For the last time in this batch of journeys, I'm on my way around the edge of London by bus. Today's bus completes my tour of south London, from Bluewater-upon-Thames in the east to Kingston-upon-Thames in the west. For a change I'm on a radial route, not an orbital, heading in towards the centre of town. And sorry, this one's no thriller.
ROUND LONDON BY BUS(ix)
Route 71: Hook - Kingston Length of journey: 3 miles, 15 minutes
I had a choice ofthreebuses from Hook to Kingston, each heading along pretty much the same route north. By rights I should have taken the 465, because that deviates fractionally closer to the Thames right at the end, but no. A 465 was just pulling away from the stop at Ace Parade as I alighted, and it was half an hour until the next departed. Plus I have the 465 pencilled in as a special blogging treat one day because it goes all the way to Dorking, that's 35 minutes beyond the edge of the capital on an Oyster-fuelled red London bus. Patience. Instead a 71 was approaching, which shouldn't have been a surprise because this is an every-eight-minuter, the most frequent service I'll be riding. It had started its journey back at Chessington World of Adventures, no passenger hotspot in January, then glided round Copt Gilders, yadda yadda, been there, done that. I bounded up to the top front seat only to find it empty because of a suspicious drip coming from the ceiling. But still I sat there, because one seat further back is never as good, and getting damp trainers was a small price to pay.
Hook Junction was Britain's first arterial underpass, a cutting dug where the A3 hits London. The ring on top is theAce of Spadesroundabout, named after a popular roadhouse, now The Cap In Hand pub. If you look down on the way round you can see the carriageway through a trapezoid hole, narrower than it ought to be so prone to jams. Enough excitement, the Hook Road north wasn't overly memorable. London's slowest zebra crossing crosser popped out to greet us part-way, which was nice, but other than there was little of note. I did spot a cul-de-sac called Graham Gardens, which'll be amusing to those of you of a certain age, and I also noticed a bus going to Mansfield Park, alas not the literary version. And I enjoyed the pre-Worboys sign beyond the railway bridge where the A243 meets the B3370, its yellow background recently restored. But other than that there was little of note. We sped through.
And so to Surbiton, the archetypal commuter suburb, which thrived because Kingston Council didn't want a railway so the trains came here instead. The station is an ArtDeco jewel, up at the top of the main shopping street, which of course all the buses round here divert to follow. I'd say Victoria Road got nicer the higher we climbed, with more charity shops at the foot and more florists at the top, though with places to nibble and graze nigh everywhere. Another suburb, another clocktower, where we turned left past another ornamental gardens. I longed for one of my fellow passengers to say something of interest, even to say something at all, but they were all downstairs, and I was still being dripped on.
It always amuses me that Surrey County Hall is still in Kingston, but Kingston is no longer in Surrey. We passed its mighty frontage on Penrhyn Road, nearly 50 years after the administrative extraction took place, with local dissatisfaction still readily palpable. By now we were already on the brink of the Kingston one-way system, a mighty beast which threads through the ex-medieval heart of the town. The 71 stayed well away from anything overtly historic, instead focussing on furniture showrooms, undercover precincts and cinemas turned into badly-spelled nightclubs. Kingston's range of shops ranks amongst the very best in London, no really, from giant department stores to boutique-y backways. And I guess that's why everybody else on board alighted on Eden Street, and only I rode the final one-way wiggles to the bus station. That did mean I got to see the town's famous toppledphone boxes, but also added 25% to the length of my journey as we jostled through various sets of lights. I'll be back here next month (and I hope for something a little drier). 216>>