Saturday, 1 February 2014

The X26 Route

West Croydon Station to Heathrow (Central Bus Station)  
Wednesday January 29th 2014

Well this was a disappointing outing for which we had had rather high expectations – I’m sure I have seen a double decker plying this route and though our single decker was nice and also clean inside and out – with very spacious luggage racks to accommodate serious travellers not to mention well heated in case you’re back from tropical zones – between the relentless rain and the steamed-up windows there was remarkably little to see, but we continued with dampened spirits.  As TFL no longer provide decent maps of each route I am including a link to this interactive site, which usually shows you the buses in ‘live time’ so you can track one on the map then rush to your window to see it pass by! The LWB have dubbed them the caterpillar maps because that’s what the little red moving dots passing over yellow bus stops resemble. 

X of course stands for EXPRESS and this route has very limited stops, especially towards the Heathrow end where numerous other routes and trains provide more than adequate alternative services. My initial thought had been that Customs Officers could put non-English speaking arrivals straight onto this bus which would deliver them to Lunar House and the Home office.  In order to verify this theory we would have needed to ride the route in the opposite direction.

Well, the three of us had assembled by our various Overground and train routes at West Croydon Bus station (a very poor substitute for last week’s Walthamstow bus hub) for what was to be the 9.50. However the X26 was almost 10 minutes late and this seemed to make the driver anxious about keeping to his pretty strict time-table which resulted in quite a lot of hooting en route – mainly other cars cutting in but once a pedestrian who strayed. With selected stops only the experience was more akin to riding a well sprung coach (the suspension was really good for once) than a bus.

The bus left Croydon via East Croydon station (some-one only took it thus far): there is much building going up on the corner of Dingwall Road and there seemed to be a new access to East Croydon station there also. There used to be a small theatre there, which has now been demolished.

We then left the dust (no, obviously not – mud would be nearer the mark) of Croydon behind us and noted this was one of only two routes to leave crossing over the Flyover where usually the views both ways are interesting. Through the gloom Mary spotted Ikea, and Waddon was one of the few stations we did NOT stop at. Croydon was looking very post Sixties and drab today and this very interesting website gives a more detailed critique of road planning and errors that lead to the anomaly that is this 'Flyover'.

A bit of hooting and we weren’t really held up today, so continued to cruise west along the Croydon Road towards Wallington – from what we could see roadside a surprising  number of bungalows and a certain amount of  rebuilding too, though maybe the fence round The Link School (for children with communication problems)   was for other purposes. A good name for such a school. Beddington in the summer can wiffle somewhat due to nearby sewage beds, but no sign of that from such an insulated bus.

We passed the scenic Wallington Green with its steepled church, and Wallington seemingly warranted two stops for the X26 so there was just time to capture the front of the theatre.  We paused briefly at the Carshalton Ponds (which mark the origins of the River Wandle for some people) For a more detailed account of this pretty and historic area I refer you back to the Route 407, where the photos are more worthwhile. 

As we headed out of Wallington westwards we passed again Saint Philomena’s School and given the narrow roads we made good time to Sutton and its familiar sights at the southern end – the ‘Cock & Bull’ pub, the oh so solid (not crew) but Police Station, war memorial and Secombe Theatre – no one way system or shopping centres today and the stop named for the Post Office rather than the station.

After several months of twiddling round the backstreets, which is what characterizes most of the letter routes, it was clear that an Xpress bus was going to take the straightest way possible as it headed on to Cheam with its appealing crossroads and village sign (erected 2001); this is where we had a few more closely grouped stops. North Cheam ( it might as well be Tony Hancock’s  East Cheam, said Jo) still looks blighted with the boarded up and empty corner building which in spite of promises to the contrary in 2012 has not yet been demolished…
The bus continued to Worcester Park (this is where I had spotted the double decker X26 once after a return trip from the station) passing the HG Wells pub – another man whose private life was no shining beacon said Jo – then the North End Tavern, while the Worcester Park pub had evidently closed.  Jo thought she saw a sign ‘twinning’ Worcester Park with Delft in Holland, but I have failed to find confirmation of this – one would want some kind of ‘pottery link’ given all those Delft tiles, which would more aptly go with the City of Worcester?

I’m not sure that the warm fug/steam now partially obscuring the windows did us a great disfavour from this point on as the main road through the Maldens old, new and Manor are not that scenic, especially not the crossing over the Kingston by-pass (matched only by its twin at Tolworth) which, according to my newly discovered website is a ‘near-miss Clover Leaf Junction – I know, how nerdy can you get? 
Straight along the Kingston Road we went entering said centre via Norbiton, not at its best in the continuing rain.

