diamond geezer

 Sunday, February 25, 2024

Route SL3: Thamesmead - Bromley North
Length of journey: 14 miles, 75 minutes

Location: Thamesmead Town Centre
Date: Saturday 24th February 2024
Time: 10:30am
Purpose: To ride the SL3!!!!!
In attendance: BusTokker09, Ian, Jings, Markie, Rizzo, Tim
Apologies: Colin
It's not every day another Superloop bus launches so the whole gang rendezvoused in Thamesmead to ride the full length to Bromley. Spods assemble! Most of the crew arrived by Lizzie line to Abbey Wood - top training! - so got a sneak preview of the SL3 there. Markie said he'd be coming direct by DLR but that's not been built yet so in the end his Dad had to drive him. It was cool to meet up again because it's been all of three weeks since we rode the Enviro200s on the SL5 to Croydon. Jings was wearing his three Superloop badges he got last time. Tim had his staff pass ready. Tokker's phone was fully charged.

Thamesmead's an odd place because you can't see the Thames, not from a bus anyway. Instead the route starts near a clocktower, a library and some shops. I noted that something electrical by the shelter had been burnt to a charred stump. A lot of sad families kept turning up with bags from Morrisons, although it turned out they only wanted the slow buses so we never saw them again. I was excited to see a 16-reg Enviro400H on route 177 parked opposite because you don't get much Stagecoach in my neck of the woods. According to the SL3 timetable the full journey to Bromley takes only 46 minutes, but that sounded well fictional.

We were surprised to see so many old men gathered to ride the new route. Bus crewing is normally a young person's thing but they were standing round like they'd all done this 'first day' thing before. Some had big cameras, timetable printouts and actual notebooks to write in - proper old school. One grey-haired bloke spent all his time moaning about the Countdown display in the shelter refreshing too slowly, even though it was operating perfectly normally. If you'd used your phone like a normal person, grandad, you wouldn't have had that problem. According to the official in the tabard, one bus had already broken down this morning and some buses were being turned early due to roadworks. Jings tried to get another badge off him but apparently he didn't have any.

When LT 132 arrived from Bromley - nice wrap! - an opposing crew leapt off and started filming. "I hope you're not camera shy!" said the ringleader as he stepped out in front of the bus. Then he put his phone down on a little tripod in the road and continued the recording. The driver gave a big thumbs up before manoeuvring off, but he had to do this very carefully to avoid running anyone over. Thankfully the other crew held off boarding because they must have realised they weren't going to get the top seat. Instead Tokker ran upstairs and grabbed it, sticking his phone to the front window with blutak. Then Ian attached his GoPro alongside... I can't wait to watch both videos in full later.

Hurrah, we were now off on the big ride! One day this'll be the start of the whole loop via Heathrow and Harrow but until next week you can only get as far as Walthamstow. The crew are deffo going to do the full circuit but not until the school holidays, obvs. It was annoying when an incoming SL3 passed us on a roundabout because we couldn't get a decent photo. I don't know who Harold Wilson was but one of the council blocks in Thamesmead is named after him. It was amazing to see white blossom spreading all along the Southern Outfall Sewer and it's only February. I also loved watching two geese swooping low over Southmere, but I didn't tell Markie because he only sees beauty in buses.

Stop number three, which came pretty damned quick, was on the flyover opposite Abbey Wood station. We'd been here earlier and what's appalling is that neither of the stops up here have SL3 timetables, indeed the southbound stop doesn't have any timetables at all! Also the only spider maps on display are very faded printouts dated 2020, i.e. totally out of date, unless you happen to spot the brand new map up the road facing the station, behind the Jehovah's Witnesses. Three lads rode by on a horse and cart which Rizzo tells me is pretty normal for Thamesmead. There was still frost on the grass below Lesnes Abbey Woods. Colin Whatsapped to apologise for not being here, he got his dates mixed up and went to North Woolwich instead.

The obvious way ahead would be up Knee Hill but TfL have never managed to get a route up there so the SL3 climbs New Road instead. It looked well muddy in those woods. The next stop was over two miles away because this bus does some mighty leaps, but several men with giant lenses were still poised to take photos of us as we passed. This next bit was like a proper residential labyrinth, it went on and on. Tim used the time to record a quick short of the iBus display as it switched to an asterisk and back again. Amazingly nobody wanted to get on or off the bus at Bexleyheath station so we sped straight past. But then we got caught in a long queue trying to turn left out of Avenue Road into the Broadway - five minutes! - which annoyed Tokker because even at double speed that's well tedious.

