Sunday, November 30, 2014

To round off 2014 I thought I'd ride alphabetical buses. That's not buses like the 77A, 8B and 130C, because TfL deliberately eradicated suffixed route numbers in 2006. Instead that's buses with a single-letter prefix, routes like the P4 or the R68, of which there are dozens.

Below is a map showing where these lettered buses run. I've made the size of the letter proportional to the number of bus routes so, for example, there are tons of 'W' buses to the north of London but there's only one 'G' to the south.

But why are they arranged like this? How come there are so many of some letters and not others, how come some parts of the capital have lots of lettered buses and others have none, and how come some letters appear more than once on the map? The answer's complex, but has its roots almost fifty years ago in London Transport's Bus Reshaping Plan, a pioneering project to streamline the system.

Part of the plan was to introduce one-man-operated single deckers on several routes, cutting out the conductor to save some money, removing most of the seats and speeding things up by charging flat fares. The rest of the plan involved remodelling London's bus network from an interleaved web of routes to a "hub and spoke" model. Passengers wishing to travel across town would first catch a single decker from home to a local interchange, then take a speedier double decker to another hub, then catch another single decker out to their intended destination. These shorter routes would have been very heavily alphabetical, indeed the original 1966 planning document suggested the following...

Proposed route renumbering from original 1966 Bus Reshaping plan
 A (Waltham Abbey) A1-A10 G (Golders Green) G1-G10 P (Peckham) P1-P10
(Putney) P11-P20
(Poplar) P31-P40
 B (Bromley) B1-B10
(Barking) B11-B20
(Brixton) B21-B30
 H (Harrow) H1-H10
(Hackney) H11-H20
(Highgate) H21-H30
(Harlesden) H31-H40
(Hounslow) H41-H50
 R (Romford) R1-R10
(Richmond) R11-R20
 C (Croydon) C1-C10
(Camden) C11-C20
(Camberwell) C21-C30
 K (Kingston) K1-K10 S (Shepherd's Bush) S1-S10
(Stratford) S11-S20
(Sutton) S21-S30
(Streatham) S31-S40
 E (Ealing) E1-E10
(Enfield) E11-E20
(Edgware) E21-E30
(Eltham) E31-E40
(Edmonton) E41-E50
 L (Ilford) L1-L10
(Lewisham) L11-L20
 U (Uxbridge) U1-U10
 F (Walthamstow) F1-F10 M (Morden) M1-M10 W (Wood Green) W1-W10
(Woolwich) W11-W20
(Wembley) W21-W30

Perhaps thankfully this idealised classification was never fully realised, but in 1968 an initial trial kicked off in two suburbs beginning with W. Walthamstow got the W21 circular, an elongated trip up to Chingford Mount and back. Meanwhile Wood Green gained routes W1 to W6, with the W5 and W6 being special Saturday services for shoppers, and the other buses clogging up the streets in such great numbers that they had to be scaled back. Neither 'W' scheme prove terribly reliable, or indeed popular, but the savings generated by moving from two-man to one-man operation meant that project rollout continued. Next in line in 1969 were Ealing (E), Peckham (P), Harrow (H) and Morden (M), of which all but the latter have at least partly survived. Croydon (C) and Stratford (S) followed on a limited basis in 1971, while a more successful remodelling followed later in Bexley (B), Docklands (D), Hounslow (H), Orpington (R) and Uxbridge (U).

You can read more about the Reshaping Plan and lettered routes over at the Red-RF website, along with more general details of bus route numbering. There's considerably more detail about lettered routes at the mighty Eplates website, divided up into A-C, D-M, P-T and U-W. For route-by-route histories try the London Bus Routes website, or of course there's always Wikipedia.

Here's how the full list of lettered London bus routes looks today.

 A (Airport) A10 N (Night) N1 ... N551 (and 51 others)
B (Bexley) B11 B12 B13 B14 B15 B16 P (Peckham) P4 P5 P12 P13
C (Central) C1 C10 (Camden) C2
(Chelsea) C3 (Cricklewood) C11
R (Orpington) R1 R2 R3 R4 R5 R6 R7 R8 R9 R10 R11
(Richmond) R68 R70
D (Docklands) D3 D6 D7 D8RV(River) RV1
E (Ealing) E1 E2 E3 E5 E6 E7 E8 E9 E10 E11 S (Sutton) S1 S3 S4
EL (East London) EL1 EL2 T (Tramlink) T31 T32 T33
G (St George's Hospital) G1 U (Uxbridge) U1 U2 U3 U4 U5 U7 U9 U10
H (Hampstead) H2 H3
(Harrow) H9 H10 H11 H12 H13 H14 H17 H18 H19
(Hounslow) H20 H22 H25 H26 H28 H32 H37 H91 H98
 W (Wood Green) W3 W4 W5 W6 W7 W8 W9 W10
(Walthamstow) W11 W12 W13 W14 W15 W16 W19
K (Kingston) K1 K2 K3 K4 K5 X (Express) X26 X68

So what I'm planning to do is ride an A-Z of London buses. That's complicated by there not being a Z, or a Y, so in fact I'll be riding an A-X, and even that'll have eight further letters missing. I'm not going to ride every single prefixed bus, just one starting with each letter (The Ladies Who Bus did the whole lot, if you're a completist). And I'm doing it in alphabetical order, which means an A bus first, then a B, then a C and so on. My A has to be the A10, but then comes the element of choice in this project as I have to pick from one of the six Bs. You may have some suggestions for which to take, especially from the longer lists like H, R or W. So, where shall we go...?

Your comments and suggestions here

For my first alphabetical London bus journey, I have no choice. There is only one A bus, now that As only appear at the start of a route number and never at the end. The A10 it is, the bus to the airport, which had me wondering if I might be boarding something snazzy and special. Nope, single decker red bus, as per normal. But speedy too, indeed almost an express.

 Route A10: Uxbridge - Heathrow Airport
 Length of journey: 8 miles, 25 minutes

You can take the slow bus to Heathrow, which from Uxbridge Bus Station is the U3, or you can take the fast bus, which is the A10. When the time is right my A10 emerges from the cavernous portal by the tube station and pulls round towards the first stop on Bakers Road. There ought to be no passengers on board, not straight out of the depot, so I'm surprised to see a bald man already seated up front peering closely at a phone. When did she let him on?

Two of us board, then suddenly a young lad in a nearby doorway throws his cigarette to the ground and trots across. He's wearing a suit, which is considerably better dressed than all the other males around here, and stands out even more thanks to his bright green and blue striped tie. Cabin crew or check-in staff or some other airport-related job, obviously, but I decide against peering too closely at his ID badge to make sure. He takes the seat behind me and plugs in some banging drum and bass, and off we go.

