The 331 runs in a giant horseshoe from Uxbridge round to Ruislip - only three miles direct, but 14 miles on the bus. It nips in out out of London twice, linking communities along the northwestern rim of Hillingdon. And yes I've blogged about it before, but only the first two stops, so prepare for pastures new.
ROUND LONDON BY BUS(xiii)
Route 331: Uxbridge - Northwood Length of journey: 9 miles, 35 minutes
Red buses stream like clockwork out of a dark hole round the back of Uxbridge station. The bus station is a busy hub for shoppers and folk alighting from the Underground, patiently waiting for the correct-numbered service to take them home. If you wanted to get to Ruislip quickly you'd take the U1, so it's a fair bet nobody climbing onto the 331 is going all the way. Today's cargo includes a pushchair loaded up with Pampers, while presumably Junior is elsewhere, plus a teenage girl carrying a box of pristine size 3 Converse trainers. Several more passengers board in the High Street, and most get a spare seat alongside for their shopping or else for their spouse. The bus heads north out of town, past several boxy office blocks towards the bridge over the canal. The 17th century Swan and Bottle pub is London's last hurrah, before we're across the River Colne and beyond the capital's border. But that's the bit I told you last time.
We've entered Buckinghamshire, "County of the Paralympics", and also home of Denham Ladies Football Club. The broad road ahead shifts swiftly from urban to rural. Amid the fields is junction 1 on the M40, where a loop of mini-roundabouts create the greater Denham Roundabout, which our driver negotiates with ease. If I've counted correctly the next road is seven lanes wide, overlooked by the glasshouses at Shanes Nursery and a "Stop HS2" banner. Some of the nicest streets in Denham are off to the right, in the Village, whereas Cilla Black plumped for Denham Green just beyond the railway bridge. I remember a restaurant on the corner here based in an old railway carriage, but that's long gone, and the boarded-up pub alongside is currently transforming into a set of "later living apartments". We lose a couple of passengers here, including the job-lot nappy buyers, plus a bloke whose hairy beard is the only facial feature visible beneath a trackie hood. Not one of Cilla's neighbours, I suspect.
Our first dalliance with the Home Counties is complete, returning to Greater London at the line of the River Colne, or where the edge of the Colne ought to be if it wasn't rather higher than usual. A strip of lakes mark the gap from here to the Grand Union, an uninhabited strip which HS2 will be exploiting via viaduct. The Horseand Barge sits in prime flood risk territory, a 1937 replacement for a bargee's stopover called The Halfway House. The hamlet ahead is South Harefield, essentially a few streets of quite big semis, at the foot of the long residential climb into Harefield proper. This is a rare London village, unswallowed by suburbia, still with a part-medievalchurch and a half-timberedpub at the crossroads by the pond on the green. The village sign is a hare, of course, inside a metal globe. I also spot a well-pinned community notice board, and a garden with a St George's flag on a pole nearby, as if perhaps this proves something.
The bus is running a couple of minutes ahead of schedule so pauses outside the drycleaners, where one lone soul is ironing beneath a hotchpotch of hangers. Across the street the Harefield Discount Store has closed down, as has the organic sorbet shop, the latter for more readily discernible reasons. As the 331 heads out of the village we pass Harefield Academy, swish filming location for BBC3's Tough Young Teachers, where I watch for chaos erupting inside Meryl's English classroom. There's none of that, but one of their music teachers boards carrying a black case of a size which completely disguises the instrument inside. We're on the Northwood Road, which is the most rural my journey has been since six buses back near Banstead. Any houses along the way tend to have stables attached, or a car with a personalised numberplate parked outside, or both. We splash through huge puddles between high hedges, not that anyone's out walking, but a 4×4 gets it broadside.
A few slight hills later we drive fractionally outside London again, this time nudging Hertfordshire and the concealed entrance to Moor Park Golf Club, beloved by Betjeman. Our raison d'être for being out this far is a London hospital, that's Mount Vernon, with public transport access only on the far side. Four buses serve this borderline outpost, one of which I'm taking next, but a storm has whipped up so I resist disembarking early to join two windswept souls beneath a brolly. One patient, one porter and one nurse climb aboard - at an educated guess - before we head on down the hill into proper Metroland. One of the avenues off to the left, Kewferry Road, is so stereotypical that it's where they filmed TheGoodLife. Our bus passes a cricket club and a college of theology on the run-in to the chic centre of Northwood, plus a poster on a lamppost advertising "found body of dead black and white cat". We pull in at the tube station, where the music teacher et al alight, because nobody really wants to double back to Ruislip. Best hide from the downpour, perhaps inside the ticket hall, perhaps with a spin round Waitrose, before continuing. 8>>
I've agonised long and hard about which way to go next. I need to get beyond Stanmore, that much is obvious, but there are at least a couple of ways to get there. Decisions decisions. [NW bus map]