To celebrate the middle of 2022 I'm travelling by bus along a significantly-numbered road in the outer London suburbs. Yesterday I followed the A2022 from West Wickham to Purley and today I'm continuing west through Banstead to Epsom. Three bus journeys remain, on two different routes, plus a couple of miles of walking to fill in the gaps.
The centre of Purley is a swirling vortex of major roads, being where the A22 to Eastbourne breaks off from the A23 to Brighton. The A2022 is numerically outgunned as it passes the clocktower but reasserts itself beyond the library, where mercifully things get quieter. The westbound bus stop is busy, mostly with passengers heading north but that's gyratories for you. Behind the shelter is a demolition site where six houses are about to be reborn as 67 flats, and across the road the Baptist Church has worked out it'd be betteroff sharing its footprint with "a slender and elegant 17 storey landmark tower", because not even outer London's skyline is safe. Best catch the next bus.
127 - Purley → Woodcote(1 mile, 5 minutes)
First aboard the bus when it arrives is a short grizzled woman dressed in unflattering apricot leisurewear. She pushes her trolley past the driver, then taps her Oyster on the pad and it fails to flash green. She tries again and then again with the confidence of someone who's sure it ought to work, or alternatively is putting on a show for the benefit of those watching. "I had £5.50 on it this morning," she says, "this morning, definitely £5.50". The driver suggests trying a different card so she flaps her way through the pouches of her capacious but seemingly empty purse and the rest of us stand on the pavement impatiently watching the show. "Just let her on!" urges an elderly member of the audience, aware that nobody's getting past that trolley until she moves, and eventually the driver relents and beckons her through. I can't work out if I've just watched a generous act of charity or a sly well-practised con, or potentially both.
Foxley Lane is yet another road lined by Nice Outer Suburban Housing, indeed one notch nicer than the NOSH we've passed so far. Frontages are broader, hedges higher, front gates a little more secure and points of interest fewer and further between. There is one house with a phenomenal number of bins, but I'm only mentioning that to pad out the reportage. At the second stop a woman is so engrossed in her phone that she fails to spot the bus until it's too late, but the driver stops anyway because we've already established he's generous like that. Nobody else is waiting, anywhere, because Woodcote's residents tend to drive rather than stooping to catch the bus. And at Smitham Bottom Lane the 127 turns right so I'll have to continue along the next mile of the A2022 on foot.
As if by magic I enter what would be a quiet country lane were it not a key road connection. Little Woodcote Lane starts with a row of NOSH, the first of which are in Croydon and the last half dozen in Sutton. The pavement then gives way to a pleasant footpath weaving behind a row of trees, where for some reason a couple of concrete ex-lampposts are decaying in the undergrowth. Little Woodcote is a highly unfocused highly atypical village, built as smallholdings for soldiers returning after WW1, and now a warren of upgraded cottages and nurseries up deliberately unwelcoming private tracks. I braved the hinterland and blogged about it once, so this time am pleased to be sticking to the main road. I pass only a few properties up close, one with several polytunnels out back, and another with a big Union Jack by the gate, a sign urging Tree Surgeons not to visit, a corrugated iron shed and a bonfire on the go.
After twenty minutes of tainted rural idyll I reach a crossroads which enthuses copywriters at every London media portal annually. This is the entrance to Mayfield Lavender Farm, which at height of summer offers row upon row of shimmering purple as the backdrop for the ultimate selfie. It's currently at peak glow. The wise know that an unpoliced public footpath passes down the middle of the field, and the rest turn up at the main gate and pay £4.50 for the privilege of wandering willy-nilly guilt-free. A taxi drop-off is available for those who can't believe public transport extends this far, but thankfully it does and my next bus turns up every twenty minutes just behind the hedge.
166 - Mayfield Lavender Farm → Banstead(1½ miles, 5 minutes)
At least a dozen lavender-seekers disgorge from the bus when it arrives, filtering straight through a gap in the hedge towards the ticket tent. The driver calls back to another Japanese couple assuming they intended to alight here too, as the balance of probability would suggest, but instead they look very confused and go and sit back down. As we head off the electronic voice that normally announces the next stop starts insisting "Please apply handbrake", which is both unnerving and unnecessary, not to mention annoying after the tenth repeat. It only takes a minute to exit London for Surrey. Oaks Farm looks like it might have been Stuart. The NOSH is widely spaced and includes a lot of bungalows. Only a few smashed greenhouses and poly-less polytunnels lower the tone.
The 166 continues to Banstead, or 'Banstead Village' as the sign would have it, but the A2022 bypasses the town centre so I have to get off and walk. The next kilometre is called Winkworth Road. It's very interwar suburban, indeed it's concentrated NOSH all the way and I have nothing more to add.
166 - Banstead Crossroads → Epsom(4 miles, 15 minutes)
I need to take the 166 again, and I've been lucky to get a short wait because only one in three buses continue all the way to Epsom. I'm surprised to see the Japanese couple on board again, but I assume they successfully deduced how to switch buses for the longer route. Beyond the dual carriageway is the unlikely-named suburb of Nork, which might be better known if its two local stations weren't called Banstead and Epsom Downs. It sprawls, it's cosy NOSH all the way and I wrote about it in detail five years ago, here, in case you'd forgotten. The 166 skirts the northern edge as far as Drift Bridge, then chooses to eschew the A2022 in favour of a two mile detour via more Nork NOSH and the edge of the Downs. I should have walked the gap, it'd only have taken ten minutes, but that would have meant waiting for another hourly bus and basically stuff that.
The 166 rejoins the A2022 on the Epsom outskirts, where it takes so long to pass all the component parts of Epsom College that it could only be an independent school with a considerable reputation and considerable fees. All the paraphernalia of an approaching town centre is on display, like houses merging into parades of shops and electronic signs confirming which of the car parks are full. The Japanese couple alight too early at the first sight of 'Upper High Street' on the electronic display, and everybody else pours out one stop later amid the proper shops. But that's officially on the A24 because the significantly-numbered road faded out between the Dreams bedding showroom and the iPhone shop so my 13 mile safari is at an end.
My journey along the Road of the Year has taken 2 hours 40 minutes, which equates to about an hour of bus travel, 40 minutes of walking and an hour of waiting around. I can't truly recommend you follow in my footsteps but it has been fascinating to explore a cross section of Nice Outer Suburban Housing across south London and Surrey. I won't be doing it next year because the A2023 is in Hove, indeed it'll be 2041 before an A Road once again traverses the capital, and who's to say there'll still be any buses in Thamesmead by then.