Monday, 25 February 2013

The B12 Route

Monday 25 February 2013

 A really cold, grey and generally nasty day found Linda and me at Erith Station, looking for bus stop H, which we found after some minutes.  We took shelter in Sam's 99p shop until the bus arrived, slightly late, and climbed aboard at 10.35.  About 10 passengers boarded with us, so the little, one door single decker bus felt quite full.

This is a complicated route:  sometimes it nips straight to Joyden's Wood, does a loop and then comes back;  sometimes it loops to Joyden's Wood and hurries straight back.  A brief meeting of the rules committee concluded that we should travel through Bexleyheath, round the wood, and back until we reached the railway station, thhus repeating some but not all of the un-loopy bit.  

Our driver (until our second visit to Bexleyheath Clock Tower, when he changed) liked a speedy run, interspersed with stops to get back to the timetable.  This made some of the traffic calming bumps of the area rather more unsettling than usual.

Anyway, we came out of Erith past the sea life (I'm not sure if it is a fish or a mammal, so am hedging bets) on the roundabout, and headed uphill into residential streets, many bungalows but also some substantial houses.  As so often, we noted that there were no shops, ensuring that people use the bus for their necessities.  Also, as so often, we saw more hardened than gardened front gardens, as well as some with very imposing fences and gates.

Soon we were into Bexleyheath, passing the smart gym, where we could see a lot of young people exercising.  Presumably they work odd hours and so can exercise in the working day.

We admired the same delicatessen and bakery as last week;  the speed of our bus meant that again we could not get a photo of the bakery!

As last week, too, we were diverted round the road works, which are clearly intended to make a pedestrian paradise out of the centre, and again, people got off rather than waiting for the devious route to the Clock Tower.  (By the way, a couple of people who got off here were to get back on as we passed for the second time 40 minutes later)

The Prince Albert Pub advertised a Victorian Restaurant. Linda speculated that it might serve gruel, but it's clear that it is the decor and not the food which is Victorian.  We saw a splendid window cleaner using an extended pole to clean third floor windows:  safer than a ladder, and presumably could be used for fishing at the weekend.

Once we were over the A2, we were into Bexley Village, and admired the Old School House, once the National School.  There's a slight deja vu feeling for historians with the current Educational system:  in the early 19th century, charities set up schools for the poor,  the National Schools offering a Church of England curriculum in competition with the British Schools, which had got there first by a few years.  Government grants and later testing, standards and all that we know and love, followed before the introduction of state provided education in the 1870s and 1880s. 

We noticed we were crossing the River Cray when we saw a former mill, now converted into flats, and we came out of Bexley into rough open land, with some ponies grazing.  We were travelling along St Mary's Road, named for the handsome parish church, and thought St Mary's Nursery might be evidence that Kent needs to build a School in Joyden's Wood.  But it proved to be the other kind of nursery, offering compost rather than child care.

Along towards Leyton Cross (very confusing name for those of us who have visited the north east of London) we came to a serious development of new build and conversion properties.

We also passed signs to The Bracton Centre, which proves to be yet another branch of the Oxleas NHS Trust group.

We were back into residential areas with no shops, after the brief visit to Bexley village, and as we wiggled through the street of Joyden's Wood we admired some fine heathers in a front garden.

 A pause outside a large house called Heathcroft enabled our driver to stretch his legs for a few minutes, and then we were headed back past St Mary's Church and the large house with the Borough's blue plaque for John Thorpe the antiquary and historian who lived here in the 18th century.

As we headed back up Gravel Hill, we saw signs to the Shuttle River Way, which follows the course of the River Shuttle, a tributary of the Cray which is itself a tributary of the Thames.

Approaching Bexleyheath from this direction means that there is no diversion, and we arrived at the Clocktower at 11.40, where again many passengers got off, and others got on.  We rode the bus as far as the station.

