Route 293: Morden - Epsom Hospital Length of journey: 8 miles, 40 minutes [map]
Meanwhile, let's not forget that old favourite feature, Random London Bus Route, which has churned out this belter via North Cheam. Route 293 dates back to 1970 when long-standing route 93 was split into overlapping sections, this being the southwestern slice. It's unusual in that half the route lies outside London, and while funding from Surrey County Council remains there are no plans for this to change. I made this journey last week before Please hold on, the bus is about to move was changed to Please hold on while the bus is moving, but for the record would like to point out that the former message played too late on 12 out of 22 occasions. In the text which follows, I shall mark each of these missteps with an [L].
Technically the 293 starts at Morden station, but in reality this means crossing the road and walking some way down the street. You can bide your time in the adjacent shops buying, or pawning, jewellery, or perhaps grabbing a takeaway from an outlet resembling a Wimpy, but for kebabs. The bus arrives empty from a stand outside the station, having U-turned around the necessary roundabout. It's a longer vehicle than I'm used to - not many London single deckers are the full 12 metres long - and has what look like cattle bars protecting either side of the exit doors. It's also reasonably busy, for a weekday lunchtime, so I'm hopeful I'll be able to stretch a narrative out of this.
We have two buggies aboard already, so the driver plays his "please stay with your buggy" message in case either of the mothers dare to sit down. Plonked on one toddler is a woolly hat with endearing dinosaur ears, and on the shelf under the other is a bulging pile of Sainsbury's basics. An older youngster has also boarded, with Mum, who leads her to the back seat, then rings her husband and discusses Ellie's eating habits in some depth. At the second stop I have the misfortune to be joined by an Australian man, phone in one hand and a tray emanating foul spicy aromas in the other. It's all going great [L].
We break off from the main road round the back of the Civic Centre to serve the estates up Hillcross Avenue. The 293 was diverted this way in 2003, leaving the 93 to pick up down London Road, if you were wondering. The local housing aesthetic is quarter-detached houses, i.e. what look like semis but bundled into fours. I spot a white van outside one with the almost-coveted numberplate KHH4N. [L] At the crest by the park there's a half-decent view across Lower Morden, before we descend down the hill to merge into it. Here the driver has to brake sharply to avoid an oncoming vehicle, although no warning message has played in advance of this unpredictable event which is clearly sub-optimal.
The bus stop at the roundabout is called The Beverley, despite the pub alongside having been renamed the Morden Brook, despite there being no such river. [L] Ahead lies more quintessential suburbia, as you'd expect to find anywhere with the gall to call a street Tudor Drive. Little cul-de-sacs nose off to one side, their paved-over gardens proving large enough for two family cars. We pass the gates of the Merton and Sutton Cemetery, so large it caters to two boroughs, then sweep unexpectedly into a light industrial zone. Here men in overalls collect fried lunch from a truck before returning to Tolworth Fencing and Gas Cylinders (Wimbledon) Ltd for the afternoon shift.
Our residential deviation finally complete, we turn right onto the main road, and will proceed to follow the A24 almost all the way to Epsom. Where we are now is North Cheam, a less endearing sibling of Cheam proper, with an intermittent parade of shops strung out along the arterial. I spot Cheam Express, Cheam Angling, Cheam Hardware and Cheam Arena, the latter previously deemed one of the UK's filthiest supermarkets. [L] A fresh buggy boards here, whose owner stands as requested by the automated message, then almost falls over at traffic lights while her daughter grins.
This is as far as route 93 now goes, so along the next stretch we'll be on our own. The homes are larger here, each dolled up with mock Tudor timbers, rolling off up Perrinesque sideroads like The Spinney. The corner of Nonsuch Park is where we depart London for the Home Counties, past two hierarchical signs of welcome. To one side a screen of trees shields the site of Henry VIII's grandest palace, long demolished, and to the other the houses have stepped up another notch. [L] Everyone who boards from here onwards is a Surrey resident going to Surrey on a London bus, paying a fraction of what a Surrey bus fare would cost, if only they weren't all on a pensioner pass for nothing. [L]
Ewell's nice, once we've crossed its bypass. [L] We pass its old church and pull up opposite the spring at the source of its river... where our driver scrapes the kerb, hoping desperately that nobody has noticed. [L] The high street is quaintly narrow, and mostly intact, although the pub on the corner - The Star - was boarded up six years ago and awaits rebirth as a restaurant and five flats. The onward road towards Epsom retains character too, the houses less rigidly spaced, and is plied by as many as four London bus routes. [L] [L] [L] Eventually it evolves into a more commercial drag, home to such grim boxes as Premium Credit House, then ducks under the railway, and we're nearly there. [L]
Epsom town centre is where almost all the remaining passengers wanted to go. They nip off with hemp bags flapping, seeking out the shopping centre or the market beneath the clocktower. Those of us hanging on to the bitter end get to see the rear of House of Fraser, and the back of Waitrose, on the extra half mile to the hospital. London bus routes like going to hospitals, which is the only reason we've come this far, pulling up outside the unimpressive facade of Epsom General. The other bus to terminate here is the hourly 166 from Croydon, which is pencilled in for abolition, but the 470 will apparently be nudged here instead so all is not lost for the sick and unwell of Sutton. I walk back into the town centre, rather than queue at roadworks, delighted to have been able to get out this far on one Oyster swipe.