Square Routes: Day 2 x 2 Bus 4: Waterloo - Archway
Location: London north, inner
Length of journey: 8 miles, 55 minutes
From Waterloo you can catch the Eurostar to Paris and Brussels, or you can catch the number 4 bus to Finsbury Park and Archway. It's a tough choice, but I took the latter option. Waterloo station is so big that it took me a good ten minutes to find the right bus stop from which to begin my journey, out beside the rumbling Waterloo Road. An endless stream of red double deckers navigated down the street, pulling in to pick off passengers from the harbour of their bus shelter. I waited ages 4 my chosen vessel to arrive. We sailed off round IMAX Island, then steamed ahead across Waterloo Bridge. The view to port and starboard along the river from my lookout in the crow's nest was picture perfect.
The bus skirted Aldwych, passing a cluster of dossers drinking out of brown paper bags. We entered the City at the original site of Temple Bar and descended Fleet Street, now a mere shadow of its former journalistic self. I was surprised to see that the only publishers remaining in the street are Kall Kwik (based, believe it or not, in the very shop where Sweeney Todd once used to slice and dice his unshaven victims). Up Ludgate Hill we just caught a glimpse of Temple Bar in its new setting, lost in the scaffolding and redevelopment around St Paul's Cathedral. Herds of open-topped sightseeing buses passed us by, and tourists stared into our ordinary top deck as though we were sights ourselves. A few minutes later we exited the City past the giant concrete blocks of the Barbican, its flowerboxes arranged in regular tiers like some multi-coloured waterfall.
As soon as we drove north of the City our view immediately changed. The backroads of Islington (officially the very southern end of the A1 trunk road) weren't quite so wealthy, or quite so photogenic. There were a couple of exceptions - notably Upper Street (a buzzy place to whine and dine) - but either side we were suddenly reminded that real people live in London and that not all of them can afford the antiques being sold up the road. Life looked at its grimmest around Finsbury Park, although the road here did boast a view of London's finest footballstadium - as well as the Arsenal Fish Bar, the Arsenal Cafe, the Arsenal Supermarket, the Arsenal Barbers, the Arsenal Tavern and The Gunners (another pub, of course).
By the time we reached the Holloway Road our driver appeared to be trying very hard not to stop, but he was thwarted by passengers who kept trying to flag the bus down. He paused briefly along a residential avenue in Tufnell Park to let on board a mad lady and her two contrasting dogs. Mrs Mad charged up to the top deck where she let both her smelly alsatian and small yappy mongrel off their leads and let them both roam free. Then she spent the rest of the journey talking to both of her canine companions. I'm sure that repeatedly gurgling "Ooh you're so big, you're so big" is normal behaviour for a pet owner behind closed doors, but her unhinged utterances felt extremely uncomfortable on board public transport. On reaching our final destination at Archway Mrs Mad then yelled loudly at the driver to open the doors and let her menagerie disembark which, after a short delay for effect, he was only too pleased to do. I followed a safe distance after.