Sunday, 14 October 2012

The Number 401 Route

Thamesmead Town Centre to Bexleyheath Shopping Centre
Thursday 9th  August  2012

Our last route, the back street bus Number 380, had left us by Belmarsh Prison and the courts (all well camouflaged behind trees) and we had thought it was but a short bus ride to access Thamesmead Town Centre – actually not much in the way of a town centre though a good bus hub. Due to inattention we overrode and realized we were nearly in Abbey Wood so had to retrace ourselves. Thamesmead was busy with a broken-down bus and lots of people heading to the shops, complete with buggies and trolleys, and many of them boarded our double-decker, quite impressive for a service that only runs 4 times an hour. For most of the route it was full upstairs and down.

The 401’s first task was to route through this section of the Sixties-built estate crossing over several streams. It was difficult to tell whether they were man made or natural remnants of the marshes this area once was, but they certainly broke up different areas of housing – some named for Dickens’ characters, some for other ‘dead white Brits’ such as Carlyle and a large section of Thamesmead West had a range of birds as road names. There was even some new building starting in the infrequent gaps.  

After relentless right turns we found ourselves following the rather lowering Yarnton Way, where the road runs between a series of grey blocks. There are attempts to brighten the façades – some mosaics on the stair wells and birds on the overhead pedestrian bridges to link the blocks. As Thamesmead South gives way to Thamesmead East the bus enters a more industrial zone with optimistic looking and named office blocks  the Bexley Business Academy (school) and designed to offer training and employment to this rather isolated community. Whether it has worked or not it is rather difficult to tell as the buildings are set well back from the road.

Along with the Route 180 the 401 penetrates the further reaches of the industrial estate taking in the gas holders, (seemingly abandoned?) and then closing in on the Recycling Facilities, known as the Belvedere Incinerator, better visible from the Thames.  In amongst the roundabouts and metal clad constructions lurked an oversized horse sculpture swiftly followed by the real thing.

Just past Belvedere Station the bus took a sharp, steep turn up Picardy Manor Road. The name for this area apparently predates its current name of Belvedere and thus also the resonance the eponymous region of France has with the First World War (as in the poem 'Magpies in Picardy.')

Apparently in the mid-19th Century Mr Eardley, a local landowner, seems to have decided that once you had reached the top of the hill, as this bus eventually did (and no mean feat for a full double decker along what is still a country lane), the view was so good it should be renamed Belvedere and so it has stayed. Upper Belvedere has a narrow one-way High Street but many of the shops also call themselves Nuxley leaving us somewhat confused – another ‘previously known as’ name which like Picardy has lingered on?

Further downhills and another uphill (we could hardly have a good view without a hill could we? said Jo) brought us into Long Lane, lined with pleasant and for the most part well tended suburban homes, and a fairly straight and easy run into Bexleyheath Town Centre.   There is significant squeezing and one-way systems to deal with the number of routes (15?) serving what amounts to the only real  hub  in the borough of Bexley, through whose former villages, land and reclaimed marshes this route had brought us.  

1 comment:

  1. How is Picardy Road in any way a country lane?