|Go-Ahead London SEN23 pauses at Barnet, The Spires in between trips.|
The 399 is the least busiest route in London, running between Hadley Wood Station and Barnet The Spires, without really travelling through any other places of interest. It essentially operates in a massive one-way loop as soon as it enters the gated premises, in an attempt to serve all the housing in this isolated area. There are only six trips per day on the 399, with only four serving the complete loop, as the first and last buses start in the middle of Hadley Wood rather than Barnet, which is close to Cockfosters. The 399 leaves Barnet The Spires at hourly intervals, from 1045 until 1445, on Monday-Saturday only, normally using an ADL Enviro 200 found at Northumberland Park (NP) garage. After turning off the main road in Barnet, the entire route is operated on a Hail and Ride basis, which is convenient for most of the residents as they can be dropped off directly outside their household.
However, this unappealing frequency isn't the only eccentric characteristic of the 399's operation; it actually shares its solitary bus with another route. After a morning peak hour stint on the regular route 299 (Muswell Hill-Cockfosters), the bus changes its blind and does a trip on the 399, before flipping its blind again to become a 389, and after that rounder is complete it goes back to being a 399. The process of alternating between the two routes repeats for 5 hours, where the last 399 terminates in the middle of Hadley Wood before travelling to Cockfosters to start an evening peak journey on the 299. Both the 389 and 399 are so short that the one bus can comfortably work both routes within 60 minutes, although I found the latter route much more interesting.
Hadley Wood is an upper-class residential area found on the outskirts of Greater London and it remarkably has a regular (up to every 10 minutes) train service into Central London, although the 399 is the only bus route serving the area. Most of the houses have multiple cars parked in the front garden, so its no surprise that bus usage isn't very high. However, there is some demand and the community nature of the route is something rarely found in London, with the majority of passengers greeting each other and the driver as they board, and giving newcomers some suspicious looks! The conversations I listened to were very fascinating, including one debate on whether placing a sun dial in the front garden would be effective, emphasising that residents of Hadley Wood almost live in an entirely different world to people like me! Nevertheless, the routeing is also intriguing, passing through huge mansions 90% of the time, something you don't see every day. If you want a proper look into one of the most affluent and upper-class areas found in London, make sure to ride the 399, you'll certainly be impressed.
|Go-Ahead London WVL335 loads up at Heathrow Central at the start of a lengthy trip to Croydon.|
Interestingly, the WVL-class vehicles allocated to the service are receiving an extensive refurbishment, which involves the removal of East London Transit branding and the second door (which means that these vehicles will be the only DD buses in London with a single door), to pave the way for a massive luggage rack downstairs. However, this process takes an awfully long time to complete, so only a handful of vehicles have received the treatment so far. The X26 might not appeal to all of you, especially if you can't bear travelling on a bus for more than 60 minutes, but if you're comfortable with staying on a bus for over 2 hours then I would definitely recommend the X26. It offers a well-rounded view of South West London, passing through the major town centres and the fascinating suburbs between them, as well as two rather unique sections at either end. Additionally, the buses themselves will all be special to this city soon, with the removal of the second door being a particularly striking, but controversial, decision.
Note: If you're dedicated to waking up early on a weekend morning, there are some early trips which only take 80 minutes end to end, so if you're determined to ride the X26 end to end, but don't fancy wasting 2 hours of your day sitting on a bus, then head down to Heathrow Airport or Croydon and catch one, ideally before 8am. I think it will be worth it.
|A type no longer found on the 521 is the Electric Irizar single decker.|
Something else that's quite odd about the 521 is the sheer difference in frequency between rush hour and midday. During the morning/evening peak the service runs every 2-3 minutes, providing 26 buses per hour for commuters coming to and from the two mainline stations. However, during the day there are only 6 buses per hour, at a dismal 10 minute frequency. The buses also have an open boarding feature, which means that passengers can board or alight from the centre door too, although this does mean that there is a high amount of fare evasion on the 521.
Although the peak frequency looks much more attractive, I would strongly recommend that you travel outside of this time, as every single bus is rammed full of commuters from start to finish. There are only a limited number of seats on these vehicles, in order to cram in as many standees as possible, and travelling when the service is quiet guarantees a much more leisurely ride. You can even use the USB sockets conveniently provided on these vehicles. The iBus screen is also unique, providing much more information than what's found on normal vehicles, including real time train departures from Waterloo, London Underground status updates, as well as an ETA for the next few stops en route. The routeing towards London Bridge is also quite eccentric, as it skips the bustling hubbub of Aldwych in favour of the Strand Underpass, which is always an enjoyable experience, so I recommend that you complete the route in this direction.
