The tour kicks off just after sun-set. I travelled across from Charing Cross to Marble Arch on Metroline's VP511 on route 6. On the way I passed some of the Routemaster remnant that some enthusiasts refuse to admit still exists. RM2089 on the 15 was just approaching Trafalgar Square, pursued by bendi-bus Mercedes MA152. I wonder if the RMs will outlast them?
But RM1641, seen in the Haymarket, was one of a large number of Routemasters seen during the evening on tour and hire duties. VP511 squeezed through the scrum of buses approaching Piccadilly Circus, and escaped into the relative calm of Regent Street. A continual stream of service buses came the other way, typified by VLA154 on the 159.
We turned left at Oxford Circus into a scene that reminded me of Dante's Inferno. Wall to wall people. Although Oxford Street is buses and taxis only, progress was rather slower than walking pace, mainly due to the numbers of people crossing at the frequent controlled crossings. Buses from all parts of London came past, exemplified by an East London Trident on the 15 and a Transdev one on the 94.
Perhaps this is an appropriate point to aplogise for the technical quality of the pictures: my little digital copes quite well with poor light, but the effective shutter speed is slow, and the autofocus seems as likely to focus on the bus window as on the scene beyond! So they are not as sharp as I would like. But enjoy them for the atmosphere conveyed rather than despair over their technical failings.
I alighted at Marble Arch Tube Station, and crossed by the subways to Hyde Park. I headed west, towards the North Carriage Drive.
Behind were gleaming RM1033 and unmodernised GreenLine RF269.
Also displaying the Green Line margue was RT3254, one of the RTs originally selected for Green Line work and given an extra finish accordingly, with no adverts, cast GreenLine bulseyes on the sides and a pale green livery band. That was followed by spotless RM1397.
Country Area RF539 looked resplendent too. I look forward to the day when RM14 finishes its repaint to show a similar standard of restoration.
RM2097 is also in the throes of repanelling and preparation for repaint. RML2586 represented the later Routemasters.
Another GreenLine RT was the London Bus Company's RT3228, which was followed by Fleetline DMS132 in red with white band. I have not seen the Fleetline around for some time: it was good to see it again.
Bringing up the rear of the line was Ensignbus' RT4421. No RF366. But John Hinson passed on a message from Jim, who was delayed on the M4, who suggested that I find a home on another bus as he might be late. I returned along the line to RT3254, where Chris Wills welcomed me aboard. This meant that I got the warm seat behind the engine! Jim did arrive before the cavalcade set off, by the way, although I did not have time (or the light) to walk back down the line to photograph RF366 at that stage..
We circulated round the Marble Arch junction and headed south down Park Lane, following RF269, RM1033 and RT1784. At Hyde Park Corner we turned left into Piccadilly, and inched our way eastwards along Piccadilly with its shops, to Piccadilly Circus with its lights, and Shaftesbury Avenue with its theatres. We escaped into the quieter streets of High Holborn. No trolleybuses.
We wiggled our way down to Ludgate Circus, and turned up Ludgate Hill towards St.Paul's Cathedral. We passed an early RML on tour duty outside the west front. We continued along into the City, along Cannon Street and down to Monument Station. The Monument itself, brilliantly floodlit, was visible over the rooftops. We turned right over London Bridge, with an excellent view over the Pool of London to Tower Bridge, similarly using up the World's resources to provide us with enjoyment.
RF486 and other buses joined our gang. I commented that RF486 already had blinds set up for the morrow.
Our way onwards should have been to cross Blackfriars Bridge and head west along Fleet Street to Aldwych, and back over Waterloo Bridge. But Blackfriars Bridge was closed. The diverted traffic west to Waterloo was heavy, and slow. We picked our way west to the big roundabout with the I-Max cinema just by Waterloo Station, then escaped from the traffic to head south-west, on course, towards Lambeth Palace.
We finally recrossed the Thames over Lambeth Bridge, and turned north to thread our way past the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey into Whitehall. I think I must have dozed off, for I missed Trafalgar Square altogether, and was surprised to find that we were climbing up Haymarket towards Piccadilly Circus. We missed the obscure turn into Regent Street, and found ourselves rethreading our way up Shaftesbury Avenue. But a turn up Tottenham Court Road and a left turn took us to Oxford Street. By now the crowds had thinned out somewhat, so we made reasonable progress west to Oxford Circus and Marble Arch, and were soon wending our way back into the North Carriage Drive.
I went to say thank you to a few people, then headed for Oxford Street to catch a bus back to Charing Cross.
Many thanks to John and Gill Hinson for organising the event, to Jim and Chris for personal invitations to ride on their buses, and to all the owners, drivers and conductors who turned up to make it such an enjoyable evening. It was a good start to Christmas!
All photos by Ian Smith. Click on most of them for a larger picture.
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