A slightly crisp wind diluted the spring sunshine as we boarded our single decker at Lewisham Bus Station, three of us going all the way with, as it happens a young mother with an enormous double buggy – very attentive to her little boys she stood for the whole route to make sure they stayed happy – which for the most part they did.
In order to head north the 108 has to complete a circuit of the Lewisham shopping centre – no market today and we could not quite photo the Italianate RC church, which sits just back from the High Street.
Once you leave the bustle of Lewisham (bustly even without the market) behind and start climbing the hill towards Blackheath the passenger is afforded all the graciousness of this south-east London ‘village’: pretty houses, nice churches (one at Lee Park, the other as you get onto the heath) and even a private hospital and the restored Conservatoire (There’s a moral here about the perils of ivy..). We had a bit of a pause and rattle and took a more easterly, shorter trajectory alongside Blackheath than our previous routes, but met up with a range of other buses at the Royal Standard, still a pub, and picked up many passengers, some of whom needed to stand. The bus does a very precipitous downhill along Westcombe Park – some of the 108s are occasionally double deckers and my guess is the top deck view would be excellent – today we just enjoyed the wealth of spring flowers in people’s front gardens.
At the bottom of the hill we noted we were crossing the Thames path at a most unscenic point and someone had presumably abandoned their bicycle in a gesture of despair – the traffic is always slow and because of the low lying land the pollution is often high. By now we are quite familiar with the approach to the Millenium Village – first the shops – the ‘green Sainsbury’s then the DIY then the cinemas, and after a couple more roundabouts and turns you get the colourful housing blocks that were built on the reclaimed land. There is even a modernistic looking school named after the clock and watch-maker John Harrison – whose story featured in 'Longitude' .
Once we got to North Greenwich station most passengers of course got off to board the tube – having passed this way for a concert at the O2 (the world’s largest single roofed building and the acoustics aren’t bad either) it can be a quite a bun fight getting through all the crowds to your particular bus but today was ‘easy-peasy’. Back out again the drivers must have lots of tuition to make sure they are going the right way as it’s all quite confusing and then suddenly we are passing heaps of buildings reduced to rubble on the access road to the Blackwall tunnel South approach. Jo was a Blackwall Tunnel virgin and as such got quite excited whereas I think Mary and I were holding our breath (partly to avoid the fumes) but also in the hope we would get through without stopping, and after the 1½ miles of twists and turns in the old white walled tunnel (Why does the Blackwall tunnel have white walls? as the children used to say) we emerged into East London and the driver adroitly avoided getting swept up along the M11 approach which is so tantalizingly offered. Rumour has it that the twists in the tunnel were deliberate so that horses would not bolt on seeing daylight ahead – they do add to the interest. Original work on the tunnel involved Bazalgette, he of sewer fame, which makes sense. For a video by ‘LondonBuses47’ (no relation to London Buses One Bus at a Time) showing a 108 making the northbound journey through the tunnel see this YouTube link .
More dual carriage way took us through densely packed and mostly high rise housing though there were some new developments built around little green areas. However you couldn’t really have a mate ‘across the road’ as it involves a certain amount of locating the nearest underpass to cross over what is essentially Bow. The bus does depart the highways round about St. Leonard’s and the reduced scale of roads and housing becomes attractive.
Back onto the main drag (Stratford High Road) you merge into what is clearly a huge building site – the Olympic Stadium nearly complete but with housing blocks still to come – a further Westfield Shopping Village in progress and the huge transport hub that is Stratford which has virtually doubled in size since having Eurostar and Kent express trains added to the existing Under and Overground provision.
No time to linger though as it was straight onto the next bus.
This bus, driven today by a very competent and courteous female driver, covers quite a tortuous route full of hills, sneaky one way systems, complex traffic sorting lanes, and a tunnel notorious for throwing up problems – today was hassle free but we could see how easily this route might get way laid and how especially alert the drivers need to be. We are confident in saying that it is the unique tunnel bus and may need to be upgraded once the Olympics are here.