It was never going to be easy, it was never meant to be pleasant. But in the event, it was all much, much worse than I expected.
My simple aim was to find a way into and across London by bus, but calling in at Croydon en route to take a ride on one of their trams. I've given myself a head start by pitching my tent (metaphorically, that is, I was actually staying in a Travelodge) in Leatherhead last night, still technically in Surrey but very near to where London really starts.
The first part of the journey was fine, with me back on the 479 only this time I was going all the way through to Epsom. The change over to the 470 in Epsom was pretty smooth, too, albeit after a 25 minute wait. But that's where things began to unravel.
I was travelling to Sutton so I could pick up the 407 to Croydon. Having arrived in Sutton, I spotted that my bus was pulling into a bus stop that also catered for the 407, so I quickly jumped off. Then I realised that the 407 I would be catching from that stop would be going in the wrong direction so I needed to cross the road. Fine, I thought. It was a warm sunny day. So be it.
Waiting as I was for a gap in the traffic, it slowly dawned on me that the road I was attempting to cross was, in fact, one-way – so there was no bus stop on the other side. Somewhat irritated, I began to wander around looking for the right bus stop, but there appeared to be one-way roads going off in all directions and none of them seemed to have bus stops for the 407. It was maddening, not to mention hot and tiring (did I mention it was a warm sunny day?).
So after walking for what seemed like eighteen or nineteen miles, I eventually made my way back to where I had first got off and – quite cunningly, I thought - caught the 407 going the wrong way so that I could catch the bus at the terminus. Except there wasn't really a terminus at all – the driver just shoved everyone off and then parked up to have a fag and a sleep somewhere. At least he told me where to go to catch the 407 which was going in the right direction (more bloody walking).
Anyway, the 407 turns up and off we go to Croydon where I pick up a swish tram at the exotically-titled Centrale. Oh, this is the way to travel – smooth, silent, you feel like you are being wafted on a carpet of air. It runs partly on its own tracks along what I assume are disused railway lines, and partly down the middle of the street – very European!
I get off at Beckenham Junction and look for the 54 bus to Woolwich. This, too, arrives pretty quickly and we are soon underway but the traffic is really building now and its taking ages to get there. Eventually we arrive in Woolwich and I spend another 10 minutes looking for the bus stop for the 53 to the Old Kent Road (more walking – did I mention it was a warm day? Well, by then it was hot).
The 53 takes so long getting through the traffic, it actually seems to be going backwards. So instead of getting off at the Old Kent Road for a bus over Tower Bridge that would connect me with a Routemaster to Trafalgar Square and an Underground train to Kings Cross and thus home to change my socks, I decided to stay on until we got to Westminster and proceed directly to Kings Cross passing neither jail nor Go!
I was looking forward to the Routemaster and the crossing of Tower Bridge, so I'll have complete this part of the journey next week. I'm aiming to spend at least a day looking at transport in the capital anyway but at present I am speeding home to Tyneside by rail so I can spend the week-end washing my socks and generally being cosseted by my family (if they still remember me).
I may blog a few reflections over the week-end, of course, but the journey re-starts in earnest next Wednesday (27 May 2010).
See you then....