Wednesday, 8 February 2012

The Number 294 Route

Havering Park to Noak Hill
Thursday November 17th 2011

This was our second bus of 3 Essex routes ridden on a mild usually overcast November day.

Our previous route (the 252) had left us on the main parade of Collier Row and it was for us foot soldiers to climb the hill that is Clockhouse Lane up to Havering Park where the 294 has its rest.

Havering Park refers both to the area with its expansive housing development and the Havering Park green space, which could be seen from this route’s starting point, tucked close to a riding track complete with horses. The Zone 6 limit really does offer a border where urban sprawl stops and green belt starts and this was one of those occasions. It’s a London bus but in fact we were headed even further out.
The start of the route is surprisingly elevated and we had a good view on our double decker coming down Lodge Lane which more or less follows the route of the River Rom; stream-like it may be but it goes doggedly down to Dagenham Docks.

We did wonder whether some of the housing was of the pre-fab variety or whether that was the post war style of cladding? Anyway by the bottom of the hill we were back at the metropolis of Collier Row, where our previous 252 had stopped.

At this point a lad young enough to be in school (but not) boarded with his under school age brother who spent much of the trip till Romford shooting a cap gun, which is obviously a toy which has survived the years. So back to Romford it was and another trip round the Ring Road with the sections helpfully named North South East and West, and the bus stops generously dotted about.

Having returned to Romford via Mowbray from the north (a route we had covered in reverse on the 252) we headed out eastwards past those old favourites the Thirties Town Hall, ‘Simply Floating’ and the Frances Bardsley School, a Girls’ school named for its pioneering head teacher. We also spotted (but failed to photograph) a very vintage sign on the wall for VitBe bread, a type of  allegedly healthy browner bread back when all you could get was white sliced.

By now we were approaching Gidea Park, which is another example of Garden City building but unlike Elm Park, which offered more utilitarian post-war housing, Gidea Park predated World War 1. Just past the station along Squirrels Heath Lane we passed a green lock-up shed, apparently the Gardening Club for the area – Jo thought it might offer the chance to ‘swap cuttings’ for those people with gardens but not allotments. It felt quaintly period.  (Since riding this route squirrels have become most unwelcome having outwitted us at every turn on the bird feeder.)

After Gidea Park the next landmark was Harold Wood complete with its own station – still bearing the LNER engraved Logo (London North Eastern Railway) – and rather pretty St Peter’s Church. The locals seem to describe themselves as tucked into the triangle formed by the A127, M 25 and A12 and sure enough we crossed over the last to get to even more distant Harold Hill – same king, more hunting grounds but altogether larger housing development.

By now we were getting an impression of an ‘older community’ due to the number of care homes we passed and the new buildings going up destined to be ‘99 Extra Care Apartments’ rather than family homes. I was reminded of a friend who though born close to the Elephant (& Castle) in SE London was moved out to Harold Hill – an extensive post-war housing development of the kind dotted round London’s fringes. She and her siblings have long moved away but her elderly mother remains living in Harold Hill and I suspect that is a story which could be repeated for many of the locals. Compared to some of the other cottagy estates which are now fully absorbed into inner London there is more than a vestige of those Woods, where King Harold hunted, still remaining especially around  Dagnam Park

We already have Ian Dury to thank for the excellent Bus Drivers Prayer** and he excelled himself with this little ditty included in ‘This Is What We Find’.

Home improvement expert Harold Hill from Harold Hill
Of do it yourself dexterity and double glazing skill
Came home to find another gentlemen's kippers in the grill
So he sanded off his winkle with his Black & Decker Drill

**Words available on request

Having been ‘left’ for sixty years or so I suspect there has been some recent renewal work happening on the Harold Hill Estate with the Ingrebourne centre and a new Youth Centre.

The 294 pushes up to nearly the top of Noak Hill where it stops – on a map just short of the Zone 6 boundary and in life the houses stop with green fields and woods across the way: the end of London for today.

By now we were of course the only passengers left so as we climbed off we asked our driver where we might find the Number 256. ‘Not sure’, he said and it transpired he had never driven this route before and was working off ‘his notes’. We told him we would never have known (but of course we aren’t locals). He does not have a route or routes of his own but comes ‘off the subs bench’ at Romford Garage to fill in wherever necessary.

We thought he had done well on a 50-minute route shaped rather like a pie slice out of Essex.   

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