The 521 is probably one of the easiest routes to complete, due to the convenient location and the decent frequency, with the only disadvantage being the lack of service on weekends. The quirky electric buses, unique Central London routeing and the fascinating operation technique easily make the 521 the most interesting route in Central London, and if you're looking for something odd to complete that isn't too difficult to get to, then the 521 is perfect.
|Metrobus 255 starts a journey at Orpington Bus Station on route R8 to Biggin Hill.|
There are no stops along the country lanes, so most of the service is operated on a hail and ride basis, which is rather ironic as there are literally no safe places to pause in the countryside. Something I'd love to do is ride the R8 at night time, as there are no lamp posts or light sources anywhere along the country lanes, so it would certainly be an eye-opening experience. However, if you simply want to appreciate the brilliant views from a TFL bus, then it's best to consult a timetable and track down the journey suited for you, something I had to do twice as the bus broke down on my first attempt at riding the route! The main reason why the R8 features on this post is due to the narrow, country lanes that are pretty much unique to this London route, which you can experience twice for £1.50!
Note: I've heard that the R5/R10 in Orpington are also very similar to the R8 and spend even more time in the countryside, but I still haven't ridden those yet so I can't confirm that they will be as good.
|A Metroline Enviro 400 arrives at Whitestone Pond on a route 603 journey.|
|Go-Ahead London SE234 pauses at Moorgate on the final stretch to London Wall.|
|Go-Ahead London WVL471 stands at the isolated terminus of Dagenham Dock.|
The EL2 is one of London's newest routes, replacing the 369 to Thames View Estate in 2010, with a dedicated batch of Wrightbus Gemini 2 B9TL vehicles that worked the route until February 2017. The route is part of the "East London Transit" scheme, which involves reconnecting the isolated area of Barking Riverside to the rest of East London, with branded vehicles and a number of bus priority measures to speed up journey times. One of those is the use of Ripple Road in Barking Town Centre, which involves cutting straight through the middle, rather than using the slow and inefficient loop that just scrapes along the edge of the high street. The East London Transit branding involves painting the buses in a unique colour scheme, and adding some swirls to bus stops along the routeing. All of this seems a little unnecessary to me, but this sort of project is the only example in the TFL network.
All three "ELT" routes were converted to New Routemaster operation in early 2017, which is very odd as these 'Central London bound' vehicles are now found on routes that don't get any closer to the City than Zone 4. The usage of these vehicles on the EL2 is particularly confusing, as the last few minutes are spent travelling in the middle of nowhere in an industrial wasteland, which is exactly why the EL2 features on this post. After serving the Thames View Estate, the EL2 travels down Choats Road, in the depths of a bleak landscape with absolutely nothing to stare at other than marshes, something I absolutely love. This road is fairly lengthy and eventually pylons start to emerge as the EL2 terminates in the middle of nowhere, home to a few factories and nothing else. The oversized bus station at Dagenham Dock only contains one route and even though there is a train station, the dismal frequency of every 30 minutes instantly puts people off. In the long term, there will be residential housing along this desolate stretch of land, and the appearance of fancy New Routemaster vehicles will make sense. However, at the moment the usage of these high-profile buses, which have connotations of Central London and tourists, in the middle of nowhere, is particularly baffling, and is something I love about the EL2. If you absolutely hate the idea of staring at warehouses, then don't bother riding this one, but this section alone made the EL2 memorable and lovable, even though the rest of the route was really boring.
|©LondonBuses72 - do not use without their permission|
However, the most fascinating point of the journey is when the H3 turns onto The Bishop's Avenue, often known as Billionaire's Row, home to an assortment of mansions among the most expensive in the country. New, 8-bedroom houses, sell for prices as high as £50 million, whilst most of the 66 houses along this road have been unoccupied for many years. Oddly, the houses aren't particularly satisfying to look at, with metal gates preventing you from peering inside these palaces, but the excitement of travelling down such an iconic street in a luxurious part of London on a bus makes this route so special. The fact that a bus route travels down here, even though I'd be surprised if anyone has boarded the H3 on The Bishops Avenue for many years, is pretty cool, and this road alone can justify the H3's place here. In addition, the tiny buses, half-day operation and unique routeing, make the H3 a must-do for people wanting to explore the wealthiest parts of this city.
|Arriva London VLA106 stands at Western Road on the 375 to Passingford Bridge.|
In conclusion, the 375 is a decent countryside route, with a unique and eccentric termination point that simply can't be beaten.
|A yellow minibus pauses at Bridport Place in between trips on the 812.|
Thanks for reading, and hopefully you've found one you'd like to try!