Friday, 4 May 2012

The Number 328 Route

Golders Green Station to World’s End, Chelsea
Thursday May 3rd 2012

This could have been a lovely day of buses in leafy south west London but in the end turned out instead to be rather tiresome, tiring and, as far as this route was concerned, decidedly uninspiring...

Having done our civic duty and voted, we had rather patchy experiences getting to Golders Green – the bus station is less ordered than some but better than it was and there was no wait for the 328. Really this was the 28 of my youth: in the Seventies the 28 went conveniently from Golders Green where I lived to Wandsworth where I was working, so I became very familiar with this route by riding it twice daily, end to end, for a whole year. While sections of it have changed, on the whole the rich bits have stayed rich (or got more so) and the poor bits have stayed poor.  Apart from anything else the 328 route has no unique features, sharing as it does large parts of its journey with the 28, naturally, and the 31. 

Having shot off at great speed before we took our upper deck front seats the bus settled along the Finchley Road and the first thing I spotted was a big hole previously filled by a cinema (the Fifties) a Bowling Alley (the Sixties to Seventies), and some kind of residential care (the Nineties onwards) – not sure what is coming next. A website waxes lyrical about a prestigious development called West Heath Place but this phoenix seems slow to rise?

Veering right down West End Lane, the bus passes some fine trees and Hampstead Cemetery. Much less famous than its Highgate equivalent it nevertheless has a few formerly famous names ‘at rest’ including Joseph Lister whom we thank for antiseptic use. The Friends  have successfully campaigned for restorative lottery funding.  Otherwise its main alley doubles as a footpath across to Cricklewood, or do I mean the opposite. Fortune Green brought us down to West End Green, looking suitably verdant after the rains and complete with water fountain.  This bit of Hampstead is a long way from the Heath (two whole stops on the Overground) but makes up for this with its wide range of ethnic eating places; it still feels more like bed-sitter land and is popular with young couples who then cannot afford family homes so far into town. West End Lane snakes and as such can be slow but not today so we were soon in Kilburn – always busy – sitting on the Edgware Road with many shoppers and perhaps a few voters scuttling to get their chores done before today’s rain. 

Following the route of the Roman Watling Street (do you suppose the chariots were held up on their journeys north by crisscrossing colonised early Britons?) this has always been a key route. Strangely, though Kilburn has three stations (Metropolitan/Jubilee and Overground) most people seem to prefer the buses, and really this 328 was consistently busy. Kilburn has long been associated with Irish settlers and they have now been joined by other newer arrivals,  which keeps the area vibrant if not affluent. 

I have yet to identify who Betsy Smith might be; it is quite unusual to have pubs named after women other than royals but this would appear to be more of a ‘construct’ perhaps to offer a drinking experience that is not the hard drinking male environment that used to characterize the watering holes of NW6. Anyway designers need look no further.

Talking of grand designs, it is hard to miss the enormous pile (possibly still the 3rd largest  church in London) that is St Augustine’s – red and Gothic Victorian to its last brick. I had always assumed it was Roman Catholic but perhaps Anglo-catholic might be closer to the mark – it has two schools close by and dominates this end of Kilburn.

Before we leave, a mention for the lost river Kilbourne, which joined the Westbourne then Tyburn en route to the Thames.

After leaving the straight and narrow of the old Roman route, the 328 commences its wriggles through the less smart ends of Maida Vale and Notting Hill. At the junctions of Elgin Avenue the pavement has been widened, we thought on our last trip through here to facilitate life for cyclists, but today we spotted a range of rather bedraggled stalls of the fruit and flower variety, clustered round the toilet, and some-one (Westminster council?) has named this the Piazza?? I fear Italianate descriptions without the weather will not quite work.

Jo, knowing my fondness for water (It’s grey and murky, she said), captured the Grand Union as we crossed over . Just sited on the bridge also, lurking under Westway, sits the Westbourne Park Bus Garage looking very sizeable from the road , though the photo seems to show buses with their bottoms hanging over the canal  so reversing must be fun..

This was to be our last trip through Notting Hill, and we do love the pretty houses that somehow remain pristine and white even while being on a bus route, in addition to lovely wrought-iron balconies their balcony pots are objects of envy. The upmarket shops reflect the neighbourhood’s affluence. Towards Portobello Road the vintage shops (second-hand/used muttered Jo) proliferate, but still manage to look less tacky than Camden. Notting Hill used to be ‘edgy’ but no more.

On the route down to Kensington the shops are even more gracious as furniture does not have to ‘shout’ quite so loudly as clothes and here the antique shops specialise in clocks or chandeliers so very much a niche market.

We arrived at Kensington High Street at the corner formerly dominated by Barkers department store building remains but has somehow lost its cohesion. The same might be said for Kensington High Street, which today we found bland, verging on the tacky at its further end. There is a fine line in bike racks though. Possibly revamping the former Commonwealth Institute may rejuvenate this end of Kensington, but clearly there are strong opinions about everything here.   

At this point I will concede that the 328 does something quite bold by taking the car route North-South for this western end of London – which means trundling through Earls Court heading south. The numbers of buses passing this way have clearly been restricted as the roads ‘jam’ very easily. Many of the large imposing Victorian villas have been sub-let or turned into small hotels.

Sure enough Earls Court retains its Aussie/NZ credentials and both male and female hostels were visible from the bus. We enjoyed the pub’s decoration for ‘The Hansom Cab’ feeling the ‘lady’ was no better than she ought to be.

By now the driver must have decided his early speediness had paid off and that he was ahead of schedule as we slowed down considerably crossing the Cromwell, Old Brompton and Fulham Roads. World’s End, this route’s final stopping place, was named for a pub but while the area was trendy in the Sixties and Seventies it now merely supports large housing developments, which block the view to the river.  The housing is more imaginative than many of its time, but the name conjures up so much more than it delivers. Our route from quite far north in London had taken us a not unreasonable 1 hour and 15 minutes, criss-crossing some well-known parts of London.   

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