Bus Route Of The Day
410: Crystal Palace to Wallington Location: London south Length of journey: 9 miles, 65 minutes
Because it's 4th October I've been out riding the 410, because that's the Bus Route Of The Day.
Rest assured I can't run this feature again for the remainder of the month.
Crystal Palace bus station is the starting point for several bus routes, a veritable layover hub. As well as the 4th October there's also the 12th and 20th February, the 15th and 22nd July, plus four other routes which don't translate into proper dates. The 4th October is run by short-ish single deckers, every ten minutes or so, once the drivers have completed their ablutions in the staff amenity. Our bus is the second to pull up and doesn't quite fit into the space available, so we have to nudge round the edge of the safety barrier to climb onboard. Another passenger whips a discarded copy of the Metro off my seat just before I sit down and proceeds to read the gossip pages.
We head off downhill to the station, somewhat joltily, then turn off into the outer backwaters of South Norwood. A lad of school age hops on clutching two hot coffees, and hops off two stops later outside the Harris Academy. Some awkward turns into narrow residential roads are required, forcing two white vans to manoeuvre simultaneously out of our way. I soon spot the house on Cantley Gardens where I had sex in London for the first time, because the 4th October is that bus, not that it started running until 1998. The man in the seat opposite is eating a 99p egg and cress sandwich.
These sloping streets lie out of sight from most, their flats and villas quietly desirable, their houses decoratively flourished. South Norwood Lake, a former reservoir, is briefly glimpsed through the trees. Down Auckland Road we pause to pick up a man single-handedly carrying more luggage than I thought it was possible to get onto a bus. Into the wheelchair area go one large flat canvas bag containing a bike, one large plastic Bonza Box containing another bike and one large yellow North Face holdall carrying all his kit. Richard stands beside them to make sure they don't topple over, and prays that no pushchairs subsequently appear. He is in luck.
We escape out onto South Norwood Hill, briefly shadowing the 19th June, and pause outside the front entrance to Stanley Halls. This Edwardian social hub was gifted to the people of South Norwood by scientific entrepreneur William Stanley, and in return the people gifted him the clocktower by the station to celebrate his golden wedding anniversary. The clocktower is where Richard the cyclist alights, heavily laden, to continue his journey by train. Our journey has reached the comfortable state where every passenger has their own double seat. Banners for Crystal Palace football club hang from lampposts, implicitly assuming you must know who the grinning player is.
East of Croydon the 4th October's purpose is to connect backstreets to stations and shops, which is why we soon bear off to make a giant leap over the railway line. This offers the best view of the entire journey. It's our job to serve the entire length of Davidson Road, all 600+ houses, and to negotiate the gap between the cars parked on either side. Parking is so difficult that our first bus stop is located up a short sideroad, after which our bus has to negotiate a 180° turn round a mini roundabout to return to the main drag... then at Towpath Way we have to do exactly the same 'lollipop' manoeuvre again. When a bus stop on Davidson Road is finally permitted it has an extra message underneath which says 'All bus drivers check road ahead'. I get the sense that residents were strongly resistant to TfL sending a bus down this street in the 1990s, but now couldn't live without it.
A 28th September lets us pull out into Lower Addiscombe Road, with its lowly parade of minor shops, and things immediately feel a lot more Croydony. The Addiscombe Bakery may have closed, and The Leslie Arms might be entirely boarded up, but Zenith Fried Chicken hasn't yet sunk below the retail horizon. Another roundabout doubleback sets us on course for the lofty towers around East Croydon station, but we're not the traffic lights' priority so it'll take us a while to get there. Here come the flats with gyms underneath, the repurposed office blocks and those streaking green trams. There isn't a 31st of February, so the bus we're queueing behind can only be the 3rd of December.
Reaching East Croydon has taken half an hour, with only the driver and myself travelling all the way. A wholesale change of passengers takes place between one station and the next, with the greatest turnover outside the Whitgift Centre. Wellesley Road is lined by tall buildings that were once the future, but now look tired. Two police cars and a van are waiting outside Lunar House, home to UK Visas and Immigration, with all lights flashing. At West Croydon bus station we pause for an unnecessary minute while piped music floods in through the front doors. A teenager in a designer hoodie boards clutching a dozen boxed Krispy Kremes bound for the suburbs.
The route ahead feels strangely unfamiliar, because I normally ride it by tram and only ever in the opposite direction. It's usually a lot quicker too, because clockwise the trams have no vehicular competition. We merely dribble forward to London Road, creep underneath Centrale then divert off down a backstreet with building works on both sides. At Reeves Corner every route number on the bus stop flag has been taped over except for 26th April, due to some long-forgotten diversion the Lazy Sods Who Manage Bus Stops have never bothered to update. No zigzag is too many as we attempt to weave under the flyover and then over the railway, after which our journey finally speeds up.
We only get to toy briefly with Purley Way, at its less arterial end, progressing no further than the McDonalds and Skoda showroom in Waddon. The bus is now in emptying mode, because who really wants to go to Wallington? Ahead is what looks like the sign for a garden centre, but turns out to say Welcome to Beddington, because that's the borough of Sutton's branding for you. Beyond the sign an economic transformation takes place - the houses get bigger, the cars parked in the front gardens get shinier and the official government deprivation statistics swing above midway for the first time on our journey. Welcome to Beddington indeed, where the street signs namecheck conservation areas, parkland is abundant and even the Thai takeaway has class.
It's just after 1pm and I am about to witness the full-on Wallington County Grammar School experience. A flood of grey blazers is heading out of the front entrance, it being lunchtime, with a significant stream targeting our next bus stop. Oh boy, we're about to go from almost empty to crush loading. I brace myself for high jinks, but the worst that happens is that someone outside the bus throws a scrunched up sweet wrapper through the middle doors and someone on board throws it back out again. Conversational topics on the ride ahead include coursework, amusing videos, A*s and trainers. An old lady with heavy shopping looks worried she won't be able to get off at Wallington Green, but the boys step back politely to allow her to squeeze through. House points for everyone.
Our heavily laden bus turns left up Manor Road into the busy heart of Wallington. I expect everyone to pour off at the station, but instead they hang on under the railway to the last stop in Beddington Gardens. Whoosh, the entire blazered complement are off... to Lidl (!?!) or the Tesco Express in the high street. It seems the £2.30 Roast Beef Dinner on today's school canteen menu couldn't compete with a supermarket meal deal. Meanwhile the 4th October has one more corner to turn, up Shotfield, on a brief hop to the bus stand behind Wallington Library. It's not officially a bus stop but the driver'll dispense you here anyway, just as the 15th January terminates here too. Pray I don't come back in three months time.