diamond geezer

 Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Route H13: Northwood Hills to Ruislip Lido
Location: London northwest, outer
Length of journey: 8 miles, 40 minutes

Some bus routes head straight for their destination, while others go all round the houses. A handful of 'circular' routes deliberately return to where they started. But no London bus route is quite so almost-circular as the H13, taking a wilfully all-round-the-houses route to almost back where it started. Indeed it's possible to walk from one end of the route (above Northwood Hills) to the other end (alongside Ruislip Lido) in half the time it takes the bus. To prove the point, I cloned myself and made both journeys simultaneously.

St Vincent's Hospital perches on Haste Hill, one of the Northwood Hills, at the top of a dead end climb. The view from the top field is extensive, with Harrow's church on show in gaps between the rooftops. What's odd is seeing a bus up here to serve a nursing home and a few hillside flats, but the avenues below merit a regular service, and the driver has to turn around and park up somewhere. He's chatting on his phone when I arrive, so I sit in the shelter until the timetable ticks round, beneath a poster warning me that New Year's Eve Fireworks tickets have sold out.

0 minutes (bus)
And we're off, impressively with one other passenger on board, the devil peering out of a rosebush beneath his shirtsleeves. We zip down the lane into Norwich Road, where a learner driver on possibly their very first lesson meets us on the wrong side of a parked car. We are their living nightmare - large, important, and going nowhere until they've been taught how reverse gear works. A queue of traffic builds up behind us until eventually an appropriate manoeuvre is performed and the road is unlocked. At the bottom of the road had we turned right we could have got fifteen minutes ahead of ourselves but no, we turn left towards central Northwood Hills (and its gorgeous 65 metre-long silk screen mural).
   0 minutes (walk)
Walk past the nursing home into the trees, through an awkward narrow gate, and a whole different route opens up. This is Park Wood, one of the ancient Ruislip Woods, which tumbles down for quarter of a mile towards the shores of a lake. I take the right-hand fork, disregarding the child sobbing about her scooter at the top, and follow the rutted track downhill. It's muddy in places. OK, it's very muddy in places, and I'm glad to have had the foresight to wear boots instead of anything fashionably pristine. At one point I strike a fresh path through the groundcover to avoid hoof-churned squelch, but most of the time I either step carefully or stride ahead brazenly and hope for the best.
5 minutes (bus)
We are the only bus to serve the avenues north of Pinner Road, where traffic is perennially light. Our driver takes advantage by repeatedly nudging the accelerator, at speeds I might describe as not necessarily faster than the speed limit but zippier than your average bus. Private streets head sharply uphill, while our low road undulates somewhat, crossing the boundary between Hillingdon and Harrow. We pass Pinner Wood School, which closed last March when chalk mine tunnels were discovered underneath, and reopened this January after the voids had been filled with 5000 tons of silt. It still looks like a building site. Elton John is its most famous pupil, and we pass his childhood home shortly afterwards.
  5 minutes (walk)
The mud is worse at the foot of the hill - I guess more horses clop this way. I spot two magpies and a very lost golf ball, and hear a woodpecker somewhere in the trees. The tip of Ruislip Lido lies immediately ahead, but can't be reached at this point because the Ruislip Lido Railway blocks access. The only level crossing is further round to the right, so I tiptoe that way, just above the sign marking Neptune in the local solar system. If anything the segregated footpath beside the bridleway proves muddier still. The platform of Haste Hill station is visible through the fence, with three benches and a tub of blooming flowers, but trains no longer serve this former request stop so it's all for show.
10 minutes (bus)
I love the copper-roofed courts along Elm Park Road, appropriately in Pinner Green. Six passengers board here - two in shorts going all the way and another several times their age wrapped in a thick coat, scarf and woolly hat. We shoot down to Pinner proper, one of the loveliest Metroland outposts by dint of having existed before the railways came. Outside the station a bundle of passengers charge for the double decker behind us, while we gain a student with a guitar on her back and a pushchair containing a toddler in glittery pink wellies. The bus is still proceeding on the nippy side, with an ageing rattle, but despite its speed is sticking relentlessly to timetable.
  10 minutes (walk)
A sign stuck by the side of the level crossing alerts daytrippers to the times of passing trains, not for health and safety reasons but in case they fancy waving or taking photos. I've accidentally timed my passage perfectly, so get to do both, eliciting awkward grins from some of the smaller passengers on board. The central wagon is chock full of pushchairs and strollers, confirming target audience. At last I can cross to the lakeside path, although along the next section the water is entirely screened by trees. The remainder of the walk is thankfully on tarmac, ideal for the procession of families, dogs and joggers performing their single circuits.
15 minutes (bus)
We've reached the farthest easterly point on the H13's journey, now bearing onto the Eastcote Road. The houses are a fraction more modern here, and less Metroland-y, but are putting on a fine front garden display of magnolia, daffodils and blossom. The bus still has more people getting on than getting off, as we cross the River Pinn twice and the boundary back into Hillingdon once. We're now approaching Eastcote Village, where the church and village hall reside, this having been the more important location until the station tugged the centre of gravity south. It's also the site of our first holdup, the two mini roundabouts below Eastcote House Gardens jamming the weekend traffic for a minute or two.
  15 minutes (walk)
Out of the woods and immediately alongside the car park, the terminus of the Ruislip Lido railway comes into view. That's Willow Lawn, although venturing onto that lawn today would be ill-advised as its waterlogged grass is ill-suited to picnicking activity. The crowds are much thicker now, thanks to the allure of The Waters Edge carvery and in particular its alcoholic refreshment options. Mild flooding means the water's edge now encroaches through the fence, lapping two of the picnic tables. Several sprawling tattoos which lads and dads endured over the winter are now on full display in the spring sunshine. The bus stand for route H13 is just the other side of the restaurant, so best sit and wait.

