Time for my orbital bus journey to leave the South East London bus map and nudge into the South West.
ROUND LONDON BY BUS(vi)
Route 412: Selsdon - Purley Length of journey: 3 miles, 20 minutes
Selsdon's a suburb to the southeast of Croydon, just before the fields start. It has a proper high street - a run of fairly decent mostly independent shops pitched a little above the London average. But then it has a massive modern Sainsbury's, shoehorned in by the main crossroads courtesy of what looks like a cosy deal with the council. Two thirds of the building is aisles and checkouts, while the municipal remainder includes a new library, a community hall and a "please come downstairs for the cafe". Outside is a triangular traffic island, large enough for trees and grass and aclock where SELSDON replaces the numbers from 9 to 3. The 412 treats this as a roundabout, deviating off course to spin round once and pick up any shopper, or other resident, waiting to depart. The stop also serves non-London buses, such as the 409 to Caterham, which I could have caught instead but would have made my onward journey rather messier.
So no, I took the fairly quiet 412, unnecessarily a double decker from this point in its journey onwards, but who's complaining? It runs tangentially through Sanderstead, which is aspirational middle class suburbia par excellence. You can see this clearly if you look at an aerial photo, because all the residential avenues are sweeping, with uniformly large and arboreal back gardens. Here white detached houses line the streets in undulating rows, broken by the occasional golf course and lych-gatedchurch. But what you don't get from above is a sense of the ups and downs, because this part of outer London is anything but flat. At one point a gradient sign warned 12% as we zipped down the side of a ploughed field, before re-entering a run of Tudorbethan cosiness near Riddlesdown station. And then there was a splendid reveal across a deep but narrow valley, with two separate railways down below and the residential slopes of Kenley opposite. These are the commuter hills of south London, swallowed whole before the Green Belt was created, and all much to the delight of today's residents.
We'd been making good time until we started our descent into Purley. Busy traffic on the A22 had created a jam on Downs Court Road, where it took a dozen attempts to edge downhill towards a set of filtered lights. So steeply does the land fall here that the lampposts rise to lounge level on one side of the street but above the chimneypots on the other, providing further (and lengthy) panoramic views across the rooftops. Eventually we reached the valley floor, joining a stream of motorists and dipping beneath the Brighton mainline. Ahead was Purley Cross, once no doubt a quiet intersection, now a massive gyratory beside an even bigger Tesco. We should have had right of way via a bus lane, but one driver exiting the superstore had nudged his Mercedes just too far out to allow our passage. I spotted a folded copy of the Daily Mail on his passenger seat (which is one of the advantages of nabbing the top deck front left seat) before he finally achieved escape velocity allowing us to pass. Tellingly every other passenger alighted at Tesco, leaving only me to ride one stop further to thehighstreet to await my next bus west. 166>>