Biggin Hill 's probably the place in London worst served by rail, there being no station within a radius of about five miles. All of this makes the bus very important, unless you have a car (or in this case perhaps a plane). It boasts two services to Bromley and two to Orpington, and then there's today's cross country route. There's a good reason it's not a double decker.
ROUND LONDON BY BUS(iv)
Route 464: Biggin Hill - New Addington Length of journey: 3 miles, 10 minutes
I fear I rode the less interesting end of this route. The 464 runs all the way out to Tatsfield, the northeasternmost village in Surrey, which I understand is quaint and picturesque. I found Biggin Hill less so, although it's hard to tell when you haven't ridden through the centre. Instead I started on the northern outskirts, by the Black Horse pub, a sturdy gabled building which boasts Great Home Cooked Food Served All Day. It looks pleasant enough, but nearly lostitslicence last year over accusations of crossbow attacks and drug dealing, so perhaps not. Nextdoor is Lunar Close, which is the sort of cul-de-sac you can drive home to from the Co-op in a mobility scooter, and then the floodlit War Memorial. This could have been my view for up to half an hour, but thankfully my 464 turned up rather more swiftly.
In good news, the bus runs along the edge of the famous airfield. First up are a bank of sheds and hangars, these now home to a minor trading estate accessed via the perimeter road, Churchill Way. Then comes Biggin Hill Airport proper, though it's unlikely you'll be flying from here soon. Plonked in the nearest corner is a grey monstrosity that's home to Rizonjet, a business terminal for Middle Eastern VIPs complete with luxury boardroom lounges and segregated his and hers prayer rooms. It beats queueing at Gatwick, be that on the ground or in the air. The lampposts get smaller as the dual carriageway continues, with the roadside verge offering a great view of any planes (or air shows) that might be taking off. The runway stops right alongside the road, with a bank of lights and a rather feeble looking fence the only protection should any flight ever overshoot.
The 464 turns off before the Spitfire, down an ominous slope. This is Saltbox Hill, another very atypical section of London bus route. The road's a bit narrow, so the 464's timetable has been tweaked to try to ensure that one of the two buses never meets the other bus coming the other way. The left-hand edge of the road is a wooded slope, over which it would I think be unwise to tumble, because we're entering a valley. And the gradient's steep enough to merit a 15% roadsign, and to get that special arrowed symbol marked on an Ordnance Survey map. You get these switchbacks in the provinces, sure, but it feels most odd paying by Oyster for the privilege.
Come in summer and I suspect the view's idyllic, all waving corn and contours. Over a damp New Year rather less so, although at least you can see the valley through the trees rather than experiencing the upper slopes purely by feel. And then yes, the road dives back up the other side, smartish, with the gradient meriting another OS notch. This is the delightfully-named Jewels Hill, and if anything is a bit steeper, and narrower, than the previous dip. Again anyone from Cornwall would laugh at the insignificance, but we are doing this in a London bus.
Compare and contrast. At the top of the hill, beyond the Roman Road, is the edge of one of the largest estates in London. The first sign of urban growth is the local secondary school at the end of King Henry's Drive, located where the Greenwich Meridian exits the capital. The 464 has entered New Addington, its swirling avenues nudged right up against the boundary with Surrey. This isolated residential outpost was built across fields in the 1930s and 1940s, finally completed by Croydon council in the 1960s, and is now home to over 20000 people.
New Addington doesn't have the best of reputations, but as you travel round this corner by bus it's not the housing that disappoints. The semis along Homestead Way are sturdy stock with tended front gardens, a decent amount of space for any family and relatively affordable. At any stop Duffer trackies and fur-hood anoraks might be waiting to board, perhaps a pushchair or two, but they won't be going far. The 464 stops short at CentralParade, annoyingly short of the bus station down the hill, for the good reason that there's an alternative means of escape. There may still be no trains anywhere near, but here beginneth thetrams. 64>>
I was going to ride the next bus round my orbit, but when I strode to the top deck it was all steamed up and dripping with rain, and where's the joy in that? So I'll be returning to New Addington by tram, sometime, when the weather's improved.