Escape from the town centre involves passing St Andrew's Park, which used to be RAF Uxbridge but is now levelled for flats. Ahead is the Hillingdon Road, a wide suburban dual carriageway once pencilled in for a tram, except it proved too hard to persuade locals they wanted one. On one street corner is Jack's Fish and Chips, a local legend in what was once a pub, with banners now proudly celebrating its '46th anniversary'. And behind that cricket club on Coney Green is a Saxon earthwork, uncovered in the Twenties and containing a few shards of Roman pottery. A lot along this urban clearway isn't quite what it was, if you know where to look.

Although several bus stops are busy nobody seems interested in flagging us down - the A10's quite a specialised taste. But when we turn off down the Harlington Road suddenly we're the only bus in town and off ships our only female passenger. We gain two more shortly afterwards, one a little worse the wear from the weather, the other with immaculately tied hair. "More airport," I decide, and on we go. We pass a 'Station Hand Car Wash', despite the absence of any stations for at least a mile in any direction, old or new. And I don't think I've ever been to Dawley before, although this long-swallowed manorhouse is now remembered by a brief parade boasting minimarket and betting shop. So far so ordinary.

But then we hit Stockley Park. This vast gravel pit and dumping ground was smothered in topsoil in the 1980s and landscaped to within an inch of its life, and is now a seriously hi-tech business estate plus golf course. The A10's allowed in round the back, which means waiting patiently at an electronic barrier, and then meandering through the site past BP, M&S, IBM and other blue chip companies that aren't acronyms. You can tell we're on private land because all the road signs are at thigh height on rectangular panels, and all the bus shelters are squat blue things with Stockley Park branding. There are also ponds and sculptures, because Apple employees deserve nothing less, although it being Sunday the ducks are quacking at nobody.

On reaching the main road we cross to do a brief loop in the other half of the Stockley Park estate, where neatly-tied-hair-woman alights, so I was totally wrong about her. Joining the busy dual carriageway we cross the Grand Union Canal and the Great Western Mainline in very quick succession. And then there's just one last stop before we do something I think no other TfL bus does - we join the motorway! Specifically that's the M4, more specifically the Heathrow Spur (a mile of airport link completed in 1965). This stretch of blue from the Holiday Inn to the Park Inn hotel boasts the UK's first ever motorway bus lane, but today our drivers spurns it as unnecessary and the extra lane remains empty.

Before long we're at the Concorde Roundabout beneath the A4, named after the model British Airways plane that used to sit here, although in 2007 an Emirates Airbus hijacked the spot instead. We're now on the Heathrow perimeter, but well below plane-spotting level and about to head into a tunnel. Six other TfL buses head this way, beneath the northern runway, and it'd much more fun almost skimming the roof in a double decker. Never mind, the A10's speedy dash has brought us inside the airport in double-quick time. How retro-futuristic the whole place now looks, like some Gerry Anderson set from the 60s, all swirling roadways and the occasional jet.

We pull up beside the entrance to Heathrow's coach hub and bus station, more than two miles since the A10's penultimate stop, where the handful of us on board alight. Nobody's brought a suitcase, it's not been that kind of journey, but blue-green-tie-bloke strides off towards Terminal 3 ready for his ground-based shift. Standing nearby is a shivering soul in sombrero, shorts and flipflops, attire which presumably made sense a few hours back, but entirely erroneous now. And as our driver swings round to change her blind to 'Uxbridge' I notice that the bald man is still aboard... and indeed heads back the same way a few minutes later. I can only assume he's the driver's husband, and a round trip to the airport is their way of spending time together at the weekend.

» route A10 - route map
» route A10 - timetable
» route A10 - route history
» route A10 - live bus map
» route A10 - The Ladies Who Bus

Bexley earned its B routes in 1988 as part of the Bexleybus scheme, a deliberately low-cost operation which introduced smaller buses to the borough's backstreets. The Bexley Hoppa ran with blue and white minibuses, at least until industrial unrest and unreliable service contributed to the operator losing their franchise three years later. But Bs Eleven to Sixteen survive, along mostly extended routes, reaching out from Bexleyheath to a variety of far flung spots.

The B12 I've already ridden, so that was off the table, and the thirteen, fourteen and fifteen didn't appeal. So I headed for Bexleyheath bus garage where both of the other two routes begin and decided to catch the first that turned up. One slight catch, for which I apologise. I intended to ride three alphabetical buses at the weekend, including an A and a B and one other route inbetween. But dashing all over London delayed me so much that by the time I reached Bexley it was already after four and I realised I'd be doing most of this journey after dark. But which outer reaches wouldn't I be seeing, and so won't you be reading about - Kidbrooke or Thamesmead? The answer soon turned up.

 Route B11: Bexleyheath - Thamesmead
 Length of journey: 9 miles, 40 minutes

The last shop on the parade adjacent to Bexleyheath Bus Garage is an off licence sponsored by The Sun. I merely mention this, it may or may not be a coincidence, but I did spot one driver nipping in while I waited. The B11 kicks off from here with a short run into the town centre, along which stretch I imagine passenger loadings are generally featherlight. But things pick up considerably at the Clock Tower, where the shoppers of Bexleyheath are lining up in their off-the-peg winter jackets to lug the afternoon's purchases home. Most don't want our bus, we're heading for the backwaters, plus there are quicker routes to Thamesmead if that's your goal. By the time we reach the non-pedestrianised bit of the Broadway we've turned left or right more than half a dozen times, and thus the meandering nature of our journey is set.

It's not quite dusk but already the lights are coming on, illuminating the smokers sat shivering outside the wine bar and a row of treadmillers pumping at the gym. Turning right towards the station we pass three successive semis where Sky Sports is blazing a green rectangle across the TV screen, and nobody's yet got round to closing the curtains. A slim slice of pinky blue is visible across the rooftops to the west... and that was probably the last over-florid sentence I'll be able to write about the view before it disappears.

Bexleyheath station is situated annoyingly far from the town centre, just too far to be an easy stroll, but just too close to make waiting for a bus worthwhile. Here we gain the journey's most interesting passenger, a golden retriever called Bryn. He's straining on the end of a pink lead held by his owner, similarly blonde and with a too-thick ribbon in her hair. Poor Bryn is evidently not well, and is whining and whimpering as he boards. He's also intent on exploring every seat within lead-range, so his owner reins him into the wheelchair space and reassures him with a cuddle. "We're going to the doctors to make you better," she says, and hopes that the journey won't be too long. Wrong bus for that, alas.

