Cube Routes: Day 4 x 4 x 4 Bus 64: Thornton Heath - New Addington
Location: London south, outer
Length of journey: 8 miles, 30 minutes
There are two ways to get from Croydon to New Addington by public transport. Not that I'm quite sure why anyone would ever want to. New Addington is a giant council estate, more the sort of place you'd want to get away from. You can take the bus, as the locals used to do until 2000, or you can take the new tram. The tram is now by far the more popular route, and rightly so. Me, the rules said I had to take the bus instead.
My 64 journey started at Thornton Heath Pond, just north of Croydon. I didn't spot the pond anywhere, just a giant bus garage and a lot of big 1930s houses, but no doubt they all suffer from waterlogged foundations. It's only a few minutes down the London Road (one of 21 roads in the capital with that name), past the worryingly named Mayday Hospital, into the bustling centre of Croydon. We stopped off at the bus station so that I could be tempted into catching the tram instead (must... resist...), then skirted the enormous retail nirvana that is the Whitgift Centre. Armies of Christmas shoppers emerged, blinking, into the daylight with an armful of carrier bags and a still-warm credit card.
Outside East Croydon station the bus and the tram lined up as if for a race, competing for passengers. We lost. The tram scuttled off down what used to be a main road, heading for New Addington via the direct scenic route, while we headed for the hills. It's a bit of a shock to an East End resident like me to realise that London has contours, but the Croham Valley has them in abundance. Hills, tree-lined avenues, views, vistas, lovingly-tended rugby pitches... and above all money. Huge detached mock tudor mansions lined the roads, like little suburban empires, with the majority of front gardens paved over to accommodate the family's collection of gleaming cars. Might explain why nobody at all got on the bus, or got off for that matter.
We skimmed through Selsdon with its traditional parade of shops (one florist, no kebab shops), then on past contrasting estates of pebbledash and redbrick. Ahead of us was historic Addington Palace, which in the 19th century was home to the Archbishop of Canterbury. I once spent a day singing there, back when I was more a cherub than a geezer, so I was most disappointed to discover that this great house is now a sports club and 'perfect wedding venue'. At last the bus met up with those telltale parallel tracks again, and traffic lights suddenly switched to let the next tram glide ahead of us. A big bus/tram interchange has been built here in a field in the middle of nowhere, where local estate residents are supposed to transfer onto feeder buses. They don't, they stay on the tram and then walk home, so an army of unwanted bus drivers stands around beside the portakabin waiting for custom.
The 64 ascends its final hill before grinding to a halt beside a non-descript parade of shops, just beside the tram terminus. New Addington's not a bad council estate, as overspill estates go, but it is enormous and somewhat lacking in character. And lacking in railway stations, the nearest being a three mile drive away, which is why they brought Tramlink here in the first place. It's revitalised the area, bringing commutability to these former fields on the very outskirts of London. And yes, I returned to Croydon by tram. Faster service, comfier seats, more legroom, and a scenic switchback ride back through a rich swathe of forest. No wonder nobody takes the bus.