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When recently travelling on London’s least frequent bus (the 347, if you're curious), I was intrigued to discover it ventured beyond the M25 for part of its journey. It got me thinking: how many other London buses do this?
After some help from a knowledgeable source (the ever-excellent Diamond Geezer), I pulled together a list of 18 London bus routes that pass beyond the M25.* They take in some pretty interesting landmarks, too — from high culture at National Trust properties, to Chessington World of Adventures, and even a giant cockerel statue on a roundabout. It's all yours to explore for the price of a single bus journey.
81 – Hounslow to Slough
A plane-spotter's paradise, the 81 spends a fair chunk of its journey trundling on the A4 at the northern perimeter of Heathrow Airport. Enjoy this view while you can — the area would be swallowed up by the proposed third runway. Not content with travelling over one motorway, it also voyages over a second (the M4) before reaching Slough (somewhere else that comes with the Londonist seal of approval), passing by a reservoir named after the Queen Mother, bless 'er.
96 – Woolwich to Bluewater
A journey through the evolution of English shopping. Starting at Woolwich, the 96 passes the open-air market, full of hustle and bustle, with fruit and veg sellers vying for your attention. It’s the sort of place you can imagine Del Boy plying dry clean-only raincoats. By contrast, the 96 ends at Bluewater, the vast late '90s shopping centre, complete with 330 shops. Either beats Oxford Street.
217 – Turnpike Lane to Waltham Cross
This bus is the first of several serving the Hertfordshire town of Waltham Cross. On its way from Turnpike Lane, the 217 wends through Enfield and the poultry-named Turkey Street station. It only continues a short distance beyond the M25 (which travels underneath the bus route via the Holmesdale Tunnel) to terminate at Waltham Cross bus station. From here, you're not far from the thrills and spills of Lee Valley White Water Centre.
246 – Bromley North to Westerham
An expedition for those interested in second world war history, the 246 takes in Biggin Hill airport — a major RAF base during the Battle of Britain, home to private flights, a yearly airshow and now a museum covering its history — before ending at Chartwell, Winston Churchill’s home from 1922 until his death in 1965. It’s now a National Trust property, open to the public for part of the year. Even the point at which it passes the M25, a village called Force Green, sounds like a military operation.
279 – Manor House to Waltham Cross
Waltham Cross, part two. This time, starting at Manor House, the 279 shadows the 217, albeit a few roads further east. Lots of the journey is spent on Tottenham High Road, passing close to the Bruce Castle, a Grade I listed 16th century manor house, now home to a local history museum. It also passes Tottenham Hotspur’s (still delayed) new stadium. It crosses over the M25 and terminates at the same point as the 217.
298 – Arnos Grove to Potters Bar
The 298 showcases two brilliant examples of modernist architecture on the Piccadilly line. First is Arnos Grove, one of Charles Holden’s masterpieces, with its rising circular ticket hall. The bus then passes the fantastic, flying saucer-esque Southgate station. The route goes by the edge of the expansive Trent Park before passing over the M25 and terminating at Potters Bar railway station.
313 – Chingford to Potters Bar
Our second trip to Potters Bar follows an east to west journey from Chingford, passing another royal reservoir (this time named after King George V) before on to Enfield town centre (home to some surprisingly delightful architecture, including the White House on Silver Street). The bus travels over the M25 just before reaching Potters Bar. Unlike the 298, it continues beyond the station to terminate at Dame Alice Owen’s School — sure;y one of the poshest bus stop names on a London route?
317 – Enfield to Waltham Cross
Déjà vu all over again with the 317. Starting in Enfield town centre, it joins the A10 and follows the same route as the 217 — so there's very little to add. Allow us to provide you with some trivia instead: It was once the 217B, before suffixes were phased out for London buses.
327 - Enfield to Waltham Cross
Waltham Cross, part IV. This is the shortest route on our list, with only six stops listed on TfL’s website. Starting just near Turkey Street station, it tops the brilliance of that name by visiting the Enfield suburb named Freezywater. This curious name comes from the bleak and exposed position of a pond here back in the 18th century. And David Cameron once reopened a distribution centre here. The last leg of its route is the same as all the other Waltham Cross routes.
