diamond geezer

 Thursday, July 15, 2010

702: Victoria - Ascot

The Green Line coach to Ascot used to be the 701, and it used to start in Gravesend! Not unsurprisingly the route's been cut back over the years, and now only the western half survives. It's the diversion via Windsor which helps keep the 702 profitable, this and the extension to Bracknell for cheap commuter journeys into the capital. Today the London terminus is at Victoria, not in the proper Coach Station but over the road in Green Line's concrete bunker. No tourist setting out on a trip to see Queen and Castle would ever be impressed.

702 at Hyde Park CornerA motley collection of coaches run on this route, some lofty green double deckers, others sleek white tourbuses. Alas, I got the bland slightly-purple coach, without a scrap of Green Line branding to be seen. Our driver bundled several suitcases into the hold, then stood in the gangway and barked orders at her assembled passengers. "Sit down, don't come and talk to me, and I'll tell you when we reach Windsor," she barked. Tourists need to kept in line with simple instructions, I guess, but there's a fine line between friendly and fearsome.

We departed via Hyde Park Corner, stopping intermittently to pick up a surprisingly high number of westbound passengers. Most were either foreign, or students, or old enough to have free bus passes to wave. Out through Hammersmith and Chiswick, then up onto the M4 viaduct for the fast escape from town. The coach weaved through the Hounslow skyline - surely London's most Sim-City-esque commercial quarter - offering views no mere red omnibus could match. The aircon roared constantly, apart from the occasional all-too-brief five second hiatus (has it broken down? please say it has ...damn, no).

At the Heathrow cloverleaf we broke through the M25, already one hour into the journey, then slowed to pull off and join the jam into Slough. The A4's all semis and Harvesters out here, before widening to pass a MegaTesco and Not-Yet-MegaSainsbury in the centre of town. A few tourists unexpectedly alighted at Slough's hideous bus station, but most remained on board to exit en masses across the Thames in Windsor. Coaches are still permitted to drive up Castle Hill, at least when there are no changing guards getting in the way, and several passengers couldn't get off quickly enough. "Sit down please STAY IN YOUR SEATS until the vehicle has stopped thankyou!"

The backstreets of Windsor were less well known, and led eventually to the entrance to Britain's very own Legoland. The approach road wound its way up a wooded hill, alongside which tiny stud-limbed characters lurked endearingly in the undergrowth. Green Line make a big fuss of their Legoland connection, offering joint travel and admission tickets for 'only' £49, but on this particular journey there was no take-up and we'd made the detour for nothing.

And finally through the Great Park to Ascot, where sporting congestion meant I got dropped half a mile from the centre of the action. The driver advised me which way to walk, and I completed my two hour journey on foot. There was some racing on, which I think I've told you about before. But something tells me very few other Royal Ascot visitors arrived via the slow coach.

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