It seemed clear that the next stage of my round London bus journey needed to head towards Orpington. But how to get there? To properly follow the edge of the London bus network would require taking at least four buses, each round a separate housing estate, including the R6, R4 and R9. I thought that was overdoing it, not least because I'd have some very long waits in the middle of nowhere, but also because I'm not forcing myself to ride the actual perimeter. Instead I chose to ride just one bus, almost along the edge, to get to my rendezvous with bus three. Even then there was a choice of two - the 51 or the R11. I should have taken the former, it runs slightly further out, but I'm saving that up for a future birthday. So instead I took the R11, and realised a childhood dream along the way. Don't get too excited.
ROUND LONDON BY BUS(ii)
Route R11: Foots Cray - Orpington Length of journey: 5 miles, 30 minutes
There are a lot of Crays round here, almost an entire brotherhood. Crayford and North Cray we've journeyed through already, St Paul's Cray and St Mary Cray are coming up, and Foots Cray is where we are now. Foots Cray's riverside meadows are the best bit, especially the Five Arch Bridge, but that's quite a walk from the dull crossroads at the foot of Sidcup Hill where I changed buses. An off licence, a double glazing shop and a sandwich bar, these are some of the highlights, plus the chartered accountants on the corner with the big gold clock. It may not be your idea of somewhere important, but I suspect the sandwich shop is where BestMate once regularly bought his lunch, and that's good enough for me.
The R11 is the highest-numbered of eleven R-lettered buses to serve the Orpington area, and the only one not to serve the town's main railway station. It shuttles between Sidcup and Green Street Green, which is possibly the only place in London to repeat a word in its name. The bus doesn't go straight, it does the linking places thing, so it's not as busy as the direct 51. But it boasted more than its fair share of ladies with bags - large bulky shopping bags, even a stereotypical tartan trolley stashed in the luggage section at the front. This'd be because the first thing the bus did on leaving Foots Cray was deviate to an enormous Tesco. They do that sort of thing, outer London buses - supermarkets, stations and hospitals, the holy trinity.
The R11's diversion involved an extra trip across the Cray, reversing at a tiny turning circle and the opportunity to pick up people dangling weekly provisions. Nobody boarding the bus had availed themselves of a cup of national-chain coffee from the barista near the checkouts - I suspect they sell more to the car drivers. Imminent scenic highlights included the underside of the Sidcup bypass, a technology college and a scrap heap piled high with twisted metal. We turned right into the LCC estates of St Paul's Cray, past the first stop, and up it came. There on the electronic display, the next stop... Croxley Green. And that's where I knew I had to get off.
I found it in an A-Z sometime in the 1970s. I was looking in the index for the village where I lived and there it was, this 'other' place called Croxley Green, a street name somewhere in St Thingy's Cray. The map offered other hints of SW Hertfordshire in the road names - a Crescent called Chorleywood, a Road called Chipperfield, a Way called Whippendell. These were located about as far across London as it was possible to get, so I didn't think I'd ever go, I mean whyever would I? But here I was at last, stepping off the bus to explore.
I was pleased by Croxley Green's sheer ordinariness. A street of 50 houses all told, in a variety of styles, none especially ostentatious, none verging on slums. Up one end they were semi-detached, at the other mostly bungalows. Several were brick terraces with a hint of council house, others part of a very understated development of once-new-build flats. One homeowner was out front cleaning his car, front door wide open, while another house boasted no fewer that four vehicles crammed into what remained of the front garden and the pavement outside. A lady wandered past leading a small terrier, while a bloke in hoodie and trackies hobbled very slowly by on crutches. Damp cardboard packaging on a verge revealed that someone hereabouts was given "World of Lagers" for Christmas, and had sampled the lot.
Beyond the central crossroads was a turn-off for a rather more modern close, some kind of municipal infill, and then the street became a cul-de-sac. At the far end was a large patch of grass where the tarmac might have continued, blocked by two rows of concrete bollards. I stepped off the pavement onto the grass, looking carefully lest I step in anything untoward, but the locals must clean up after their dogs with diligence so I trod in safety. Here I could look back on the houses with their low hedges and satellite dishes, past one final street sign displaying the name of my childhood home. Croxley Green could easily have been a street in Croxley Green, I decided, and returned to its bus stop with a smile.
It felt a long way round the rest of the R11's estate loop, perhaps because we were running behind another service and it wasn't possible to overtake. Every time the B14 stopped we stopped, and everybody boarded their bus not ours, that is until we reached the station and only we had seats remaining. Here I grimaced at the lettering on the bus stop, with B 1 4 | R 1 | R 1 1 spaced out by some typeface pedant with zero interest in readability. If that's you at TfL Towers with the jobsworth kerning rulebook, oi, please stop it. And so we continued, with a fresh contingent of furry hoods and pink umbrellas now aboard, returning to join the queueing traffic on the main road.
The queues were courtesy of an out-of-town shopping mall, seemingly quite a good one, though with both an HMV and a Clintons Cards there might be a vacant lot here soon. We sped up afterwards, past a major southern outpost of Allied Bakeries with dozens of Kingsmill lorries parked out front. Commercial/industrial then gave way to patches of meadow/park, with ponds in Priory Gardens marking the point where the River Cray rises. It was hard to see Orpington High Street properly with the bus's windows part-opaque through rain, but the retail offering slowly rose from a reptile shop via a skunkworks to the full shopping centre selection. It's nice and self-contained is Orpington, thanks to itsroots as a Kentish market town, and chock full too with buses. The ideal spot therefore for me to hop off and wait for the next. R8>>