Sunday, 1 January 2017

Random Route: The 180

The 180 was probably my favourite ride of 2016. It flew into the top ten with me awarding the route 9/10, something only 13 other routes managed to achieve. My ride at dusk on VWL9 was spectacular, with stunning views and brilliant thrash. I highly recommend this route to anyone who hasn't ridden it yet, and if you're still not convinced, you will be by the end of this post!

VWL9 at its last stop, Crabtree Manorway North.
The 180 runs from Lewisham Shopping Centre to Belvedere Industrial Area, via Greenwich, Charlton, Woolwich, Plumstead and Abbey Wood. It runs every 10 minutes with a PVR of 17, with the total journey taking around 70 minutes. The allocation consists of Wrightbus Gemini 1's and B7TL Plaxton Presidents, although these are being phased out in favour of Gemini 2 vehicles displaced from route 21 following its conversion to New Routemaster operation.

I waited nervously at the bus stop in Lewisham, intrigued to find out what bus type I was going to ride. Every other route had passed by except for the 180, but at 15:34 VWL9 emerged from the bus jam and I strode on, taking a front row seat. The bus took a long time to leave Lewisham Town Centre, seeing as the gyratory is currently a pile of mud and all the buses have to work their way round it. After picking up some more passengers at the DLR station, the 180 started to head up Greenwich South Street. This section is fairly residential, but very interesting with Greenwich Park being very close by and many of the roads having a steep gradient. One thing that caught my eye was that all of the apartments were multi coloured, bringing some light and life into this area between two town centres. This road contains some unusual bus stop names, such as Sparta Street, where VWL9 overtook an Enviro 400 MMC on the 199, another brilliant route passing through this area.

After a few minutes the 180 was at Cutty Sark Station, with a lovely view of a bustling Greenwich Market, packed full of shoppers and beautiful christmas decorations, as well as the Cutty Sark ship and the River Thames, whilst an MBNA Thames Clipper glowed in the sunlight, cruising along the River Thames. After a few more passengers boarded the Gemini, the 180 turned left onto Trafalgar Road, where the interesting building of the National Maritime Museum is visible in Greenwich Park. East Greenwich is a mix of small shops and houses, containing some very modern apartments with a Costa in the basement! I wish I had the luxury of walking downstairs to have a Costa hot chocolate every morning, the Costa Express machine in Tesco is broken most of the time! The Greenwich Centre is situated here, offering a range of facilities such as a gym, swimming pool and a library and has some lovely architecture. At this point Trafalgar Road turns into Woolwich Road, and the 180 ducks under the A2 before it turns into the Blackwall Tunnel. I glimpsed a look at the new Sainsbury's Charlton Superstore, which makes up for the closure of the "eco" store on Greenwich Penninsula.

Nearby is a massive retail park, containing shops such as Wickes, Marks & Spencer and a huge Asda, which exists because the O2 Centre and Greenwich Town Centre have very limited space. Next door is Stone Lake Retail Park. which is a scaled down version of the other one, but somehow gets a bus stop named after it! In between you get glimpses of the River Thames, as the sun begins to set, with industrial estates and the dangleway (cable car) in the background. As the 180 approaches Woolwich Dockyard these glimpses of the river become more frequent and in the far distance I could make out an E400 MMC dead-running from Silvertown garage, in the middle of the factories on the other side of the river. In between buildings vessel James Newman could be seen taking a break from duties on the Woolwich Ferry, before the queue of cars and Iceland lorries could be seen waiting to board the free service to transport them to North London.

Then the 180 turns into Woolwich Town Centre, where the bus regulated on Powis Street, whilst a Gemini 3 working route 96 started up and departed, bound for Bluewater. By this point the sun had set and the sky was a beautiful orange, towering over the busy town centre of Woolwich, full of tired shoppers heading home. The 180 stopped outside Woolwich Arsenal station, while the bus continued to load up until most of the seats upstairs were taken. The green space on Thomas Street is interesting, with a massive screen in the middle, broadcasting BBC News to everyone in the town centre. The A206 provided some thrash where the B7TL really showed off its ability to run at high speeds, before the 180 arrived at Plumstead. There is a bus priority scheme in place in the middle of the roundabout, which is particularly effective when the roundabout is full of traffic! Stagecoach London's garage was pretty empty, with a couple of 53's getting ready to head out for the evening peak.

The definition of Plumstead is the smaller version of Woolwich, although the high street does linger on and on for quite some time. One particular shop that caught my eye sells discount fireworks, completes watch repairs and has an "experienced barber", but the windows were covered with posters, making it impossible to see inside. The shop was very versatile, considering the building itself was no larger than an average-sized newsagents!

PVL371 departs Lewisham Clock Tower, bound for Belvedere.
McLeod Road is mainly residential, but the stunning sky distracted me from staring into the houses. This section of road only has a link to Thamesmead Town Centre at night, even though it is very close to this area. However, the best view of the night was in Abbey Wood, where the 180 stops outside the station on a bridge above the railway tracks. I turned to my left to watch the workmen make progress on building the Crossrail station here, but further up Canary Wharf and the Shard could be seen gleaming in the orange sky, just before darkness enveloped the landscape. I was gutted when VWL9 pulled away from the bus stops, but that is a moment I will treasure for a very long time!

Yarnton Way provided some more thrash, with sparse housing and lots of lanes for overtaking! There were lots of bridges connecting the apartments on either side of this road, before the 180 passed some gasometers, suggesting that the terrific journey was coming to an end. Unusually, there is no bus stop for Belvedere Station, despite it being right next to Yarnton Way. Clearly TFL don't think Southeastern run a good enough service to warrant people to actually use it. After navigating two large roundabouts, the 180 turns onto Mulberry Way, delving deep into Belvedere Industrial Area. Ironically, the new blinds for the 180 show "Belvedere INDUSTRIAL ESTATE", although it is called an Industrial Area for a reason. There are two Industrial Estates here (with the 180 serving both of them), so it is not right to include one and not the other!

For some reason, I love going past factories on buses. It feels like you are a world away from the hubbub of Central London, despite still being part of the capital city. The 180 was completely empty throughout this 2 minute section, but I absolutely loved seeing hundreds of lorries parked up, awaiting delivery to relevant stores. The buildings are ancient but extremely satisfying to look at, while the river lies a couple of minutes away. It was almost dark, but in the distance the sun provided some light whilst trucks departed the Lidl warehouse at Belvedere. It was extremely hard getting off the 180, but that's why it's earned its place in the top 10.

The 180 was absolutely fantastic. It contains pretty much everything you'd want from a route: fast buses that keep you on the edge of your seat for the whole journey, a frequent service, stunning views of London, residential sections, thrashy sections, industrial sections and a view out of the window that is never boring. The 180 trumped the C2 and has charged straight in at number 10 on the route ratings page, which is why I seriously recommend you ride this route if you haven't already!

Note: A tender page will appear on the blog in a few days, seeing as it was so popular back in the day. I hope it fascinates you and is as reliable as possible, seeing as 2017 is full of so many service changes! Also, Happy New Year!