Friday 28 May 2010

Londons finest bus journey - Mill Hill East to Mill Hill Broadway on the 240

One of my most avid readers asked if I could do a little more coverage of the bus service in Barnet. Unlike Lady Thatcher, I don't think any man over age 26 who is on a bus is a failure. In my experience, he's likely to be a normal Londoner, who finds the bus an easy and cheap way to get around. Unlike many critics of Boris Johnson (of which I count myself as one), I am actually excited by his bus project. I believe that London needs special buses. London needs different buses. I always used to know I was in London because the buses look different, the taxis look different and the tube trains look different. I'm all for vanity projects if they make our city special. What many of the critics don't realise is that such icons are part of "the London brand" and have a priceless value in marketing the city. Who visits London for a ride on a bendy bus?

I vividly remember my last journey on a London routemaster. It was on the day of the London bomings of 7/7. I was doing some consultancy work at Debenhams in Oxford St. I had taken a Thameslink train to Kings X Thameslink, when the system ground to a halt. No one knew why. At first the talk was of "power surges". As the tube service was shut, I decided to get a bus for the last portion of the route. I jumped on a no 30 bus outside the station. This was not a routemaster. We got about 100 yards when a panicking policeman slung us all off. He gave us no reason. As I walked down the Euston Road, I saw a chinese chap staggering around. He looked like he was covered in confetti. I thought it was a bit early for a wedding booze up. As he got closer, I realised that he was covered in debris. How odd? It was only when I walked down Tottenham Court Road and saw a TV that the true situation became clear. I went into a cafe, had a cup of tea and listened to the radio.

At Debenhams, no one was there, so I decided to go home.  I took the opportunity to go to an empty Selfridges to buy my wife a birthday present. I was the only customer, so I got fantastic service. As no buses were running, I walked up to Swiss cottage. There was a no 13 Routemaster there. I took it to Golders Green. I felt very nostalgic. It felt right being on this London icon as my city was under attack. I felt safe and happy. I thought back to my mum's story about the Blitz and how she saw a blown up bus, on the way to her job in Bond St. I went back home and immediately went to see my mum for a cup of tea. I knew she'd be worried about me. We discussed buses and London bombs.

Anyway, I digress. The last portion of my journey, from Golders Green to Mill Hill was on a bog standard 240 bus. Now the title of this blog is "Londons finest bus journey". I believe this journey to contain the finest bus ride in London. The section from Mill Hill East to Mill Hill Broadway is, in my humble opinion, unsurpassed in London (or possibly the world). If you want a cheap day out, this short journey, contains more than any other route I could possibly imagine.

As you get on the bus at Mill Hill East, across the road is the site of the Inglis Barracks. This was the former home of the Royal Engineers. It is now a council depot and is soon to be transformed into a new town centre. The IRA bombed the barracks in the 1980's. I remember it well, I was in Istanbul at the time. As the bus goes up the hill, there is a pub on the right. This is the Angel and Crown. It has had a few names. When I was a kid it was called "The Royal Engineers". It's name was changed as it was felt that the name may attract an IRA bombing. It became "The Railway Engineer". It is located on Saunders Lane. This is an oddity in Barnet. It is a closed to cars road, which is a nature reserve. I am sure Brian Coleman has his beady eyes on it with his "roads, roads, toads" policy. A local campaign recently to oppose his plans to transform it into a two lane Highway was successful, but we all know Coleman. He doesn't let matters rest easily. A friend of mine, Valerie, who is a qualified surveyor lead the protests. When she previously confronted Coleman, he said "shut up you silly housewife". Let's just say she isn't a fan. As the bus ascends Bittacy Hill, there is a fine view of London to the back of the bus. I especially like this view as the sun comes up. At the top of Bittacy Hill, you have the Jehovas witness centre. Sadly this isn't really much to look at. As the bus travels down the Ridgeway, you pass a real London landmark on your right, the National Institute for Medical Research. This has been used as a film location, most notably it was Arkham Asylum in "Batman returns".

