Hitchin & Luton Route Recreation Day
Sunday 2nd September 2012
Prepared by Ian Smith, 9th September 2012.
364A: Hitchin to Kensworth: RF308
I stayed overnight in Hitchin, and after breakfast on Sunday morning walked into the town centre and passed St.Mary's Church. The market was busy, and I met Peter Larkham, who was dressed for his conducting duties with a green Country Area uniform. We crossed the Square, the erstwhile bus terminus, and were greeted by the sight of our bus waiting by the stop opposite. Inevitably, given the location and the London Country theme of the day, it was RF308, smartly turned out in London Country mid-green with yellow trims. Proper blinds for the 364A journey to Kensworth were displayed, with just the route number on the rear of course.
While we waited for the club to gather there were other buses passing: uno provided a small Dart SLF, DMP102, on the 635 to Baldock, on the first day of Sunday services. Unfortunately the display was one of the difficult to photograph variety, not showing on any of the three attempts I made.
Then Arriva The Shires made a dramatic entrance with 3844, a year-old Volvo B7RLE with Wright Eclipse Urban bodywork, which shot past northwards on a 101, only to return in the other direction a few moments later, having turned at the roundabout. It was going to Stevenage, but travelling too quickly for the via points to all be read.
Hitchin is still a coach stop: National Express' Caetano Levante FJ11GKU called on the 777 to Birmingham.
Uno provided a newer bus on the Hatfield-bound 635: Wright Streelite WF 52 was the first of its type that had stopped near me for long enough for more than a fleeting glimpse.
Departure time came, and it seemed that all who were coming had arrived, so off we went. We passed the site of the old Hitch LT garage, and climbed the cutting up to the roundabout south of the town. On the way we noted the old road cutting its own way to the right of ours. We rejoined it south of the roundabout, and headed south to Preston. I was surprised that we didn't pause for photos at photogenic Preston, with its green, pump, and pub, but we headed west down narrow lanes, then up through Lea Green, past the post office. We noted that there is still a substantial wooden bus shelter at the top of the hamlet, at the road junction. We turned left, along a road marginally wide enough for the RF. There were the inevitable recollections and anecdotes on board about Leyland National days on this route.
We passed the Kings Walden short-turning point, and continued west across undulating countryside along narrow lanes festooned with posters against Luton Airport expansion. A T-junction gave us a left turn into Breachwood Green, where we made our way round the block to pull up at the bus shelter opposite the Red Lion.
We headed back north along Heath Road to take the other branch of the T (Darley Road), which soon turned us west towards Luton. But at Wandon End, before we could descend into the mass of housing, we turned sharp right. As one of the local bus drivers said: "On the 364, when the sign-post reads Luton, go the other way". A very narrow lane took us to Tea Green, where a tiny triangle of green outside the White Horse offered a short-working terminus. We didn't stop - we would have blocked the road. The narrow Brick Kiln Lane took us on to Cockernhoe, where we descended the hill to stop at the solid bus shelter on the large green, just by another turning triangle.
Drivers familiar with the route explained how the short-workings did not actually go round the triangles here and at Tea Green, but did use them for reverse turns.
Now we were on the very edge of Luton's housing estates, so there was an abrupt change of scenery as we went forward down Luton Road. We turned left at the second roundabout, onto Wigmore Lane, which took us across to Eaton Green Lane on the edge of Luton Airport. We didn't turn up to the airport terminal, but did pass the old airport bus stop before diving down towards the vast Vauxhall Works.
We turned right at the big roundabout at the foot of the hill, below the airport access road, and passed between the Vauxhall buildings towards Luton Airport Parkway Station, where an access is at last being built on the Vauxhall side. We joined the road from Welwyn briefly, then turned abruptly down narrow Manor Road in order to get onto Park Street. We went under the main road viaduct, and pulled up at the old 364 stop on Park Street.
After our photo-stop we went right round (270 degrees) the roundabout at the end of Park Street in order tioo access Park Street West, where the old Luton garage used to be. The only evidence now is the drop kerb where the very narrow entrance used to be. We had tales from the drivers about how difficult it used to be to turn in. We turned right into Flowers Way, and along to Chapel Street, where we turned left to pass under the Chapel Viaduct and climb Farley Hill up out of Luton. Our next stop was an unscheduled one, as old drivers on the route pointed out an upcoming LT concrete bus stop, complete with red finial, up on Farley Hill. We pulled in at the bus-stop lay-by for a quick photo.
Going on, att the top of Farley Hill, almost at the M1, we forked left to run parallel to the motorway for a short way, until turning right to pass under to reach Slip End. We turned right to access the traffic objective of the Woodside estates, (later missed out when Bedfordshire withdrew their subsidy). We rolled through Woodside, spotting more elderly LT concrete posts, of the octagonal just-post-war style. We drew up at the Aley Green turn, another short-working terminus. Geoff Hudspith, our driver, kindly rolled up an appropriate 364 short-working blind for us.
He found yet another blind for the remainder of the journey: a 364A Luton and Kensworth lazy blind. From the Aley Green turn we went left, back to join the main road to Markyate, where we turned north-west along the A5. The 364 route immediately doubled back through Markyate Village to reach Flamstead, but our 364A continued up the old Roman Road for a mile before turning off on the road to Kensworth and Whipsnade.
As advertised, we stopped at the bus-stop opposite The Farmers Boy.
From The Farmers Boy stop (LT octagonal post, Centrebus flag) we went on up the road to a roundabout, where a right turn onto the B4541 took us up to the National Trust centre on Dunstable Downs, our lunch stop.
Photos by Ian Smith. Click on any of them for a larger picture.