Thursday, 5 July 2012

The Number 356 Route

Monks Orchard Road  to Upper Sydenham
Monday July 25th 2011

A beautiful summer’s day found Mary and Linda walking through the Shrublands Estate from the end of our last route to the start of the Number 356, which waits snugly at a grassy corner of Wickham Road and Monks Orchard Road. We were just crossing said grass when the bus moved off and although we ran the driver either did not or did not want to see us. So we settled down on the bus shelter seats for our 20-minute wait for this 3-an-hour single-decker one-door buslet (New word: buslet = baby bus).  It duly came and left with us on the dot of 12.00 noon, with the Bethlem Hospital as its first stop, though no-one much wanted it along here. We had a little reminisce about patients we had known admitted here, mostly with positive outcomes.
The Bethlem is the ‘country branch’ of Camberwell’s Maudsley Hospital, both tertiary centres for mental health treatment. 

Up until Eden Park we were the only passengers with the bus whizzing along past several request stops. Again this is a largely residential area though with more modest housing than Shirley and West Wickham – here the homes were in fact terraces though cunningly constructed to look like semis, at least along the main road.

The roads, and I think this is probably true of not just the main and bus thoroughfares but also the side roads, are generously wide and often sinuous, interspersed with floral roundabouts.

However, once you arrive at Elmers End modesty goes out the window and the Tescos, which to be fair is tucked in on what must have been ‘railway land,’ has an approach which makes it look like a small airport, with a flyover to the car park and an underpass to the station. Here many passengers got on, some flinging open all the windows and several with bags and luggage. I suppose if you want a quieter approach you need to follow the Waterlink WayThis is mainly a cycle path so depends on how pushy the cyclists are if you are planning to walk it…

The 356 heads up Elmers End Road past the Beckenham Cemetery and Crematorium, which has no very grand gates or obvious lodges and looks a little neglected (at least the gravestones do) from what can be seen from the road. See the 354 for famous burials.

At this point a passenger asked “Was this bus going to the big Tescos?” and we had to tell her she was going the wrong way (no more Tescos – only Sainsbury’s) so off she got at Penge.

Elmers End and Birkbeck stations serve the Cem & Crem like bookends and neatly show how the Victorians speculated and built railway lines in a rather ad hoc fashion – the stations are very close but on different lines – and the housing would have followed the railway.

Just past Birkbeck Station the bus turns off down the side streets, which form the ‘hinterland’ of Penge.  The housing stock is quite old and for the most part well cared for, and though far from other shops there was a corner-shop fish bar remaining, looking quaintly old-fashioned

As it emerges into Croydon Road the 356 joins several other routes so at the main Penge crossroads many passengers got off to join more serious bus routes. The 356 continues its backstreet way, this time along the rather attractive Kent House Road which cuts through to Lower Sydenham. This ended our travels through Bromley Borough, which calls itself the Greener borough though its main claim to fame should be that it covers the largest area of any of the London boroughs. Neighbouring Lewisham is a little less green and more tightly packed as to housing and people…with a new development going up rapidly. (Nearly complete July 2012)  

As with several recent routes, we called into what many still call the Savacentre, but what is really a giant Sainsbury’s, which has its own bus area, and another chance to access the Waterlink Way.  However, this time instead of heading up (Sydenham) High Street we went – equally uphill – along Perry Rise and Vale (both very aptly named as the bus climbs then drops a little) past a mixture of some newer built flats and a few shops, most notably ‘Hektik hair – we are for the individual,’ with several  older properties.  Most noteworthy are the so-called Christmas houses, built in the early days of the 20th century, doubtless soon after the railways arrived. Less commonare a few remaining Kent style cottages. 

This route approaches Forest Hill station from behind, never a lovely sight, and then swings round very briefly to join the South Circular and a clutch of other key bus routes, (stopping outside the former Capitol cinema, before leaving it all behind by taking a turn off opposite the Horniman Museum. This is Sydenham Rise where a row of Wates-built homes face a play park – the myth when my children used to play there was that it was an unmarked Plague Pit but there is little to substantiate this. 

It is a good escape when the more worthy delights of the Horniman Museum opposite pall and was beautifully upgraded some years back.

From here on the ride is a slow roller coaster – up to the crest of Sydenham Rise and down Kirkdale where the views back towards Croydon and Kent are stupendous, then passing the old fountain the bus takes a right hand turn along Wells Park Road from which of course you can access the park.  The name recalls some medicinal springs found round here in the 17th century, and there is still both a water feature and a water play park; while I cannot vouch for the healing properties of the water it does offer a green space for local people. The bus has to do a final 1st gear only climb up along side the park and a corner of  Dulwich Woods  to come to its final resting place (I think it might have expired if not allowed to pause) just past the Dulwich Wood House pub on Sydenham Hill and a handy connection to take us both home.

Actually this was an entrancing ride taking in as it did so many of the smaller and less well known corners of outer SE London, mostly green except for some Penge interludes.

1 comment:

  1. This week's (6th July) Guardian Weekly has an article from Le Monde - 'Bus ride shows slice of French life'. Like your excellent blog it shows the variety of life in Lyon from the perspective of a driver on route C12 as it goes across the city.