I waited. After a few minutes I was rewarded with a green and cream delight. Cravens-bodied RT1499 was scurrying along from Stone, and soon came up the slope to turn at the station, on its way east to Gravesend. Glad to be in out of the sullen rain, I climbed aboard.
I climbed the stairs, and claimed one of the front seats, behind a rain-spattered window. There were not going to be any easy photos today! Already in the dull winter light and rain the aperture was set to its widest, and even outdoors the speed was down to 1/30th or 1/15th second, not conducive to sharp, shake-free pictures. So apologies for the picture quality throughout.
We were quickly away, down to the roundabout, and south for Bluewater. We crossed the main Dartford-Gravesend road at another roundabout, and descended into the pit. I mean the shopping purgatory known as Bluewater on a pre-Christmas wet Saturday. Fortunately I would get time off for good behaviour by going on a bus pilgrimage!
But the bus station in the old chalk quarry is a fascinating place, with a variety of operators. Here Arriva Medway Towns'Volvo/Alexander 6414 on the 701 service from across the Medway rubbed shoulders with a TfL representative in the shape of a Selkent Trident on the 96. Just imagine if the 696 trolleybuses had survived....
We did not stay long at Bluewater. Soon we were winding up the sinuous road out of the pit, just as the East Kent Regent V came down the other way. We turned east and took the high road along the cliffs overlooking the Thames. Big ships were on the move. We crossed the newly-opened Channel Tunnel Rail Link (High Speed One - I wonder how long it'll take to get High Speed Two). After the dip down to Ebbsfleet we climbed again to Northfleet, and met red RT4421 heading north with an Arriva Scania trailing it. (Yes, I did warn you I was taking pictures through rain-spattered windows!)
We continued into Gravesend, turning round the loop to the normal town terminus, where the shoppers and lunchers alighted, then on round past the station and down past the Tilbury Ferry terminal. More big ships. It must have been high tide. We continued up the bank to reach the classic LT Country Area terminal at the Clocktower, where we stood for a few minutes.
A convoy of service buses came past: Arriva Scania 3255 on a 480 to Valley Drive, MetroRider 1809 on the 499 to Riverview Park, and Dart 3198 on the 490, also to Valley Drive.
We headed back west, past Gravesend Station and along the Northfleet highroad. We met RM298 heading east near Ebbsfleet, and one of the new Volvos (3808) on a Fastrack Service as we approached Bluewater. We made our obeisance in the pit, and climbed out again to work a way round through Greenhithe and Stone to reach the Dartford Tunnel. I went upstairs for the ride through the tunnel.
On the Essex side we negotiated a series of sliproads and roundabouts across the bleak landscape. Did they practise for the Moon Landings here? Again we wound our way down into another old chalk-pit now devoted to retail sales, and ended up in the bus station. (Out on one edge, naturally). There we crossed with East Kent MFN946F, heading back towards Gravesend.
We negotiated the highway spaghetti associated with the retail park and headed east for Grays, passing a variety of local service buses, most in First liveries. Soon we reached Grays, where it was a case of "all change!" The bus and crew were due for a break. While RT1499 rumbled away to turn we crossed the road to the westbound stop, passing red Ensignbus RT4421, our expected ride.
Back to Ian's Bus-stop Part 2