Fear not, this isn't another post about buses. What I am doing is using bus stops as a sampling device to take a snapshot of a neighbourhood at regular intervals along a defined cross section. Observe, walk to next bus stop, repeat. In this case the route I'm following is the 251, which crosses the N20 postcode district from east to west and stops 20 times along the way. Admittedly only 18 of those stops are strictly within N20, but by adding one at either end I hope I've hit my target. Let's explore Whetstone... and Totteridge.
Beaconsfield Road: My four mile walk begins on a bridge above the East Coast mainline between New Southgate and Oakleigh Park. Technically this is N11, but if you walk briefly across Beaconsfield Road you enter N20 so that'll do me. It's more interesting to look down over the wall and watch the trains go by.
Bawtry Road: To reach bus stop two requires walking from number 456 Oakleigh Road North to number 356, past all sorts of interesting features I can't write about because they're not at the official sampling point. Instead my arrival interrupts a passenger chomping on a surreptitious Subway sub, who quickly stuffs the remainder into his mouth and screws up the bag. A bright yellow billboard on the side of a nearby house invites passers-by to ring Keith if they want to advertise here. Outside The York Arms the Quality Seafood trailer is open for the sale of prawns, mussels and whelks. For reference, a pint of cockles is fractionally more expensive than a pint of beer.
Raleigh Drive: If the neighbouring Tesco Express looks very much like a pub, that's because it spent several decades as The Rising Sun. Earlier this century it became the Sapphire Lounge Indian restaurant, and now it sells three Creme Eggs for £1.20. It appears to be busier than the entire row of shops opposite, one of which is a barbers with the questionable name of Grooming Point. Another business displays kitchen roll, bubblegum, charcoal, compost and footballs outside, and not much else. A passing jogger has worn a pink tracksuit to match her hair.
Pollard Road: A family of seven are waiting in, and around, the bus shelter. They span four generations and all bar grandad are female ("sit dahn grandad, sit dahn!). Two of the girls are playing 'It' with seeming disregard for the edge of the pavement ("Bonnie, be careful! Bonnie! Bonnie!"). Bonnie caterwauls in protest, but Mum knows what to threaten her with ("If you dahn't shut up we're gonna leave you at the traihn station for the traihn man!). Bonnie mutes her protest and merely sulks, then thankfully the bus arrives to sweep them all away.
Myddleton Park: Across the road is a secondary school with an unusual facility - its very own convent. Less Catholic tastes are catered for by All Saints' Friern Barnet, the listed Gothic church with the flinty spire. My favourite exterior feature is the centenary plaque above the front door, which because the centenary fell in 1982 uses a typeface I last saw around the same time in the credits to Tomorrow's World.
Oakleigh Park North: The adjacent properties, which were once worth much less than half a million, are fenced off awaiting transformation into houses worth much more. The remainder of Oakleigh Grove ("a range of contemporary homes located in the leafy London area of Whetstone") is approaching from the rear. The spire of Christ Church Whetstone resembles a naked wigwam.
Whetstone/The Griffin: This is the busy one, the stop closest to the heart of Whetstone. The Griffin inn is just round the corner on the High Road, with "Fabulous Huge Garden At Rear" and some impressive hanging baskets out front. Opposite is Sushi Mania, because there's a limit to how many pubs a high street can support these days. At number 1255, utterly out of scale and entirely out of place, is a monolithic eleven-storey concrete office block called Barnet House, which the council wanted to sell off as teensy flats but the Mayor stopped them. The only business popular hereabouts at one thirty in the morning, I know from recent experience, is the Maya Lounge.
Totteridge and Whetstone Station: We're outside the penultimate station on the Northern line, which occasionally disgorges residents grateful for a decent capital connection. Nextdoor is the base for Geeks On Wheels, who'll come out and solve your technology problem to save you dropping in. Station Parade includes Statons estate agents, a successful bunch because they service most of the sales on the road ahead. Inside the bus shelter a student removes his anorak to tug a jumper over his head, and in the process knocks over his tiny espresso which escapes down the hill in a chocolate trickle.
Longland Drive: By crossing over the Dollis Brook we have passed from Whetstone to Totteridge. And Totteridge is amazing, a genuine village inhabited by seriously rich folk stretched out along two miles of ridgetop country lane. Already the houses are getting big. The litter bin beside the bus stop has been provided by the local residents association, the TMA. On top is a damp pink hairband. Someone has scrawled Turn Off TV And Tech on the timetable panel, with the additional instruction Get The New Testament as well as a list of YouTube videos about aliens.
