ACROSS LONDON BY BUS(iv) Route 607: White City - Uxbridge Length of journey: 13 miles, 75 minutes
This is an unusual one. London has very few buses in the 600s, at least those that aren't run for schoolchildren. The number 607 is a throwback to thetrolleybus that used to run the same route until the 1960s. And it's an express, deliberately missing out approximately 80% of the stops it passes on the long journey out to Uxbridge. Had Ken once had his way the entire route might have been replaced by now with moderntrams, had this not been entirely impractical along some of the narrower roads en route and shouted down by aloudchorus of local disapproval. So, the express bus it remains, with overlapping 207 and 427 for those who prefer it slower. And this time, the top front seat is mine all the way...
Blimey, don't they pour on at Shepherd's Bush? Umpteen folk with shopping bags and even suitcases are waiting, and then, as the Overground unloads alongside, on come umpteen more. So steady is the stream of potential boarders that I fear we're never going to get away. Our driver waits as an old man hobbles towards us, and again as a gym-fresh lad leaps on, until finally shutting the door to the displeasure of a Mum and two kids, left fuming and waving by the kerbside. I'm joined on my front seat by a gentleman who sits sideways and spends the next ten minutes softly chanting to himself, which is mildly disconcerting. From behind comes the babble of a dozen earnest conversations, only one of which appears to be in English. It's a melting pot, is west London, or at least the dozen miles we're about to pass through.
I was expecting our 607 express to be expressier, but in traffic it's often impractical to overtake anything. From Acton all the way to Ealing, a cyclist in team-branded lycra whips our non-express performance. Even though we're not stopping often it's often enough for her to comfortably leapfrog us, then get caught up again, until eventually she zooms ahead never to be seen again. On Ealing Broadway my latest top seat companion spots a friend down on the street, shopping, and gives them a call. I'm struggling to share the space with her two Morrisons bags-for-life, packed with what looks like meat in Tupperware, until she shuffles across to the seat opposite and hogs that. Outside it's shops almost all the way, downgrading from chain stores to takeaways as Hanwell approaches. A car with a mattress rammed in its boot blocks our path, reversing awkwardly into a sideroad, then pulling out and driving off somewhat suspiciously. I'm not surprised when, a few minutes later, we spot a police car following it through the central reservation.
From Ealing Hospital onwards we hit dual carriageway, and our driver relishes the opportunity to skip past bus stops in the outside lane. Outside Southall he even ignores a bus lane with dedicated traffic lights, so confident is he that the main road is faster. It's a long haul between Southall's two stops - one outside a Lidl in an old cinema, the other in front of Cravings Dessert Parlour (with their special "Winter Warmer" offer - a scoop of ice cream for 99p). I spot less than a dozen white faces along The Broadway, one of them an elderly bus spotter jotting us down with his red pen in a red notebook. I'm surprised how few 207s we've overtaken during the last nine miles, but at the Hayes Bypass we make up for it by passing six, all parked up in a lay-by by the roundabout. These brand new double deckers are waiting to turn round and go back to the Bush, whereas we've still got four miles, that's six stops, still to go.
The out-of-town retail park near The Grapes is rammed, in a way that high streets in Ealing and Southall conspicuously weren't. From here the road's pretty straight, though hardly pretty, lined by what sometimes seems to be a never-ending parade of shops. The streets leading off are all Drives, Gardens and Avenues, now my journey's back in the proper suburbs, plus there's the occasional park, orchard and memorial gardens alongside. But the 607's progress still feels disjointly arterial, as if we're speeding up the fast lane along the edge of somewhere nicer. A new tram would have been a perfectly decent option out here in Hillingdon, it seems, assuming anyone could have crossed to the central reservation to catch it.
The Morrison's bag-lady finally exits at Hayes End - she's been getting her moneysworth from this lengthy cross-borough ride. The top deck remains a cacophony of jabbering and sniffles, and not a word of English can be heard. That's completely different to the ambience outside where there are ivyclad cottages, and even the fish and chip shops are half-timbered Tudorbethan. An Eastern European family are my last companions in the front seat, the two children sat on their parent's laps, and father feeding chips to his smiling baby daughter. A sign by the roadside announces our entrance into Uxbridge, where more than a thousand homes are due to spring up on the site of a former Battle of Britain base. We turn off into the town centre, where scores of passengers are itching to get off, but are summarily dumped away from the bus station not quite near enough to the shops. The western edge of London is less than half a mile away, within easy walking distance, but my express cross-city journey ends here. 331>>