Sunday, 18 December 2011

The Number 268 Route

Golders Green Station to the O2 Centre (Finchley Road)
Thursday June 9th 2011

Our second June 2011 bus day started really well, with both of us arriving punctually at Golders Green station to inspect the refurbished toilets – cosmetic, I would say, with new floors, doors and tiles but the same old reluctant  cisterns etc but probably TMI. Golders Green Bus Station is now having a total make-over – I suspect they will give each couple of routes their own parking slots rather than the somewhat random free for all there is currently, but we shall see.

Anyway: we got ready to settle in at the first bus stop in North End Road, as after all this service only runs every twelve minutes or so, but one beamed round the corner – it was a single decker and we were comfortably installed and off at 10.05. The very steep and narrow climb takes all traffic up to Hampstead, both Heath and Village, and because the road is essentially a tree-shaded cutting (the pavement is on a completely different level and only on one side) it is always very dark whatever the weather. The sights include the ‘Old Bull & Bush,’ a famous pub that never seems to make much effort with its frontage – no window boxes or tubs and fairly functional tables, but presumably it is still favoured by walkers having a break or young men  making eyes at their favoured one as per the lyrics.

On the right hand side are a string of blue plaques for local worthies who lived round here – Anna Pavlova for one.  The bus emerges at the top, probably the highest point of the Heath as some-one has planted a flagpole, and past the newly refurbished  Whitestone Pond, originally for  horses, who must have been thirsty when they got to this point,  with its new reedy edge. It used to look both leaky and scummy so the improvements have certainly paid off (thank you Corporation of London) though we noted there were some guys working round the other edge today. The route also passes the pastiche Jack Straw’s castle, once a pub now a gym.

The 268 is the only route which then heads downhill into Hampstead Village – we were not quick enough to capture all the boutiques and specialist shops round here though there are plenty of chain stores also. We wondered if the art dealer could really source all the artists on his shop sign, and certainly if anyone can afford the prices these works of art would fetch it would be the folk of Hampstead.

For a virtual tour of the village – well worth a day out especially when the fair comes to town click  here. Though there are many handsome mansions the charm lies also in the coveted workmen’s cottages and well-preserved fountains, wells and other street furniture.

Jo was keen I mention the William IV pub just to remind everyone that as monarch he spared all sailors for rising for the Royal Toast – as the Sailor King he had served aboard ships and knew if you  stood up you would hit your head…

Just as we approached the old Town Hall, with Belsize Park tube station opposite, the bus turns right into Belsize Avenue and we enjoyed a good stretch of this route with its magnificent large white painted houses looking very sparkly in the sunshine. Though the route was not actually hail and ride we could see it offered an excellent service for the elderly residents of Hampstead to get them down to (and more importantly up from) the supermarkets of the Finchley Road.  I can remember walking this route on summer afternoons as we had to get ourselves from school (pretty much on the Finchley Road) to a tennis club by Belsize Park big enough to absorb about 60 school girls at a time. I’m not sure we did walk in our tennis shorts but there was certainly no parental frissons or angst about the unsupervised nature of the stroll. For someone who was not good at tennis the temptation was to head for the tube and go straight home.

This route takes you close to Maresfield Gardens and  The Freud Museum. Whatever you may think of his treatments and the patients he selected he was often perceptive  and made everyone think again about human interactions. 

By now we had emerged into College Crescent, which reminded us that most of the land from here down to Chalk Farm belongs to Eton – the college referred to. Jo was taken by a sign saying Swiss Deli, which she took to be an outlet offering Swiss rather than the usual Polish/Italian delicacies but I think it was named more for the area than the food!

For a little bus the next bit of the route is the most testing as it has to cross 4 lanes of traffic in order to go round the Swiss Cottage one-way system and back down the Finchley Road; charming as Hampstead is, the charm offensive stops here on the Finchley Road but there is an excellent, large and very calm Waitrose in the well-maintained Thirties Building that was John Barnes.   Art Deco fans shop here.

We passed the Underground station and stopped outside the O2 Centre having had a delightful 25 minute trip.

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