The X26 stops three times in Kingston itself, once near the station of course, and we lost what we guessed were some of our Kingston University students. Here the traffic slowed us enough to recognise our familiar landmarks of the toppled telephone boxes, John Lewis and the final leaving of South London by Kingston Bridge.  Our last trips to Kingston had been dominated by the news of the ‘fatberg’ that was being dug up and we hoped all the rainwater had washed away its remnants.
After the bridge the X26 takes Sandy Lane which runs alongside the very pleasant Bushy Park – you see what I mean about a potentially very scenic route? For today you will have to make do with some Internet Pictures of the scenery – self-referring I saw that we had travelled the rather rare (1 per hour) 481 back in rainy November 2010 so not much joy then either in terms of any better photos to illustrate today’s trip.

Not surprisingly, we did not stop along here but continued into Teddington, a very pleasant half way point between Kingston and Richmond; it’s not that long since we were here on some of the proper R for Richmond routes (as opposed to their Orpington cousins) and even recognised a random Tesco Metro that still bore its original name as the Horse and Groom pub on the crossroads. The in-bus announcement said the next stop would be Hatton Cross (?Teddington to Hatton Cross without stopping?) though I see there are some stops marked on the maps, but not on  the time-table, which  allows  21 minutes for this bit of the journey. Our only passenger who had boarded with what you might call ‘serious luggage’ became a little anxious and asked if the bus finished at Hatton Cross so we told her it went onto the Central Bus Station and the non-Terminal 5 terminals but she pressed the request for Hatton Cross regardless, and left with her luggage to go where I wonder?

Somewhere along here – between Hampton and Feltham – we passed some grassed open space.  ‘I expect that’s Hounslow Heath’ I said,  a phrase guaranteed to strike terror into Jo’s heart, after we had really gone round in circles  on Hounslow Heath in a fruitless attempt to join two H routes a few months ago.

Once past the edge of H****** H**** it was along some dual carriageway approach to Hatton Cross – the less you pay for your long term parking the further away you are likely to be and the whole Heathrow area is a series of ‘supporting industries/services’ for the main airport consisting of cargo traders, parking lots, hotels, packing and other transport options (hire cars) which extend both sides of Hatton Cross – there are swathes of residential areas as well but for those you need to be on an H bus route.

From Hatton Cross we followed the Eastern perimeter loop in order to access the central Bus Station which allows passengers to get to Terminals 1, 2 and 3; we had been underway for between 85-90 minutes, somewhat shorter than the time advertised. The rain of course had not stopped by the time we transferred onto the Piccadilly line.

This felt a bit like a ‘revision test’ of many of our previous SW London routes but we would  have  done better and given you a more exciting and informed account had we had better weather. We debated whether anyone would actually take this route from Croydon to get to the airport – maybe if you worked there rather than had plans to travel it would prove viable.  

So, I had miscalculated thinking the W19 would be our last single decker...
Making no promises about size or type of bus our last route will be the X68, which we plan to ride on MONDAY 10th FEBRUARY 2014 leaving Russell Square at 15.50, end destination West Croydon.

There are three tram routes we plan to cover as they appear on TFL's bus maps, but they are not really buses so will form something of a postscript/farewell. 


  1. Re the twinning with Delft thing: the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames is "linked" with Delft and there's a sign to that effect in Worcester Park. I'm sure that it used to "twinned" with Delft back in the '80s, but maybe Delft got a better offer...

    HG Wells used to live in The Avenue, in Worcester Park, which he disguised as Morningside Park in his novel Ann Veronica.

  2. There certainly are people who use the X26 from Croydon to the airport. While it takes a fair while it is direct with no changes or dragging luggage up and down stairs you'd get if you went by rail. Quality Line, who now run the route, sometimes put a double deck on the route but they are rare compared to the days when Metrobus ran the route. Still the Mercedes single decks are very nice, quick buses as you found.

    The X68 will certainly be a double decker. I've never heard of a single decker running on it.

  3. And another thing: the X26 used to be the 726 way back when. It was a Green Line bus when I were a lad!

  4. The 726 used to go from East London to Whipsnade Zoo when I was a lad. A looooooooooooooooooooooooong time ago!

  5. I don't understand what you're trying to say about "non-English speaking arrivals"

    The job of customs officers is to search bags for drugs and counterfeit goods

    Lunar House is a place where foreign nationals already in the UK can apply to extend their visas for an additional fee of £375

    If a UK Border Agency officer denies someone entry to the UK, or detains someone who is illegally in the UK, they are brought to an immigration removal centre, of which there are 12, and two of which are next to Heathrow itself.

  6. yes I've used the x26 several times, possibly slightly longer journey but definately more convenient than the train and tube