Taking the Megabusplus to London

Leading on from yesterday’s post about our trip to London, here’s a little more about the Megabusplus service that we used. I’ve taken it before, when I needed to get down to London to fly to France for a holiday in 2009, but this was Christine’s first time, and also my first return trip.

Like the regular Megabus, it is run by the Stagecoach Group, and takes advantage of the fact that Stagecoach is also the current East Midlands Trains franchisee. So rather than getting a coach all of the way, time-wise roughly half of the journey is by coach and the reminder by train, with the switchover talking place at East Midlands Parkway railway station.

This is significantly quicker than taking a coach all of the way. Taking Halifax-London as the example, to do this by coach takes almost 6 hours in total. Megabusplus knocks this down to a little over four hours. You also arrive into London St Pancras railway station, which has much better onward transport links, than Victoria coach station. And I find that I can’t read on coaches (I get travel sick), so for me there’s less ‘downtime’ than a regular coach.

However, compared with a direct train Megabusplus is still slower – the 08:06 Grand Central train from Halifax left a few minutes after our coach and would have reached King’s Cross a full hour before we did.

The prices are about the same as regular Megabus, with fares starting at £1 one way, plus a 50p booking fee. I was too late to get it this cheap, but it was still much more affordable than the train at the last minute. Your ‘ticket’ is the reference number that you get by email when you pay – most people print this out but you can just show it on your phone to the driver, like I did.

The Halifax service actually starts from Bradford, then calls at Halifax and onto Huddersfield, before running direct to East Midlands Parkway. I say ‘direct’ – Huddersfield’s links with the southbound M1 are pretty poor and so we went on some very narrow and windy roads to get there. On the way down we briefly called at a service station, but this was only to change to a different driver and customers were not allowed to alight. East Midlands Parkway is effectively a service station though, with a café, toilets and a vending machine.

The Megabusplus coaches themselves are reasonably bog-standard – single-decker, space below for luggage, and a toilet. There’s no on-board catering, and seats aren’t allocated. Most of the people on the two journeys we made were travelling on their own, so if the coach is busy you’ll have to sit next to a stranger. Pre-booking is mandatory – there’s no facility to turn up and pay, although you can book up until the night before, as I did. On the other hand, this means that if everyone arrives early, then the coach can leave early – as happened on the return leg.

I would definitely recommend bringing a music player. Unlike trains, there’s no quiet coach, or any way of moving to another carriage if it’s too noisy. On the way back there was a very restless baby, so I was glad I had some music to listen to.

If you need to get to London cheaply, and don’t want it to take all day, then Megabusplus is worth it. But if you’re able to get a cheaper train ticket, then the train is a quicker and better experience.

27 hours in London

St Pauls Cathedral

As I alluded to on Friday, I took Christine away on a trip which I planned at the last minute on Thursday night. We’d both booked Friday off work, but had nothing planned for Friday or Saturday, and couldn’t think of anything particularly interesting to do. So, whilst Christine was out on Thursday night, I set about planning something.

Though London has a reputation for being expensive, getting there at the last minute seemed to be cheaper than many other places. A backup plan had been to go to Birmingham, to visit Cadbury World, but getting there by train would have cost a fortune as all of the cheap seats had gone.

We managed to get tickets on Megabusplus, leaving from Halifax, for a reasonable price. Unlike the regular Megabus, you only travel by coach half-way, and then pick up a train for the rest of the journey. I’ll write more about this later this week; whilst it’s slower than a direct train, it’s faster than going the whole way by coach. Leaving Halifax just before 8am, we arrived at St Pancras at around 12:30pm.

Lunch was at Carluccio’s in St Pancras – we decided to have a big meal at lunchtime, as trying to find anywhere for an affordable evening meal on Valentines Day is likely to be an exercise in futility. And then we headed on to the Museum of London, to see the Cheapside Horde. We went to the MoL in September but the Cheapside Horde exhibition hadn’t opened yet, so this was our opportunity to see it.

Afterwards we headed over to Chinatown for some dim sum – despite the large lunch we were peckish – and had a mosey around the shops. Visiting just after Chinese New Year meant the area was covered in Chinese lanterns – one of which made its presence known by landing on my head in the strong winds. We also nipped into one of the theatre ticket agents at Leicester Square, to get some of the last cheap tickets for that evening’s showing of We Will Rock You.

Our hotel was in Croydon, south London, which took about an hour to get to after the show finished, and involved a tube and two trains. We would have stayed more centrally but were limited by what was available on our budget. Still, the hotel was fine, and breakfast was included.

After breakfast we caught up with friends at the café at Tate Modern, then headed back to St Pancras for lunch. Then it was a train, a coach and then a bus back home – and we were back home for 8pm.

Considering it was planned at the last minute, and on a shoestring budget, we managed to do a lot in two days. And, most importantly, we had a good time. Whilst I can’t see us doing this every year for Valentines Day, it was good to get away, even if just for one night.