Tuesday, 5 March 2013

The B14 Route

Bexleyheath Market Place to Orpington Station
Thursday January 3rd 2013

Our (high) number bus had left us in the resting place for Bexleyheath buses but the B14 driver directed us round the corner to the market place/clock tower where he picked us (and a few others) up in his very small single door bus. We had decided to broach the letter buses as Bexleyheath’s station is a considerable distance away from the commercial centre, so our journey home would have been complicated and thus taking one of its B routes elsewhere seemed to make more sense.

We left Bexleyheath to the south out along the Broadway where there were no fewer than three nail salons, a few varied take-aways and – surprisingly – a Turkish vegetable and fruit shop which had folded while the next-door Fancy Dress and Balloon Specialty shop was going strong: no accounting for tastes. I detail the commerce as it was to be a while before we saw anything but residential buildings.

After the stretch of road known as the Crook Log, which has pubs, leisure centres and GP surgeries all named for it, the bus takes the road alongside Danson Park, which has a bit of everything to entertain families open parkland for strolling, boating on the lake, children’s play areas. There is also an historic classic Palladian Villa which, even if the wealth of the original owner was gained in dubious Caribbean trading then lost by successive dissolute generations, makes a pretty centrepiece to the park.  Not far from here is the other historic residence of William Morris and extended circle - the Red House. Both houses have rather unpredictable opening times so any intending visitor would need to check.

The Danson underpass, which signalled the start of a ‘Hail & Ride’ section, was less of an underpass more of a long bridge under the A2. From this point we only stopped once for a lady with a shopper who clearly knew when the bus was due (it only runs twice an hour) while one family who had boarded at Bexleyheath with us got off. The bus does a complete loop round a Thirties era development of mainly semi-detached homes interspersed with a few bungalows, which I take to be Albany Park.   There was a distinct incline to this loop – first down to the modern church, then up again – as we were driving down to the bottom of the River Cray valley, having earlier crossed the Cray’s tributary the Shuttle and in fact we were today following the river back to its source.  Just after we  spotted a load of cranes, but of the mechanical not bird variety – almost as decorative when in a flock. 

In order to serve the older parts of Sidcup where there are larger 19th century build homes, now frequently divided into flats, the bus does a further ‘Hail & Ride’ dog-leg emerging briefly onto Sidcup High Street (charity shops and the Police Station, closed since we last came this way). By the Green is a large Morrisons but these facts may not be related.

Then just in a quiet (!) nook between the As 20 and 222 is the spread out site of Queen Mary’s Hospital Sidcup, with this route calling at both A and B blocks – the latter’s car park looking more like a water feature or boat pond but then there is nearby Watery Lane, which might account for this. Perhaps the frogs of Frognal were re-asserting their rights? Queen Mary’s is of course one of the three overspent hospitals, which has led to the bizarre and controversial decision to close (downsize) the newly built A&E at Lewisham  in favour of the one at Queen Elizabeth’s Woolwich. 

By the time we come to post this things may look clearer – and more acceptable to most of the population of SE London.(A temporary and compromise reprieve, which is unlikely to hold?)

As is usual with the smaller routes they only use the busy 6 lane highways where unavoidable, so after a quick sashay along the A20 the bus turns off uphill to St Paul’s Cray, which, much to Jo’s surprise, was looking and sounding more like her old stamping ground of SW Herts.  Here we were offered Croxley Green followed by Chorley Wood and Chipperfield and apparently even Breakspear has a Hertfordshire connection. As there was no sign of teleportation we decided it was just one of those quirks. St Paul and St Mary Cray are no longer the villages they once were, and while there is quite a lot of greenery, especially some rather fine stepped rugby pitches, the commerce is concentrated back down on the main roads into Orpington on the Nugent Retail Estate, where you can even find a Waterstones and Debenhams. This all seems a bit back to front as when you then get to Orpington its traditional High Street is now given over to pound shops, closed units and the largest range of charity shops you could hope for. 

Opposite the Nugent is the rather older industrial estate including the Allied Bakeries Thirties building. There was me thinking it was now longer in use but in fact more bread comes out of here than you might think The best thing since sliced bread anyone??

By the time we were approaching Orpington from the Perry Hall end the Cray was clearly re-asserting itself through the park with the ponds looking more impressive than usual in Priory Park Gardens, apparently its source. Talking of 'water' Affinity is what was previously the Water Board, a rebranding I'm just not getting?

After taking on few passengers through the Crays most boarded at this point, along the strangely busy High Street and very close to the end of the trip but presumably as ours was the first bus coming prepared to head up the steep hill to Orpington Station, even the small B14 would do.  Our circuitous trip from Bexleyheath had taken us about an hour for what was largely a trip through early 20th century housing developments, with pockets of earlier settlements and later commercial and light industrial additions. 

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