Friday, 21 September 2012

The Number 388 Route

Hackney Wick to Embankment Station
(Friday October 8th 2010)
Thursday September 20th 2012
 All good things come to those who wait!  We were originally supposed to ride this route having got off our earlier Route 236 (the day also involved a 106 but I won’t get boring) but when we arrived at the bus stop we were informed by drivers from other companies that the 388 drivers were on a 1-day Friday strike so we made, as they say, alternative arrangements.  

So nearly two years later we arrived at Hackney Wick Station (well endowed with ramps) and strolled round a couple of corners to find a brace of waiting 388s. Hackney Wick suffers somewhat from the overbearing Westway Road and a lot of industrial units but some passing Olympic games had given the area a confident, tidy and friendly feel. 

(Unfortunately a previous encounter with a fireworks display over the River Rhine had left the camera in a mood expecting darkness so the photos from the first part of the trip are not usable. Apologies. You will have to manage with my limpid prose.)

From Hackney Wick the 388 takes a route along the north-west boundary of Victoria Park – I know we are supposed to love the ‘people’s park’ here but I found the security surrounding the big-screen Live Venue during the Olympics both unfriendly and overly stringent – they banned all food except chocolate bars and packets of crisps (?!). Perhaps the ever more gentrified locals in those large homes opposite the park did not welcome the ticketless wandering by. In amongst the large houses are some with dramatic art works on the end of terraces.This one courtesy of Flicker – and apparently covering a vandalised Banksy.

While the residential homes are a rather greying London Stock the old Cardinal Pole School building is a defiant red – thanks to Hackney’s schools building programme they have just moved into new premises but seemingly have not changed names. Cardinal Pole with his policy of burning the opposition (in his view heretical Protestants) would not be anyone’s role model of choice – unless you are Queen Mary of course. Having previously been the only  bus route, we joined several others as we turned into the start of Mare Street and thus Cambridge Heath Road, even rather nostalgically running into the Number 8. Though the three of us had the top deck to ourselves for the entire route downstairs became busier from here on.   

We crossed over the Regents Canal, much more famous and photographed at its Little Venice and London Zoo end but also being spruced up here.

The rather fine former Town Hall for Bethnal Green, which has amongst its stone decorative sculpture the original Blind Beggar, is now an achingly trendy boutique hotel with attached restaurant – if you enjoy less than flattering foodie reviews stop here – otherwise there are more interesting things to keep you in Bethnal Green (and this route passes them) such as the Museum of Childhood and the rather decorative Salmon & Ball pub. Also spare a thought for the 172 persons who perished in the air raid disaster.

As the only bus project member who enjoys shopping I was interested to see Box City, described here as “the worlds first pop-up mall,” though when all is said done the chains still dominate – however, the setting is quite intimate and who knew a steel container could look so smart?

This was as we came through trendy Spitalfields to Shoreditch High Street, trendiness being about to give way to the more sober City of London as we crossed the city boundaries, marked as ever by the red/white bollards and upstanding dragons. The City of London shield is very recognisable mainly due to its simplicity, or perhaps I am just over familiar with it as a City of London School blazer, complete with crest, hung around at home for a few years.

All the buildings in the City are densely packed which makes the contrasts between old and new even more intense.  The former included St Botolph without Bishopsgate, which is not to be confused with the nearby St Botolph’s (I suppose it’s like how you get all those girls named Britney at one time and then none for years: when did you last meet a Botolph and then two come along together?).  For examples of the newer along  the strangely named  Norton Folgate, the Broadgate on Bishopsgate  – we have been rude about RBS before so will forbear today.  We really do not like the multi-coloured steel sculpture that sits near the boundary – it is both too large and too small at the same time – in similar vein to the Orbit a few miles to the East but that at least has size on its side.

Old Liverpool Street is weighed down (and propped up) by newer buildings and down towards Threadneedle Street The Pinnacle struggles to make progress. In contrast to many towers that we have seen go up swiftly during our bus riding careers this one is very slow – Jo thought due to the work force being needed on more Olympic projects but my view is what the picture says – with so many empty offices to let who needs another 60 floors of them??      

The sights of the City come quicker than the bus stops – the Bank of England and Mansion House, the statues to Wellington and James Peabody, and then suddenly along Queen Victoria Street there is a HUGE hole covering a triangular wedge of ‘prime real estate’. The hard hats at work seemed to belong to McGee but that proves to be a demolition firm rather than a construction company so we are none the wiser.

Queen Victoria Street has a rather incoherent mixture of buildings ranging from the College of Arms (should you wish to become Lord Muck of the Recycling Bins they would design a shield for you) and the rather drab Baynard House, former home of BT and named for the old castle which used to stand here. The bus of course gives a good view of St Paul’s.
By this point we were closing in on the river and when we reached the shiny new Blackfriars Station (entrance complete but still awaiting the bridge shopping options) we could see both across to South London and along to the Eye. The bus has its own turning slot (against the flow of traffic) and comes to a halt close to the Blackfriars Pub for which station and bridge are named. The pub of course was named for the Dominican Priory monks being well know for their brewing skills

A robust trip, which takes you from outside the Olympic venues past the gentrified Victoria Park and the more down to earth Bethnal Green through Shoreditch and the heart of City to come to rest by Blackfriars.

PS Could the treat have continued? The maps (paper and online) show the 388 passing along the Victoria Embankment (where no other route goes) and coming to rest at Embankment Station but it clearly has a resting place where we got off??         

1 comment:

  1. Blackfriars is the normal terminus for the route. However, whilst the Underground station was being rebuilt, as part of the bigger railway station rebuild, it was extended to Temple Station. This resulted in the buses actually going further along the Embankment in order to arrive at a suitable turning point. It reverted to terminating at Blackfriars when the Underground Station re-opened.