Monday, 9 July 2012

The Number 358 Route

Orpington  to Crystal Palace
Monday August 16th 2010
If ever passengers on a bus route deserved a drink – it was us. This route was in fact the book end of a marathon 5 bus day which had seen us out at Dartford and Bluewater, where waiting for a non-London route had cost us nearly an hour. Still, what had started as a very autumnal trip had burst into warm sunshine on this our last route of the day. 

But back to Orpington – trouble began ten metres out of the bus garage where a motorist was blocking the route, refusing to move and the bus driver quite correctly if a little crudely, was asserting his right of way. Jo maintains buses should have cowcatchers, like the old Western trains, (carcatchers?) to deal more effectively with such situations. Um.

The silver sports car owner (why am I not surprised?) backed down, and we turned out of the station (I always forget how far it is from the High Street) to the War memorial and High Street. The last two times we had been this way were first in the January snows and then in the spring when the local authority gardeners (Bromley) were planting up the floral displays we could enjoy today.

The 358 makes a little foray down the High Street and round the corner to pick up shoppers from Sainsbury’s, then backtracks – this whole exercise took over 20 minutes, so makes you wonder if Sainsbury’s contribute to the drivers’ salaries? In the High Street there had been changes too – Yo Bo seems to be a Chinese restaurant though as no-one has posted a review either means it’s very new or not worth it. Next door or nearly is Mystic Brew, which is indeed a recent addition to the High Street, much praised by NetMums.

The bus now head due south, through fairly affluent-seeming Orpington, almost to Green Street Green, which for once is aptly named, as there was quite a lot of greenery on this route.  It then turns sharply north again, cleverly avoiding the A21 for as long as it can. Somewhere along Farnborough Hill the drivers changed, though we could not quite see where they had come from (? hidden garage). Close by is a pub called the  'Change of Horses' so while the drivers don’t have to haul passengers up hill as the horses would have done, they obviously needed refreshment.  This seems to be a venue for folk singing, a focus for the village and as the sun was shining it looked  every bit as good as its publicity.

I gather it is also related to ‘Ye Old Whyte Lyon’ which is close by where Farnborough Common rejoins the Hastings Road.  I fear someone overdosed on the letter ‘Y’ in their Letraset/font collection.  This pub has Shepherds Neame, which I am reliably informed is the oldest still-working brewery in England.
Not sure we will get to Faversham on our London travels so there is the link anyway.

The A21 route in and out of Bromley Town centre is pretty familiar and we made good time along here – the larger family houses then give way to the ubiquitous modern flats which characterise areas close enough to stations for commuters.
Affinity Sutton would appear to be a conglomeration of housing associations with the tag-line ‘Helping People Put Down Roots’.

By now the time was getting close to 5PM, so not surprisingly we picked up significant numbers of passengers both at Bromley South station (oo the temptation to leap off here and take a First Capital Direct all the way home) and Bromley North, which marks the end of the High Street and where the happy Glades shoppers board laden with their parcels. Indeed the bus filled up with wispy blondes and soon there was nowhere to sit and almost nowhere to stand – this situation was not helped by two passengers of a similar demographic to ourselves who, so absorbed in their chat, did not move away from blocking the exit doors and the back area of the bus where most of the space was, thus proving that selfishness is not just a juvenile trait!  

That tempers were not fraying was remarkable, especially as the bus ground to a halt on the steep descent to Shortlands Station. It was not clear why other than volume of traffic, but it shows how slowly everyone was progressing that we caught up the previous 358 that we had just missed at Orpington.  As quickly as it had clogged it cleared past Shortlands, and the bus headed into the lesser roads, a mixture of magnificent older houses and substantial family dwellings – not many bus users round here I would guess.

My notes at this point totally degenerate and become even more unreadable.  I suspect I had lost the will to live (having been travelling for nigh on 8 hours – under other circumstances I could have been in Chicago). Fortunately I know the route quite well and after the Chinese Garage, which does what it says on the tin (and is now quite appropriately an outlet for Kia motors), the 358, God help us, dives south again heading for Eden Park. Uninterrupted urban housing indicates to us this area was largely spared significant wartime bombing and feels as settled as it looks, with wide roads and enough garaging to help sustain the front gardens intact. I suspect one of the reasons for the bus detour is to serve the two Langley schools, much sought after by local residents in search of Bromley Education . Along towards Elmers End, this route joins several others and poor Jo, on recognising the terminus of the 54 and signs to Bromley, thought she would never see her home again. And there wasn’t even any Turkish delight to sustain us.

At least the 358 does not serve the whole of Beckenham but just the cinema end, and soon worked its way along to Penge past Clockhouse and the tramlink and crossing the River Pool. Here is where most of Beckenhams’s civic amenities are to be found – library, pool gym plus Spa and even a small theatre are ranged along here.

And so to Penge, very much the poor and sometimes forgotten relation of Bromley borough, having really more in common with neighbouring Lewisham in its demographics. By now we had lost most of the passengers to their homes or their last minute shopping and there was now so much space two small children could play ‘walk the dog’ with their yo-yos on the bus floor. In case you’ve forgotten here’s how:

Today we were spared the normally very slow Penge High Street and could head to Crystal Palace (‘I see the Tower!’ said Jo rather desperately) meaning we could finally spot our destination – the highest point in South London, the Crystal Palace transmitter.  I don’t know about changing horses but all the buses take Anerley Hill in a very low gear as it climbs past some rather desolate shops, some potentially fine properties, a bit of religion  and crosses two railway lines before reaching its final destination.  

It had taken 100 minutes to complete this trip, admittedly advertised as 80 something, but we were well weary and pleased to be off what is actually quite an attractive and long-distance Kent ‘once they were all villages’ type route, now studded with housing leisure and Waitroses galore.       

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