diamond geezer

 Sunday, December 21, 2014

I had fifteen W-prefixed bus routes to choose from, and you recommended eleven of them. Most run to the north of London, based round Wood Green, while the rest run to the northeast around Walthamstow and Woodford. Overall you preferred the former, as did I, so I ended up plumping for the longest of the Wood Greeners. The W3 was one of the capital's first lettered buses, introduced as a Flat Fare service in 1968. A renumbering of the 233, it still follows the same dog-leg of a route today, running up from Finsbury Park to the heights of Alexandra Palace, then turning east to run the full length of Haringey.

 Route W3: Finsbury Park - Northumberland Park
 Length of journey: 9 miles, 45 minutes

Oh there's another Finsbury Park bus station, is there? Round the back of the station, on the non-Park side, discovered by following the signs to Wells Terrace. All three buses that head northwest from Finsbury Park start here, on the right side of a low railway bridge (3.8m, 12'9") that appears to preclude through traffic. It's a bustling location, where residents of Crouch End and Muswell Hill gather to ride home, and various small shops and fruit-traders attempt to flog them stuff while they wait. The W3 takes the central bay, stopping a few metres short of the bus stop while the driver has a rest, then nudging forward to admit the merry throng. A party of five looks on anxiously as the seats start to fill - Graham went off for some coffees a while back and hasn't returned yet. We leave without them.

Most of the retail outlets on Stroud Green Road specialise in world foods, it seems, although as many as half a dozen sell wigs for those in need of a hairpiece. I'm no longer surprised when someone requests to alight at the very first stop, merely disappointed, although perhaps their interest was pique by the twin displays of suitcases and Christmas trees outside the adjacent shops. We stalk a W7 to the end of the street, where a boy in a Santa hat pedals furiously past, and then we turn sharply right past a 60s era Welcome to Haringey sign. The arch ahead is dripping with foliage and looks suspiciously overgrown, which'd be because it carries a disused railway (now the Parkland Walk) over our heads. And slowly our bus picks up and sets down, ever so nicely, because it's that sort of part of town.

Ferme Park Road is a perfectly straight residential street lined by late Victorian villas, its peculiarity being that it rises right up and then right back down again in a typically San Franciscan manner. At the summit I can see the Olympic Park clear as day, some five miles distant, but only briefly before we're heading down the far side of the ridge for Hornsey Vale. We've missed the heart of Crouch End by running this way, but land on one of its main roads beside the bijou Arthouse cinema and the less bourgeois YMCA. Behind me, a father and his son are discussing their dog's toilet habits in slightly too much detail, an anecdote which they continue throughout our entire wait at some temporary traffic lights. There follows a leafy avenue, and a thin common, and a fire station, and it's OK, they've finally stopped.

The most scenic section of the route begins at the foot of Muswell Hill, although we're not heading that way. Instead we turn right at the menorah and start to climb the meandering heights of Alexandra Palace Way. A farmers market is underway in the car park to one side - there is a lot of parking - beneath some of the particularly well-kept allotments. We pass two particularly close bus stops, one specifically for the garden centre, the other beneath the entrance to the Palm Court restaurant. And yes, we're running right across the front of lovely Ally Pally, but who has time to look at that. Instead what may be the finest bus-ride panorama in the capital is playing out on the other side, a proper-wow spread across the whole of central London.

We have almost a minute to soak in the delights - there's the Orbit, and the BT Tower, and clear as day there's Ferme Park Road again with another W3 descending. Alas a large family boards at the Ice Rink end and mum insists on hovering in the aisle on the top deck and obscuring the vista with her inane blathering. It's at this point that dinging begins. Someone somewhere has found a red button and is pressing it, in triplicate, repeatedly, for no readily obvious reason. Our driver stops each time and opens the doors, for nobody, and still the dinging continues like some kind of Morse code... until we descend as far as central Wood Green, and suddenly pretty much everyone gets off.

It's OK, a fresh complement of passengers take their place, but they're a very different crowd. Gone are the middle classes of Muswell Hill, off to take the Piccadilly line into town, and instead a less advantaged demographic are taking their purchases home from the shops. We pass a bingo hall and a rather splendid Victorian Crown Court with a modern fortress-like annexe plonked on top. Somewhere to the right is the garden suburb of Noel Park, alas invisible behind lesser housing stock. A one-legged man walks past, determinedly. The allotments hereabouts are most definitely less well tended. Someone's headphones are leaking loud bland guitar music - two ladies turn round and stare.

We pass from Lordship Lane to White Hart Lane, both lengthy meandering reminders of the Middlesex landscape before the houses came. The first football club on White Hart Lane isn't Spurs, it's Haringey Borough FC, whose ground (with its tiny grandstand) has been taken over by a fast-emptying car boot sale. The housing stock's more mixed now, more councilly and flattier, as we pull up towards the lights on the Great Cambridge Road. Beyond that lies Tottenham Cemetery, which I note is rammed with gravestones but entirely empty of people, and looking round the bus I wonder if that's because the children and grandchildren of those buried here have long since moved far away.

If anything can drag this area back up it's the regeneration of White Hart Lane at the end of White Hart Lane. Part boarded-up terraces await their fate, presumably as towers of flats, while the existing stadium plays out its last seasons beside a demolished zone where its replacement will eventually arise. First blood in the 'Northumberland Development Project' has gone to Sainsburys, whose bland two-storey megastore is a jolt of modernity hereabouts, and whose main entrance the bus passes on its final riverward leg. We're heading down to Northumberland Park, with its shabbier flats and the occasional discarded mattress, our gradual descent from the moneyed heights of Haringey complete. Turfed out at a busy bus stand beside a tyre centre, I suspect riding the W3 in the opposite direction would have been more uplifting.

» route W3 - route map
» route W3 - timetable
» route W3 - live bus map
» route W3 - route history
» route W3 - route history
» route W3 - The Ladies Who Bus

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