Route 209: Mortlake to Hammersmith London's 8th shortest bus route Length of journey: 2.70 miles (15 minutes)
I hadn't realised Mortlake had a bus station, if you can use that term to describe a turnround loop surrounding a brick hut beside the railway line serving just one route. All the facilities are for drivers only, with one door marked Mess Room and two others marked Private (F) and Private (M). Gents intending to avail themselves of the latter are urged to Pull The Door Closed because the Door Closer Is Broken. That such operational luxuries exist is because this used to be the terminus of route 9, a much more significant service, until a weight restriction on Hammersmith Bridge curtailed that and single deckers were used to covered the severed bit. Fast forward to 2019 and the minor 209 now runs more frequently than the route it replaced.
Residents of Avondale Road must be used to waiting for buses to pass them while they're trying to park. At the end of the road is Dovecote Gardens, a dove-free patch of grass which leads down to the Thames, ideal for watching the closing stages of the Boat Race. Here we turn right to enter the un-high-streety end of Mortlake High Street, and in two shakes we're in Barnes, which kicks off with a Rick Stein restaurant. For a few hundred glorious yards we follow the riverside, either side of Barnes Bridge, where a blue plaque amid a row of bijou cottages marks the residence of Gustav Holst in his pre-Planets days. Eights and fours scull on the water. None of the bus's regulars bat an eyelid.
Barnes High Street manages to be quaint and upmarket without being crass. I spot a fishmonger and two jewellers and a children's clothes boutique and a Real Cheese shop, and note that the Barnes Farmers Market is in full swing. Nowhere anywhere near where I live is anything like this. Barnes Green is a wing-shaped expanse with a large pond at its centre and an island in the centre of that, plus more than one place to eat pastries round the perimeter. There are further shops beyond St Mary's Church, including one that sells actual records, and by this point I'm praying for some interesting passengers to board so that I can write about something other than retail.
Here they are, by the turn for the Wetland Centre - a pair of young children in woolly hats off on a jolly day trip with their mother. Richie refuses to sit on her lap and settles on a separate seat, rifling through his multicoloured rucksack for an I-SPY book. Florrie demands chocolate, and gets some once she's remembered the magic word is please. This prompts Richie to demand some too, which prompts Florrie to ask for more, and both are successfully fed. This pantomime sustains me as we pass between the grand villas of Castelnau, the bus now comfortably full. Clattering over the iron span of Hammersmith Bridge, between green-painted struts, I note that the view upstream is definitely better than the view down.
Touching down in North London I spot an electric vehicle charging point that's actually being used, and a moped driver doing the knowledge with a highlighted list of destinations on her clipboard. Most of those aboard pour off at the penultimate stop beyond the flyover, which is most convenient for the shops, while a few of us ignore the exodus and stay aboard for the final spiral into the heart of the gyratory. This is what a proper bus station ought to look like, with parallel stands, stripy walkways and clocks on poles that don't work. "Can you find Bus Stop F?" mother asks of Richie, and the trio stride off into the shopping centre, perhaps wishing route 9 still went all the way.