Sunday, 18 January 2015

Year of the Bus - Around Westminster

Changing Victoria

As 2014 wound down I was pleased to have some time away from work accompanied by some decent weather.  I always find winter walking rather difficult due to the shortage of daylight and even the early morning option is denied me.  Unusually for the time of year there were a couple of mascot trails still on offer in London and so I thought it would be fun to go and check them out pre-Christmas.
Westminster Cathedral

The first was the Year of the Bus, with four trails on offer in different parts of the Capital.  I tried to drum up support from the girls to accompany me but there was none so I went alone.  I only had one day available so the idea was that I would look for as many of the buses and Paddingtons (also on show throughout London to tie in with the release of the latest film) as I could.  I knew that I would only have about six hours of daylight to do this, so armed with a one-day Travelcard I set out to do the Westminster trail and the Around the River Trail as well as the Christmas Trail and Around Paddington Trail of the Paddingtons.  It was a tall order and as it turned out not easy as many of the sculptures were in awkward locations.
Tunnel Vision

As I arrived in Victoria station I started out with the Around Westminster Trail.  Because of my starting point I decided to do the trail back to front from the suggested route.  It had been a grey start to the day so I was very pleased when I discovered that when I arrived at Victoria most of the cloud had shifted to reveal some pretty good weather.  The route looked pretty promising and gave me the opportunity to walk a route that I would normally do by Tube.
Lord Mayor of the City of Westminster

The area around Victoria station is a bit of a confusing mess at the moment as much of the surrounding area is being redeveloped.  In fact London is changing so quickly that I am grateful for these routes in order to give me the opportunity to check out the changes.  Walking along Victoria Street is a case in point with many of the buildings recently changing (and getting bigger!).  I do walk along Victoria Street reasonably often for the various work trips I make into the Capital for the types of event I attend are often hosted by Government departments who favour these locations as they are close to their offices.
Buckingham Palace Bus

My first bus was just shy of Westminster Cathedral and was called Tunnel Vision, depicting some stylised artwork that you might associate with the London Tube (seemed a slightly strange choice for a piece of artwork celebrating the bus?).  I also took a look at the Cathedral across the road.  I had read recently that the Cathedral had been mistaken for a mosque by a UKIP politician recently.  Although much derided at the time it was easy to see how he arrived at such a conclusion since the Byzantine architecture is not something you would normally associate with a church.  I love its bold design – the stripy bricks seem to accentuate it somehow.
Westminster Abbey

Victoria Street was rather a procession of buses – there were four more along the street before I reached the rather more famous Westminster Abbey in all its Gothic splendour.  This had rather more attention from tourists than the Cathedral.  For the record the buses on Victoria Street were Lord Mayor of the City of Westminster, Gull Graeni Straeto, Buckingham Palace Bus and London Takes the Bus.  They were all fantastic creations although the Buckingham Palace one was perhaps my favourite – it really looked the part!
Nelson Mandela

After inspecting the outside of the frontage of Westminster Abbey I negotiated Parliament Square outside.  I noticed a huge queue for the Abbey and could only guess that perhaps there was a service about to take place?  I guess that most of the queue should have been able to get inside but I have never seen so many people waiting to go into church before!
Winston Churchill

Around Parliament Square I admred statues of some of the most prominent people in history, from the splendidly attired Nelson Mandela to the rather more classic view of Sir Winston Churchill on the other side of the square.  This was a precursor to the statues of famous soldiers all along Whitehall.  I passed by the bus dressed as a telephone box on the way and then prepared myself for a history lesson as I admired the parade of statues along Whitehall.   
London Telephone Bus

Along with the sudden appearance of a golden sun and the magnificence of the buildings all along Whitehall this was perhaps the highlight of my entire day’s walking.  Some of the soldiers I recognised were Earl Haig and Monty but the memorials to the women of World War 1 and the Cenotaph itself were also very moving pieces.  I imagine attending Remembrance Sunday here must be an incredible occasion.  It was perhaps fitting that the bus stationed here was called ‘Lest We Forget’ and depicted a very memorable poppy/ World War 1 design.
Nelson's Column

The top end of Whitehall is of course Trafalgar Square and I think I probably found it at its absolute winter best bathed in glorious sunshine.  It was a hive of activity as you might expect, with lots of ‘statues’ all on show waiting for tourists to give them money for the art of dressing up as famous characters and balancing in impossible looking positions clutching sticks.  There were a couple of Yodas and a Santa Claus in the midst.  I don’t know whether these folks make much money from their exploits but it must be incredibly uncomfortable.
Christmas Tree

Other memorable sights from the square included the enormous Christmas tree, an annual gift from the good people of Norway and said to be the largest Christmas tree in the UK each year.  The blue cockerel on one of the plinths was an unusual sight but looked particularly radiant in the sunshine but it was the bronze lions that seemed to get the most attention.  People were queuing up to get their pictures taken on the plinths next to the magnificent creatures.  Almost unnoticed was the Trafalgar Panoramic bus that sat in among all of it, depicting a scene of the square.  It wasn’t easy to move on from here, such was the atmosphere and pre-Christmas mood that pervaded the square.
Trafalgar Square

I headed towards Leicester Square, catching the London Skyline bus as I passed the Coliseum.  The trail then took a rather strange turn here as part headed towards Covent Garden and the other towards Leicester Square.  I headed towards Covent Garden first and almost missed a bus on the way as I passed by the Stanford shop hosting the Travels With Edward Bus.  I should have realised there was one in there as we had seen one of the book benches there on that trail earlier in the year.
Father Christmas

Covent Garden was absolutely packed as you might expect a couple of days before Christmas.  I really enjoyed the buzz of the place – it is definitely one of my favourite places in London.  Finding the mascots wasn’t so easy though – I transferred to Paddingtons here and found that they didn’t stand out so well.  The buses here though were excellent, especially the one dressed as a guardsman with a big bearskin hat just outside the London Transport museum.  One day I shall go inside there – it looks most interesting.  At the other end of the market was Poppy Fields, a more summery design than the one I had seen along Whitehall.
Covent Garden Buses

Having seen all three of the Covent Garden buses I headed towards Leicester Square.  Now that the day had properly got going it was becoming more difficult to walk as the streets were so busy with shoppers trying to complete their shopping before the big day at the end of the week.  It seemed rather strange that I was searching for painted buses while all that was going on.  The final ones were all colourful – Rock n Royal, Swinging London and Cath Kidston.  They embodied the partying, shopping and fashion that London is known the world over for.  I was now at Picadilly Circus and it was lunchtime so I stopped briefly for some refreshment before heading onward on the next trail.  This was a particularly good trail – I thoroughly enjoyed the mix of history, culture and busy shopping streets on the way.
Cath Kidston Bus

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