diamond geezer

 Friday, December 02, 2005

Prime Movers
Route 3: Crystal Palace - Oxford Circus
Location: London south, inner
Length of journey: 9 miles, 65 minutes

There's nowhere in London quite like Penge Crystal Palace [links: ]. For a start you don't need a TV aerial on your roof because the biggest transmitter tower in the capital looms down over the area, visible from far away across the Thames basin [links: ]. Then there's the site of the magnificent Crystal Palace itself, a glass exhibition pavilion moved here from Hyde Park 150 years ago but burnt to the ground in 1936 [links: ]. Let's not forget the slightly downtrodden National Sports Centre, home to UK Athletics meetings until the new Olympic Stadium snaffles all its custom [links: ]. Here was the unassuming pitch where the FA Cup Final was played every year from 1895 to 1914 [links: ]. And Crystal Palace was also the site of the world's first fatal road accident in 1896 when mother Bridget Driscoll was hit by a demonstration vehicle roaring down on her at 4mph [links: ]. I spent a fascinating hour wandering the 200 acre park, and even then I still didn't find the famous fibreglass dinosaurs [links: ]. It's a place that deserves more than a passing paragraph, so I'm sure I'll be back one day to report in more depth. [links: ]. But, for the time being, there was a bus to catch.

Crystal Palace bus station is less a transport hub and more a couple of sheds beside a car park. Route 3 heads north through the back streets of Gipsy Hill and West Dulwich. It's all very leafy and affluent around here, with a majority of paved-over front gardens hinting that local residents aren't the type to abandon their 4x4s to ride on public transport. The view from the 3's top deck is all florists, traditional toyshops and freshly creosoted fences. Nip beneath the railway bridge into Herne Hill and you're still the right side of upmarket (they don't have fish and chip shops, oh no, they have Olley's Fish Experience). And then there's (a rear view of) Brockwell Park Lido, which (presumably, because it's closed for the winter) still maintains its classic Thirties elegance (in spite of several aborted attempts to shut the place down). Charming. You'd never guess what was coming next.

Brixton's next. Slip down Brixton Hill, between the Fridge and the (astonishingly ostentatious) Budd Memorial, and the view is very different. Brixton High Street is choked with traffic, much of it red and double-deckered, and the pavements are choked with shoppers (and the odd campaigning activist). Tempting retail treats include the Reliance Arcade, the 'God Is Able Unisex Salon' and the street market down Electric Avenue (and then we'll take it higher). The 3 trundles northward towards Kennington Park Road, where there's a brief but perfectly framed view of the Gherkin at the end of the street, then skirts the Imperial War Museum and Lambeth Palace on the outer fringes of London's tourist hinterland.

Suddenly your £1.20 bus ticket beats any open-topped over-priced sightseeing bus. On Lambeth Bridge the view from the top deck across the Thames is world-beating (ooh, the winter sunshine beating down through the London Eye, and aah, the private riverside terraces behind the Palace of Westminster). Next comes a close up view of the Houses of Parliament (although, to be honest, even Big Ben doesn't attract the eye quite as much as Brian Haw's long-term Parliament Square protest). You then ride the full length of Whitehall, peering down Tony's private street and into various Government departments. Nelson's Column may be only a quarter the height of the Crystal Palace TV transmitter, but it has considerably greater stature. And finally, on the home stretch, there's an ever-so slow crawl round the elegant curve of Regent Street before pulling up a few yards short of Oxford Street, just round the corner from the legendary Golf Sale. Par for the course, if you took 3 to get here.

3 links
Route 3: anorak-level route information
Route 3: timetable

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