Today's itininery was as follows:
Home - Hull on the 0812 Stagecoach Grimsby-Cleethorpes Service X1, arriving 0940
Hull - London Golders Green on the 1025 National Express Service 562, arriving 1535
London Golders Green - Chelsea World's End on the 1655 First London Service 328, arriving 1759
Chelsea World's End - London Victoria Coach Station on the 1805 London General Service 11, arriving 1819
London Victoria - Milton Keynes Coachway on the 2330 National Express Service 440, arriving 0040
My first leg was from home in Cleethorpes to Hull aboard Service X1. Readers of this blog will have read that I've travelled on more than my fair share of non-standard vehicles allocated to this service. Normally, four of a batch of 5 Volvo B10M-55 buses with Plaxton Paladin bodies operate this service exclusively, though today was to prove yet another exception for me as RoadCar-liveried 25810 (PIW 4457) arrived in something of a light monsoon! Aboard I went and said hi to the driver, one I knew (Cooky) and sat back attempting to look outside through the very misted-up windows. The rain was nothing short of torrential and as we travelled along Wellington Street the driver of an X1 opporating in the opposite direction told Cooky that the subway along Ellis Way had been closed due to flooding. "Typical!" I thought, "They're closing Grimsby around me!" We headed up Freeman Street but to no avail - the traffic came to a standstill for a good 5 minutes so we meandered the side streets and onto Cleethorpes Road then over the Flyover and down Victoria Street into the bus station.
We were only 7 minutes late leaving and made good progress out via Laceby, Keelby the A18 and Humberside Airport. The surface water was incredible on some the sections of road, and at the Humber Bridge toll booths Cooky was informed that some bodywork around his front offside wheel arch had been forced out and was potentially dangerous. As we got to the terminal stop in Hull city centre (Anne Street, where there isn't even a bus shelter!) Cooky and I took some time to make the vehicle safe before he dared to drive it back to Grimsby. We ended up pulling the beading off one section to allow the bodywork to be bent inwards.
Still lashing down, I attempted to find George Street, which is where my next coach would leave from - the National Express service to London. In the teaming rain which was certainly not abating, tentatively darting from one shop canope to the next in order to stay dry was proving impossible as a mere second in the rain was drenching me thoroughly. While the new transport interchange is being constructed in Hull the bus and coach stops are spread throughout the city centre and whilst timetable cases showing the Hull network map are in plentiful supply, details of where other services depart from at stops other than the one you're waiting at are not! Not only was George Street outside of what I considered to be the city centre, but the stop NX were using quite a distance down it and, what a surprise, no bus shelter. I ended up stood across the road from the shop, underneath a very leaky shelter, though did manage to photograph the coach as it arrived in the pouring rain.
East Yorkshire Motor Services of Hull operate the NX service 562 and had recently replaced their V & W-reg Volvo B10Ms with 7 brand new Volvo B12B vehicles with the Salvador Caetano Levante bodies that are now the standard for new NX vehicles. This was one readon why I opted to travel north to Hull in order to then travel south to London, in order to try one out.
65 (YX07 HJG) arrived from Beverley a couple of minutes late and we left with 17 passengers on. According to the driver, the flooding had closed Anlaby Road, meaning he had to take a different (more direct) journey out of Hull, missing the Fiveways and Hessle stops out. The route saw me cross the Humber Bridge for a second time in 90 minutes and then via the A1077 passing Winterton to Scunthorpe and then the M181/M180/M18 to Doncaster and the relatively new Interchange in the town centre. This was the first time I'd been in the new Interchange and it certainly lives up to SYPTE (or Travel South Yorkshire, as they prefer to be known now) standards for cleanliness though in my opinion is fundamentally floored in being totally underground and despite their best efforts, looks very dingy and unwelcoming. Still it must be a great step forward in eradicating the need for both a north and south bus station (as before) with quite a gap between the two.
Our driver made adequate announcements and we arrived at Leicester Forest East Services on the M1 at 1315. He made it clear that a new driver would be taking over and that if passengers saw him in the services it did not mean the coach hadn't left. We left at 1345 with our new driver, Craig I think, bang on time and with all 25 passengers back on board.
I've spotted this Craig guy before; a very abrupt chap with an upfront manner with the passengers and with a broad Hull accent makes for a less than satisfactory experience. His announcements were something else! They were, well, posh. It was soooo funny to hear this guy shout at a bunch of 20 Japanese passengers wanting to board his coach at Milton Keynes Coachway in a nasty, quasi-Yorkshire (dire Hull) accent and then speak in a tone on the microphone that was so posh it made the Queen sound like a commoner. The congestion around J20-19 was bad so we were running about 35 mins late, and I got off in Golders Green at 1609, and was promply told off for photographing the coach in the bus station. What I needed to do was to take 5 stepts to my right and I'd be ok to continue. Hmmm.
Driving National Express coaches through Golders Green regularly allows me to see, and get used to, the different routes and vehicle types used on them in that area and I'd always wanted to have a ride on Service 328 since mid-2004 when it was upgraded from 35-seater low floor single decker to Volvo B7TL/Wright Eclipse Gemini double decker. The destination always appealed to me, too, Chelsea World's End.
So it was that at 1655 I boarded VNW32398 (LK54 FNP), an identical vehicle to that supposed to be now used on this route, operated by First London, and travelled to Chelsea through West Hampstead, Kilburn, Maida Hill, Notting Hill and Kensington. The service has a peak vehicle requirement of 19 vehicles with a mere total route length of 8 miles! An alleged 6 minute frequency operates on this service on Mondays to Saturdays though with official end-to-end journey times ranging between 39 and 80 minutes, curtailing late-running services often occurs. The service is operated from First's Westbourne Park depot, who operate a total of 617 vehicles in total from their garages within London, accounting for 8.56% of bus services.
As I'd assumed, the World's End is indeed a pub and so it was here that I waited for a bus to get me to London Victoria. The only direct option from this stop was Service 11, operated by London General, and this arrived at 1805 in the form of WVL146 (LX53 AYW) in an overall livery promoting London Schools. It was another Volvo B7TL/Wright Eclipse Gemini double decker whose Oyster reader was not working so the driver wanted to physically see each passenger's Oyster card to prove they had one before letting them past. I alighted at the stop outside Victoria Coach Station on Buckingham Palace Road at 1819.
After a quick 6 inch sub in Subway it was to the Victoria Apollo theatre to see the new West-End musical, Wicked, for the second occasion. Afterwards, whilst on the phone to Pete, who should I almost physically bump into but actress Susie Blake herself (who plays Madamme Morrible in the production). Unwittingly I was stood by the Stage Door.
My next coach was the 2330 National Express Service 440 to Derby, though I'd alight at Milton Keynes Coachway at 0040. This journey is operated by Nottingham-based Silverdale the vehicle was FJ55 DYW, a Volvo B12B/Plaxton Panther, and was 15 mins late leaving due to arriving late on its inbound journey. Also late leaving was the 426 to South Shields and the 421 to Blackpool as well as the 465 to Halifax. Yes, it had most certainly continued to rain up north after I'd left Hull earlier in the day, causing considerably hassle on the motorways!
By J7 of the M1 we diverted onto the A5 passing through the centre of Hemel Hempsted and Dunstable and back on at J11 I think. By now it was 0110 (i.e. 30 mins late) and my next coach left Milton Keynes Coachway at 0120 and we were still 29 miles away. I was sure to miss it and be stranded at J14 of the M1 in the very small hours of the morning........