They're rather nice suburbs outside, I think, but it's becoming increasingly hard to tell. Before long there's a moment where we turn left, and Bryn's owner is surprised because she thought we were going right to Abbey Wood. A fellow passenger has to reassure her that we will indeed be going there, just not yet. Instead we're taking the Lodge Hill Loop, which used to be as far as the B11 went, but when they extended it in 1991 they retained this mile and a half circuit. It's also Hail and Ride along here, which the onboard iBus screen struggles to explain by displaying "Okehampton Crescent/Hail and Ride ends here" for the best part of five minutes. Various shoppers alight, while a bloke with a Lidl bag boards and shovels repeated handfuls of crisps from the depths into his mouth.

They're rather nice suburbs outside, I think, but it's become increasingly hard to tell. Before long there's a moment where we turn right, and Bryn's owner is relieved because the loop is finally closed and we are heading for the PDSA after all. Unfortunately a genuine pushchair has arrived, so Bryn's whimpering has to continue from a nearby seat, from now for as long as it takes. Suddenly a rotating wand emerges from the pushchair, flashing Hallowe'en colours, or whatever it takes to keep a two year old occupied these days. Some ear-piercing yelling also emerges, making Bryn's complaints sound positively stoic.

There is a direct route down the hill ahead but we don't take it, instead taking a parallel route quarter of a mile to the east. The road cuts deep through Lesnes Abbey Woods as it descends, which annoys me because I'd like to have enjoyed its autumn splendour, but get to endure a midnight ambience instead. At the foot of the long slope is Abbey Wood, named after what I haven't just seen, where we pass beneath the flyover and pause to drop off passengers near the station. Until 1999 the B11 went no further, but now Thamesmead beckons, with the leap over the railway marking a very distinct sociological boundary from semi-detached territory to closely-packed flats. Head up, Bryn, we're nearly there.

Except we're not. The PDSA is only 200 metres straight ahead, the way the other four buses go, but the B11 is about to take another lengthy detour round the estate. I swear the bus map I saw way back at the start of the route gave no hint this route was going to be quite so tortuous, but that's topological distortion for you. Thankfully the driver is alert to Bryn's distress and nudges his owner to alight before the detour. It means walking the last bit, and Bryn won't be enjoying that in the rain, but it'll be quicker than the extra half dozen stops we now face. Fingers crossed the Freda Powell Centre sorted him out.

The type, dare I say class, of passenger has definitely changed. Four unaccompanied primary-aged children hop on for our run down Alsike Way, two of them alone (although one hops off shortly afterwards to greet someone who could be his sister, his girlfriend or his mother, it's impossible to tell). We're riding now beneath a run of sixteen tower blocks, one of Thamesmead's questionable gifts to architecture, although all I can see from my window seat is the occasional lit rectangle in the sky. Darkness has focused our passenger experience almost entirely on the lit interior of the bus, and its reflections, reducing the outside environment to naught.

The next bit of the should have been relatively spectacular, up and over the Crossness sewer with views across Southmere, famous for waterside antics in A Clockwork Orange and (more recently) Misfits. I get none of that, just some pretty coloured lights along the underside of the viaduct before... no, again we're not quite going the quick way. One last bobble-hatted boy boards, and a post-match musky footballer alights, and I am by now becoming fairly desperate for this mystery tour to end.

My wish is finally granted at a bus stand beside a glowing Aldi, just shutting down for the night and barring belated shoppers from entering. I'm cast out from the bus into heavy rain, where my options appear to be McDonalds, a scarily SE28 pub or a long wet wait for the next bus out of here. The B11 has delivered me to darkness and misery - if not the quintessential Thamesmead experience, then exquisitely stereotypical all the same.

» route B11 - route map
» route B11 - timetable
» route B11 - route history
» route B11 - live bus map
» route B11 - The Ladies Who Bus

London's five 'C' buses are its most varied, geographically, representing Central, Camden, Chelsea and Cricklewood. You particularly recommended the Cricklewood version, the C11, for its circuitousness, contrasts and character. But I'm trying to spread my alphabetical buses as far across the capital as possible, and wanted at least one to hit the centre of town, so plumped for the Camden Hoppa instead. It's no classic, sorry.

 Route C2: Parliament Hill Fields - Victoria
 Length of journey: 6 miles, 45 minutes

If you're not sure where Parliament Hill Fields is, it's near Parliament Hill, where Hampstead Heath rubs up against Dartmouth Park. And if that hasn't helped, it's directly due north of Victoria, because the C2 runs in an almost direct north-south line between its two termini. And the reason it goes no further north than Parliament Hill Fields is twofold. For a start, Highgate West Hill gets a bit steep, so the only bus that goes that way is a single decker. And secondly there's a roundabout at the bottom of Swains Lane that allows drivers to turn their vehicles for the run back into town. But only a very small roundabout, indeed it was deemed too tight for New Bus For London operation, so the stand remains piled up with ordinary double deckers awaiting time of departure.

Lightly loaded, the C2 sets off relentlessly, gradually, inexorably, downhill. Past the more recreational side of the Heath, past some fairly desirable streets... and then suddenly a rather unnecessary announcement kicks in. "Alight here for Gospel Oak station", it says, except this is only the second stop so you'd have to be a particularly lazy traveller not to have walked. We duck beneath the Overground, where the car repair works under the arches specialises in Bentleys and Jaguars, and switch into slightly less wealthy Kentish Town. A mixed run of shops kicks in, and carries on for some time, a little quirkier to start, more chain-heavy later on. The most impressive outlier is Blustons, a Grade II listed gown shop with two checkerboard tiled entrances to draw the local lady inside. Outside a nearby cafe a sad-looking man sits alone, a cleared plate of breakfast congealing in front of him. We leave him behind.

We're following the valley of the River Fleet, which explains the general downhill trend. At every stop a few more souls climb on, including an annoying phone-chatterer intent on broadcasting half her conversation to all. "We had a lovely cream tea at the hotel, yes...", she roars, and then thankfully goes and sits at the back of the deck just far enough out of range. Camden Town is approaching, a-bustle with the young and youthful, although we're touring the back roads via Sainsbury's rather than any vibrant bazaar. The one-way system forces us (and six other buses) to run parallel to the main high street, dulling the atmosphere somewhat, until we finally make a break for it and cross the hubbub near a hummus restaurant.

A large proportion of passengers have now alighted, because where we're heading next is a little off-key. Not for us the direct route down to Euston, but instead a brief nudge west towards the rim of Regent's Park to take a mile long backroad you'd wouldn't think deserved a double decker. Albany Street runs down the back of the posh mansions overlooking the park, past the mews where the servants lived, now owned by anything but. On the opposite side is the Regents Park Barracks, an austere extensive brick hideaway, to which the Household Cavalry might be relocated if the Army gets its way and sells off Hyde Park. The subsequent sidestreets belong to more the kind of estate where residents might actually catch a bus, although there are none today and we speed down the road in impressively quick time.