347 – Romford to Ockendon
London’s least frequent bus route – with only four services a day, six days a week. For a blow-by-blow account of the capital’s rarest bus and its friendly collection of passengers, check out my earlier article.
370 – Romford to Lakeside
The 370 both begins and ends at shopping centres, however they are of vastly different scales. The modestly-sized Mercury Gardens in Romford is the starting point. After visiting Upminster, the bus enters open countryside and passes Stubber’s Adventure Centre, a 130-acre activity park, before travelling under the M25. It then heads south to Lakeside Shopping Centre with its 2.6million square feet of retail space.
372 – Hornchurch to Lakeside
Starting in Hornchurch, the 372 follows a twisty-turny route through east London suburbia. It also serves Rainham Hall, a Grade II* listed house built in 1729, acquired by the National Trust in 1949 but only open to the public since 2015. It passes the M25 on the approach to the Dartford Crossing before reaching Lakeside Shopping Centre.
405 – West Croydon to Redhill
While Croydon to Redhill doesn’t sound overly exciting, there are still some points of interest along the way. Like the 81, it travels over two motorways, the second being the northern edge of the half-finished M23 (the original plan was to continue the motorway to Streatham, demolishing hundreds of houses along the way). After passing under the M25 at Merstham, it passes Gatton Park in Reigate, a grand 18th century park landscaped by gardening powerhouse Capability Brown.
428 – Erith to Bluewater
Our second route serving Bluewater, the 428 starts in Erith town centre, passing through the suburbia of Bexley and Dartford on its route. It also has one of the best stop names ever, The Jolly Farmers Open Space — sadly no sight of a jolly farmer on this patch of green on a Dartford street. There was a pub nearby with the name, but it was demolished a few years ago — and looking at Beer In The Evening reviews from 2011, perhaps that’s no bad thing.
465 – Kingston to Dorking
We've previously identified the 465 as the London bus route which travels furthest from London. Starting at one of London’s oldest town centres, Kingston, it passes Chessington World of Adventures, before travelling over the M25 near Leatherhead, then reaching picturesque Box Hill. Just before the journey’s end, there’s a treat for fans of bizarre public sculptures; Dorking’s mascot, a large shiny cockerel, resplendent on a roundabout.
491 – North Middlesex Hospital to Waltham Cross
The last of five buses that serves Waltham Cross. It starts at North Middlesex Hospital (near which there's a huge Ikea, and a few breweries too), travelling through Ponders End before taking a diversion onto Enfield Island Village, an early noughties housing development on former MOD land. This little parcel of land used to be part of Essex before being transferred over to Enfield Council in 1994 prior to work beginning on the housing scheme.
492 – Sidcup to Bluewater
Our third route serving Bluewater. The 492 starts in the Bexley suburb of Sidcup, heading north towards the centre of Bexley, passing Hall Place, a Grade I listed Tudor stately house and garden, with what we reckon is the most inventive topiary in London. Going through Dartford, it also passes the local museum (good news, it's free!) before passing over the A282 and terminating at the mall’s eastern edge.
498 - Romford to Brentwood
The 498 treads a path from Romford’s Queens Hospital through to the huge Sainsbury's superstore at Brentwood town centre in Essex. For just under half the route, the bus travels along the busy A12, passing the gruesomely named Gallows Corner before travelling over the M25 to reach Brentwood, which was formerly home to the UK’s biggest trampoline factory. Stop off at Weald Country Park, for 500 acres of woodland, lakes and wildflowers.
*Four technically pass beyond the A248. A small part of the route either side of the Dartford Crossing is still classed as an A road, rather than the M25. This section of road predates the motorway (the first part of the tunnel opened in 1963) and to change it requires administrative hoops to be jumped through which nobody has ever fancied doing. For completeness, these routes have been included in the list.