I suppose, inevitably, this Bexleyheath bus was too much like last week's to be really exciting, but it did give us a bit of a spin into Kent and back again.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

The Number B11 Route

Monday18 February 2013
Here we are starting on the B buses, there having been only one A bus.  We have not skipped ten of them:  as far as TfL is concerned, the B 11 is the first one, running every 15 minutes from the Town Centre of Thamesmead to the bus garage at Bexleyheath.  So we were off at 09.50. This will impress anyone who has been to Thamesmead, as the public transport to get there is fairly limited.

So off we set, past the modern church, and Hawksmoor School which has the motto ‘Flying High at Hawksmoor’, clearly referencing the bird part of its name rather than the architect  though  he does have several churches in the borough of Greenwich, if not in Thamesmead. 

We do like the water around Thamesmead, and saw a heron, as well as some coots doing a bit of desultory nest building.  We wanted to shout that it was too soon, given the forecast of frost to come in the next few days, but you can’t tell a coot how to run its life.  Then we passed Windrush Primary School, which is opening a branch in Charlton, a bit like Costa?  Here’s some spring chat about it from Netmums. 

Turning right onto Carlyle Road (as Linda said, you could teach the new British-is-best History Curriculum from road names in Thamesmead) we came to the roundabout with the pedestrian suspension bridge slung within it, and headed along the dual carriageway with its terrifying warning signs.  The public housing blocks and pedestrian bridges along here have attractive murals, and the blocks at Parkview are undergoing refurbishment.  By now the bus was getting quite busy, as we went right along Sedgemere Avenue into the older part of Thamesmead, with the road twisting like a village lane.

Coming out onto the main road again, we passed a sign saying ‘we buy unwanted bicycles for £5.00’, which sounded to us ominously like an invitation to theft.

We arrived at Abbeywood Station, and went on past lovely yellow crocuses on a roundabout, to turn into more residential areas, and then up through Lesnes Abbey’s woodland to turn into the Woolwich Road and the start of a ‘hail and ride’ section. This meant the borough of Greenwich was on our right and the borough of Bexley on our left.  Turning left along Brampton Road took us decisively away from Greenwich.  Time to ponder about the contrast between the touristy bits that everyone knows, and the vast areas of less-well-known and less prosperous Greenwich we had been in this morning.

Heading up Lodge Hill, we passed the Goldie Leigh branch of Oxleas Hospital.  It is now a base for adults with learning difficulties, but Linda remembers it as a residential site for children with profound learning difficulties, and it started life as a hospital specialising in radiotherapy for children with ringworm (honestly, I am not making this up.  The link to large numbers of scalp cancers took some time to be established).

Back down the hill and past the welcoming Bexley Borough sign, the houses almost all had hardened front gardens, as well as designated parking spaces on the pavement outside their property.  The end of the hail and ride section left the bus so full that about ten people were standing.  We did pass one parade of shops, including a co-op supermarket and pharmacy, but on the whole it was residential, a long area of bungalows, including one which, we thought, might need to do some serious pruning this year.

As we came past Bexleyheath Station, well away from the town centre, we were pleased to see both a ‘proper’ butcher and a baker as well as the William Camden Pub.  You might think a sixteenth century historian and school teacher an odd choice of name, but he is credited with inventing the phrase about early birds and worms, so he must have had a lighter side.

The Crook Log Roundabout told us that we were nearing the end of our journey, and we turned into Bexleyheath itself. Warning signs told us that the bus was to be on diversion, and after The Wrong ‘Un pub we went round the south side of the shopping area, because of road works.  (you will recall that the Pub could equally be called The Googly As far as we could see, these works were to reallocate the space, giving more pedestrian and less motorised vehicle space.  Many people got off to walk through to the shops, though in fact we did a number of left turns which took us past the large Sainsbury’s and the enormous police station to reach the Clock Tower after all.  Here the last of our fellow passengers got off.

We, on the other hand, stayed on and passed the Jolly Millers Pub to reach Bexleyheath bus garage. where this route terminates.  Our driver was a bit taken aback to find us till on board, since all the other passengers had got off at the shops.  We arrived at 10.35, having had a pleasant trip, and with only a short wait to pick up our next bus.