The C2 then hits central London proper, specifically the Euston Road, at Great Portland Street station. A spin round the big church leads us straight ahead down Great Portland Street itself, where The Albany pub hosts Ukulele Wednesdays and Wilkie Collins once lived for not very long. Offices round here are small, stacked up staircases behind Victorian facades, perhaps with a cafe or bright young studio at ground level. But our true target is Portland Place, round the back of Broadcasting House - neither Old nor New seen at their best on a southbound journey. And hey presto we're delivered to the top end of Regent Street and pretty soon Oxford Circus, which used to be as far as this bus went, and for most of those on board is perfectly far enough thanks.

Oh god oh god oh god, the Regent Street Christmas lights. The silvery fronds aren't officially switched on until Sunday, but are already suspended in non-illuminated form, and have alas been tainted by the marketing fairies again. Beaming down from every set of lights is a scene or character from the film Night At The Museum 3, with toothy grins ranging from a dinosaur to Ricky Gervais. Yes, that really is Robin Williams up there, playing an American President in his final film, and could that really be Dick Van Dyke? At least the Regent Street gurus have chosen a Christmas release rather than last year's cartoon inexplicably scheduled to hit cinemas in February, but the overall effect succeeds only in utterly debasing the festive spirit. Come for the shopping, sure, but don't waste your time coming especially for the non-Xmas lights.

Since 2009 the C2 has continued through Mayfair to Victoria, taking over what used to be the end of route 8 in a cunning ploy to reduce the number of buses running along Oxford Street. That's fine, we residents of Bow didn't have a lot of need to travel to Mayfair anyway, but the evidence suggests this may be the case for the residents of Kentish Town too. There are hardly any of us aboard now as we weave past boutiques and designer hideaways frequented by the impeccable. The Christmas lights are also rather lovelier here, as you'd expect, with a crown of snow white peacock feathers suspended at the junction of New Bond Street. We skip past Lalique and Stella McCartney, no takers, and then skirt Berkeley Square towards the Ritz.

Many buses have a winding down period towards the end, and we've now definitely entered ours. The bus stop outside Green Park station may be packed but nobody wants to join us, ditto further down Piccadilly where they're all waiting for a ten-times-the-price sightseeing bus instead. By the time we reach Hyde Park Corner I'm the only one left peering over the Queen's back wall, or attempting to because she's planted a long arboreal border with the sole intent of maintaining privacy. And finally to Victoria, which is a right mess at the moment while major redevelopment takes place, and where our driver chooses to turf the last two of us off one stop early. "Sorry mate I'm running early," he says, "it'd be quicker to walk." But he's lying, because by the time I catch up at the end of the route he's already out of his cab and bantering with a mate. Best not C2 it, I'd say.

» route C2 - route map
» route C2 - timetable
» route C2 - live bus map
» route C2 - route history
» route C2 - The Ladies Who Bus

Around 1990 a whole suite of Docklands 'D' buses was introduced to make connections with the Isle of Dogs. The DLR wasn't so extensive in those days, and the Jubilee line had yet to be extended, and bankers needed a network of buses to help get them to work. The current D3 wasn't one of those, it was introduced a decade later using a redundant number, and followed pretty much the same route as it does today. And that's a wildly twisty route - barely three miles end to end as the crow flies, but over ten on the bus. Only the driver, or a fool, would ride the lot.

 Route D3: Bethnal Green - Crossharbour
 Length of journey: 11 miles, 50 minutes

London buses flock to hospitals like moths to a flame, with the D3 drawn to two. It kicks off in the leafy avenues surrounding the London Chest Hospital, deathly quiet at weekends, and a short walk from Victoria Park. Only two of us are waiting, the other considerably younger than me but with the inner confidence of a regular traveller. I climb aboard and wave my Oyster card at the reader... which doesn't beep. "Take a seat, it's not ready yet," says the driver, in a weary yet particularly trusting manner. The iBus display also has yet to kick into action, and I mention this only because it will turn out to be significant later. In fact quite soon.

We squeeze out of the sidestreets onto Cambridge Heath Road, where suddenly many passengers pour on board beside the exit from the Central line subway. And as we turn onto Bethnal Green Road, Emma Hignett's automated voice kicks in with an unexpected lie. "This bus is on diversion. Please listen for further announcements." We very much aren't on diversion, we're going the completely normal way, past a bustling selection of shops and the general E2 massive. I can hear the sound of much beeping from the front cab as the driver attempts to reset the system. The iBus display gets one stop right and then fails again, as Emma's dulcet tones continue to fib about our diversionary status. We pass the house built on the site of the house where the Krays used to live, and a bus stop called Fakruddin Street, which Emma usually pronounces extremely carefully.

The majority of passengers alight as we graze the Royal London Hospital, where we should be carrying straight on except there's a red metal sign blocking the middle of the road. The driver yells to confirm the news, that this bus is about to go on diversion, and suddenly everyone else skedaddles. They've judged how long the alternative route is going to be and wisely escaped, leaving only me to enjoy the mile-long Aldgate deviation. And unexpected silence. It's finally Emma's moment to shine and make her diversion announcement properly, except she doesn't, despite having made it repeatedly and inappropriately earlier on. I smile, because this is narrative gold and means I won't have to spend eight paragraphs simply repeating what I can see out of the window.

Out of the window I can see all sorts of things I wasn't expecting - the textile shops of the Whitechapel Road, the pristine skyscrapers of Aldgate and the luxury flats being erected where News International used to stand. I decide that this extended loop is a good time to touch in, so surprise the driver by appearing behind him and beeping. He kindly checks that I'm not being too greatly disadvantaged by the diversion, and then continues with my one-man tour of the East End. I'm expecting someone else to join us, surely, as we finally rejoin the correct route on The Highway, but no, it seems I'm about to get Wapping all to myself too.

The D3 is one of two buses to serve this compact riverside community, its cobbled backstreets notorious for their narrow twisting nature. But the driver's clearly well practised and hurtles along, judging the gaps between the speed bumps perfectly so as not to have to slow down. A pop-up dockside market is underway, where a small girl hiked up on her father's shoulders waves to us as we zip by. Back on the main road we continue to make up for lost time, taking advantage of an empty bus lane to undertake the Limehouse traffic. But then my solo run is up, as a diminutive shopper flags us down and drags her spotty wheely basket aboard... for two stops only.

