Round The World and other travels

A frequent flyer's collection of trip diaries

December 2005 : London

London says goodbye to the Routemaster

A little bit of history was made in London on Friday 9 December 2005 : the final day in normal service for the well-known and well-loved Routemaster double-decker buses. You know the ones I mean - those with an open rear platform, a conductor to collect the fares, and the driver all alone in his little 'half-cab' at the front. In short, the proper buses with a bit of character, not the soulless red boxes with wheels.

The first Routemasters appeared in 1954, entering service in large numbers until 1968. Without a doubt, the vehicle is a design classic and its achievement in lasting until 2005 is beyond remarkable. Most service buses have a lifespan of about 15 years, with a hardy few soldiering on until about age 20. Yet the Routemasters have given an astounding 40 to 50 years' service in one of the most demanding urban environments in the world, surviving literally decades after comparable vehicles disappeared from the streets of other British cities. They've seen the arrival and eventual disappearance of several more modern types and, as recently as three years ago, their future seemed secure for a good while yet to come. Then everything changed with a spectacular official U-turn, backed up by dark rumblings about the supposedly dangerous open platform, their inaccessibility to wheelchairs and a planned move to off-bus ticketing.

Depending on your point of view, then, the Routemaster's demise was either a case of London finally bowing to the inevitable march of progress, or it was an unnecessary act of cultural vandalism; a logical next step towards a 21st century transport system, or an unholy sacrifice at the altar of Political Correctness. Although a handful of survivors are still to be seen on a couple of short, so-called heritage routes, ordinary Londoners and transport enthusiasts alike fully recognised the significance of the last day in normal service, and they turned out in their thousands to say a respectful and affectionate goodbye to a true London icon.

It's almost unbelievable that such a familiar sight will be seen no more : headlights ablaze, a Routemaster in Oxford Street.

Another RM chases a stablemate along Whitehall, on one of the last inbound journeys to Central London.

About as British as it gets : the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben and a red Routemaster.

      

Carrying a good load of passengers, a Routemaster heads across Westminster Bridge and into the history books.

Plenty of room upstairs? Not actually true, in all honesty ... Club Europe it isn't! Still, time to enjoy a final journey out to where it would all end.

Crowds were already much in evidence at this point. Two red RMs are just coming out of service, while a preserved Green Line example passes by.

      

The fourth last Routemaster was RM6 - fifty years old and still looking good in an appropriate special livery.

As the 3rd last RM appeared, a wave of emotion surged through the crowd and the Police temporarily abandoned their efforts to contain the throng.

The third last RM had the distinction of being the final one to complete the full route, to Streatham Station. Across the road, the new order is already in place.

      

The penultimate Routemaster was RM5, the first production example after the four prototypes. She was immaculately turned out in the 1950s version of London Transport livery, with classic gold stripe.

And the honour of being the very last Routemaster went to RM2217, dating from 1965. As she finally appeared behind the TV crew bus, the crowd broke into applause and cheering.

Surrounded by her fans and looking resplendent in the winter sunshine, RM2217 tries to edge into the depot for the last time.

Windsor

Saturday was another crisp, sunny winter's day. What to do in the time leading up to the FT 'do' in the evening? I decided to take the opportunity to head out of town and enjoy a visit to Royal Windsor & Eton, which looked most attractive in the sunshine. (All pictures were taken at Windsor Castle.)

Sheep's Christmas Drinkies

On Saturday evening, I attended the Flyertalk BA Board's Christmas Drinkies 'do', hosted by Sheep, with possibly a little help from Jenny   The fun began with some food at Wagamama. There was a guest appearance by Dave and Pete, who dropped in to say hello on their way to another do - one with a slightly different dress code.

Suitably nourished, we then relocated to a local hostelry, where the fun continued ...

The final trip of the year was to a thoroughly familiar destination, which nevertheless remains one of the greatest cities in the world. The visit allowed me to indulge my interest in vintage transport, take in a West End show, do some more traditional sight-seeing at nearby Windsor & Eton, and attend the FlyerTalk BA Board's Christmas Do. A packed programme indeed!

Base : Sheraton Park Lane