Wednesday, 5 September 2012

The Number 386 Route

Blackheath (Tranquil Vale) to Woolwich (Hare Street)
Thursday August 11th 2011

The August outbreak of rioting and looting, which started in Tottenham and then spread, is what had been happening at the beginning of the week we rode this route, just to tell you how long ago that was.

We had arrived at the Blackheath Standard and taken a stroll across Blackheath, normally a very pleasant event but today there was some intermittent nasty and slanting rain.  We peered into Blackheath Station hoping to locate a bus (silly I know) and then tracked it down at the first stop outside the Crown, which as its little plaque told us is one of the oldest buildings in Blackheath and used to be a stopping place for post coaches before they drove on into London. There was stabling at the back. Our eyes were also caught by the rather lovely frontage, that is the Mary Evans Picture Library. Only Jo (today we had Sue G along while Mary was in Wales) had heard of this formidable resource but we also admired the very pretty building, where it is housed.

The bus strikes out straight across the heath, along Wat Tyler way as it happens, which made me reflect what an achievement it had been for Wat and other leaders to gather so many ‘peasants’ together in one spot without the benefit of Blackberrys, as this week’s less politically motivated rioters had done. No telephones/telegrams or cars and yet they assembled.

The heath was fairly empty today with the weather so unpredictable, but there was one little girl wheeling into the wind in airplane mode and one parent struggling unsuccessfully with a kite and this seemed as typical of heath users at any time.  The other benefit (less so from a single decker) is the superb views particularly over to Canary Wharf.

As you bear left and down the hill the views get less spectacular and at the bottom of Blackheath Hill it was interesting to note that the Lethbridge Close estate had not only been demolished but was halfway to a rebuild. Still we were not destined to enter Lewisham borough today but started heading east along Greenwich South Street, whose very fine houses and almshouses are somewhat blighted by the density of the traffic. By now we were 1 of 4 bus routes running this way.  This remains true for all of central Greenwich through which we passed extremely swiftly today (tourists put off by riots?). The sign for the old Cigar factory added an exotic note – Carmen of Greenwich perhaps?

As this was holiday time the University was quiet, but some of the Maritime Museum’s exhibits seemed to have wandered across the road with two D-day vehicles parked up by the dining hall.

Once through Greenwich the bus does not disappoint and manages to find quite an engaging if circuitous route to nearby Woolwich by dint of flyng over the motorway approach to the Blackwall tunnel and skirting both Charlton and Vanbrugh, but offering a comprehensive service to the solid Kidbrooke Park Estate  – at the start of the trip there had been mainly female passengers but from here on there was a busy bunch of diverse shoppers.

The other key destination, once we had crossed Shooters Hill, was the Queen Elizabeth Hospital – a rather squat new building so hard to photograph, but patients struggled off and on the bus, some sporting their new leg braces and other orthopaedic supports.

The building site opposite the hospital is apparently destined for the due for re-location Kings Troop Royal Horse Artillery so next time we pass this way (and by the time you read this) there may be pretty horses pulling guns along Woolwich Common.

The other building site was just round the corner and clearly will be the stands for the Woolwich part of the Olympics. ( I shall be sorry to see this one go – it was like being offered an iced cake studded with Smarties) 

After all these excitements anything else was to be an anti-climax so down the hill we headed –any trip round this way will inevitably finish in Woolwich either in the middle or alongside the river, having been re-routed briefly due to another huge building going up in Woolwich Town centre.

On exiting the bus the most noticeable thing was the acrid smell due to a large corner plot that had been a victim of the arson wing of the rioters – not a great addition to Woolwich.

Today we were heading even closer to the river to take the FREE Ferry to North Woolwich for our onward journey to the real Olympic hub of Stratford – but that’s a tale for another year. Sue, who used to work in Woolwich guided us ably to our Thameside departure point. 

We had enjoyed this quiet little bus, which busied itself delivering shoppers and passengers from the more remote corners of Blackheath to shopping or heath hubs.  

NB A year on and so much has changed – the centre of Woolwich spruced up and waiting now for Crossrail,  the Olympic Shooting Venue built and used, Greenwich now a Royal Borough, having hosted two Equestrian events.  Let us hope these positive changes will be sustained and our somewhat blighted trip of 2010 remains a ‘snapshot’ in time. 

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