Linda and I were delighted to have Mary back with us after all the Christmas festivities, and we met at Sidcup Station, to take the 492 to Bluewater. As an uneven number of London Buses serves the great shopping experience in the chalk quarry, we had known for many months that we should have to come back one more time. Two charming railway people at Sidcup Station, who told us where the bus stop was, offered us faster ways to get to Bluewater, but we gave them a card to explain why we were taking the almost-an-hour bus.
We climbed aboard at 10.40, and were the only people on the double decker for some time. Heading out past Marlowe House, which held bleak memories for my travelling companions from their working years, we turned left along Sidcup Parade, passing an Iceland which had clearly once been something grander, as well as the Tailor's Chalk Pub. The name comes from the fact that the premises once housed a bespoke tailor, as well as a dry cleaner. Let me say, not for the first time, how much we appreciate Wetherspoons' willingness to explain their pubs' names. We wondered whether the new Travel Lodge is on the site that might have been a Waitrose, and sure enough, the Bexley Times seems to suggest that John Lewis has been behaving less than well.
Coming past Rectory Lane, we noted some new homes for sale, including some with three bedrooms, and some for shared ownership. They are available for £300,000... Then, as we headed down the hill, we passed an enormous Chartered Accountants' office, with a clock. Then we admired a house which seemed to date from an earlier age, as well as catching a glimpse of the River Cray. By now we were into Footscray, and Footscray Meadows were looking green and pleasant: but the steamed up bus windows of this cold and slightly foggy day made photography unrewarding.
This is a mainly residential area: there were bungalows to our right, and substantial semis along a service road to our left. Then for a while, we felt as if we were almost into the country (horses in a field!) before coming to Bexley Village, the village sign sponsored by a supplier of Bifold Doors. Through the village, the road felt more like a lane, narrow and winding. The inn sign of the Coach and Horses pub had faded to white, but the pub itself appeared to be flourishing: in fact we remarked that we saw a number of healthy pubs and no closed ones on this trip.
A large house on the High Street has a blue plaque for John Thorpe but it's not an English Heritage plaque. Here is a closeup. I think he was the person who persuaded everyone who mattered in the 18th century that Stonehenge was interesting, and thus helped ensure the stones were not used for other purposes.
Bexley Village Library is a charming little building: there is a notice outside that says how many books it had -7670- and we hoped it would survive. The village also has a pub called The George. Judging by the Inn sign, we thought it was probably George II but, you've guessed, I can't find a website that specifies. We spotted some signs for an over 30s night club but, regrettably, did not have time to note details or even a website. And of course, we don't know if it means WELL-over 30s, so it was probably not for us.
A bridge over the A2 brought us rapidly into Bexleyheath, where we admired what had clearly once been a fine cinema and was now Gala bingo. We have been here often before, and so were not taken aback by the little twiddle that takes buses into the small town centre station. A group of police officers at the bus stop, studying a leaflet and talking on their phones made us assume they were looking for a missing person, though whether criminal or not we could not guess. Of course Bexleyheath has an ENORMOUS police station, unlikely to be closed whatever happens to others.
Heading along Mayplace West and then Mayplace East, we were back into residential housing, some modern terraces with 'Georgian' bow windows, but also sizeable semis with hardened front gardens. Allotments and a sports club brought a bit of green, as did the pretty graveyard of St Paulinus' Church. St Paulinus is the one who came in the second wave, after St Augustine (we are talking the 7th century here) and went north when a Kentish Princess was sent to marry King Edwin of Northumbria, then a pagan. So he is really the apostle of the north, but commemorated here in Kent, where his career began.
Crayford has a number of pubs. The Duke's Head looked as if it might be Wellington, since he was in a military scarlet coat. The Bear and Ragged Staff is of course the emblem of Warwickshire, and we have, on recent trips, passed pubs named for the earl of Warwick, so maybe the Earls had interests in brewing.
As we crossed the River Cray, we saw a notice which piqued our interest. The Wigglers appear to be linked to greyhound racing in Crayford. We, of course, know more about the Walthamstow track, which has been very much in the news.
Station Road took us uphill past Crayford Station and back into a residential area, where the only parade of shops we passed consisted of fast food outlets and hair dressers. And yet we were the only bus along here. As we turned into Shepherds lane, I was quite excited to see a segregated cycle track on the right hand side of this busy road but, alas, it did not last, petering out just by the first of Dartford's two Grammar Schools. It is of course the Boys' version that has the more famous alumnus.
We continued fairly steeply down West Hill, where we guessed that the large and distinguished building to our left must have been a workhouse or some such. And indeed it had been. The centre of Dartford seems to us dominated by the footbridge that takes people across to the station, but that view may have been coloured by the fact that we knew we should soon be needing to head home from Bluewater, from that very station. At the moment, after a pause beneath the bridge, we ploughed on, past the BIZNIZ centre and over the Darent.
We were interested in the offset position of the clock on the tower of Holy Trinity Church, deducing that the medieval tower and window predated the clock by some centuries.
But we were nearly at our destination: we passed several more pubs (the Welsh Tavern had the Prince of Wales' feathers for its sign; another Woodman, to go with the Woolwich Woodman from last week; the Welcome All pub near the much larger Bull) We aso liked the rural setting of the War Memorial at Stone.
Then we were alongside the A2, and then onto it, following the right hand bus lane that turns into Bluewater. There seemed to be excavations going on in a field alongside, but I can't discover what they were digging for (or burying?)
We got to the not-very-beautiful bus station of Bluewater at 11.50, only a very few minutes later than the advertised time. if only the weather had been less misty, we should have enjoyed striking views as we travelled up and down the hills of this part of north Kent.