North Greenwich (O2) to Bexleyheath Bus Garage
Monday December 19th 2011
Although I live much closer, Jo had whistled down from North London amazingly fast so had time to explore the lovely North Greenwich bus station, which is all a bus station should be – spacious, clearly marked, with an Information kiosk clean and offering shelter. Though chilly we did not have time to freeze before our double decker 422 arrived – there is another bus which covers the same destinations but in a less circuitous manner.
We wheeled out of the station passing the usual landmarks: Millennium Dome, now O2, the offices and Lego like flats, the Millennium school already closed for the Christmas break, and then at the second or so roundabout we ground to a definite halt, so definite that our driver switched off his engine. It seems there was some kind of backlog/backing up from the Blackwall Tunnel and though the 422 was heading East not North it needed access to the right sort of traffic lane. After some careful edging past a few fairly selfish drivers (‘If I position myself here I will be all of two cars further ahead’) we broke free down a bus lane and headed off towards the Woolwich Road – this is a rather soul-less area. Soulless too for walkers following the Thames path and Capital Ring, which are diverted away from the river here. Greenwich has many Multiplexes so it was no surprise that the old Odeon on the road junction is now a betting shop with club upstairs.
Sadly there was a ghost bike at the junction of Vanbrugh Hill, and we noted the site of the former hospital remains weedy rather than a work in progress. Spare a thought for Vanbrugh, who spent much of his married life further up the hill (Maze Hill) – a man of many talents: baroque architecture and Restoration comedies which he threw together while being kept in the Bastille as a political prisoner (?spy). Greenwich and Charlton Park must have seemed quite tame in comparison.
The bus takes the steep route up Westcombe Hill to arrive at the Royal Standard in Blackheath but then heads deeper into Charlton village complete with its own House, which has had a rather recent chequered history under cash-strapped Greenwich council. The Bugle Horn looks more like a country pub and perhaps echoes the fact there used to be a Horn fair held here until the land was enclosed – some of its renown was due to lewd and licentious behaviour.
None of that today as the 422 rolled down the hill. We know there are fine views on fair days but today was not one of them. We both spotted the Woolwich Centre (which must have been shrouded in scaffolding on our previous passages this way). Jo was worried about all the jutting out roofs and whether they would wear well but it seems it is about rainwater harvesting and other sustainability.
Other improvements were also noticeable in Woolwich Town centre – the central square is now complete: half is turfed and the other has a gentle sloping water feature. Sadly on a wet day it looked merely like running rainwater…
Today we had a swift passage through Woolwich and even the Crossrail works did not halt our progress. The cornus bushes in the central reservation were looking their fiery best but we were passing too quickly to photograph them properly.
Plumstead High Street has some slightly unusual shops – the Sangeeta Silk Emporium and the Big Man 2XL-6 XL sizes – giants only need shop here. We also noted the van promising to 'deal with foxes'. However there seems no similar service to 'manage' squirrels, which are even more destructive.
After a long stretch heading east the 422 takes a right towards East Wickham along Wickham Lane. By now we had left most other routes behind (some companionship was provided by the B11) and so the bus filled up quite significantly – most passengers bound for our final destination. The roads hereabouts are all named for Devon places – Okehampton, Axminster, Charmouth – the roads were generous and lined with some fine Hornbeam trees, which we are now rather good at recognising. On one side of the road the houses were raised up, on the other dipping down. By the time we arrived at King Harald’s Way (I thought he was an Essex man but Jo thinks he might have passed this way en route to lose to the Normans at Hastings) the houses had given way to bungalows, almost all of which had sacrificed their front gardens to concrete or paving, a choice the owners may regret if there is heavy rain.
The roads had the feel of a ridge or crest leading up to Northumberland Heath with some rather strange road names – Dry Hill next to Stream Way – make up your mind!
Having made the detour nearly to Northumberland Heath I was interested to find out that this area was once known as Spike Island – ‘spike’ being the familiar name for the workhouse and the one round here was apparently notorious.
However the 422 drops down through some more residential areas where the builders clearly had pretensions – The Pantiles and Chiddingstone being the road names here – and soon we were on Bexleyheath High Road. We finished our trip with a clutch of interesting pub names. First up was the William Camden close to Bexleyheath Station. He seems to have been a Tudor historian and geographer and lived latterly in Chislehurst, which is not that far away. Then came ‘The Wrong ‘un’, a Wetherspoons pub whose name apparently refers to a particular kind of cricket bowling – a googly being the other name for it. Last but not least the bus passes the Furze Wren, which we thought might be a subspecies of wren but is more probably just any old wren that lives in a furze or gorse bush.
Not that there was much wildlife either botanical or ornithological to be seen in Bexleyheath Broadway – more a frenzy of pre-Christmas shoppers before the rain set in. This route just trundles past the shopping centre and clocktower and stops opposite the depot where we were very much the last to leave the South East London service. As there were no great sights to focus on we were reliant on pub and street names to keep our, and hopefully your interest along the way.