On your left you have a fabulous panoramic view of London. On a clear day you can see the Telecom Tower. The bus continues, and on your left you have a small church, called "The Brotherhood of the Cross and Star". If you are lucky on a sunday, you will see the worshippers in their eye catching white robes. I used to work with Brother Julius, who was the pastor of the church. The sect are vegetarians who believe Jesus has returned. On your right as you pass the church, you have a superb panoramic view of Totteridge valley. The house on your right, with the swimming pool in the back garden, was formerly owned by Patrick McGoohan at the height of his fame. As his fame grew, people used to stand on the Ridgeway and stare at him in his garden. Paddy lived here at the time of The Prisoner. He erected the high brick wall to prevent this. The Mill Hill Preservation Society launched a campaign against McGoohan and his wall. They drove out McGoohan, who moved to Switzerland, but the wall remained. I suspect we'd have all been happier, if Paddy had remained and the wall had gone.

As the bus progresses, you have Mill Hill Schools impressive facade to your left. the school is one of the largest landowners in Mill Hill and is responsible for keeping much of Mill Hill green. On your right is St Pauls church.  This church was built by William Wilberforce, the man responsible for the abolition of slavery. I am proud that such a great man lived in my manor. Immediately after the church, we see Sheepwash pond. This is one of the best loved sights in Mill Hill. Generations of children have enjoyed looking at the ducks, geese, fish and other more exotic wildlife that have been reported there.

Immediately past the pond, is Mill Hills newest attraction. The Belmont Stables has been transformed into a lavish theme park called Belmont Childrens farm. The theme park has some great attractions such as tractor rides, face painting and trailer rides. The zoo has wallabies, Siberian Chipmunks, chinchillas and cockatiels. There is also a waffle house on the site and plans for a shop selling honey. The theme park owners proudly report that they've attracted a whopping 25,000  visitors since it opened in November. If you want to see the Theme Park, I'd advise you get along there rather soon. The neighbours are objecting to the fact that the owner hasn't applied for planning permission for the change of use and intensification. As the site is on the green belt and in the conservation area, there is a good chance it will all be shut down. It would be rather sad if the local businessman who opened it lost all his investment, purely because a bit of paperwork wasn't filled in.

On your left, you have the Three Hammers pub.  Strangely the Ember inns website has a picture of another pub on the top. The Hammers is my local. It's OK. I've done a few gigs there, most notably in 1985 when I met my beloved wife. Generally though it doesn't have music or entertainment. The bus now turns left down the Ridgeway. This is a stunning view of the west of London. My advice for this portion is to travel on the 240 at dusk as England play. You'll see a stunning view of the lit up Wembley Arch, but it's worth it even if they aren't playing. On your right as you descend, you'll see the Cottage Homes. This was formerly owned by the retail trust, but is now a private retirement estate. The houses look to me like Swiss Music box chalets. Beyond that, you'll see the former missionary training college - St Josephs College. This has recently become derelict and has occasionally been used as a film and TV location.

At the bottom of Hammers Lane, the bus turns right into Flower Lane. On your left is Mill Hill Park. In the summer, you'll see Hendon and Edgware Cricket club playing. You also have Mill Hill Bowls club and a pleasant cafe. There is a mini golf course and a childrens play area (currently and rather badly) being upgraded. Just beyond that is the Wyvale Garden Centre. This is on the site of the Former Mill Hill Swimming pool. For me this is a major bugbear as the swimming pool was bequeathed to the people of Mill Hill for use in eternity as a pool. The Council crassly ignored this in the 1980's, shut the pool and allowed the Garden Centre to open. As ever with Barnet Council, kids come last.

The bus then turns right into Albert Road and left into Victoria Road. The houses on the right are in distinctive Dutch Cottage style. Sadly many property developers are eyeing these up to transform into luxury flats as has happened to no's 1,3 and 5. At the End of Victoria Road, is a little green area with a stream. This is known to locals as Simmonds Mead. The Mill Hill Preservation Society successfully applied to have this designated as a village green last year. The bus turns right onto Mill Hill Circus. Sadly there is no circus here, just a roundabout. Once across the Roundabout, you are into Mill Hill Broadway and the end of the epic journey. If you have worked up a hunger, there are some great restaurants here. For lovers of Chinese food, we have The Good Earth and Hees. For lovers of curry, we have The Mill Hill Tandoori and The Day of the Raj. There's also a Pizza Express, The Olives and Half Full.

At Mill Hill Station, you have the Thameslink station, which can take you to central London or Luton airport ! What more could you possibly want from a 15 minute bus journey. I hope that when Boris Johnson brings his new bus in, the very first route he converts is the 240. It deserves the worlds finest bus.


Mrs Angry said...

