identical window boxes the length of the establishment.

Towards Moorgate we ran into the Crossrail works almost as disruptive as those down to Oxford Street.
Though there is something of an oasis in Finsbury Square, where local workers/smokers and passers by enjoy the sunshine with their cigarettes or sandwiches. Triton Court, built in the heyday of Art Deco in 1929, continues to gleam thanks to cleaning in 1984 and perhaps a little less smog in the air? At ten stories it would have been considered bold in its day, and you can barely make out the statue of Hermes/Mercury waving down – he does ‘trade’ as well as ‘love’ apparently.

The 214 passes Bunhill Fields, which according to Robert Bard’s ‘Graveyard London: Lost & Forgotten Burial Grounds’ was more likely than not a hastily designated burial ground for plague victims of 1665-6, later used as a general burial ground for Dissenters so not altogether surprising that opposite stands the John Wesley Chapel.

The historical bits of City Road give way to more modern parts, especially round the Old Street Roundabout (if they manage to solve the horrible underground passages at Elephant & Castle surely they can do something here?) Further along is the NIG building which somewhat intrigued us – it turns out to be a subsidiary of the Royal Bank of Scotland so no wonder that it’s hiding under a pseudonym.

For much of the City Road between here and Islington there is a mixture of usage – some social housing called rather inappropriately Wenlock Barn and new blocks being built.

Reflections of course being an appropriate name for buildings along the Regent’s Canal. Many of the older buildings have been given over to charities and other establishment departments as their offices – we passed the national Autistic Society, Contact a Family, and a newcomer to the market Dr Thom@samedayDr. Thom, whose unique selling point seems to be that you don’t need to see them and diagnosis and treatment can happen by phone and letter. Mary was not with us but I would be interested in her professional views on this.

This theme continues down the Pentonville Road, where you can find first the HQ for the Craft Council and the classical temple that houses Veolia, now the Temple of Waste Disposal. From this HQ they truly seem to have taken over the world – we Lewishamites live in one of the few boroughs that still runs its own dustbin collection and municipal dump services.

Another former burial ground – flattened and put to alternative use – is commemorated in J. Grimaldi Park along the Pentonville Road: Grimaldi the famous clown was a local and his tomb remains here.

Not surprisingly this never empty bus (and today we had a little one though I have seen double deckers on this route) got busier as we headed out of the City, many passengers including two buggies boarding at Islington and riding quite a way, others changing over at King’s Cross Station. Now the rehabilitation work has finished at the St Pancras Hotel, the famous and beloved Giles Gilbert Scott monstrosity has recently opened its doors and published its prices

This route penetrates the hinterland of Kings Cross, which is very much a large building site with demolitions and foundations side by side. The Quentin Blake mural cover one site and BAM
 are also sponsoring the skip gardens. The latter seem an eminently sensible idea – uses up some urban waste space but when the developers move in the efforts and results of the gardeners can be moved on all of a piece. Here having a local tour guide (Jo) was extremely helpful as I would not have been able to identify so much just on one trip in what was by now a more crowded bus.

Gas holders, always a favourite of the Ladies Who Bus, feature here also – two of the three Camden holders built between 1879-81 have been demolished but the remaining one should be facing conversion into flats at some stage – it will be interesting to see how they cope with the roundness of things. (Vienna, incidentally, has led the way with gas-holder-to-flat conversions,  though their gasholders seem to have been built in brick to start with.)

By now we were penetrating the lower end of Camden Town – that corner we always pass with club Koko on one side and the statue of Richard Cobden on the other. The High Street going north (this made a change for us as recently our progress through Camden has usually been a southerly one) looked pretty busy with traffic but in the end we made reasonable progress past the cheaper food shops and fast food outlets and pushing on North along the Kentish Road – this is always crowded with a wide diversity of folk, as were those aboard the bus, shopping for bargains and weekend food at the various ‘value for money’ outlets such as the Phoenicia  a Mediterranean outlet, that has won respect and custom over the years.

In quick succession (well comparatively quick: the traffic was not light) we had Kentish Town and Gospel Oak stations and beyond the latter there was evidence of growing affluence. Camden Education supports three very good schools round here which probably accounts for part of the popularity of the area but also its proximity to Parliament Hill Fields will boost the desirability of living here – especially in some of the choicer period properties. Apart from the superlative views over the City there are lots of park facilities also.

For much of its route the 214 has been alongside other routes but from here to the top of Highgate West hill this is the sole route. The good folk of Highgate did not seem very interested in catching a bus so we rather sped up what is a very steep hill with the gated roads of the Holly Lodge Estate off to the left. Whilst at school I had friend who lived here and it seemed no different from the homes of most of my friends – just a bit more inaccessible, and whichever way you approached there was a hill involved, which may explain why we would more usually meet at ‘The Flask ‘ as being less difficult. The Flask is nearly at the top of the hill, and thus Highgate Village, which a less ‘shouty’ North London village than Hampstead.

In pretty much an hour (longer than advertised) we had come a long way north through the busiest bits of our city to arrive in the fresh air and fun of Highgate. One of the great assets of Highgate is its cemetery where we had only last week had an excellent guided tour. In many ways Karl Marx is the most predictable bit of the sights to be seen with far more hidden gems than you might think. The cemetery is quite hard to reach and the 214 gets about as close as any bus could so give it a try.


  1. Since the 214 was extended from Parliament Hill Fields to Highgate Village a good 10 years ago stock has always been made of single deckers - there are no double deckers on the route. This is because of restrictions on Highgate West Hill.

  2. The remaining old gas holder framework at KX has been dismantled since you travelled this route (see