Monday, 11 March 2013

The B16 Route

Bexleyheath  Bus garage to Kidbrooke Station
Monday February 18th  2013

By now you know that the B buses belong around Bexleyheath, so you will not be surprised that this bright morning found us waiting just outside the garage for a 4-times an hour single-decker. It arrived a bit before its time but drove very steadily along its East/West course.   Since we were last in the borough of Bexley’s only major retail and administrative centre, someone (the council, presumably) had decided the main roads and pavements needed attention so progress was slow through a series of single lane chicanes. The first stop was at the Clock Tower, which is of course where most passengers got on. 

After that comes the Broadway, part of the old Watling Street,  generally acknowledged to be the Romans’ route of choice between London and Dover, and probably cutting a straight line over the heaths and avoiding the muddier low-lying areas (aka Thamesmead.  For modern-day Bexley this means the approach to the centre where the more individual shops and restaurants can be found. ‘Bel Amore’ is not a cosy Italian trattoria but in fact sells wedding gowns, but the ‘Laughing Buddha’ cheerily promotes a restaurant with its fat-bellied poster boy glinting in the sun. Best of all was the legal firm offering ‘Free Alien Abduction Cover with every Insurance sold’; we approve of this kind of self-publicity.

Just as you might think you were approaching the Crook Log with all its pleasures this route turns off for Pickford Lane and Bexleyheath’s rather far-flung railway station, though to be fair it serves the 1930s  expansion of homes built around here.

After the detour to the station the B route returns to the straight and narrow, which is Welling High Street, still thriving enough to have attracted some big brand supermarkets. This was one of the few familiar stretches on this route as we had passed this way before. However we were to plunge into more residential areas, namely that other 1930s development, Falconwood,  with its property builder referred to as a ‘relentless’. The bus crosses a narrow bridge over the railway and just before the station emerges onto what must have been seen as the jewel in their development: Falconwood Parade and Triangle. It certainly gives this otherwise somewhat bland area a strong focal point and looks well-maintained.  A veritable Tudor village green with only the village stocks missing…

After calling by the station the route heads into the ‘wood’ part of the locality, and we wizzed past several stops passing between Oxleas Wood  and Eltham or Shephardleas woods – really all one but now bisected by the Rochester Way.  Here is where you can join the Green Chain walk, which links open spaces through SE London and overlaps with the Capital Ring. The woods are denser than might first appear and you have to make some decisions about directions taken as you walk through, which is rarely the case in London walking. The bus has to do some serious down, up and down again driving to serve the solid back streets of Eltham and neatly delivering its bus load of regulars to Eltham High Street, quite busy on this Monday morning.

By the time we had left Eltham behind the bus was nearly empty – we lost the last three passengers to the Bingo Hall stop and carried on down Eltham Hill past Sutcliffe Park, its various playing fields doubtless as waterlogged as anywhere else, and turned off to head into Kidbrooke.

What a revelation this part of the trip was. We had last passed this way, that is through the Ferrier Estate, on the 178 in February 2010 almost exactly three years ago and what a transformation. What had been a depressing site of largely boarded-up but not yet demolished blocks was now a busy building site. Almost all the old blocks had gone and a few new ones had gone up, with of course the show homes and commercial office taking pride of place. The whole area has been renamed  'Kidbrooke Village' complete with water features. The film included here would seem to be rather aspirational for as far as we could see  - yes Sainsbury’s local had arrived (presumably so that the construction workers could buy a sarnie) but little else and the station was still in its ‘tired South Eastern train’ neglected incarnation. 

 The bus route calls at Wingfield School and as this was half-term it was difficult to tell whether it was shut for the holidays or closed overall. If remaining open we wondered where its children would come from as the dense population of the former Ferrier Estate has presumably been dispersed and the new residents not yet arrived. Still it was a fascinating tour of a ‘work in progress’ and hopefully the new ‘village’ will avoid the pitfalls of its predecessors on this land.  Key to any area’s success is the quality of the transport links and certainly the B16 should retain its role as one of the bus routes linking Kidbrooke to its neighbouring and longer-established communities in South East London.

The bus comes to rest in front of the low-lying Kidbrooke Station from where we made our separate ways home.  

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