diamond geezer

 Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Prime Movers
Route 13: Aldwych - Golders Green
Location: London northwest, inner
Length of journey: 7 miles, 40 minutes

The 13 was one of the very last routes to convert from two- to one-man operation, falling victim to new accessible vehicles just a couple of months ago. But I believe in forward planning so I made my particular journey back in the summer, back when route 13 was still run by Routemasters. In the interests of true up-to-date accuracy, however, I've greyed out any part of my report which no longer holds true today. Why not read it twice?

The graceful Routemaster buses of route 13 emerge at regular intervals from an Aldwych sideroad in the shadow of historic St Mary le Strand church. You can't board until the bus reaches the Strand, not unless you try leaping onto the rear platform while the bus is stopped at the Aldwych traffic lights. From here, so long as the road is jam-free, you can hurtle past the Savoy towards Trafalgar Square with the bus rattling, humming, shuddering and rocking as it goes. The driver then has to jockey for position to manouevre into the correct lane for Piccadilly Circus, before crawling slowly up Regent Street at the speed of the cyclist in front. Take a moment to admire this Georgian street and the absence of tacky commercialised illuminated decorations strung above the roadway. Then maybe you'll catch sight of a 159, not yet the only remaining Routemaster serving Oxford Street, as you take part in the usual snail's pace procession of bumper-to-bumper buses.

See the white-clad athletes out exercising their racquet skills on the tennis courts in the middle of Portman Square, and then it's all three-lane and one-way up Gloucester Place. Mind that unreliable modern bus broken down by the side of the road with its front engine door gaping open. Watch out for the squeegee spivs massing at the junction with Marylebone Road, and try to take comfort that the driver is high enough up in his cab to avoid a mucky sponge on the windscreen. The passing residential terraces become taller and grander as you approach the Regent's Park Mosque and canal. And look down from your prime top deck seat as you pass Lord's and there's a perfect view of the rear of the Nursery End grandstand where large crowds have gathered to watch Hampshire beat Warwickshire in the C&G Trophy final.

The leafy streets of St John's Wood are lined by elegant eight storey residential blocks, although architectural standards slide downhill as you pass from Westminster into Camden. Swiss Cottage turns out to be a disappointing theme pub, not a luxury Alpine chalet, while Frognal is merely a subdivision of West Hampstead and not a French enclave. Don't forget to show your ticket to the friendly conductor who's now finally found time to inspect the upper deck - that's one job less to do. For the next mile your years-old bus ascends the gentle slopes of Finchley Road, with the summit of Child's Hill offering extensive views westward over London's inner suburbs. And finally, at the end of a long and characterful journey, just wait for the security barrier to rise and then park up in front of Golders Green station. Here the driver and conductor can pause in companionship for a friendly chat to stave off the boredom before preparing for the return journey aboard this same magnificent vehicle. Who ever said 13 was unlucky?

13 links
Route 13: anorak-level route information
Route 13: timetable
Route 13: last day of Routemaster service (October 2005)

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