diamond geezer

 Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Great British Roads - A2: London - Dover
The first mile: Borough - South Bermondsey


The A2 is the road to Europe, and has been for almost two thousand years. The modern road follows the alignment of Watling Street, along which Roman soldiers would have trooped on their way from London to Dover and beyond. The section between London and Canterbury was almost arrow-straight, and Chaucer's pilgrims (of whom more tomorrow) would have journeyed along what was left of this ancient road more than a thousand years later. Watling Street was still visible across south London back in the 18th century, but nothing remains today except a line on a map.

Road begins: Borough, SE1
The A2 is the only one of London's five major trunk routes to begin south of the river. It starts innocuously at a junction with the A3 outside Borough tube station, then heads southeast down the major intercontinental highway quiet residential street you can see in the photo. Great Dover Street has a real mix of housing along its half mile length. At the top there's the Dover Castle, a pub that's also a cut-price backpackers' hostel, and further down there are student halls of residence for freshers attending Kings College. There are plenty of council flats in long blocks, some old and some new but almost all with satellite dishes pointing southwards. Visible to the southeast is the Trinity Estate, a well-preserved collection of 18th century terraced houses and the only part of the area where you might actually aspire to live.

Next comes the Bricklayers Arms roundabout (more a squareabout really), a giant road junction carved out of what were once residential streets. The roadway is five lanes wide, with a concrete flyover sweeping across from Elephant & Castle carrying traffic towards the coast. In the centre there's a large grassy patch with benches that you can reach by subway or pelican crossing, though goodness knows why anyone would want to sit here breathing in swirling exhaust fumes. A railway terminus was established here in 1844, but closed down within a decade when passengers from Kent realised they'd much rather travel closer to London and arrive at London Bridge instead.

Mile ends: Old Kent Road
The A2 then turns into the cheapest property on the Monopoly board. Personally I reckon the Whitechapel Road is more downmarket these days, but the Old Kent Road definitely deserves its place in the inexpensive light brown corner. This disadvantaged thoroughfare has resisted all attempts at gentrification and remains stubbornly inexpensive. At the northern end there's a giant Lidl supermarket (say no more), while the nightclub over the road advertises Wacky Wednesday Karaoke ("Hats are not to be worn at any time. Anyone found wearing a hat or cap will be asked to leave"). Further down come numerous small shops of the non-chainstore type, perfect should you ever want to eat fried chicken, order a minicab, have your hair braided, get your nails buffed, stock up on bottles of rum, buy a sandwich or pick your way through trays of Jamaican vegetables. It's built-up, it's busy and it's bustling, but I still reckon £250 for renting a little red hotel round here is a bit steep.

Road continues: New Cross Road, Blackheath Hill, Shooters Hill Road, Rochester Way, Bexley, Dartford, Gravesend, Rochester, Chatham, Gillingham, Sittingbourne, Faversham, Canterbury, Dover.

A2 links
A2 route description (from uk-roads)
A2: London's lost Roman road?
Watling Street


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