Today I'm returning to my orbital London bus ride. It's my tenth bus, and already the second I've blogged about before, way back in 2003 as part of my Cube Routes project. But I've tried very hard not to re-read that post, and entirely different things happened on my 2014 trip anyway, so what follows should be original.
ROUND LONDON BY BUS(x)
Route 216: Kingston - Ashford Length of journey: 11 miles, 55 minutes
The 216 is one of those London buses that heads for the border and then keeps on going. It runs roughly along the edge of Surrey, so is ideal for my purposes, although I'll be alighting before the final destination in Staines. The first stop is at the larger of Kingston's two bus stations, a busy well-laid out place where buses of all sizes and colours arrive and depart. The 216 gets its own bay so an incoming driver can rest, with three seats out front for waiting passengers. Our driver let us on early, which was kind, or rather he took pity on two cold ladies who'd been shopping, and the rest of us bundled politely behind. The bus kicked off by turning right below an overhanging cinema (headroom 15'9"), then took the concrete ring road before picking up a full complement of shoppers outside Bentalls. It being a weekday morning most were retired, including some in full hat and gloves combinations, although alas I got the uber-sniffling youngster sat in front of me.
The 216 exits south London across KingstonBridge, with a fine view over the Thames (which may or may not be almost overflowing when you pass). This is a very green way out of town, sandwiched between a royal park and the grounds of Hampton Court Palace, both part-hidden behind a low brick wall. Slowly the umpteen chimneypots of the palace draw nearer, with one stop optimal for the maze and the next for the main visitor entrance. Former owner Cardinal Wolsey has a pub named after him on Hampton Court Green, appropriately enough complete with banqueting and conferencing annexe, while Christopher Wren is commemorated by a blueplaque on the row of houses nextdoor. Traffic was busy on Thames Street, so when the speed sensor flashed up "9mph" I wasn't surprised to see an electronic smiley face light up alongside. A Heal's delivery lorry escaped to cross a narrow bridge to an island in the Thames, here smothered with houseboats and expensive cottages where sailor types might live. Nobody considered boarding, or alighting, our bus.
Just beyond the end of Bushy Park is Garrick's Villa, with its riverside temple, and the edge of the suburb of Hampton. Their residents don't get to live by the river, because that strip's taken up by a set of reservoirs and water treatment works. We plied the main shopping street, the sort of place that sells fireplaces and where the local caff is fully licensed, and where several of our older passengers alighted. The road beyond Waitrose was then London's last hurrah. The 216 turned back to the river at the border with Surrey, just before Kempton Park racecourse, to enter the village of Lower Sunbury-on-Thames. It still had that village feel too, with quaint terraced cottages along a narrowriversidehigh street where you really wouldn't want to meet another 216 coming the other way. Each bend brought sight of another flood meadow, one with a properly flooded bench, another with ducks, and another beside an 18th century walled garden (plus Millennium Embroidery). How swiftly our semi-rural idyll then changed.
At The Three Fishes we turned inland to enter more ordinary suburbia, a landscape of retirement avenues and recreation grounds. A pair of life-and-soul pensioners boarded the bus, she gossiping broadly, he with a folder under his arm that no doubt contained the minutes of some community meeting. We passed over the railway and under the M3 to enter Sunbury Cross, and its uninspiring high street of Mary, Mungo and Midge architectural vintage. It was here that the buggy wars began. A small pushchair had boarded earlier, but now a megabuggy entered, bags hanging from every extremity, forcing its smaller cousin to shift. Maternal glares were exchanged. When we diverted to Tesco shortly afterwards, and an old man settled into a front seat with his shopping trolley blocking the aisle, negotiating around the bus suddenly became extremely difficult.
We followed an arterial ribbon, a world away from Ye Olde Thameside, past a water treatment works with a peculiarly repetitive roof. London was still only a couple of streets away, but we were officially in Spelthorne, one of those local council districts with an eminently forgettable name. On Feltham Hill Road another pushchair entered, this time leaving mum trapped at the front of the bus while twins Luke and Robert squeezed through to grab a seat further back. Both were dressed in Thomas the Tank Engine garb, topped off with blue stripey woolly hats, and both had the most disarmingly cute smile. The bus collectively melted as they toddled by.
Somebody's failed to maintain the roads on the approach to Ashford, so we jolted over a set of potholes on the way in. A larger jolt came in the high street as a set of traffic lights changed and our driver braked fast, sending the twins' mother almost tumbling. "Sorry about that, you all ok?" asked the driver, and the entire bus mumbled back an apologetic affirmation. Ashford's shops were good enough for several passengers to alight, including the twins who maintained their cute quotient to the bitter end. Ahead at the station one man disappeared fast out of the front of the bus to catch a 555. That's one of those high-numbered Surrey buses that runs into the Home Counties hinterland, of the kind that most Londoners never need to explore. I'd be taking one next. I stepped off by the Harvester and awaited my fate. 441>>