Wednesday, 16 November 2011

The Number 251 Route

Arnos Grove to Edgware
 Monday February 7th 2011


Today was Jo and Linda while Mary was resting her back after some slightly too strenuous child care. Because of continued road works on the North Circular we had been slightly short-changed on our previous route (the 141), so rather than walk from Palmers Green we had ridden 2 stops on the Piccadilly line but were therefore able to admire both the inside and outside of Arnos Grove Station. I had hoped that Solar Penguin, who photographs stations, might have visited this one but he seems to have skipped straight to the Bs, which is his loss as Arnos Grove is one of the (clich√© alert) jewels in the Piccadilly Line crown. As it happens Jo had just given me as a birthday present ‘Art Deco London’ so we were able to look up the designer of the drum shaped ticket hall (Charles Holden) said to have been inspired by Stockholm City Library.  Sadly the exhibition will be finished by the time you read this …

From this you can guess it was no hardship to wait the 10 or so minutes for the modest single decker bus, which we boarded along with a handful of other passengers.  The purpose of this route seems to be to link the Piccadilly with both branches of the Northern Line so it carves a very much east/west route well outside the North Circular,

We started by heading through some fairly standard residential areas, interspersed with the usual odd Business park, low key local shops, and a multi-way roundabout called Betstyle Circus; the reality is rather less spectacular then the name though I gather the whole area used to be Betstyle before being renamed New Southgate in favour of the then new station.  

Talking of stations: once we had passed through Whetstone town centre, quite an interchange, we came to the penultimate stop on this bit of the Northern Line – Totteridge and Whetstone – after which the 251 was very much on its own. Essentially most passengers boarded here and then hardly anyone got on or off for the next dozen or so bus stops. Obviously speed came into the equation, which made photography even more difficult than it usually is from single-deckers.

Residential housing comes in various shapes and sizes, starting with terraces, moving to semi-detached (much favoured in NW London), then more detached with integral garages and set back. If I tell you the houses in Totteridge seemed to be so far set back as to be almost invisible, with signs to two golf courses (Totteridge and South Hertfordshire), ladies in riding gear and the odd Range Rover you can see they are not the sort of people who take a bus. The streets have names like Badgers Way, Horseshoe Lane and Grange Way and peter out into green areas, which are generically Totteridge Common. Even on my new A-Z (2011 version updates the 1983 one) there is little new building round here, ensuring the properties remain un-overlooked. Later research tells me that one of the bus stops is named for the £12m mansion of Montebello, so probably the locals could afford to buy the bus company!
The architect here was Philip Jebb a possible contemporary to Charles Holden but with  rather different style and clients.  Jo thought I had misplaced a comma or zero but no.

In fact the route is on something of a hillcrest with the Dollis Valley  to the north and the Folly Brook to the south, though the two join up. I am sure the locals would not have permitted a double decker bus round here (and to be honest there is probably not a call for it) but the taller vehicle would have offered tremendous views both ways.

The only non private building we spotted was the former St Columba’s School (former pupils /staff known as Pelicans) which has now been closed for 5 years – Catholic priests not being greatly in demand….It’s not clear whether they have managed to sell on the site – perhaps one of those parent groups who want to run their own establishment might want to make a bid?? 

Well, all good things must come to an end and we came down both Highwood Hill and Holcombe Hill and quite surprisingly out at a roundabout, where we crossed the A1 at Mill Hill Circus – a well known traffic slow spot – and then along the well provisioned – every food taste catered for – Mill Hill Broadway until we drove in and out of the bus and train stations: like the third circle of hell they lurk, unloved and unlovely beneath the M1 itself.

From there the bus crosses the extensive Watling Estate – cottage style homes for Londoners built between the wars and still going strong. Burnt Oak station is not as handsome as some.  The area has a newish hospital too: previously the Edgware General with in-patient beds it is now more of an outpatient resource and much more accessible than Barnet which also serves the local population.  Tehj only puzzling shop was Kabul Gate Seafood as we were not aware of Afghanistan having a coast? Once past the hospital and impressive TA Building we turned right and negotiated the awkward turn into the very pleasant Edgware bus station, from where soothing music was sounding. A fitting end to a very unique 40 minute bus ride taking us to places we would never otherwise go.

Not that we needed soothing, just relieving before we headed south on the good old Northern line. 

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