Wimbledon Tennis Club and Museum: Officially it's the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, but the bus stop outside dumbs down that title somewhat because the whole thing wouldn't fit. The 493 is the only bus to serve this premier sporting location, unless the tournament is on in which case it's diverted elsewhere for fear of getting stuck in the crowds. For the rest of the year there's a museum to visit, and a cafe, and a shop where various purple and green accoutrements are yours for a price. Or you can go on a tour, which the bunch of mostly foreign tourists I could see through the gate seemed to have been enjoying despite the rain. I left them to it, and decided to go for a walk round the site, which soon proved considerably larger than I'd been expecting. The walls break occasionally at gates allowing sight of tightly-packed outside courts and refreshment/toilet facilities for the throng, and the occasional midwinter employee scuttling between blocks. One of the best views is at the southern tip of the site where the contours rear up, while a few residents on Somerset Road have installed extra large roof-level balconies to provide an overview of summertime action.
Round the back of the club the road rises gently to pass hospitality and media facilities, and lonely-looking security guards, and a large separate block of indoor courts for when the weather's like this. And the road keeps climbing - no shortcut possible when the car park's closed - leading further and further up into residential nirvana. Some extremely desirable properties lurk up here on the hillside below the common, along almost-private roads on leafy plots with acres behind. The occasional 4×4 justifies its expense by powering up a single track hill, to pull in onto the gravel beside some gabled hideaway. The eventual descent emerges beside the AELTC's immaculate croquet lawns, several of them, perhaps a little muddier than usual at this time of year. To return to the bus stop requires a further trek past the practice courts, and the emerald spaceship of Court No 1, a full mile and a half complete. Best don't consider following in my footsteps, there's a reason Fortress Wimbledon looks better on the telly.
A long gap between 493s means a lot of people on board, although I do manage to grab a seat near the front where the bright young things have left space for the elderly. This proves fortuitous, because the windows have almost completely steamed up and the only available porthole is through the windscreen at the front. Trust me, there is nothing worse on a bloggable bus journey than not being able to see out of the window, and a blinkered view is at least better than none at all. We reach Southfields station, where a sharp left has the old lady in front of me grabbing hold of a pole for stability, before turning again to tour the Southmead estate. Blimey, how London's residential nature can change in a street or two, from highly desirable to towers of flats. "Do you stop at the shops?" the old lady asks the driver, and yes in this direction we do, so off she steps a minute later. A brief spell on the busy A3 ends at Tibbet's Corner, a once-rural glade despoiled by a split-level roundabout, and then we tour the top edge of Putney Heath. I'm aware that there's much more to explore here, from the bus village at the Green Man to the duelling grounds in the woods, but very little is visible through the smears. I resolve to alight immediately ahead, to switch to a vehicle less wreathed in condensation.
Danebury Avenue: I have three minutes before the next bus arrives, which is just long enough to check out one of my favourite corners of Roehampton. The AltonEstate is a landscaped concrete masterpiece, or a failing community, depending on which viewpoint you believe. Wandsworth Council have a masterplan in place to regenerate the unlisted area round the shops, details of which can be seen on consultation boards stored against the window of the library. But this means the library's likely demolition, along with slab block Allbrook House which looms above, and the adjacent Alton Activity Centre. A poster taped up in the bus shelter alerts residents to campaign groupAlton Regeneration Watch who are concerned that local democracy is being overruled and that current residents might well be losing out. It's an increasingly familiar story across London, and I worry that next time I visit Danebury Avenue the library, the laundrette and The Right Plaice might be on their way to being replaced by something incomers would prefer.
The next bus is bunched up so close to the previous service that it has barely half a dozen on board, and so my 360 degree panorama is restored. Progress through Roehampton is horrifically slow, thanks to a set of temporary traffic lights installed courtesy of TfL's Road Modernisation Plan. An ambulance is parked up at a bus stop near Queen Mary's Hospital, alongside a 493 going nowhere in the opposite direction. On closer look I spy a stretcher on the pavement, and paramedics aboard the bus escorting a passenger to the door, on a journey that unexpectedly stalled, and hopefully turned out OK. Coming up next is Rosslyn Park RFC, one of the many rugby clubs that have relocated to southwest London over the years, its pitch busy with action but surrounded by sheds.
Ahead lies Barnes Common, where we turn left onto the Upper Richmond Road, which we'll be following all the way. Other than the bridge over the Beverley Brook, this is wholly unfamiliar territory, and I'm grateful to the 493 for bringing me somewhere unexpectedly new. Specifically that's East Sheen, a well-to-do Victorian neighbourhood, one step back from Mortlake and the river. Sheen is the original name for Richmond, and slips easily into various shop names including Sheen Sports, Sheen Tyres, The Sheen Cobbler and (my personal favourite) Sheen Beauty. We have a new passenger, a retired gentleman reading the FT, who has one of the loudest most theatrical coughs I've ever endured. I'm hoping his behaviour is merely an affectation, until he whips out a paisley hanky and fills it, before returning to the business news and coughing on.
Here's an oddity, a bus stop labelled with the terminus point for the route a full ten stops before we actually get there. North Sheen station is barely 200m up a sideroad, whereas we'll be nearly quarter of an hour in getting there via the jammed centre of Richmond. Regular passengers know to get off the bus on Sheen Road and walk to the shops from there, whereas those who stay on get to tour the one-way system, much longer in this direction than the other. This brings us to Richmond Bus Station, more an afterthought than a facility, where umpteen services flood in to a single bus stop before queueing to rejoin the melee on the main circuit.
The Museum of Richmond: It suddenly strikes me that I've never visited this borough museum, which is remiss, although perhaps understandable. It's hidden two floors up in the Old Town Hall, accessed via a door down a passageway by the toilets, hence it's a pleasant surprise to discover a lengthy gallery round the final corner. Richmond, it's soon clear, has a vast amount of proper history as opposed to, say, the nothing much of Barking and Dagenham. Richard II lived in a manor by the river, before Henry VII built a magnificent royal palace and named it Richmond after his ancestral Yorkshire castle. He died here in 1509, as did Elizabeth I a century later, before Cromwell's men demolished almost everything, indeed a lot of what's catalogued in the museum has been swept away. The borough also has claims to fame in the worlds of theatre and petrochemicals - rayon was first synthesised in Kew - while North Sheen was the site of London's first council housing, way back when this was properly Surrey. The displays have a dated feel, but the information shines through, and even the latest WW2 exhibition manages to personalise the topic above the parochial. Closed Sundays and Mondays.
And finally, time to head back east on the 493 to North Sheen. My final vehicle is mostly empty but evidently recently packed, hence the curse of the steamed up windows has returned. That's OK, I've seen Richmond's high street before, on the slow chug up to the station and beyond. There are almost as many buses as cars, a status which only gradually declines along the dual carriageway from Richmond Circus. Our final destination is Manor Circus, another roundabout, or more precisely the huge Sainsburys to the other side, or more precisely still a bleak bus stand nearer to Homebase. Silhouettes of aeroplanes roar overhead, this spot lies precisely on the approach to Heathrow's southern runway. And sheesh that was an epic journey, quite possibly the most I've ever written about a bus route - only a handful of London buses travel further.