I agree, the 240 is a great bus route, and the Ridgeway is packed with locations of historical interest, spoilt only by the lurch of fear in my stomach that occurs as you pass by our old school, St Vincent's - the way I used to feel when the school coach pulled up outside in the morning ... The old house at the centre of the convent is of interest too: rumour has it once belonged to Nell Gwyn, though there is no proof of this. Remember the chapel, with the creepy marble figure of a child in velvet robes in a glass tomb? We used to believe it was a real body, and children were always passing out during mass if they had to sit next to it!
As for the old swimming pool, I couldn't have been more delighted when it was sold, bearing in mind the many school visits to the blasted place in what seemed like the middle of winter, and the water so cold your arms and legs would turn blue. After marching back to school, you would then be forced to drink milk which Sister Gabriel had thoughtfully made evevn more disgusting by warming up on the radiators ... eurgh.
If you carry on towards Mill Hill East along the Ridgeway, next to the Adam and Eve pub there was once an old place called Bittacy House, I think, which features, along with other local scenes (such as Hendon Library and the Town Hall, for any councillors and their Friends reading this)from the 1940s in a great spooky British b+w film called the Ghost of Rashmon Hall. See what you can find out by dipping your toe in the real world, and getting on a bus with the common people, eh?

Moaneybat said...

I think Bittacy House is "Seafield House" built during the the 1950s as a nuclear bunker and inherited by the MOD. It has been a private home for some years.. Hopefully, somebody will come forward and clarify this.

Mrs Angry said...

No, the bunker was off Burtonhole or Partingdale Lane - always get those mixed up. Bittacy House was a Jacobean builfing, semi derelict by the time the film was made, on the Ridgeway near the Adam and Eve, on the site where the Jehovahs' Witnesses have a place. There are still some trees at the front which must have belonged to the grounds. The film was made in 1947 and is also known as The Night Comes Too Soon: it's brilliant, in a slightly amateur way and has been on Ch 4 late night once or twice, worth seeing if only for the local bits.

Ess Bee said...

It wasn't Thatcher who said that quote about bus passengers, by the way. She did many terrible things for the image of bus travel but she's not to blame for that one.

Love the 240, love The Ridgeway, love it's where me and hubby both went to primary school. But also love Belmont Children's Farm. I totally understand the issues you've raised about the possible planning loopholes but there's a contradiction between you saying Barnet doesn't prioritise things for children versus your criticism of the Farm, which all the kids and grown ups I've been there with love.

Anyway, been really enjoying your blog since Dave Hill highlighted it in The Guardian this week, especially your thoughts on Mr Coleman. On him, I couldn't agree with you more!

caroline said...

Rog, shame on you! Its not Flower Lane as you turn right at the bottom of Hammers Hill, its Dawes Lane! BTW didnt Hammers Lane used to be officially called Squires Lane at one point (or is my memory deceiving me?)?

Broadway Blogger said...

Totally agree that this bus journey is the finest. Amazing views and ending up at the "Restaurant Capital" of North London. Anyone else love the Chip Dipper at "Half Full" ? and the Tuna Melt at the Mill Hill Park Cafe ? as well as the Chicken Jalfrezi at the Mill Hill Tandoori and the Kung Po Chilli Prawns at the Good Earth......yummy ! and you can always get off the bus at the Hammers and grab a pink drink for charity this week.....Mill Hill - the finest place in London without a doubt and I am totally loving the articles about the place by Roger.

Anonymous said...

Bittacy House was indeed where Watchtower House now stands. The building was already condemned by the time Jehovah's Witnesses bought it and it was demolished but much of the grounds was preserved including a beautiful old cedar tree in front of WT House.

In the late 80s/early 90s Jehovah's Witnesses bought the old lens factory over the road, they had to decontaminate the site because of all the chemicals that had been used in the lens grinding process. They built IBSA House on that site. The building was erected (like most office blocks) with an iron framework and concrete slabs ... and yet it appears brick-built to meet planning permission. They laid out a grid on the ground, positioned bricks in the grid, poured concrete over them all to produce brick-faced concrete slabs. Quite an imaginative solution to compromise between planning requirements and design restrictions!
It is possible to take a free tour of the factory if you're interested in seeing how they manage to print millions of magazines every month in many languages to supply the whole of Europe as well as much of Africa and various islands. It's a fascinating tour as its unlike any factory you're ever likely to visit just because it's so clean, very efficient, very green, and all achieved by volunteers!