diamond geezer

 Thursday, February 13, 2014

Up next on my orbital London bus journey, and finally for now, the 142. This is one of Watford's bus links to London, running from the Junction station all the way in to the shopping centre at Brent Cross. I'm meant to be catching it at Bushey Arches, except the road is mostly jammed in one direction and empty in the other...

I have arrived in Watford, purely by chance, at peak flood. The River Colne is in spate, recording its highest level this century this very morning. The Environment Agency have just issued a flood warning ["River levels remain highly sensitive to any further significant rainfall as the catchment is saturated. Standing water is likely to remain for a couple of days."] as water spills out and overtops the banks. It takes me a while to realise how bad things are. The low bridge across the river is clear, and northbound vehicles are passing through slowly without incident. But the forecourt of the Mercedes Benz garage on the southern side is underwater, and someone's had to shift half their stock of used cars from the wet side to the dry. There's no immediate problem to the north, allowing traffic to swing round the edge of B&Q around the one way system. But for traffic in the opposite direction the Lower High Street is most definitely flooded, and a pool of grey water has seeped across the road.

For anyone attempting to walk into Watford, negotiating the Lower High Street is the only option. That's fine up to a point, but the land is lowest between the cafe and the Seat garage and here water has smothered the entire road. One man strides through in wellies, but others weren't expecting a deluge and are wearing far less appropriate footwear. For smaller shoppers a lift on Dad's shoulders is appropriate, but others are forced to brave the puddle at the end of Bridge Place by dunking one trainer below sock level. Officialdom is here, standing watching outside a shuttered shop as a pump extracts floodwater back to the river. A sign on the side of the building reads "Warning! Risk of flooding", but most people who park their car here won't ever have considered the possibility this might actually happen. Across the road are Frogmore Cottages, a few inches from danger vertically, but several feet horizontally, and as yet seemingly unworried by the water lapping at the garden gate. Things are a bit worse at the next road junction where one half of Waterfields Way is underwater, which isn't especially impressive for a relief road built relatively recently to ease traffic congestion in the town. But at least northbound traffic still has one carriageway to escape, because the next section of the Lower High Street is completely inundated too.

This end of Watford used to be water meadows, so it should come as no surprise that the River Colne sometimes reclaims the land. One old road nearby has long been called Water Lane, in recognition that this end of Watford isn't somewhere that's ideal to live. Of course that didn't stop the council from siting a huge retail park here, complete with Mothercare, Halfords and one of the biggest Tescos in the country. Waterfields Shopping Park flooded the very first week it opened, which did make locals smile, but now they drive there in their thousands and clog the place up with metal boxes on wheels rather than surplus liquid. On this particular Saturday business is at least partly suspended, and those who've unintentionally driven into this overflow situation are having to retreat, creating even longer delays. Thank goodness then that somebody's managed to divert the 142 via a guided tour of North Bushey, so that it stops (eventually) outside Bushey station and then continues towards London as if nothing untoward had happened.

 Route 142: Bushey - Stanmore

 Length of journey: 5 miles, 25 minutes

At last a double decker. It's been a while, since way back in Kingston in fact, and I've missed being able to sit up top for a better view. I can't quite nab the front seats because they're taken by an Eastern European threesome and a hoodied lad with his trainers pressed flat on the window. I sit behind, and try not to be distracted by the cuddling (from two of the former) and the phone calls (from the latter). Bushey station is a fine building, with clocktower and steam-loco weathervane, plus a newsagent with a Daily Telegraph awning. We circuit beneath the arches before climbing Chalk Hill, its contours providing instant protection from any threat of flood, to enter Bushey proper. Oh hang on, this is rather nice.

I am almost entirely unfamiliar with Bushey. It's diametrically opposite the side of Watford I grew up, so as a family we never had any need to go there. But it's lovely, isn't it, or at least the run along the High Street is. It's properly high too, routed along a rising ridge, with the occasional view down across green and golf-coursed slopes. Beyond a gleaming white academy the shops kick in, and they're nothing like I'm used to hereabouts. You'd never get a yarn shop called Mavis Crafts in South Oxhey or Garston, nor would the local salon have won national awards, nor would Country Life Interiors turn a profit. It's bistro-ville, this, and blimey was that a sign off to Bushey Museum? I've made a note to visit. I tick off three churches with towers - it's been mostly spires recently - and a Golf & Country Club - ooh, get you Bushey. And still we climb, one stop's even called Steeplands, to a fourth church with tower at the top of Sparrows Herne.

Outside a newsagent I spot a board advertising the latest headline in The Jewish Chronicle, a sure sign that NW London is approaching. We've now reached Bushey Heath, once planned to be the farthest end of the Northern line, but the station would have been in distant Green Belt so was shelved. It too has a winsome high street, including a restaurant called Ruby's which unbelievably isn't a curry house. The edge of the capital comes at the highest point hereabouts, a crossroads which at 153 metres above sea level is also the highest point in North London. Boards on one corner adorn the perimeter of Bentley Priory, HQ of Fighter Command during the Battle of Britain, now "A Rare Chance To Own A Luxurious Home In A Landmark Development". The brand new museum in the main building opens to the public on Mondays, Wednesdays and the 3rd Saturday of the month, but the 57 acre estate and Italian Sculpture Gardens are solely for the benefit of residents, sorry.

Just past Stanmore Common a very ordinary bus shelter is adorned with two dozen bouquets and covered with photos of a young girl. Eleven year-old Lily was waiting here in December when a Ford Fiesta mounted the kerb killing her and leaving her mother in a critical condition. Mum's better now, physically at least, while the collective memory lingers on. They're big homes on the way down Stanmore Hill, where the vista suddenly opens up to reveal all of west London before you. The view's probably not quite so great below the upper deck, but Wembley's arch appears crystal clear amid a panorama of suburban undulation.

We've picked up quite a few passengers along the way, both from Hertfordshire and the long run down into Stanmore. Many alight in the town centre, a pleasing retail hub whose aspirational heart is dragged down only by a much more popular Lidl at the far end. Rather more alight at the chimneypotted tube station to ride the Jubilee to somewhere bigger. The next two stops are the sole reason I've ridden the 142 rather than the more borderline H12. The first stop is named after the adjacent synagogue, apparently the best attended anywhere in Britain. To my eye it looks uncannily like a secondary school and is in full "leaving after service and shaking hands" mode as we pass. And the second stop is at Canons Corner, where the A5 hits town, and the local pub is now a McDonalds. Next up, the bus to Walford! 107>>

» route 142 - timetable
» route 142 - live bus map
» route 142 - The Ladies Who Bus
» map of my journey so far

» January: Bluewater → Kingston
» February: Kingston → Stanmore

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