Saturday, 16 February 2013

The Route A10

Uxbridge Station to Heathrow Central Bus Station
Wednesday November 7th 2012

We had quite a comprehensive tour of Uxbridge, having arrived there on the stately double-decker 427. We had an even better tour of the indoor shopping precinct of the Pavilions in our search for the remotely located but very acceptable facilities and then found the start of the A10 route very easily. So easily in fact that we did not have time to eat any peppermints before boarding.

The A10 gets out of Uxbridge pretty swiftly via a series of differently sized roundabouts. I digress here as I had heard a radio item about the Roundabout Appreciation Society, whose small number of members photograph and visit the UK’s roundabouts. This makes our project of weekly bus trips seem puny in comparison as there must be far more roundabouts than bus routes. As the start of the A10 was not altogether absorbing we thought you might like a variety of roundabouts photographs, especially one with a grand Christmas tree which looked all ready and waiting for the lights, and one later on neatly planted up with winter-flowering pansies.

Much of the property to our left was either fenced off or being demolished, having formerly been the historic RAF Uxbridge – a large site vacated in 2010 and due for redevelopment with the first homes on St Andrew’s Park apparently to be available by Spring 2013. .

In spite of major site demolition the Battle of Britain Bunker , from which air operations were managed, is retained as a museum open to the public. Just after this point of interest (to some) comes Hillingdon cemetery and then St.John's Church, which has a lengthy history, including a Giles Gilbert Scott rebuild, when the architect was starting off on his career.

From here, the A10 diverges from the 427 and heads down the Harlington Road  - much narrower and more winding than the straight and doubled up Uxbridge Road. From travelling along a major highway we suddenly dropped speed to pass the residential area that lies between Uxbridge and Hillingdon – at this point composed mainly of bungalows and other detached properties. Some had opted for dry weather planting, others for more off-street hard standing, never a pretty sight.

By the time we arrived at Merriman’s Corner the passengers that had boarded with their luggage had all gone home and there were just three of us left.  The bus skirts an open space called Botwell Common, which from its name you might think had been around for years. Though indeed common land to 1814 it was then enclosed and has since quite a varied history featuring two gravel pits, the Shackle family and their brick works, military radar testing later taken over by Thorn-EMI, and some residual agriculture...

The bus nips pretty smartly at this stage and there were few stops, and little of note – unless you count a rather large scrap yard – until we suddenly found ourselves passing through the security barrier that encloses Stockley Park. This was in fact our second visit and like the last time there were few people to be seen and no one joining the bus. In fact there were more Canada Geese, that scourge of open grass (2-4 lbs of excrement per day), than people to be seen.

The landscaping is very pleasant and there are frequent water features – hence the nuisances who some deem worthy of ASBOs. Some of the companies enjoying their working environment round here were familiar, Canon and Apple for example, though we had no idea what Aspect might be. Something international and IT is the answer. The reason so many of these successful major multi-nationals are located here must be for the proximity to Heathrow airport and the ability to go to firm HQs overseas very easily.

After leaving rather scenic Stockley Park the bus barely stops at all – this is mainly because it dives down the small spur of the M4 which gives it access to the Northern Perimeter of Heathrow Airport and thus through the tunnel under the runways and smoothly into the Heathrow Bus Station. What was extraordinary about this trip, certainly not our first to Heathrow and with all the U buses to come not our last either, was that today we did not see a single airplane in the sky. However the minute we stepped out there was that familiar smell of aircraft fuel so we knew this was not a hoax or a film set.

The trip had taken the 25 minutes it promised and given that Uxbridge is on the ‘other bit ‘ of the Piccadilly line it is probably useful for anyone living in or near Uxbridge who wants a peaceful 25 minute commute to their Heathrow based job.   

Thursday, 14 February 2013

The Number 607 Route

Tuesday 22 June 2010 

 As we climbed in this bus at Uxbridge bus station, Mary wondered if we should ever get it onto the blog (and lo, here we are!)

