diamond geezer

 Monday, April 02, 2018

(the letter 'n' is intermittently missing in today's post)

Easter Avenue

Easter Avenue is a busy dual carriageway ferrying traffic towards Essex, otherwise known as the A12. It's one of the capital's longest roads, ten miles in total, the same length as Wester Avenue on the other side of town. It runs from the top of the Olympic Park to the Gallows Corner roundabout in Gidea Park. To celebrate the season I've been for an end-to-end journey, not entirely on foot because a) that's unhealthy b) you can't, but mostly by bus. A proper Easter treat.

Easter Avenue begins above the River Lea, where the Eastway and East Cross Route merge. This section was built in the late 1990s as the M11 Link road, not quite so massively controversial at this end as further along, and slots nicely between the London 2012 velodrome and the post-Olympic Hockey centre. No pedestrians are allowed, nor cycles, invalid carriages, animals or motorcycles under 50cc, the road being almost motorway standard for the next few miles. It swooshes over Temple Mills Lane then dips down round the back of B&Q, followable only by those in private vehicles and passengers on airport coaches.

From Leyton to Leytonstone Easter Avenue follows the Central line, deliberately squeezed in alongside the railway so that its construction would harm the fewest properties. Five hundred had to be demolished to allow this tarmac chasm through, which the local community were vocally unhappy about, but ultimately all their disruptive sitting up trees failed to stop the diggers, and the road carved through anyway. Dead end streets now cut off at brick walls, and intermittent footbridges span the gap.

The Green Man roundabout lives up to its colourful name up top, round the palm-edged rim, not that drivers below would know. A far greater deception comes at Wanstead, where a cut and cover tunnel ducks underneath the village green, or rather ripped it apart before turfing across the roof. There are clues - the strip of grass facing the shops has no trees, and a line of saplings marks the last edge where soil still runs deep. But strolling across the green, ignoring one ugly brick wall topped with razorwire, Wanstead's rural illusion is unexpectedly successful.

This is where I hop on the bus, specifically route 66, for taking an Easter Avenue trip. For the next half hour I'll have a prime view of relentless dual carriageway from the upper deck, to get my kicks on the highway that's the best. We start by dropping down onto the main road, skilfully overtaking the long queue of traffic which wants to turn left up the North Circular. The central reservation is broad, and could do with a visit from the litter clearance company whose advert is tied to the railings. The Redbridge roundabout is somewhat smarter, with a cloud of daffodils Wordsworth would have appreciated, although I doubt he'd have been quite so keen on the portaloo.

It's here that we switch to an arterial road constructed when the advance of the motor car required a bypass for Ilford and Romford, which unbelievably was in 1924. Back then most of this was fields, but suburbia inexorably encroached until ribbon development hugged most of the road. The first houses are substantial homes with decorated gables, and front gardens wide enough for three parking spaces. Gants Hill is next, a 7-way roundabout originally known as Arterial Circus, and berated by Ilford's journalists on opening day for its confusing orientation. Following the signs is easier today, but the traffic is immeasurably worse.

A mother and son have arrived on the top deck, visibly disappointed that the front seat is taken, and reluctantly sitting behind. The small boy likes being on the bus, and chants along every time the disembodied voice says 66 to Romford, but I am entirely blocking his view. "You want to sit here?" asks mum, in a way that suggests the answer should be yes, but it takes until the third time of asking for the small boy to swap seats. We plough on up the original Easter Avenue, past a cluster including B&Q, JD, McD and 2 BPs with an M&S, to Newbury Park. Its half-cylindrical bus station is a later addition, but a triumph all the same.

I'm intrigued by the yellow triangles stuck to the road signs as diversion markers, because when I look closer there are circles showing through underneath. Much later both symbols will appear separately, and it'll turn out triangles signify Chelmsford, whereas circles denote Southend. The A12 storms on past The Avenue - formerly a roadside pub, now a masala restaurant and used car showroom - and past the shops on Silverdale Parade - ornately dated 1933. Occasional gaps in the central reservation allow residents to dash carefully across one carriageway at a time, but a display of bouquets suggest not everybody makes it.

After Little Heath the houses get a little newer, and more diversely plain, including (on the brief dash through Barking and Dagenham) some morosely drab flats. The house numbers are up into four figures now, as a consequence of quite how far we've been going. Things perk up briefly at the Moby Dick crossroads, appropriately at Whalebone Lane, where the adjacent carvery must surely be known as the Moby Toby. More striking is the adventure golf course over the road, complete with sailing ship, gaping whale, and waterfall with frothing blue cataract the colour of a cistern rimblock.

Something odd happens Along Easter Avenue's next mile - there are no bus stops because there are no houses, indeed no buildings, as the A12 speeds across an unlikely farmscape. Here are actual fields, ploughed for spring, with only the occasional track, ditch or footpath leading off. It's by no means as attractive as you may be imagining. A road sign warns of Queues Likely, a prediction which soon turns out to be correct because the Romford junction is fast approaching. This is also where route 66 turns off, so I have to alight the bus outside Aldi, looking up to see a mother and her son rapidly manoeuvring into the front seat before it pulls away.

Chains of interwar houses now return with a vengeance, some of them even bungalows, interrupted by petrol stations offering fuel and refreshment to passing drivers. This stretch of the road is called Easter Avenue East, although it's much shorter and the house numbers barely nudge into the three hundreds. Beyond Rise Park even the local buses abandon the A12, so residents are forced to drive or walk (they drive, obviously). Some of the houses are copper tiled beauties on the periphery of Romford Garden Suburb, but the remainder grow increasingly scrappier until eventually they fade out altogether.

And the last mile is unattractively undeveloped, a single pavement plodding alongside perfunctory woodland shielding two downbeat golf courses from view. At one point a public footpath breaks off, sodden and unwelcoming, but that (and a litter-strewn layby) are the only points of interest. Easter Avenue finally terminates at the Gallows Corner Roundabout, once home to Havering's hangmen, now a KFC-enabled junction where local youth will sprayclean your car. Southend-bound traffic rises up onto a very-temporary-looking flyover, which has been here since 1969, and everyone else gets to queue at the lights. The A12 continues, but now called Colchester Road, and so my Easter pilgrimage is fially at a ed.

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