diamond geezer

 Friday, November 14, 2014

London's five 'C' buses are its most varied, geographically, representing Central, Camden, Chelsea and Cricklewood. You particularly recommended the Cricklewood version, the C11, for its circuitousness, contrasts and character. But I'm trying to spread my alphabetical buses as far across the capital as possible, and wanted at least one to hit the centre of town, so plumped for the Camden Hoppa instead. It's no classic, sorry.

 Route C2: Parliament Hill Fields - Victoria
 Length of journey: 6 miles, 45 minutes

If you're not sure where Parliament Hill Fields is, it's near Parliament Hill, where Hampstead Heath rubs up against Dartmouth Park. And if that hasn't helped, it's directly due north of Victoria, because the C2 runs in an almost direct north-south line between its two termini. And the reason it goes no further north than Parliament Hill Fields is twofold. For a start, Highgate West Hill gets a bit steep, so the only bus that goes that way is a single decker. And secondly there's a roundabout at the bottom of Swains Lane that allows drivers to turn their vehicles for the run back into town. But only a very small roundabout, indeed it was deemed too tight for New Bus For London operation, so the stand remains piled up with ordinary double deckers awaiting time of departure.

Lightly loaded, the C2 sets off relentlessly, gradually, inexorably, downhill. Past the more recreational side of the Heath, past some fairly desirable streets... and then suddenly a rather unnecessary announcement kicks in. "Alight here for Gospel Oak station", it says, except this is only the second stop so you'd have to be a particularly lazy traveller not to have walked. We duck beneath the Overground, where the car repair works under the arches specialises in Bentleys and Jaguars, and switch into slightly less wealthy Kentish Town. A mixed run of shops kicks in, and carries on for some time, a little quirkier to start, more chain-heavy later on. The most impressive outlier is Blustons, a Grade II listed gown shop with two checkerboard tiled entrances to draw the local lady inside. Outside a nearby cafe a sad-looking man sits alone, a cleared plate of breakfast congealing in front of him. We leave him behind.

We're following the valley of the River Fleet, which explains the general downhill trend. At every stop a few more souls climb on, including an annoying phone-chatterer intent on broadcasting half her conversation to all. "We had a lovely cream tea at the hotel, yes...", she roars, and then thankfully goes and sits at the back of the deck just far enough out of range. Camden Town is approaching, a-bustle with the young and youthful, although we're touring the back roads via Sainsbury's rather than any vibrant bazaar. The one-way system forces us (and six other buses) to run parallel to the main high street, dulling the atmosphere somewhat, until we finally make a break for it and cross the hubbub near a hummus restaurant.

A large proportion of passengers have now alighted, because where we're heading next is a little off-key. Not for us the direct route down to Euston, but instead a brief nudge west towards the rim of Regent's Park to take a mile long backroad you'd wouldn't think deserved a double decker. Albany Street runs down the back of the posh mansions overlooking the park, past the mews where the servants lived, now owned by anything but. On the opposite side is the Regents Park Barracks, an austere extensive brick hideaway, to which the Household Cavalry might be relocated if the Army gets its way and sells off Hyde Park. The subsequent sidestreets belong to more the kind of estate where residents might actually catch a bus, although there are none today and we speed down the road in impressively quick time.

The C2 then hits central London proper, specifically the Euston Road, at Great Portland Street station. A spin round the big church leads us straight ahead down Great Portland Street itself, where The Albany pub hosts Ukulele Wednesdays and Wilkie Collins once lived for not very long. Offices round here are small, stacked up staircases behind Victorian facades, perhaps with a cafe or bright young studio at ground level. But our true target is Portland Place, round the back of Broadcasting House - neither Old nor New seen at their best on a southbound journey. And hey presto we're delivered to the top end of Regent Street and pretty soon Oxford Circus, which used to be as far as this bus went, and for most of those on board is perfectly far enough thanks.

Oh god oh god oh god, the Regent Street Christmas lights. The silvery fronds aren't officially switched on until Sunday, but are already suspended in non-illuminated form, and have alas been tainted by the marketing fairies again. Beaming down from every set of lights is a scene or character from the film Night At The Museum 3, with toothy grins ranging from a dinosaur to Ricky Gervais. Yes, that really is Robin Williams up there, playing an American President in his final film, and could that really be Dick Van Dyke? At least the Regent Street gurus have chosen a Christmas release rather than last year's cartoon inexplicably scheduled to hit cinemas in February, but the overall effect succeeds only in utterly debasing the festive spirit. Come for the shopping, sure, but don't waste your time coming especially for the non-Xmas lights.

Since 2009 the C2 has continued through Mayfair to Victoria, taking over what used to be the end of route 8 in a cunning ploy to reduce the number of buses running along Oxford Street. That's fine, we residents of Bow didn't have a lot of need to travel to Mayfair anyway, but the evidence suggests this may be the case for the residents of Kentish Town too. There are hardly any of us aboard now as we weave past boutiques and designer hideaways frequented by the impeccable. The Christmas lights are also rather lovelier here, as you'd expect, with a crown of snow white peacock feathers suspended at the junction of New Bond Street. We skip past Lalique and Stella McCartney, no takers, and then skirt Berkeley Square towards the Ritz.

Many buses have a winding down period towards the end, and we've now definitely entered ours. The bus stop outside Green Park station may be packed but nobody wants to join us, ditto further down Piccadilly where they're all waiting for a ten-times-the-price sightseeing bus instead. By the time we reach Hyde Park Corner I'm the only one left peering over the Queen's back wall, or attempting to because she's planted a long arboreal border with the sole intent of maintaining privacy. And finally to Victoria, which is a right mess at the moment while major redevelopment takes place, and where our driver chooses to turf the last two of us off one stop early. "Sorry mate I'm running early," he says, "it'd be quicker to walk." But he's lying, because by the time I catch up at the end of the route he's already out of his cab and bantering with a mate. Best not C2 it, I'd say.

» route C2 - route map
» route C2 - timetable
» route C2 - live bus map
» route C2 - route history
» route C2 - The Ladies Who Bus

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