This was the third of our buses, with Linda away having what we hope was a sunny time in North Wales. We were on board by 12.55, rather excited at the thought of an ‘express’ bus: which seems to mean that it does not stop at all the available stops. 

Our first landmark was historic RAF Uxbridge,  parts of it looking a little decayed, though other areas still in - presumably community - use, with advertisements for a Psychic Fair coming up. No jokes about why they need to advertise, please.

With the benefit of hindsight, aka a couple of years, we know that much of the site has been redeveloped as housing.

There was a good cycle track along the main Uxbridge road, even if some people prefer the road, as is their right. We also admired the little lantern at the top of St John’s Church tower.

This was all very residential, and we passed from Hillingdon Parade’s shops into Hayes without a gap. A Martial Arts centre, advertised ‘bully proof your child today’ and we could see the Beck Theatre across the open space of Wood End. 

Big retail parks, not to mention a Tudor style Macdonalds (no fries in the days of Henry VIII and co; when the first potatoes arrived during the 1570s, people used to boil them) heralded the Grand Union Canal.  At once we were into Southall High Street. The Ayesha Siddiqa Girls’ School reminded us that Southall is not entirely Sikh!

Passing Southall Park, where a funfair was setting up, we moved into Hanwell, and saw the large Ealing and St Bernard’s Hospitals, before crossing the River Brent, not for the first time today.

Now we were in Ealing, and reaching Ealing Broadway, where we liked the look of the clock at the Arcadia Centre, which seems to have little people who might strike bells at the hour: but the internet is full of stuff about the failed plan to expand the centre, rather than interesting articles and pictures celebrating the clock.  We wished Linda had been with us, as she loves a clock.
On past Ealing Common and its station, we reached Acton and noted the Newman Hire Company,  which specializes in props for set dressing. Then it was Shepherds Bush, with people enjoying their lunch hours in the sun, and we arrived at White City bus garage at 14.05, after our third hour-long trip of the day. West London does stretch a seriously long way!

And we felt that the word 'Express' was a tiny bit misleading: many of the stops we missed out were in streets with heavy traffic, so we gained little benefit.

And so farewell to buses with only numbers, and on to the letters which, as we have said, will be blogged in an order as yet to be fully determined....

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

The Number 603 Route

Muswell Hill to Swiss Cottage Station 
Monday February 11h 2013

With military-style precision planning we had got ourselves, via two W route buses, to Muswell Hill so early (so perhaps not so precision ) that we had time for a leisurely pub lunch at the very Irish O’Neill’s on the Broadway, which the chain had converted from a large and derelict church. Even more of a treasure trove was the carefully preserved  grocery store, opened 1897, selling a wonderful array of tea, coffee and dried fruits. These passengers walked out with a Dundee cake for Valentine’s day, some poppyseed, some Southern Hemisphere apricots, and a small packet of home-made fudge.

The 603, according to the time-tables, runs 4 times a day, in both directions at what one might loosely term school hours. I had to think back to a friend of mine in the Sixties who used to endure 2 hour bus trips between home (Muswell Hill) and school (Swiss Cottage, effectively) for whom this route, however restricted, would have been a boon. So was it a boon?

Considering it supposedly runs to a tight time-table, it seemed to be late but we uncomplainingly boarded our third double-decker of the day to set off along Muswell Hill’s Broadway, followed by St James’ Parade (named for the church). With small niche shops on one side and a fine parade of Arts & Crafts flats on the other we left commerce behind and tangled with some road works along Fortis Green . The houses seemed to be of all vintages and included small workmen’s cottages and early Victorian villas and in fact examples of just about every period and style of building.

We eked our way down into East Finchley (and Barnet borough) passing the Phoenix Cinema, neon lit even during the day, though in fact today was gloomier than some summer nights. East Finchley station is topped by its very own marksman pointing somewhat strangely at the overhead Northern line bridge.