There is no rush of bankers heading for Canary Wharf today, only the temporary company of an oversized man in a graceless parka. The estate's security guards raise the barrier for us as we approachWestferry Circus - they look as if they're glad to have something to do this far outside normal working hours. Alone again after the DLR drop-off I realise I'm about to be treated to my second private detour. A major development on Heron Quays, and a plethora of water nearby, means a riproaring alternative route is temporarily required. We dip underneath the new Crossrail station, head briefly onto the dual carriageway and then, really, up the backroad past the cinema? I've never been right to the end before and down into the tunnel, where Canary Wharf's secret delivery entrance leads off beneath the towers. It's been good this special diversion, if a proper timewaster... and no, of course Emma hasn't mentioned it.

At last we're back on the proper route, and about to undertake a spiral round the Isle of Dogs. The D3 exists to distribute the residents of Millwall and Cubitt Town around the peninsula, but two other buses do the same and today they're clearly taking all the strain. This and the fact that if you really wanted to go to Asda at the end of the route you could walk faster that the looping path we're tracing. I can sense the driver edging up to bus stops in a "you don't really want me, do you?" manner, and accelerating triumphantly when body language indicates "no". Eventually two ladies call his bluff and actually get on, though again not for long, more like they couldn't be bothered to walk for a few hundred metres.

The rim of the island is a fascinating mix of habitats, from shiny apartments paid for by annual bonuses to out-of-sight out-of-mind council flats. We also kink into the interior for a bit up the delightfully named Spindrift Avenue, where actual dockers would have lived back in the day, and where a "20 Slow Down" sign lights up as we pass through. No chance. Light loadings and lack of traffic on Manchester Road allows the driver to speed up to the extent that the seat in front of me vibrates and hammers repeatedly against my kneecaps. It therefore comes as light relief when we finally pull into the 1980s technovillage on Marsh Wall, and curl round to the supermarket car park where several buses terminate. Don't get me wrong, I've enjoyed my chauffeured private dash through Docklands, but the D3 is a route that feels like it's on diversion even when it's not.

» route D3 - route map
» route D3 - timetable
» route D3 - live bus map
» route D3 - route history
» route D3 - The Ladies Who Bus

There are ten 'E' buses, all of them in the Ealing area, the first three inaugurated in 1968 as Flat Fare routes. I could have chosen any of them, but with no stand-out option I decided to go with the bus that shares my postcode. Perhaps not my best ever decision, the route twisted all over the place and took forever to get nowhere very exciting. Enjoy.

 Route E3: Greenford - Chiswick
 Length of journey: 9 miles, 75 minutes

Greenford sounds lovelier than it is, along the main shopping street at least. The E3 pulls out of a sidestreet and doesn't hit its first stop until the other side of some traffic lights, giving adequate opportunity for any potential rider to break off from shopping and still catch it. I beat a cabal of post-church kids to the front seat on the upper deck, from which I shall be mostly underwhelmed for the next hour and a quarter. Immediately beyond Lidl we traverse the floodplain of the River Brent, not especially overdeveloped, and familiar if you've ever walked this section of the Capital Ring. The sports field where we turn right is completely speckled with seagulls, from the nearest goalmouth to the furthest rugby posts. And then we climb Greenford Avenue to a relatively lofty peak, between leafy avenues down which certain other E buses deviate as indirectly as possible.

We're in the vicinity of Castle Bar Park and Drayton Green, two of the least used stations in London, but running parallel to the railway so never intersect. Instead we head for Hanwell, a more socially mixed locale and our second burst of shops. Three large places of worship dominate Church Road, a big Methodist, a more trad Anglican and a rather more modern Roman Catholic. Behind me everyone is sitting politely and not talking, which would normally be great except that nothing noteworthy is happening, so you'll have to make do with me looking out of the window and telling you what I see. The Pamela Howard School of Dance on the Broadway. The entrance to the Kensington & Chelsea Cemetery, seemingly miles from home. The Diamond Hotel, which looks like it definitely used to be a pub. As you can see, the E3's highlights are legion.

Despite being an E bus we're not heading straight on to Ealing Broadway but turning off to escape the congestion early. The run down to Holdenesque Northfields station features an increasingly upmarket retail selection, from a Wine Shop selling beer's and can's to the artisan Cheddar Deli. We pause a while outside the Ealing Christian Centre, formerly the Avenue Theatre, where the younger churchgoers have emerged onto the front step to check their smartphones. A more elderly worshipper waves her stick at the driver as she hobbles across the road, and we drive off a minute later with her safely aboard. Our next passenger has heels and a gold designer bag, hence Little Ealing Lane must be swisher, or is this South Ealing now - I've lost all geographical sensitivity.

You can tell from its wiggle that Popes Lane was once a country thoroughfare. Today a long curve of tasty semis shields the open space of Gunnersbury Park, which comes to the fore only when the gateposts of the Rothschilds' former mansion butt up against the street. Our dalliance with the North Circular is thankfully brief, making a direct beeline for Acton Town station, and in the process becoming an E3 in W3. Acton's 1930s fire station survives, but the Mill Hill Free House hasn't been so lucky and languishes all boarded up on a street corner. Ahead one badly parked car blocks our progress, and it's only when an E3 turns up travelling the other way that headlamps flash and we're on our way again.

Hang on, we're now back on the Uxbridge Road we left two paragraphs back, as the E3's meandering journey continues. Here it's known as Acton High Street, home to the very first Waitrose (now a takeaway), and where two policemen are keeping order by queueing at a cashpoint. But we don't stay on the main drag for long, instead nipping round the back of the old town hall to aim for a dog grooming and hypnotherapy studio in bijou Bedford Park. A blue plaque marks the former villa of John Lindley, orchidologist, whose son-in-law is responsible for turning a few sparse villas into the world's first Garden Suburb. Many passengers alight at Turnham Green station, at which point the shops vault up a gear to sequential bistros, boutiques and brasseries. My local postcode of E3 could never support a patisserie called Château Dessert, but on Chiswick Broadway it's positively buzzing.

We've been going an hour now and we're still not done. Indeed my ordeal is about to be extended by the dreaded crew-swap announcement. "This bus will wait here for a short time for a change of drivers to take place." We have an almost entirely new complement of passengers by now, boarding the E3 for its final leg out into tube-less territory. They're not best pleased at waiting either, but are probably well used to it, even the man to my left clutching a large laminated shelf. When our new driver's finally settled in we take the cut-through across actual Turnham actual Green, past Gilbert Scott's Christ Church isolated at its centre.

