Tuesday, 31 July 2012

The Number 372 Route

Hornchurch to Lakeside Shopping Centre
Thursday November 3rd 2011

This was the beginning of our ‘day in Essex’ and while we waited for our 3xhour route to come round the corner we went into one of the handy charity shops to buy a card for Mary. Jo had actually asked a newsagent if they had any postcards for Hornchurch and was met with a stare that clearly said; ‘Has this woman just landed from another planet?’  We took the hint and looked elsewhere. Hornchurch Town centre is pleasant – several more charity shops, more buses than even we could ask for and a range of eating places. One of the pubs was named ‘The Fatling & The Firkin’ so I was duly informed that a fatling is a beast to be fattened up for the table – the pub sign did not really convey this.

 The central reservation looked as though it might once have been something more significant than an Italian restaurant, but at least is in use and not derelict.   The bus was busy enough throughout – not to the point of having anyone standing but certainly never a ‘private bus’ as has sometimes been the case for us.

We were essentially following the last three stops of the east bound District Line and then out (as in Toy Story) to Infinity and beyond not only the underground network but the Zone 6 border which marks the edge of Greater London.  I have included a link to a District Line driver’s blog as without the tube we would not be able to access quickly the more outlying parts of North, West and East London. It has been harder than you think trying to identify when this line was built as most websites seem keener to tell me about the history of the Western end of the District Line (one of those West over East prejudices so common in London) as clearly most of the housing we passed today – and we passed row after row of terraced or semi-detached family homes – would have been built following the advent of the railway, most likely before 1939.

Back to the 372: by the time we had passed Elm Park, its station and amenities we had also spotted Harrow Lodge Park which clearly extends for some way, including some less managed wilder woodland areas.

Heading towards Rainham we spotted some signs (round fenced-off areas and derelict sites) for the Thames Gateway Development Board and this site seems to summarise Rainham’s problems (and some solutions) quite succinctly – Tescos, where of course the bus pulls in specifically, and a main road combine to kill the High Street and bisect the village from previous links, so one can only hope the solutions materialise soon.

Rainham Village brought us more passengers and thereafter the route definitely became more countrified as we passed farms, ploughed fields (very definitely autumn) and several grazing ponies. Talking of ‘fattening’ we spotted two farmyard geese, we presume living out their last days before the Christmas cull?? (Vegetarians look away) 

Such housing as bordered the road had the look of quite simple Victorian-era cottages – names such as Kent View and Laundry Cottages give you an idea both of how close to Kent this bit of near estuary is and also how earlier locals may have earned their money.

The roads linking the villages allowed the bus to speed up significantly and clearly it is not the only vehicle to do so. Once past the garden centres selling fireworks and Wennington Village we passed two roadside shrines in fairly quick succession and a sign saying ‘Automatic Number Plate Readers’ which we took as a sign that traffic moves too fast here. Some of this land would have been marshy – Rainham and Wennington both having had marshes which probably meant development came later rather than earlier. We also crossed the Mar Dyke) – an Essex River  flowing down to the Thames.

Essex also seems to specialise in dry weather planting and though rather damp today we passed some examples of plant choices for their roundabouts of which there seemed to be plenty today.

After a fast stretch – excuse coming up: single decker/dirty windows and grey day means poor choice of photos – the bus passed through Aveley, which from local history sites seems much older than Wennington with a church dating back to the 12th century, though what we could see from the bus was a development of very 21st century-looking post-modern housing units. Old and new it seems. The road names sound evocative though – Mill Lane and Ship Lane heading down to Purfleet and the Thames Estuary.

Some time ago when we walked the Erith to Thames barrier bit of the Thames Path (all south of the river of course) our walk was accompanied by the regular popping of guns seemingly from the Purfleet ranges and here we were – a mere pot shot away from them again. It is strange to think that there have been  gunpowder stores  here for over 250 years.

My antique (early 1980s) A-Z shows the area between the A13 and the M25 as chalk pits, and that is now of course where we were heading – but now transformed into a range of retail parks and the Lakeside Shopping Centre.  This was my first visit (though all I saw was the bus station) and am interested to learn that like Bluewater it was built on disused chalk pits, though this is not immediately obvious as the descent is not so steep as across the river at Bluewater.  I did not see the Lake either so feel a bit cheated.

The reason we did not let ourselves be distracted by the shops was that we had another bus to catch: the Number 372’s ‘doppelganger’ is the rather superior 370, about which you will already have read, and it was nearly ready to board. These are the only London buses to come this far.

Our trip from already outer London Hornchurch to Lakeside had taken 50 minutes.

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