Links Drive: Now the houses are getting really big. Totteridge Manor has put out several plastic bins and left a sprig of silver-sprayed pine cones on the lid of their recycling. Across the road is the entrance to South Herts Golf Club, because even though this hasn't been Hertfordshire since 1965 it was in 1900 when Walter G Greenwood signed the lease. Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and Nick Faldo have all played a round.
Totteridge Green: Every village needs its green, and Totteridge's is extensive. A wedge of grass stretches off towards one of several ponds, and a brown sign depicting bowled stumps points towards the cricket club. Another family of seven, in sharp contrast to the Pollard Road crew, are setting off across the green for a ramble in smart matching wellies. This time when two of the children dawdle behind to create mischief, the parents have enough trust to leave them to it.
Orange Tree: The Orange Tree pub is Totteridge's sole commercial establishment. Residents can't buy a pint of milk or packet of pasta anywhere in the village, but they can buy cask conditioned ales and sit down for British classics and Mediterranean inspired dishes. It's a lot more welcoming than the affluence of the neighbourhood might suggest. Out front is a splendid pond lined with bullrushes. Somebody nearby is having either a barbecue or a bonfire - in January I suspect the latter. The bench beside the bus stop is in memory of Alfred Stanley Eden (1875-1940).
Totteridge War Memorial: If there is a heart of the village, this triangular traffic island overlooked by a handful of extra-large houses is probably it. Last year's poppy wreaths are still in place around the foot of the memorial. A wooden fingerpost points in turn towards Mill Hill, Barnet and Whetstone. It is an offence to bathe in a pond, deposit gravel or erect a railway according the byelaws on the back of the Manor of Totteridge sign. St Andrew's Church is reassuringly ancient, has a delightful interior and is reputed to have the oldest tree in London in its churchyard. Its congregation enjoy weekly orders of service printed in full colour, available in either normal size or large print, and I suspect this says much about the generosity of its parishioners.
Grange Avenue: A cluster of weatherboarded and brick cottages confirms that not every house in Totteridge is huge. One of their residents emerges chewing gum, carrying a non-designer bag and waits for the bus. The village sign proudly displays the county arms of Hertfordshire. The bench opposite is dedicated to a local historian and archivist. Here beginneth Totteridge Common, a very long thin strip of roadside green blessed with hearty oaks and attractive ponds.
Horseshoe Lane: The largest house in Totteridge, indeed the largest built in London since the war, is the Neo-classical mega-mansion they call Montebello. Its multi-pillared frontage is only partly shielded from the road by leylandii so that passers-by retain the ability to be jealous. It boasts a Christmas wreath the full width of its front door, and is precisely the sort of pile you'd expect retail magnate Mike Ashley to live in. The previous owner was music impresario Mickie Most - neighbours Cliff Richard and Des O'Connor had to make do with somewhere less phenomenal.
Ellern Mede: That's the name of the former farm on the south side of the road, whose farmhouse includes a particularly Teutonic conical turret. Denham's Farm on the north side is still going strong, but specialises solely in horsey business rather than cultivation. Only now does the line of housing break sufficiently to allow sight of the impressive views those who live in Totteridge enjoy, the land dropping down to unspoilt valleys on either side of the ridgetop. For the best rambles hereabouts don't walk the way I've come, follow one of the perpendicular descending footpaths and rejoice in the protective nature of the Green Belt.
St Edwards College: The college, which was a training establishment for missionaries, has been demolished and replaced by housing. The postbox in the wall gets a collection after 4pm, which might be a lot later than your nearest slot. A muddy couple emerge up the track from the Folly Brook and wait while their dog gives itself a shake. Now it's Twelfth Night the holly berries on the verge should be relatively safe from secateurs.
West End House: Totteridge really does go on a bit but here's its last hurrah, a final cluster of large characterful homes. Oak View Cottage is a ridiculous name for a Totteridge house, because it would be nigh impossible for anyone in the village to look out of a window and not see an oak tree. West End House itself has just enjoyed a total refurb, very much at the expense of the surrounding garden which is a bulldozed desert.
Hendon Wood Lane: Eventually the Totteridge ridge ends, the land drops down, the houses stop and the postcode district terminates. The very last stop in N20, eastbound only, serves a wooded lane by some traffic lights and I suspect is hardly ever used. Alight here for Totteridge Fields, a London Wildlife Trust reserve of rare clay grassland. London Loop section 16 passes along the far side, so you may have nearly been.
Mill Hill/The Rising Sun: This almost feels like urban life again, complete with pub and traffic lights, but we've now entered NW7 so I've mentioned this merely to get my bus stop total up to the requisite twenty. Totteridge N20, to be frank, is hard to beat.