By the time we had sneakled (yes it’s a typo but quite a good one) our way round the one way system that gives you access to the A1 and started climbing up towards Highgate we had re-entered Haringey. This was to be a route of high points, having started from Muswell Hill and then dipped down we rose to 100 metres  above sea level atop Highgate Hill, which again is lined with a variety of vernacular building styles, and at this point few commercial outlets. About halfway up on the right sits Highpoint designed by Lubetkin and built by Arup for the Gestetner Family who planned to house their workers there; it has been well maintained and like all good buildings looks timeless.

Coming this way to the top of the hill, the 603 of course passes Highgate School which triggered an animated conversation about the evils of private (boarding) education and the evils that can be experienced there. Somewhere close by one of the party spotted a Blue Plaque; as usual we have had some difficulties in tracing for whom it might be. The nearest guess is for Mary Kingsley a rather intrepid and surprisingly anti-colonial explorer and writer, but we are not sure. Less controversially the Gatehouse pub and  theatre sits on the highest point of Highgate Hill, permitting the pun top theatre. 

The 603 was getting in its stride now, and bowled along Hampstead Lane past even grander houses, playing fields and of course ultimately Kenwood House, an Adam gem, which is currently closed for refurbishment. In theory the views from any double-decker along here should be superb, as eventually you get a sweeping vista over Central London and beyond. However the weather was against us today and all we could see was blurry snow covered trees, which you can probably get for free without boarding a bus. We squeezed past The Spaniards' Inn, much to the delight of my fellow passengers who remembered it fondly as a pub frequented in their student days – visiting a Hampstead hostelry must be some kind of rite of passage and as the local I did it before legally allowed, though I am not sure the food looked much like that!

It was hard not to reminisce as the snowy weather today reminded me of skating parties on the Whitestone Pond during the hard winter of 1962-3 (the year it snowed on Boxing Day not to thaw much before Easter). The pond today looked pretty but not frozen.

Rather harder for us local schoolgirls that year was the weekly compulsory run UP Fitzjohns Avenue which replaced games afternoon as the hockey fields remained under snow.  The descent through scenic, expensive and arty Hampstead starts very slowly – Heath Street is narrow and not at all suited to double-deckers (no wonder they only allow it twice a day) – so slowly in fact we were almost able to read the prices in the shop windows. Once past the Everyman cinema the road widens, bordered by those large red brick Victorian villas that once got turned into schools. Accompanied primary school children boarded at several points along here.

‘Don’t tell Mummy we came upstairs on the bus. She does not allow it and does not think it is safe. But it is safe as daddy is here and of course we don’t go downstairs while the bus is moving’… such parents would go pale at the very thought of our journeys home from school, hanging off the back platform on the open ended Routemasters. As Hampstead merges into Swiss Cottage the bus passes the end of Maresfield Gardens, the home of Freud (and then his daughter) when he moved to London  and continued to teach. Having the father of psycho-analysis in Hampstead encouraged the growth of other clinics and today the Tavistock thrives here. The bus stops (so that small boys can descend in the safety of a stationary bus) just short of the Basil Spence Library and the newly built Hampstead Theatre, and another more mainstream cinema.

Given the delights on this route it is hard not to stereotype Hampstead as one of the arty and cultural hubs of London: the reputation may be dated or may be thriving still, but unless you get on a 603 you will not get the full experience or judge for yourself.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

The Number 549 Route

South Woodford Station to Loughton Station
Monday February 4th 2013

Positively spring-like sunshine found three of us assembling at South Woodford Station: two regulars and a guest traveller, another retired history teacher hoping to qualify as a  Blue Badge London Guide. If you didn’t already know it the training and examination is pretty rigorous and this bus probably not the most testing of preparatory routes. We had arrived early for a once-an-hour service and therefore had time for a quick coffee. We went into ‘Creative Biscuit,’ a local cafĂ© where you can also paint ceramics, which have been fired to the ‘biscuit’ stage’ but not glazed. The glaze was chipping off my mug slightly but the coffee had an excellent perk to it and we practically vaulted onto the small single-decker when it rolled up.    

