Northfleet Recce (RF679)
Sunday March 28th 2004
Prepared by Ian Smith,
5th April 2004
Bromley South was strangely quiet, even for a Sunday. The only trains running were the Eurostars,
Networkers to Orpington and "Plastic Pigs" to Rochester, the latter two categories operating from Blackfriars.
Victoria was shut for the day, as was Orpington - Tonbridge and Rochester-Rainham. The Mid-Kent line was working,
but only from Swanley Junction. Never mind, it was a Rochester local that I wanted, in order to get to Meopham.
A brisk walk up the hill to Hook Green and I could join RF679 on a reconnaisance of the current state of the old Northfleet GS routes,
in preparation for a Running Day in October.
The "Plastic Pig" (375609+2) was late (equipment failure! - a clock not reset to summertime?),
but I had time in hand. I alighted at Meopham, and rang Colin on RF679. He was running even later,
so I walked up the hill, passed Hook Green, and continued up beyond old LT territory to Meopham Green.
I bought some lunch on the way, and ate some of it at the bus-stop on the hill top, in the village.
I even went to look at the mill while I was waiting.
489A Meopham (Hook Green) - Longfield - Northfleet Garage
RF679 hove in sight round the corner in the village,
having come up the old Maidstone & District route from Wrotham via the Vigo Inn.
Colin pulled in to the bus lay-by and I boarded, to greet the rest of the day's crew.
We rumbled down the hill, joining the 489A route from Longfield for the last descent to Hook Green.
There the route surprisingly did not turn round the triangular green (there IS room),
but does a reverse turn into a side road to stop in a double-depth layby back on the main road.
We followed the instructions, then paused to look at the blind set and reset for the journey to Gravesend.
We set off again, back up the hill to meet the Longfield Road,
then west along the B-road to Longfield. Soon we met and crossed the railway,
and kept it loose company along to the village,
where we turned up the Ash Green Road then pulled round to the station stop,
nub of this network of routes.
There we selected a Northfleet Garage blind for the next stage in the journey.
We turned back down to the main road, and wiggled left to a mini-rounabout,
then right up the minor road heading for Betsham.
Parked cars provided a hazard undreamed of in the 1950s.
We negotiated our way up the hill, and soon crossed the old Gravesend branch railway.
This closed in the 1950s, but has been resurrected as a link to the Channel Tunnel railway.
Instead of antique Southern push-pulls it now sports high-speed electric intercontinental trains!
At the crossroads we noted that the Betsham road had a 6ft 6in width restriction at the far end,
and turned right on the lane to Southfleet. Over the railway again.
One of our crew used to live here as a child,
and in Southfleet we pulled up at the old stop outside her old home at Friary Court.
While we were stopped the current house-owners came out to look at the bus,
and introductions were made.
Then we picked our way on along the narrow lane to The Ship Inn,
where a knot of narrow lanes meet.
The bus-stop was right on a corner,
so that a bus blocked one of the roads while at the stop.
But in more generous times,
when people used the bus and few had cars that didn't matter.
We paused for photos,
while huge articulated lorries squeezed through the village,
then headed on for Gravesend.
The road recrossed the Chunnel Link again,
and turned right past the site of Southfleet Station,
where the old railway cutting, no longer required,
has been filled in for new housing.
Here is a strange landscape: huge power lines converge from all directions
to a truly colossal electricity switching station right next to the main A2 dual carriageway and Channel Tunnel line.
The lane from Southfleet, home to the 450, 451, 489/A, and 490 threads its way through this complex,
before climbing up past the switching station. Then suddenly we were in suburban Gravesend,
running gently down the Thames-side flank through Perry Street to Gravesend Station.
There we turned left to follow the main road along to Northfleet Garage.
Colin had arranged for Northfleet Garage to expect us,
but all was very quiet when we pulled in and turned in the old LT shed.
We noticed that the doors are still LT blue,
and wondered if they had ever been repainted!
An inspector (manager?) came out to see us, then left us to our own devices.
It was a good place for a PNB and lunch,
with the opportunity to look at the various buses parked up on a typical Sunday.
Inside the shed was a line-up of Dart SLFs for the 423, 498 and 499 routes,
plus a gaggle of MetroRiders and Northern-Counties step-entrance Darts.