We have one last big road to cross, the busy A4, where the traffic lights let out only a few vehicles at a time. Annoyingly there's a bus stop partway down the lengthy queue and we're taking ages to reach it, but our driver kindly drops off expectant passengers early in the hope. Annoyingly one local resident doesn't take him up on the offer and holds back, dinging fifty yards down the road just before the stop, hence we miss our chance and get to queue one more time. But then we're across, entering the tongue of land inside the Chiswick meander and continuing almost all the way down to the Thames. But not quite, we halt finally on the lip of a housing estate - such a long way from Greenford, and so indirect too. An eye-opening ride for an east Londoner, but never again, E3, not all the way.

the crash location, beneath the bridge, east of St John's

» route E3 - route map
» route E3 - timetable
» route E3 - live bus map
» route E3 - route history
» route E3 - The Ladies Who Bus

London has no F-prefixed buses, so we're straight on to G. And there's only one of those. The G1's a real peculiarity too, having started out in 1988 as an attempt by Wandsworth Health Authority to link as many hospitals as possible via a variety of unserved streets. Initially it had a partner, the G2, but that was removed in 1992 leaving just the G1. It follows a slightly less convoluted route today, but only just, hence it's very much a bus for short hop journeys rather than anything end-to-end. Oh, and the G stands for St George's Hospital, obviously.

 Route G1: Battersea - Streatham
 Length of journey: 10 miles, 85 minutes

To the northeast of Clapham Junction, nudged up against the railway, lies the Shaftesbury Estate. It's rather lovely too, with leafy avenues of basic but well-proportioned terrace houses built for the working man, but now snapped up by those rather richer. The G1 starts its epic journey up a dead-end street in the far corner, outside a scout hut from which the sounds of gospel singing are temporarily emanating. About a dozen of us are waiting, the last bus having seemingly been cancelled, and only the small toddler scooping up leaves seems immune to a general feeling of polite restlessness. When the bus does finally arrive it still has to turn round, which proves awkward, and then the driver (who looks like he's just out of school) finally whisks us away.

"Why did we get the bus?" Two well-spoken lads are sitting behind me on their way to watch some rugby in a pub. They nipped aboard as we crossed the Shaftesbury, as did a dozen others, but are regretting that decision now we're stuck at traffic lights trying to filter onto Lavender Hill. "I can't believe how long this is taking." We need five attempts to get through, and then we join another snail's pace line heading up towards Clapham Junction. A suspiciously high number of passengers alight outside the enormous Asda - some have travelled barely half a mile - and then we wait while the ramp is deployed so a wheelchair shopper can come aboard. "Should've walked," says one member of the increasingly-irked rugby chorus, but they still reach The Northcote in time for the majority of Sky Sports' pre-match banter.

The terraces off Northcote Road are often known as 'Nappy Valley', a reputation well justified as the bus progresses through. Our first pushchair is swiftly joined by a second, carefully lodged opposite the wheelchair, then somehow a third ("yeah, but you'll have to fold that up"). Mummy and Daddy number four are not so fortunate and are left at the roadside with the news that there'll be another G1 along soon... which may not be entirely true but alas our mobile crèche can take no more. Space is limited outside the bus on Broomwood Road where a Tesco delivery driver has parked slightly too close to a traffic island and is blocking the road. A honk from our driver gets the van shifted, but also merits a curse and a one-fingered salute from Mr Tesco (LM60 UFH) as we drive off.

The western side of Clapham Common is busy with joggers and several games of football. Due to the cursive nature of the G1's route I note that I could have walked here from the start in the time it's taken us to get here, and hung around to watch part of a match too. Our vehicle half-empties at Clapham South station, because that's how London buses work, then immediately refills with folk going back west again. One has brought an IKEA shelf unit as a travelling companion, another his ice hockey gear including two skates and a pair of gloves slung over his stick.

Our next Common is Wandsworth, which we narrowly missed ten minutes ago, and very smart it is round here too. The lady sat in front of me has been checking her phone ever since she boarded, repeatedly googling the Central London Golf Centre to work out pecisely where to get off. The ice skater kindly nudges her to alight at Tilehurst Road, whereas she should have waited for our doubleback to Springfield University Hospital, the first of the G1's blatant diversions for medical reasons. We waste time doubling back again just down the road at St George's Grove, but once you realise these 500 flats are all NHS keyworker accommodation the extra detour suddenly makes sense.

I may be riding all the way to Streatham but the driver isn't. On Garratt Lane he pulls up and greets his replacement, who's just popped out of a red van parked in front. They swap tales of driving conditions and shiftwork for a bit, then Young Driver crosses to the van and drives away while Older Driver spends a minute beeping the ticket machine. Are we done? It's finally time to enter St George's, a hospital on a huge campus to the west of Tooting. We're not seeing its best side, we're rounding the perimeter past a sequence of entrances to delivery bays, wings and clinics. It's here at last that our wheelchair passenger alights, justifying the Wandsworth Health Authority's route planning all those years ago, although why she needed to go all the way to Battersea for two bags of shopping is beyond me.

After four hospital-edge stops we finally escape. We're down to just five passengers now, and barely get a sixth as we enter Tooting High Street. The lady in question's Oyster card beeps empty, then beeps empty again, and the driver decides to refuse her passage. She attempts to pay by cash but is four months late, then plays the "not being very good at English" card in a desperate attempt to stay aboard. This works inasmuch as the driver lets her remain "For One Stop Only", but then she retires somewhat sheepishly, presumably to try her scam on someone less strict.

It's hard to turn right at Tooting Broadway, but eventually we do, and suddenly a whole load of new passengers pile aboard. This end of the G1 is effectively a whole new route, dispersing shoppers and tube users into the deeper suburbs, and every seat aboard is soon taken. We're heading for Furzedown, Wandsworth's largest interwar estate, pleasantly tucked around the back of Tooting Graveney Common. As the only bus to venture this way we've soon dropped off most of our human cargo, eventually emerging near Tooting Bec Lido, which is virtually in Streatham. Oh good, nearly there.

I've not been through Streatham for a while, so it's a bit of a shock to see the Mega-Tesco and Leisure Centre development on the High Road that's recently replaced the old ice rink. A new ice rink lurks within, above a swimming pool and surrounded by flats, and the end result is very clever but utterly devoid of visual joy. A bus lane helps us speed ahead - it's possibly the first time we've hit thirty since we set out nearly an hour and a half ago. The bloke sitting opposite is jabbering almost as quickly into his phone. It's a relief when finally we turn off and stop round the back of a Lidl, parking up in a grotty temporary bay beside a building site. The bus blind calls it Streatham, though I'd call it Norbury, into which I am only too happy to escape.