The bus had a slightly musty smell, doubtless due to weeks of damp and rain, and there were never more than half a dozen passengers at any one time. Our first job was to leave South Woodford with its still surviving High Street shops clustered round George Lane. The Anti-Aging Clinic seemed a bit aspirational, we decided – did it mean they botoxed you back to a younger you or attempted to treat the onset of dementia? Both probably. ‘Bright & White’ was decidedly less ambiguous.

Round a couple more corners and there we were back at Charlie Brown’s Roundabout The name has its origins not in the depressive Peanuts character but the landlord of a famous Limehouse Pub who like many successful East Enders moved further East to the fresh air.  His last pub was on this corner which is now a major road junction between the North Circular and M11. ‘Fettucine Junction’ said our fellow traveller, looking at the ribbons of roads unspooling around us.  Since we were last round this way Taylor Wimpey have bought up some land with intentions to develop. Talking of East Enders made good we were reminded of the 'Birds of a Feather'  sitcom, featuring  some of the original Essex Girls, who had hung out in nearby Chigwell.  

Once past the junction the bus route follows the course of the River Roding for a while – it certainly looked to be pretty high, so it is not altogether surprising that the Environment Agency was warning of floods.  Many of the properties round here, probably dating from the Thirties and later Forties, have not only replaced older windows but also replaced their front gardens with harder standing, not always the best solution for a flood prone area. It is difficult to establish why the main roads which the bus follows at this point are called Snakes Lane – yes it curves a bit but is not as sinuous as some and I can hardly think prosaic Essex was home to exotic snake species, so a mystery it may remain.

Since leaving South Woodford we had passed almost exclusively through residential areas of differing vintages and sizes, but with very few shops or businesses of any kind, so passing ‘Lunch 4 U’  (yes in Comic Sans) came as something of a surprise but that and a nail bar were just about the sum total of retail opportunities. The 549 is very much the only bus along here and first we had the Hillside Avenue residential area – each short close named Fairway or Greenway. Though the bus passes close to Roding Valley Underground Station (apparently the least used on the whole Tube network) it does not call in there, saving its energy for the detour to Buckhurst Hill Station, which looked suitably cottage-y in the semi-rural setting, retaining character from its railway origins. The London transport Roundel sits loud and proud on the main road and this Zone 5 station also offers access to the London Loop Walk.

Buckhurst Hilll looks pleasant and expensive with large and detached houses set well back from the road and good views over the countryside from the ‘hill’ of its name. There seems to be an outbreak of small prep schools housed in older large Victorian homes, not to mention the Palmerston Veterinary Hospital – my travelling companions, former history teachers both, could not think of any connection between Palmerston and pets or Palmerston and Epping. Definitely not one of Queen Victoria’s favourites, but he had a long parliamentary career and was twice Prime Minister which led I suppose to having roads named after him.

The Green at Buckhurst Hill feels very much as if it has been carved out of Epping Forest, which embraces this route from here on: the little ponds, the Beware Cattle sign and remnants of farms indicate the rural history of this patch – Epping Forest has been managed by the Corporation of London since 1878 when it was entrusted with its upkeep and to preserve it from too much development. St John’s Church by the Green is quite dominating and actually  a late addition following the few homes that were allowed to be erected here.

Once through further stretches of Epping Forest, passed too quickly for acceptable photos, the bus turns right down the hill past a busy Sainsbury’s (I’m not surprised, the first  food shop for ages) and comes to a halt in front of the more prosaic  Loughton Station. (The Clock Tower of nearby Roding High School caught our eye too) The trip could have been three stops on the Central Line but was an altogether more congenial 25 minute journey  through the Essex borderlands. With this number the 549 has been operating for about 10 years but possibly has been reincarnated from a former 254 route.  The fact that it serves as dense suburbs as it does makes one forget that this area was for a long time a Royal Hunting Forest. And that just about wraps up the 500 route numbers – all four of them