20 minutes (bus)
It takes a while to escape the roundabout, and then we follow the High Road beside the river. I'm saddened to see that Felicity Hat Hire at the end of the parade has closed, and the shop has become an opticians, which itself has folded and is up for let. At least the tennis club is still going. After 20 minutes we're finally back level with the edge of Park Wood, which you may remember is where we started, and I could also have walked to here and beaten the bus. Instead we press on through the shrubby suburbs, past signs to swimming pools and sports clubs, as more of our seats slowly fill.
  20 minutes (walk)
I might go and feed the geese while I'm waiting.
25 minutes (bus)
Windmill Hill no longer boasts a windmill, but remains a certified hill. I was expecting an exodus at Ruislip Manor tube, but only one passenger succumbs. Instead eight get on, including a group of bantzing girlfriends tugging suitcases, each clutching the remains of a fizzy drink. One girl's cup looks like a jamjar wasp trap with a straw through its lid, while another uploads a video of her red plastic cup to Instagram because that way lies social success. Almost every seat is now taken, plus several standing, with Ruislip proper surely the intended destination.
  25 minutes (walk)
Let's queue at Mr Whippy behind the geezer with the staffie.
30 minutes (bus)
I'm more than surprised at Ruislip station when only four people disembark but 18 others pour in. Yes there is room for another pushchair, but only if the girls move their suitcases out of the way and block the door instead. A grandson forced by his Nan to sit next to me keeps asking her how many stops it is to the lido, then spots he can wave at himself on the CCTV video screen and this keeps him occupied for the remainder of the journey. A parking attendant hops on near the Cafe Rouge, resplendent in an unnecessarily green uniform. Saturday afternoon shopping may be in full effect, but forget that, we're all going a few stops further.
  30 minutes (walk)
What a lovely afternoon for lounging by the lakeside.
35 minutes (bus)
Most of the week the H13 rumbles up to Ruislip Lido unbothered by clientele, but this is spring's first decent weekend afternoon, so everyone's going. A temporary electronic sign by the roadside announces Car Park Full to the mugs foolish enough to have come in their own vehicle. We pass a steakhouse, the fire station and the entrance to a crematorium, a perhaps unfortunate juxtaposition. Eventually we reach Reservoir Road, where the driver swings round the turning circle and pulls in behind the carvery, only three minutes late. I've rarely seen such an exodus at the last stop on a bus route, but such is the sunny allure of Ruislip's finest beach/beer/burger combination.
  35 minutes (walk)
There was probably time to have ordered some nachos.
40 minutes (bus)
I wonder if my cloned self has walked here yet?
  40 minutes (walk)
I could have walked all the way back in that time.

Route H13: route map
Route H13: live route map
Route H13: route history
Route H13: timetable
Route H13: The Ladies Who Bus

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