» route G1 - route map
» route G1 - timetable
» route G1 - live bus map
» route G1 - route history
» route G1 - The Ladies Who Bus

So many H buses to choose from. Nine in Hillingdon, which I could have done. Nine in Harrow, where I could have gone. But instead I went for the pair in Hampstead, specifically the hourly minibus that plies one of the richest roads in the capital. I've had my eye on the H3 for some considerable time...

 Route H3: Golders Green - Hill Top
 Length of journey: 6 miles, 30 minutes

Step out of Golders Green station and a large bus station greets you. As many as ten different bus routes terminate here, in three separate bays, on a slice of land that could be valuable real estate if only it wasn't transportationally essential. Expect to see a large number of bus drivers standing around, passing the time between runs with a fag, a chat, or a cup of tea in the Arriva changeover wing. A finger of commuter-angled retail units points out towards the clocktower, including the formica tables and sugar shakers of Bar Linda. Step beyond, across a patch of grass, to discover a second much much smaller bus terminus from which the Optare minibuses ply their trade.

There used to be an H1, a school service running three times a day to a local girls school, but TfL ran a consultation last year and renumbered the route 631. There's still an H2, a circular which makes a two mile loop of the avenues of Hampstead Garden Suburb, and somehow still runs every twelve minutes. And then there's the H3, a very different proposition, and one of London's least frequent buses. It runs hourly, but not during the morning rush hour when it's requisitioned for the 631, and it stops running by three in the afternoon, and it doesn't run on Sundays. That's a mere 42 journeys a week, which means I had to time my arrival very carefully.

I picked a Saturday morning, which isn't necessarily the best time to visit Golders Green. Much of the population is at synagogue, indeed many of the shops hereabouts are closed, so I was wondering how busy the bus might be. As the H3 shuffled forwards to the front of the stand, I get my answer. Six of us board, which might not sound much but on a small vehicle like this uses up several of the seats, plus there'll be three more joining us at the next stop. At least two passengers exchange a "hello" with the driver, because it's a friendly bus with repeat patronage, the H3. And one less familiar soul enquires "do you go to the end of the road", which is a damned stupid thing to ask and will have awkward consequences later.

So who have we got on board? A ginger teen with a nosering, his baseball cap at the currently approved jaunty angle. A Jewish gent attempting to write a spidery address in fountain pen on a whisked-out envelope. Someone up front, of indeterminate gender, screened beneath a non-designer anorak hood. The lady who asked where the bus was going, paying no attention now she's jabbering away on her phone. Two older ladies homeward-bound with shopping, using the H3 for the purpose for which it was commissioned. And someone who smells of inadequately-dried jacket - I'm not sure who, but I genuinely don't think it's me.

A pair of Jehovah's Witnesses are poised resolutely outside HSBC waving "Is Satan real?" booklets at a demographic that totally isn't interested. We're heading 'the wrong way' at first so that we can turn right past the shops and make a run for it up Hoop Lane. Nobody wants the crematorium or the extensive Jewish cemetery, we're heading for the upmarket garden village beyond. But just when it looks like we might be entering the heart of it we veer off and aim instead for the London borough of Barnet's premier mansion tax zone.

Hampstead Way's rather nice, with big homes behind clipped hedges on one side of the road only. On the other is the Hampstead Heath extension, here more park than heathland, a rarely-visited tongue of green that locals seem to have very much to themselves. It's at this point that our jabberer spots she's not where she thought, puts down her phone and asks "Isn't this the H2?" It's not, obviously, the front of the bus was quite explicit, but it's an easy mistake to have made when the H3 runs so infrequently. A fellow passenger points out unhelpfully that if she stays on board she'll eventually end up back at Golders Green and can try again. But she doesn't understand, her English isn't good, and she sits forlornly as we thunder on.

At Wildwood Way we head around the tip of the Heath Extension and the houses get bigger. Very close by is the site of what might have been North End station, the deepest on the tube network, had the earliest residents not seen the developers off. Instead the number of homes round here remains low, the acreage high, and the number of cars per front garden higher still. We pass a series of swept-back symmetrical villas, an increasing number with electric gates, twisting in an S-shape round a small wood and a golf course. I have to keep reminding myself that this is inner London, barely two miles from Regent's Park, yet feels instead like deepest Surrey.

We pop out briefly to reality, to a bus stop notionally serving Kenwood House. And then we turn up a legendary road I've heard so much about but never seen, The Bishop's Avenue, otherwise known as Billionaires Row. It does not disappoint... wtf?! This fairytale mile boasts one of the most expensive collections of property in London, and is home to magnates, playboys, presidents and sultans. And yet it's not pretty, indeed it feels like Metroland blinged up, mixing Arts and Crafts mansions with vulgar pillared neo-classical piles. One Kazakhstani fortress sold for fifty million a few years back, and there's an 8-bedroom newbuild on the market now for thirty-five. But look closer and several of the palaces are empty, with security notices on locked gates, a symbol of how swiftly great wealth can drain away. For this is more a trophy street than a proper community, less somewhere to live, more a series of conversation pieces to own. I love the fact that a little London bus tracks up and back a handful of times a week for the benefit of people who don't 'do' public transport, the ultimate Hail & Ride.

The top end of The Bishop's Avenue, beyond the A1, is a disappointment in comparison. We're suddenly in East Finchley, stopping by the station, having threaded from one branch of the Northern line to the other. Only five of us are left aboard, no fresh passengers having boarded since we started, which I guess is what tends to happen on rarely scheduled buses. We tick off the sights - the East Finchley archer, the pioneering Phoenix Cinema, Amazing Grates. And then we're off into suburbia again, much more ordinary this time, following a double decker 143 up East End Road. We've climbed gently to the extent that there's almost a view, but nothing significant, just undulating rooftops and sky.

The H3 has one more loop to follow, this through the northern strip of Hampstead Garden Suburb, with its white curved semis and trimmed-hedge gardens. Our destination, Hill Top, turns out to be a narrow minibus-width avenue, and isn't truly a destination at all because we carry straight on. Baseball-cap-lad has been waiting patiently for the farthest stop on Brookland Rise, and lumbers off, while three of us ride back east to the splendid interwar parade at Market Place. It turns out that this was where Lost Lady was trying to get to all along, so she's happy, even if the H3 has taken twice as long to get here as the H2. I take the hint and cross the street to take the quicker minibus back.

» route H3 - route map
» route H3 - timetable
» route H3 - live bus map
» route H3 - The Ladies Who Bus

London's quintet of K buses run through and from Kingston-upon-Thames. They originated in the late 1980s, at one point as many as ten in number, and branded as Kingston Hoppas. Disappointingly the K9 is long gone, otherwise that would have been my ride of choice. Instead I chose to ride the bus that runs least frequently, the bus whose route you described as "the most quirky", the bus nearly scrapped in 2006. And, well, blimey.

