Soon we descended into the giant chalk-pit that now houses a huge shopping mall, and came to rest in the bus station. I alighted, and checked my bearings to see what left from where. I had been there only a few minutes when a familiar red shape appeared: an RT was coming. RT624 came bustling into the bus station, and I hurried along to climb aboard for a trip towards Lakeside.
I found a seat behind the driver, and we were away, climbing up out of the pit. The RT roared along the dual carriageaway to the roundabout, and crossed over the Dartford - Gravesend road to pass under the railway and up to Greenhithe Station. We looped through the station interchange, pausing for the gaggle of photographers, then set off again. Gold-liveried RML2405 came the other way, passing us at the roundabout below the station.
We roared along the dual carriageway towards the Dartford Crossing, swirled round the roundabouts and edged our way through the toll-booths into the tunnel. Despite having been through here on an RT before, there is still a frisson of fear as one heads for that tiny opening in a double-decker! But we soon emerged on the Essex shore, and wound our way round more roundabouts to find the Lakeside shopping pit. There RT624 pulled up in the bus station ahead of First Essex Leyland Olympian 34813.
RT624 was going off-duty now, having completed a rounder to Gravesend and back, so we had a few minutes to wait until the next in the series arrived. This gave us time to have a good look at the bus from all round.
Meanwhile Olympian 34813 departed, and Ensign's 701 - a Dart SLF with UVG Urbanstar bodywork - fussed about before departing on the regular X80 service. (The DDA means that the non-accessible historic vehicles have to be an addition to the regular service, not a substitute). After a while RT3232 appeared, and ran in to pull up behind RT624. The silver and blue-liveried RT recalls the early days of Ensignbus operations in and around London. This RT also waited around long enough for many photos to be taken. RT624 headed off to the garage.
I boarded the RT3232, and chose to go upstairs this time, with a seat near the front. This gave a spectacular viewpoint for the climb over the Queen Elizabeth Bridge back into Kent. We wiggled round the roundabouts beyond the toll, and headed back to Greenhithe Station, passing RML2405 again on the way. At the station we met the dedicated shuttlebus, Arriva's 3273, on the 100 service between the station and Bluewater.
We rattled down to Bluewater, where the bus station was now really quite busy, with buses on the 96, 100, 414, 428, X80, 700 and others. We whirled in, and out again, and headed for Gravesend. I sat back in my elevated seat and watched the scenery go past. It really is a grandstand view of the river and the riverside, as fascinating today as it was in the 1960's, when the double-decker 480 was the grandstand seat on Green Rover days. The sun shone, the odd ship still slid smoothly along the Thames, and the bus sounded wonderful. We crossed over the Channel Tunnel Rail Link works at Ebbsfleet, and climbed the hill past Northfleet Plough to reach the high ground, for the run in to Gravesend.
At the Tilbury Ferry stop the bus paused for photos, before heading on past the Clock Tower to begin the return journey.
I enjoyed the return journey too. The afternoon light was fading somewhat now, and taking on a winter afternoon rosy glow as the shadows lengthened. We passed through Gravesend town centre, using the buses-only streets to reach the station, then headed west through Northfleet. Ebbsfleet gave an even better view of the railway works and new tunnel entrance in this direction, but we were too far away for photos of the trains - which included a Railfreight class 66 with Railtrack ballast hoppers, an ex-German Railways diesel shunter and a pair of ex-Western Region preserved diesel-hydraulic shunters.
Soon we were back into the pit, where many of the passengers alighted to await the arrival of the RLH. But as we climbed the access road again we realised they were in for a (mild) disappointment: it was red RT4421 that was heading in on the next X80 special.
I alighted at Greenhithe Station, and said my thanks to the driver: Ross Newman. The RT departed on its way back to Lakeside, and I went in to the station where I was just in time to catch a train to Charing Cross...
Part Two: RT RF Register London Lights Tour.
Bus Stop Part Two: RT RF Register London Lights Tour.