Monday 17 June 2012
As Winston Churchill once remarked, this bus route is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. He wasn’t talking about the number 402, but if he had known about it, he might have been. Here’s the situation: it is on the list of London buses; it is on the London South East bus map (though not all the way to Tunbridge Wells as the map doesn’t stretch that far); it comes up if you ask TfL how to get from Tunbridge Wells Station to Bromley North Station by bus: BUT it is not a London bus, and to be fair (!) it comes under the heading of ‘additional local services’. It is an Arriva bus. It’s blue. It has a strange ticket reader on which you have to place your pass and leave it for a moment. Not that you can use your Oyster card instead of paying on the spot, not even when you get into the London area, though I noticed with interest that ‘young people’ could travel free once we were in Zone 6. Freedom Pass users were of course fine, as they would be - for the moment at least - in Durham or Penzance or anywhere in between. But that does not mean I understand what is going on. I'm sure (or almost sure) that the clever people who organise contracts, tendering, and paying for travel have a clear grasp.Still, on with the journey. I had got to Tunbridge Wells, by train on a ride which lasts an hour, in time to catch the 11 o’clock bus. (It runs every sixty minutes) I was alone, because Linda and Mary were both on holiday, which was a pity, as Linda loves a clock, and Tunbridge Wells station has one, just visible in the photo.
Zipping along, through residential areas with mainly hardened front gardens, we came into Southborough with, along this route at least, no break in the housing. C J Gallard’s Almshouses are unusual, in that they are 20th century rather than ‘ancient’ and they are not particularly beautiful, but extensive, and clearly provide useful accommodation for those who meet the criteria. Southborough also has some patriotic flats and a Thai Supermarket. The pubs seemed to be in crown jewels mode, with The Imperial closely followed by The Hand and Sceptre.
Out of Tonbridge, past the cricket green and the Oast Theatre we came rapidly into Hildenborough and out again. We were still more or less straight, and certainly reached the speed limit of 40mph along here. We crossed the A21 again and could see that traffic was fairly slow along it, as we headed off sufficiently steeply uphill to make the bus labour a little. There were signs to the Riverhill Himalayan Gardens which look worth a visit and then we came down into Sevenoaks and to Sevenoaks School. Founded in 1432 to serve the boys of the town it is now, of course, neither local nor cheap.
Sevenoaks town was having a summer festival, but we did not stop to enjoy it, merely turning into the bus station and out again, and noticing the large numbers of available offices, before heading off again along the A 225, past the war memorial.
Substantial housing separates Sevenoaks from Tubs Hill, and Tubs Hill from Rivernhead with its handsomely decorated village hall. There was also a scaffolding shop ‘We tower above the rest’ before we detoured to call at a large Tesco’s. A pub called the Minner’s Arms was a reminder that there used to be coal mining in Kent though a bit further south than this.
We crossed the M 26 and then almost immediately the M25 to come into the North Downs and some actual authentic countryside, with sheep and then into Knockholt village. This is a village well known to walkers for the fact that the station is nowhere near the village (in fact it’s more than two miles away)
After Pratts Bottom and Green Street Green, we were into the London Bus area at last. As more school pupils got on, they were able to show their passes and speed up the business. Around Farnborough Village there were fields full of poppies, but we were not pausing for photographs, so you’ll just have to imagine Claude Monet’s version. The pub is called The Change of Horses, which seems reasonable as this is one of the main roads to Europe.
After passing the Stage Coach bus garage and a sign warning of traffic disruption for the Olympics, as well as the Sea Cadets’ TS Narvik we came to Bromley Common. Lots of new homes are being built around here and there was a patriotic flower bed too. I admired an off licence called ‘The Bitter End’ and then we were into Bromley itself, passing Bromley South Station and wiggling around the shopping centre to reach Bromley North Station at 12.50. We had explored much of the suburbanised countryside of Kent, a reminder that housing follows roads, just as in the closer suburbs it follows tube and railway lines.