 Route K5: Ham - Morden
 Length of journey: 12 miles, 85 minutes

You'd never sit down and invent the K5 today. It's far too long a route, linking outposts that nobody needs to travel between, as if some child scribbled a line on a map and asked the driver to oblige. The fact it runs only once an hour is a hint that TfL's accountants wouldn't be sorry to see it go, but when they threatened to cancel it various residents' groups sent in a volley of support and hence the little bus survived. Waiting at the Ham terminus I wonder whether that faith might perhaps have been misplaced. A single-door minibus is parked up on a road faced only by back gardens, hazard lights flashing, matched by a simultaneous beep. Everyone else waiting - a footballer, a smoking Dad, and a schoolgirl off to take her 11+ - board the regular 371 when it arrives instead. Only I wave my Oyster when the K5 driver revs up. On the grass verge opposite, a crow caws four times.

It's only a minibus with 21 seats but it has grand pretensions, not least the stack of Epsom Coaches Holiday brochures in a rack up front. But the size of vehicle proves crucial two stops later, on Tudor Drive, as we take an unexpected right turn down something narrow. Parked cars on either side of the road leave space for only one vehicle to squeeze between, and hopefully that's us, otherwise the oncoming driver is going to have to find a gap along the side and nip in sharpish. There's no genuine need for our bus to be heading this way - two other buses run within 400m of this Tudorbethan avenue, that being the requisite distance for TfL to hit their targets. But our presence on this Hail and Ride section is greatly appreciated, as I can tell by the number of pensioners standing poised by the side of the road with shopping baskets waiting to flag us down. Many greet their friends as they board on the morning trip to town, mostly in couples, until we have at least a dozen aboard.

We take another wtf narrow turn and give a white van driver pause for thought. Then it's our turn for trouble approaching Canbury Park. A Warburton's driver has somehow manoeuvred his lorry through this maze of narrow backstreets and is out of the cab delivering a tray of bread to the adjacent Co-op. Unfortunately his rear is poked out into the street, and another driver's parked his car slap bang on the T-junction, so not even our driver's skill can ease us through. A honk and a reverse eventually create just enough space, and we proceed, hinting further that this rather tasteful enclave is damned fortunate to have a bus service at all. Further diversionary tactics lead us along smart Victorian streets and round a trading estate before finally emerging round the back of Kingston station.

It looks like rain, and the ladies of North Kingston are already adjusting their plastic bonnets in anticipation of hitting the shops. We're about to do something highly unusual, for a bus, which is to serve the same stop twice ten minutes apart. Kingston's rigid one-way system is to blame, forcing us to drive one and a half times around the ring road (past both bus stations) in order to reach the main shopping streets. Most of our pensioner cargo alights near the tumbledown phoneboxes, or outside Heal's, where we pick up replacements for the next bags-home run. And Cromwell Road Bus Station is the lucky stop that gets two hits, the second after a spell at the driver changeover point which delays our progress even longer. As we head off with a feeling of deja vu, I genuinely think the half hour I've just experienced was mad, but all the constrictions and contortions must suit some.

Things get a bit more sensible from here on, but not by much. Ks two to five all head down the London Road towards Norbiton, the station and the hospital, where we dive off again down some under-served back road. There's another "what, seriously, are we going down there?" moment, then we're off over the speed bumps to serve Kingsmeadow, the home ground of Division Two youngsters AFC Wimbledon. This next stretch is almost normal, enlivened by roadside banners reading "Dee Watts Is The Big 5 0" and "Dee Watts Nifty Fifty". But it doesn't last. Someone in the 1980s route planning department spotted a loop of estate roads backing down to the Hogsmill River so we deviate that way, much to the delight of an old lady wearing entirely unnecessary ear muffs and her patient-looking husband.

We're ticking off the backwaters of New Malden, seemingly all of them, and picking up a fair few Hail and Riders on the way. Most are heading for the shopping centre, deemed important enough that Nando's are about to open a branch by the Fountain roundabout, where we lose half a dozen and gain a sobbing toddler in a pushchair. She must know what's coming. A whopping diversion through Motspur Park awaits, meaning that in fifteen minutes time we'll have circled right round to within three stops of where we are now. I'm glad I can't see this on a map as we continue, it would all be terribly depressing.

But we end-to-end tourists aren't the target audience, indeed it was vociferous cries from Motspur Park where the K5 is the only bus that helped keep this service alive. We run past some rather desirable semis, broad-fronted and with gardens best described as ample. It's Hail and Ride again, a long stretch this time broken by a single bus stop halfway, immediately after the level crossing by the herringbone parade. Here the quirkiest passenger I've seen in many a day boards and sits behind me. This forty-something man is dressed exclusively in autumn colours, and in his mind's eye must believe he's a genuinely dapper gent. His bright mustard trousers create the greatest visual impact, followed by his cocked brown trilby and the beige waistcoat beneath his tweed jacket. Closer observation reveals a partridge emblazoned on his tie, and a two-tone umbrella that's copper on the outside and khaki within, the complete ensemble topped off with a lingering bouquet of lavender. It's not how the average Motspur Parker dresses, I can assure you.

An hour into the K5's meandering we hit a second level crossing and then head deliberately in the wrong direction - west - to negotiate the A3. All is suddenly a bit out-of-town arterial, with B&Q sheds and takeaway drive-ins beneath a thundering concrete flyover. Up we go alongside the main body of traffic on the Kingston Bypass, but only to take the flyover and end up one stop away from that last level crossing, but one level higher. We're not seeing the nicest side of Raynes Park, especially when we divert off again to serve the station, indeed it's the first time southwest London has looked anything other than desirable. This is as far as Autumnal Man is going, which clears the air a little, and only a few of us continue.

We're still somehow keeping to timetable, which is important when a bus runs only hourly, but our driver's now making no real attempt to stop because nobody's interested in joining us. Up next is Wimbledon Chase, the houses increasingly aspirational, even mainstream, which is the cue for the K5 to make one last break for freedom. I'm quite excited to discover that these splendid leafy avenues form Merton Park, home to 70s mod band The Merton Parkas, and now (for architectural rather than musical reasons) a conservation area. The final Hail and Ride section seems to exist solely for people who can't be bothered to walk down the street to Morden, of whom today there are none. And it's here, at the foot of the Northern line, that the driver finally chucks us out before joining the throng of red buses on the station forecourt, and leaving me to wonder if that journey was actually for real.

» route K5 - route map
» route K5 - timetable
» route K5 - live bus map
» route K5 - route history
» route K5 - route history
» route K5 - The Ladies Who Bus

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