Outside rested a handful of double-deckers, elderly Volvo Olympians and Citybuses,
opposite a line-up of Wright-bodied Scania single-deckers.
An interesting corner held the training buses: an East Lancs-bodied Dart (YDT505),
and one each of Dart (YDT148) and Volvo B6 (212) bodied by Northern Counties.
A tiny Mercedes minibus (154), presumably a staff bus, was tucked into the corner.
Other corners of the yard held further Darts and B6s.
490: Gravesend - Longfield - Hartley Court
Lunch over, we departed from Northfleet and popped into Gravesend to inspect the traffic system and the carpark.
Yes, the bus would squeeze through the carpark exit, with some care.
We fled from Gravesend as a 490 to Hartley Court, climbing back up Perry Street to cross the A2/railway/power line nexus,
then along the lane to Southfleet.
There we wiggled left to squeeze past the other side of the Ship Inn,
and turned east to reach the New Barn road at the ancient pond.
We turned right, and climbed steadily up to the hilltop settlement of New Barn,
whose modern-looking houses hide behind their mature hedges and trees.
We passed through, and dropped suddenly down to the road from Meopham.
We turned right towards Longfield. There we went the other way round the square to the station.
That left us pointing the right way to turn right onto the lane under the railway and up into suburban Hartley.
We turned left off the road to Ash, and gentled our way uphill until the suburban road narrowed to a country lane.
A third of a mile further on we came to the Hartley Court terminus, a triangular road junction.
The triangle is too tight to use as a roundabout, but provides a sheltered point for a reversing manoevre.
Colin turned the bus, and changed the blinds to the other route to terminate at this spot, the 451.
489: Ash - Longfield Station
We left the 451 blind on for the trip back through Hartley to the main road - almost back at Longfield.
Then we turned left to follow the 489 route, and paused to reset the blind for the Ash terminus.
Soon we left Hartley behind, and passed along the ribbon developed road to New Ash Green.
We wiggled our way through the village. A Red Route Buses MetroRider scuttled across our bows
to the village centre. Yes, they have Sunday buses here!
We passed out the other side of the village to reach the White Swan at Ash.
The official turn - into the narrow lane to Kingsdown, and reverse out - is awkward.
We gathered that once upon a time the buses often turned in the pub car-park.
The man from the pub came out to chat while we changed the blind for the return journey to Longfield.
The return to Longfield was uneventful, except that we found we had missed the turn into the middle of New Ash Green
and managed to by-pass most of it. We rolled down through Hartley and turned into the station approach.
452: Longfield - Dartford
We did not have a blind for the Saturday-only 452 route (West Kingsdown-Dartford), so we put up a 450 blind
and set off for Dartford. We wiggled up beside the Chunnel Line to the crossroads,
and turned left on the surprisingly rural ridge route past Westwood towards Bean.
We crossed the junction where the GSs on the 450 and 452 routes used to meet, and went on past the Country Park into Bean.
Beyond that the horrors started: we negotiated a series of roundabouts controlling access to the A2,
and passed along the rim of the Bluewater shopping pit.
A left turn onto the old Gravesend-Dartford road took us into Stone,
and we went on through Horns Cross and along towards Dartford.
Red buses started to appear:
Dartford garage now handles TfL contracts that require the buses to be red,
and here were new Wright-bodied DAFs on the 492. There was also Blue Triangle's RM298 on a wedding special.
We descended into Dartford, and found the old stand outside the old Dartford Borough Museum.
423: Dartford - Longfield
We wanted to avoid the traffic snarl-ups associated with the shopping pit,
so decided to follow the 423 route back to Longfield - which worked!
As the 423 was an RT route we did not have blinds,
so recklessly wore one for a 450 short-working to Bean. (Tut-tut).
The 423 route took us out through Darenth and along the gentle flank of the Darent valley to Longfield,
where once again we wended our way to the station.
The others were going to trace the 452 south-westwards to West Kingsdown,
but I needed to find a working station to take me back to Bromley.
As luck would have it, there was an (hourly) train due two minutes after we reached Longfield.
I said goodbye, and hurried over the station bridge. The same pair of plastic pigs as I had used that morning whooshed in, and sped me back to Bromley.
Many thanks to Colin Rivers for his invitation and company.
All photos by Ian Smith. Click on most of them for a larger picture.
Country Bus Rallies
Northfleet Running Day, October 2004