Monday 25 August 2014

Kent Trip Part One

As you will know last week I had to go down to London for a tour of Victoria Coach Station. It seemed a good opportunity to go and spend the night at my parent's place near Rochester in Kent, and thanks to my bus pass, which is worth far more than its weight in gold, worked out far cheaper too than doing both ways by train and taxi.

So after leaving VCS I had a quick look at Bulleids Way Coach Station then caught the 11 to Whitehall. The Borismasters seem to be coping well, as the two I went on didn't have a rattle between them and the aircon was working well. While on the second one back to Whitehall I managed to grab a pic of one going the other way in a very striking livery.

Can't tell you anything about it except the pic hasn't been cropped and both buses were moving!
I was looking forward to my journey on the 53 from Whitehall to Woolwich as I knew there were a fleet of 14 reg Volvo B5L Geminis on the route. I'll get the negative out of the way first - it rattled like I've never known a Gemini do before - far more than the X1 Geminis do now, for example. That was a surprise but apart from that I was very impressed. The bus was heaving from start to finish - we frequently missed stops or just let people off and not on, the busiest bus I have been on for years. The journey took over 90 mins and despite it being packed it never got hot and the windows didn't even get misty. I had a huge guy sitting next to me most of the way and never felt cramped  - and I'm no ballerina either! So I'll forgive the ratttles - the B5 is well worth a journey on.

Stagecoach London 13024 Volvo B5L BG14 ONY on the 53 still showing Whitehall!
Woolwich has changed since I was driving buses through there over 20 years ago, and all the buses are red again, not the multitude of different colours visible then. However the majority of route numbers have remained the same, and my next one was familiar. I only drove the 96 from Woolwich to Dartford once - on a Boxing Day believe it or not - but it duplicates a lot of a route I was a regular on, the 422. It was quite surreal seeing places and stops that once were an everyday part of my life. I had even forgotten about a park in Plumstead for Pete's sake! What wasn't quite so surreal was the Stagecoach Scania Omnilink Decker. It's no wonder the Swedes were the first country to ban smacking, as evidently their backsides are made from concrete anyway! Apart from the Ipswich Superoute Scanias withdrawn earlier this year can anyone name me a Scania with decent seats? Anyway despite the virtually solid seats it was a decent journey full of memories, and I like the fact that the extension from Dartford to Bluewater is non stop. Surprised to see Plumstead Garage operating the route though as it always used to be a Dartford Garage route.

Stagecoach 15067 Scania Omnilink Decker LX09 AEN at Bluewater
And so onto home territory. Arriva took over Maidstone & District in 1998 which saw buses change from green to blue, but routes and route numbers have remained largely the same. As my oldest friend (that's length of time a friend not age) works at Arriva's Head Office in Maidstone (must organise some depot tours next time I'm down there) I have to be nice about them but to be honest that's not an onerous task. I was delighted to see one of their B7tl's turn up on the 701 to Medway (was Olympians when Bluewater opened in 1999) as it gave me a chance to compare with First's, particularly the Ipswich ones. You have to say if looked after the B7tl is a damn good bus, could just do with a little more top end. The Arriva example I went on seemed to like hills less than the Suffolk ones but apart from that very little to choose. Before I knew it we were in Chatham, the scene of most of my boyhood enthusiast activities and where my driving career started.

Arriva 6405 Volvo B7tl GN04 UDU at a darkening Bluewater
From Chatham it was the final leg to the village I grew up, and it is really good to see evening buses on the route - fair play to Medway Council for maintaining evening services. What wasn't so good was the awful 02 reg mini Dart on the route. (Sorry Matt but it was truly woeful!). Fortunately it was too dark by then to get a decent pic so instead here is a pic of another 02 reg Dart I took the following morning, but this is one of Nu-Venture's, based in Aylesford near Maidstone, who operate the route during the day. Is this the most gruesomely coloured destination display ever? This Marshall bodied vehicle was new to First Centrewest (DMS 41465) before they were taken over by Metrobus in 2007. Nu-Venture bought her and 4 of her sisters in August 2012

Nu-Venture Dennis Dart LT02 ZDV on the 151 in Strood
In part two my journey home. including my verdict on First Essex's Volvo 7900 Hybrids

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