It was such a beautiful sunny autumn day it seemed a shame to be indoors, but at least we could ride upstairs on our London double-decker which stood out bright red amongst the blue buses calling at Redhill Bus Station. Jo was caring for small spotty people so Mary took the photos. Unusually for us we had paid to get to Redhill, where neither of us, to our knowledge, had been before. I have always muddled Redhill and Reigate, but find they almost merge. We were not there to visit but could certainly not miss the Harlequin Centre – I thought it might be a shopping centre like its namesake in Watford but it proves to be a theatre/cinema /library complex and certainly unmissable in its redbrick way.
Redhill seems very much a town made and sustained by the coming of the railway with several key lines calling here, but after waving at the ‘Abbot’ we were off back to Greater London, which on the whole seemed to be uphill in a gentle sort of way.
In amongst the quite modest housing we just managed to spot the Victoria Almshouses – there might just be a clue in the name as to when they were built. (Gosh future bloggers are going to have fun with all those ‘Elizabeth’ and ‘Jubilee’ names in the public domain.). Redhill seemed a bit like Gertrude Stein’s description of Oakland, California ‘there is no there there’.
Far more modern is East Surrey College perched on top of the hill – there must be wonderful and distracting views from their back offices and studies. They seem very proud of their police and community officer course and also subscribe to Moodle (a thanks here to Tim who managed to evict unwanted advertising when it arrived unannounced onto the blog last week).
The former village at the top of the hill is called Merstham (but seemed to be pronounced Mershom by the bus announcement woman – can we trust her as she’s not infallible?) Whatever the case, a small cluster of quirky shops seem to have grown up round the nearest bus stop to the station and you can still see how this was once a village with clock and green, though a local friend tells me it was built post Second World War to accommodate bombed out families.
Both sides of the road were quite heavily parked up, presumably by rail users, though Merstham also offers the opportunity to join the nearby M25 which we flew over. The A23 which varied from a small country lane to a dual carriageway was at this point the latter, with a 50 mph limit of which the bus driver took full advantage. Mary and I were not sure that the front seat of double-decker was quite the best way of experiencing a fast ride, as he belted along with few or no stops to halt our progress.
Hooley Village passed in a blur. Then the 405 seemed to weave its way towards Coulsdon, where it left the A23 to return to the old main road through Coulsdon. As it approaches the station there are fields of free-range chickens and a few ducks who must be fairly immune to the traffic fumes. Coulsdon (formerly known for traffic jams and making you miss your Gatwick flights) now has a much more peaceful High Street. From here on the bus was much more popular, though certainly not the only way of getting from Couldson to Croydon. The council is trying to promote local shopping and there were quite few shoppers around – some in boots and some in sleeveless sun-dresses.
The 405 rejoins the main road and heads along to Purley – all the Project members have a ‘relationship’ with Purley, having had parents/in-laws that lived there at one time and this route actually travels along Pampisford Road where some of them lived and which tracks all the way into Croydon. At the Purley end it is largely residential and popular for its proximity to the station, while at the Croydon end it has a clutch of schools including the unusually named Regina Coeli, which I take to mean Queen of Heaven, sporting the rather kitsch ornamentation beloved of RC schools. Hoardings told us that Whitgift School was building another boarding house and their playing fields are certainly very extensive, so they would appear to be unaffected by any recession?
Having driven the length of Pampisford Road the 406 emerges into South Croydon and what now has seemingly been renamed ‘the Restaurant Quarter’. This rebranding seems to have been launched in May to help rebuild Croydon’s image after the 2011 riots. Certainly you could eat your way round the globe from here till Croydon Town Hall. Apart from the market, which was just winding down, it was all very quiet being a Wednesday mid-morning, but would be quite lively in the evenings – or that is the hope presumably.
We were puzzled by the naming of Christopher Wren Yard as we cannot imagine what links the 17th architect with South Croydon? The run into Croydon was quick and very familiar with the fine Town Hall and red geranium baskets gracing the graceless dual carriageway that bisects Croydon – the Shopping Quarter perhaps? Passing the Fairfield halls reminded us what a proud venue this has been – one of the early local theatre and concert venues that helped Croydon rebuild itself in the Sixties.
The bus dropped us before it went to rest alongside the bus station and we realised our long trip from Redhill had only taken about 50 minutes, but it was not until it reached Coulsdon and travelled more slowly that it felt like a bus, rather than an oversized coach in a hurry. Though the early parts of the trip round Redhill were leafy it did not feel like a country trip.