Thursday, 13 December 2012

The Number 463 Route

South Coulsdon Station to Pollards Hill
Monday November 12th 2012.

This was a long and disorientating journey involving quite a few near loops (think snake eating its own tail) and several climbs up into the hills, from where there should have been superb views over firstly the Chipstead valley and then across the Wandle Valley, though in the event it was really gloomy.

We had walked along Coulsdon High Street, using its shiny aluminium public convenience – presumably installed when the High Street was rehabilitated. This was formerly the A23, a major through route to Gatwick and Brighton, but since the by-pass it has reverted to being a High Street with some independent shops trying to survive and make an impact.

We had also noted the Blue Plaque for Gordon Pirie, who won Olympic Silver in Melbourne in the Fifties being part of the still thriving South London Harriers based here. Coulsdon is also the base for Jane's Information Group,  publishers of those strange books which tell you all about military capabilities.

The route actually started opposite Coulsdon South Station, which has also had a bit of a makeover. Our bus proved to be not just a single-decker but also single door.  Most sensible people got on at Coulsdon Town Station which I learn was renamed in 2011, having previously been Smitham as part of this valley floor was known as Smitham or even Smitham Bottom. Coulsdon is obviously considered more decorous.

It is at this point that the route 463 starts climbing up into the hills, all now quite densely covered in housing, whose building would have followed the establishment of the two railway lines. The hills are actually quite steep with houses on one side of the road below pavement level while those on the other are up steps.  The houses are unremarkable and much of this stretch is ‘Hail & Ride’, but with people clustered at ‘virtual’ bus stops.

Further up the hill, where the properties tend to be larger, we passed through Woodmansterne and Upper Woodcote Village, which seems to be a totally ‘created’ village built by a local estate agent . I don’t suppose he thought about the transport links too closely and even now the 463 is the only bus route here. 

Following a further Hail & Ride section we returned to ‘civilisation’ or more accurately 21st century urban living – Wallington Girls’ School, traffic jams caused by road works, another busy High Street (Wallington) with some actual shops and a Sainsbury’s supermarket. The bus diverts into the station forecourt where the drivers changed and we chugged off for the hugely contrasting second part of our trip. From this point the bus was much busier.

Wallington and Beddington are some of Surrey’s former finger parishes – as you can see from this old map, so called because of their shape. The cattle grazed on the chalk hillsides while the arable crops and then buildings went up on the clay down by the water supply. 

This brings me to Beddington Farmlands . Where there is water there can be flooding and where there is flooding often marshes. Though called the Beddington Farmlands they are in fact Sludge Beds (or sewage filtration systems) around which a large industrial estate has gown up.  All is not bad as they seem to attract a variety of birds!!

Seemingly less attractive to buses than birds – we were the only bus serving the estate and calling at the huge Asda which is its only retail outlet – the other establishments being very much warehousing (Carlsberg for example), car auctions, a depot for the Post Office vans and a Caribbean Shipping Company, plus a large electricity switching station.  Jo reminded me that UK based Caribbean residents like to send stuff home in the traditional barrels (though in fact they are not barrels any more) but it sounds better than sending parcels or packing crates. In amongst this density of warehouses and units was the tiny Little Cottage cafĂ©, which looked like one of the few places to offer refreshment to the local workforce. This bus route keeps very much to the less popular side of  Beddington – had we pushed on through we would have arrived at the more popular face of this area, namely IKEA and the adjacent cinema and retail complex.

But no, once we had finished with the ins and outs of this area (including travelling alongside the Tramroute 4 which finishes at Therapia Lane) we were to emerge from Beddington and just cross the bottom bit of Mitcham Common.  This triggered an interesting conversation amongst some fellow passengers, one of whom had anecdotes about the all too short history of Croydon Athletic FC, which has its ground near here. The crucial point was that once the club’s assets were no more the players walked.  He also remarked on the unfortunate racist tendencies of some members of the previous fan base.   

Lunchtime was getting close and Jo pointed at the bus map – just round the corner to Pollards Hill, she said. This proved to be true but only in the broadest sense, as the 463 follows another convoluted path passing Mitcham Eastfields Station then through different parts of Pollards Hill, which regrettably is something of a no man’s land between Mitcham and Streatham. It also passes Streatham Park Cemetery, which appears to be a private enterprise.

Pollards Hill does have a shiny new (2007) Harris Academy, part of the larger South London Harris Federation. Pollards Hill offers a range of (it has to be said more useful) buses, and we were able to get ourselves home to warming soup and rolls before hypothermia set in.

This really was a journey of many parts, from near rural village Surrey through the sludge badlands to inner London dense housing, which took us well over the hour. 

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