Monday, 19 September 2011

The Number 221 Route

Turnpike Lane to Edgware Station

Thursday September 8th 2011

Mary and Linda, today’s busketeers (a name given us by the Great Wen) were so engrossed in their conversation about books about Mao and the Great Famine that when a bus with 21 on its front rolled up at the very comfortable and spacious Turnpike Lane Bus station we boarded it eagerly. Then shock and horror as the bus announcement told us we were heading for Enfield Lock (Island Village). ‘No no, we’ve just come from Enfield, we’re on the wrong bus, please let us off'. Of course the driver could not as he was pulling out of the bus station and opening doors at non-permitted points is not allowed.

We hung on till the first stop along the High Street heading to Wood Green and got off the 121 saying, ‘This would never have happened if Jo were here.’ We also saw the 221 (we were a mere100 numbers askew) sailing past, as the two routes do not share a bus stop. We walked the five metres and settled down to watch the destination count down board telling us we needed another 13 minutes. That proved pessimistic and we soon got on our correct 221 but of course our cherished top deck front seats had been taken, as this was clearly a popular route.

Leaving Wood Green Shopping centre (possibly for the last time on our travels) we headed straight ahead and north towards Bounds Green. This road is surprisingly green and leafy and as there were not too many ailing brown-wrinkled Chestnuts the adjective ‘green’ still applied to the trees – it’s been a wet late summer so autumn will be later.

As we approached the junction with the North Circular and the accompanying road works now in their second year we were slow enough to catch the tall obelisk and drinking fountain erected in 1880 to the memory of one Catherine Smithies, who founded an animal charity later merged with the RSPCA.

Ahead was a large gas holder and industrial estates/retail parks, the sort that back onto railway lines, so we followed the tracks up to New Southgate Station, conveniently near the corner with Friern Barnet Road and the start of our journey west. Interestingly by now we had caught up the 221 in front (the one we failed to catch originally) and in the end overtook while it was terminated at Finchley. (I mean terminate in the bus route not Arnie Schwarzenegger sense)

The main gem along here is the former site of Colney Hatch Lunatic Asylum, built originally to replace the Bethlem (Bedlam) which was then renamed the Friern Hospital, though still a mental health resource. There is a recently published biography of Nikolaus Pevsner, that chronicler of the ‘Buildings of England’ and not really a very nice man, who turned up at the door, or more accurately the gate, of the Italianate building saying, ‘I am Professor Pevsner.’ ‘That’s a new one’ said the unimpressed doorman. Now in the process of being turned into private apartments  it generated a conversation about the treatment of the mentally ill and those with learning difficulties.

If ever a bus station was calculated to send passengers into a depressive decline it would be that at North Finchley where we shortly arrived. Opened in 2004 it is completely dark, situated as it is at the foot of an unedifying tower block. Once through Finchley this route really comes into its own and follows a series of winding lanes through very attractive areas of North West London. We swept off the main Ballards Lane down Alexandra Lane from which we had extensive views as far as Wembley (we’re due there next week) and lined with pleasant spacious suburban homes and gardens. Next we dipped to the valley of the Dollis Brook and climbed the other side of the valley (sounds a bit grandiose but there are serious gradients here). We then followed Lullington Garth and Frith Lane where a young woman got off in proper wellies i.e. black and muddy not pink polka dotted and worn with a short flimsy skirt – the latter very nice but not for riding which is what the passenger was clearly intending to do, as we passed the London Equestrian Centre and then Finchley Golf Course . It only needed Waitrose to complete the picture and there we were, having used the Holders Hill roundabout to turn right to head up Bittacy Hill and call in at Mill Hill East Underground station – that little spur on the Northern Line.

The 221 does not go up to the top of the hill which is the oldest part of Mill Hill but still continues to pass large and spacious homes and gardens making NW7 very green, and actually also well provided with communal facilities- Copthall School  and the spacious playing fields, and a clutch of churches side by side at the foot of Pursley Road. By following Bunns Lane, named for a former farm, this route manages to go under not just the A1 Barnet by pass but also, having taken us along Mill Hill Broadway, under the M1 via the second darkest bus station at Mill Hill Broadway. I have previously voiced my disapproval of this station so today I say nothing. Lots of people got on and stayed on as we followed the last Lane of the trip – Hale Lane – back along its various bends, over the Deans Brook to where it turns into Station Road and Edgware Station, train and bus.

My abiding memory of this area along Hale Lane is the summer vacation I spent working at the Rawlplugs Factory – the little brown sticks then were made of oxblood and fibre so fairly messy and smelly and, while the product in its modern plastic form survives, the factory has long gone.

Edgware Bus Station was a bright and clean treat after the dark and gloomy other ones on this very cross-country and at times almost rural route through some of the wealthier parts of North West London. Bit of a false start but we made it in the end. Not a five lane road but a route with five Lanes and not a few hills.


  1. You wouldn't have wanted to get the bus you missed anyway. Very unusually for a London bus route these days, half the service is SCHEDULED to terminate at North Finchley.


  2. This is my favourite bus as it's the bus I use most often! To further comment on what Eric said, the new timetable was introduced last year because of the N. Circluar Rd roadworks, meaning that buses would run from Wood Green Bus Garage-North Finchley every 12 minutes, and the buses going to Edgware would start from Turnpike Lane every 12 minutes, so you'd end up with a good frequency of 6 minutes throughout the day from North Finchley-Wood Green. They are starting to introduce new buses this year (they are already in use on the 29's since the route was converted to a double decker on 26 Nov 2011).
    I'm truely in love with your blog!


  3. I have always wondered what the building was in hale lane,thanks for clearing it up,also thanks for a wonderful blog...