Monday, 12 December 2011

The Number 263 Route

Holloway (The Nag’s Head) to Barnet Hospital
Thursday December 1st 2011

This was the middle bus of a 3-bus outing and for the time of year was bright and not very cold; in any case we had done a certain amount of brisk walking in the wrong direction (sigh) and there was a barely a wait for this ubiquitous North London Double decker. 

Once it arrived at The Nag's Head (not surprisingly a long defunct pub now giving its name to the major road junction) crossroads the Route 263 takes its one and only left turn before heading straight North for most of the route.

The Holloway Road is an Inner London mixture of old and new with some of the newer looking a bit tired and some of the older having been spruced up.
The National Youth Theatre. have rehearsal rooms along here – this used to be the route for actors to learn their craft before ‘Spot a NOT X Talent ‘ came along.  
Further up the hill, and it’s a bus which climbs steadily,  we passed the very handsome façade of the Northern Health centre and indeed it is one of the 'lost hospitals' of London but partly preserved within its modern usage. Nearly opposite is Whittington Park which today had a rather handsome foliage (it was constructed rather than toped) Cat – as Jo said it took her a few visits to the Whittington Hospital to twig why there were cats everywhere – we think the cat is now more famous than his master and eventual Lord Mayor.

Just before Archway were warnings of road works to come but we sailed over the major crossing. The Archway tavern – a really large pub but just surviving – had a new Guinness Clock in retro style which cheered us up; not that we needed much cheering.

Talking of pubs we then passed the Charlotte Despard; a woman who managed to be a social reformer, pacifist and suffragette, though her links are not particularly with this area (apart from having been sent to Holloway Prison). I am not sure what she would have thought of the different shops along the Archway Road:
Pax Guns ( Certainly not)
Ripping Yarns
Edward Scissorhands – a hairdresser

At the summit of the hill you can just glimpse the tops of the trees, which form part of Highgate Woods with its eponymous station down there too.  Having walked down there in some peace it is difficult to believe one is so close to the A1 and other busy routes out of the city. This bit of the route, essentially East Finchley, continued uphill in an unremarkable fashion –  the Phoenix for all it is a cherished and heritage cinema does not have a very noticeable façade, but it does have 101 year old history! (PS We hope those film cans do not contain nitrate film.)

Other more independent shops include: Amazing Grates and All Aboard – the latter charity shops located in NW London who fund raise generally finding local different causes to support – and Black Gull Books, an independent book seller. The 263 seems to be the only bus along here but we suspect most commuters would use the Northern Line.We may have been the only bus but first outside Amazing Grates and then later today we encountered a plethora of white vans who variously:
-     Did U-turns in the bus lane
-         Parked at the bus stop
-         Cut into the bus lane

We passed some rather grand looking lodge gates with seemingly nothing much behind but looking at an A-Z indicates this would be one of the lesser entrances to St Pancras and Islington cemetery – apparently the largest and first publicly owned cemetery in London now in shared management between Islington and Camden, where the bus started if you remember.

By now the signs were all about the North Circular and to be sure we sailed straight over it – in my (too) many years of criss-crossing London I do not think I have ever traversed the North Circular so effortlessly. It is of course by flying over it rather than actually tangling with it that this easeful crossing is achieved.

If you head in a northerly direction from East Finchley you are likely to arrive in – yes that’s right – North Finchley.

After the batch of light industry the change to broader avenues and semi-detached homes is immediately evident, and again we were the only bus. After passing ‘Sea Rock’ – surely that was a Barclays Bank we thought – it was not far to the North Finchley Bus Station – a dark and forbidding place to be avoided and as luck (or more likely bus planning) would have it the 263 ‘avoids’ going in there, carrying on in a straight line North up the side. 

And lo – it was time for another white van to do something silly.  
More uphill, this time through Whetstone. It seemed difficult to capture the essence of Whetstone – brutalist council offices for Barnet, DIY and storage facilities, and then it is back to a low gear for the last uphill into High Barnet (with a bit of Chipping on the side).

The bus finally takes a gentle left in front of the church (see the Route 34) and along scenic Wood Street where the more historic bits of old Barnet are clustered, round the church naturally, including old school buildings and the Eleanor Parker Almshouses.

All that remained was the gentle twiddle into Wellhouse Lane to stop by Barnet Hospital; although this is not the only route passing by given that Barnet serves a large population over to Edgware it is sadly much more accessible by car.


  1. Barnet's brutalist council offices regularly appeared in the 1960s spy drama The Champions, where they represented the exterior of the spies' Geneva HQ.

  2. what was that last paragraph again ?

  3. Sorry not very clear. To get to Barnet Hospital from Edgware is not that easy or quick by bus, as my 92 year old mother would vouchsafe. The size of the car park might indicate they expect more drivers than anything else?

    1. Why not just get the 107 bus from Edgware Station to Barnet Hospital...