Not until the third stop in Bexleyheath, outside the library, did we pick up any more passengers. Some of them were clutching paper handouts - a throwback for the non-digital generation. Jings doesn't like the route diagram, he says it fails to show how clustered many of the stops are in real life, but Rizzo says anyone who can't be bothered to download an app deserves to be confused. But the clustering's also clever because it means the driver doesn't have to take any particular route between Bexleyheath and Sidcup, they can go whichever way has the least traffic. Today that freedom proved particularly pertinent...

It's the SL3's bad luck to launch midway through six weeks of roadworks by the Blendon roundabout. Tim said northbound buses were speeding down the A2 to avoid it, but annoyingly we weren't doing that because I'd love to see a NB4L get up to 50. Instead we diverted east to Bexley - actual Bexley village! - just like the slowcoaches on the bogstandard 269s. Tokker was well annoyed because it meant what he was recording wasn't even the normal route, plus our hairpin wiggle took a full 15 minutes. Tim said an excitable roadside granny should put her cameraphone down because the novelty white bus wouldn't be stopping anywhere near where she lived. By the time we reached Sidcup station we'd had our full 46 minute allocation and were only just over halfway. The shelter's Superloop roundel topper was fully illuminated and it wasn't even dark.

A small child bounded up to the top deck telling her Dad "the nice man gave me a badge", so Jings shot her a sideways look. The smell of Lynx Africa heralded the arrival of fellow obsessives Mason and KJ to the top deck. They sat further back and did impressions of door opening sounds on various operators' vehicles. "Do you remember Blue Triangle?" asked KJ. "I love the noise that handbrake release makes," said Mason. "They keep putting Enviros on the 144 but Geminis suit it better," said KJ and Mason agreed. Mason got halfway through explaining why Red Rose drivers were awful - something to do with always having headphones in - before KJ interrupted by exclaiming "That Arriva bus has got the old logo!" We left Mason and KJ well alone.

From Sidcup onwards the SL3 felt more like a proper limited-stop bus and less like being on a suburban safari. Some bits were fast, past old half-timbered pubs Ian's parents would probably like. Other bits were less fast, like queueing to get past Chislehurst war memorial because it's Saturday. One of the elderly passengers - she must have been at least 40 - was incredibly excited to see Superloop badges being given out by Chislehurst station, then felt sad because she wouldn't be getting one. KJ and Mason took the opportunity to alight here and catch a train to Grove Park... and would be hiding in the toilet if the ticket inspector turned up, if their final conversation was anything to go by.

Oh joy, more temporary traffic lights. A water main burst near the station midweek so a tiny patch of roadworks was generating extensive queues. Markie had become much less excited at the prospect of riding the Superloop all the way round than he had been when we started. Thankfully we slipped through the lights much faster than those heading east, and then we were into some suburb called Bickley. Lucky locals now have an express bus to the shops, although given the gap between services there's no guarantee it'll be worth waiting for. Jings bolted early because it looked the pink-haired tabard lady had a stack of badges as yet undistributed.

A very helpful bus lane helped speed us into Bromley. The next two stops were very close together, one either side of the ring road, but most passengers waited for the second outside the shops. One particularly well-fed family waddled swiftly downstairs, straight across the road and in through the doors of Nando's. Only the spods were left for the last run up to Bromley North station because not everyone thinks it's important to be completist. Tokker waited until everyone else had alighted before finally pressing stop on his video, the timestamp now showing a full hour and a quarter. Rizzo followed, returning his GoPro to his Regatta rucksack, and then we all walked down to the bus stand to take another albumful of photos.

"Look," said Ian, "the first stop for the SL3 is right next to the first stop for the SL5... shall we?" We didn't, partly because we were zonked after our long slog on the SL3 and partly because there were some much more interesting Streetlites and single door Enviro200s to investigate instead. But Spod Club will most definitely reassemble in North Woolwich next Saturday when the SL2 launches and the Superloop is complete. We Whatsapped Colin to remind him to be there.

Route SL3: route map
Route SL3: live route map
Route SL3: route consultation
Route SL3: timetable

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