diamond geezer

 Wednesday, February 12, 2014

What I should have done next on my orbital bus tour of London is to ride the edge of Harrow. The H12 runs from Pinner to Stanmore pretty much along the edge of the capital, so taking it should have been a no-brainer. Two problems. To reach the H12 from Northwood would require a brief bus hop via H11, and I'm trying to save you from excess bloggage. More importantly, the H12 terminates at Stanmore station, two stops before the next bus I need to catch, and my journey doesn't allow me to walk. So instead I'm going to divert out toward Watford and then back in again, because that's the only peripheral way to get beyond Stanmore in two buses.

Today's bus is therefore another non-red non-Oyster service. It's the only single digit bus in London not to be run by TfL, sharing its route number with my local bus from Bow. This 8 runs from Mount Vernon Hospital to Abbots Langley via the centre of Watford, not that I need to go quite that far to catch my next bus back in. And it didn't always used to be the 8. Go back forty years and this was the 347A, a London Country service running all the way down to Uxbridge. Here's a 347A timetable from May 1975.

I'm assuming we do all have forty year-old bus timetables stashed away in our spare room? I know I do. This is an actual timetable that might have been posted under glass at a bus stop, almost two feet long, and double-sided with 'to Uxbridge' on one side and 'to Hemel' on the other. I've got another 347A timetable from February 1971, this with the original London Country logo at the bottom before the National Bus Company's double arrow subsumed it. I can't quite remember how I got hold of them. I think my Dad brought a stash home one day sourced via someone at work - blimey, actual bus timetables - and I was of course extremely excited. I do however remember being not quite so excited by the 347s, not when there were 319s, 385s and even 803s in the pile, buses that actually served our village. But hey, after all these years it's the 347/347A which turns out to be the more relevant sheet of paper.

A bus every half hour between Hemel Hempstead and Uxbridge? You wouldn't run that today! The entire journey took the length of a football match, plus stoppage time, because the bus took the back lanes rather than anything direct. The 347 and 347A ran an almost identical route except in Oxhey, where the more occasional 347A looped more lengthily via Carpenders Park station. In 1978 the lettered variant was renumbered 348, because that fitted on the blinds better. In 1995 the 348 was cut back from Uxbridge to Northwood, with London Buses introducing the new 331 to fill the gap. At the same time the poor old 347 was killed off. Then in 2000 Arriva buggered about with route numbers in Watford and beheaded the 348 to just 8. And that's the bus I'm about to catch in Green Lane, Northwood. I assume there are a few of you still reading.

 Route 8: Northwood - Bushey

 Length of journey: 5 miles, 30 minutes

While you're waiting for a late-running 8 in Northwood, there's plenty you could do. Buy pansies and Avo's from the fruit stall by the station. Nip into Taylor Made for a sandwich, or Shandy's for Pick'n'Mix. Meet Jean Page for flowers or Julie Holliday for hair. Gawp at the flapping glass in the bus shelter, burst open in the winter gales. Or watch everyone else at the stop boarding one of the more regular TfL services, like the H11 to Harrow or the 282 to Ealing. Not many of us are heading for Watford. But there is a wheelchair already on board, proving TfL don't have a monopoly on accessibility, plus a few other souls whose pallor strongly suggests they boarded at Mount Vernon. The driver charges me £3.20 for my ticket, but struggles when I offer £3.50 instead, then forces me to play mathematical swapping games with small coinage to meet my fare.

We are the only bus along the Watford Road. For two stops before the Hertfordshire border, the roundel-topped posts proclaim the passing of the 8, like this was Bow or something. There is no obvious changeover point amidst the big houses and woody gardens to greet Three Rivers, no "welcome" sign, just the sudden switch of bus stop design to provincial style. A high metal fence is the first sign of something nasty in the forest. This is Northwood Headquarters, Britain's premier military HQ, from which campaigns near and far are plotted. Growing up nearby in the 1970s I knew that this was Soviet target number one, hence my passive participation in any nuclear war would be mercifully brief. Its concrete buildings still have an air of menace even today, toned down slightly by two fluttering flags near the main entrance. We turn off just before, wiggling through the green and pleasant heart of Oxhey Woods to reach the council slopes of South Oxhey.

This postwar estate was built for London overspill, and the terraced semis repeat in blatantly municipal style. We're going the long way round the southern perimeter, past drives and avenues I've previously only seen in bus timetables. The verge along Prestwick Road has been sacrificed to chequered concrete as hardstanding for cars, or else is riven by muddy tyre-track trenches made deeper by the rain. We stop a lot, at one point inviting aboard a bloke on crutches, a bloke with a basket on wheels, and a woman who takes ages to pay. I spot a couple of institutional-sized pubs, the Grapevine and the Dick Whittington, the latter no doubt named to make South Oxhey's first residents feel at home. The main shopping centre's OK for small stuff, but a little bleaker than the planners intended, and the mini jungle animals in the centre of the main precinct don't necessarily help. Up the road is one of the Home Counties' cheaper golf courses, only £5 on Fridays, with a local market in mind.

And then suddenly we're into Oxhey Hall, with close-packed detached houses, paved gardens and folk out jogging. This whole mixed-bag area reminds me of where I grew up, which is perhaps not surprising given that I grew up about two miles away. Our driver spots a gap in the traffic and turns right into the borough of Watford, where our progress is suddenly stalled by a queue of vehicles. "Localised flooding - please drive with care" hints an electronic sign more used to warning of jams near the football. We creep ahead to the next set of lights, blocking them temporarily, then stop/start slowly along the edge of Oxhey Park. Across the grass (and an emerging line of daffs) is a surprisingly clear view of Retail Watford on the other side of the Colne valley. The river is some way below us, until we descend with no hint of urgency down the hill past St Matthew's Church. I could have got off at Bushey station, indeed it would have been much quicker to walk the next bit rather than wait to filter into traffic at the Bushey Arches roundabout. It's only when I alight by the river that I finally understand what's been causing the delay, and why my next bus might not be coming at all. 142>>

» route 8 - timetable
» route 8 - route map
» route 8 - route history
» map of my journey so far

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