Route 379: Yardley Lane Estate to Chingford London's 4th shortest bus route Length of journey: 2.26 miles (15 minutes)
The Yardley Lane estate clings to a hillside to the northwest of Chingford overlooking the Lea Valley reservoirs, not far from the Gilwell Park campsite. It earned a minibus service in themid1980s when the regular connection between Waltham Abbey and Chingford was lost, and this minor shuttling loop to the brink of Essex was added instead. On the face of it the 379 is extraordinarily generous - a quarter-hourly service operated by two vehicles for fewer than 1000 passengers a day, when a double decker alternative exists at the foot of the slope. But this direct link to shops and station survives because the London bus network serves a social need, not just an economic paymaster, at least for now.
The turning circle for the 379 straddles the very edge of the capital. Albion Terrace opposite is in Essex, and the fortified bungalow where all the manic barking is coming from is in Waltham Forest. The layby's on the large side because it used to be the winter terminus for route 215, but that now terminates up the road at the Lea Valley Campsite all year round. I've arrived shortly before dusk, so the homebound flow has begun and the cars streaming past have their headlamps on. Three college students have gathered and are watching the road, so I wonder if they'll be joining me, but instead a minibus drops by to take them away. I am therefore expecting my ride on the 379 to be quiet. I am very wrong.
When the 379 arrives it is packed out with schoolchildren of secondary school age, and most definitely standing room only. Their behaviour is animated but well-mannered, lest any of you be thinking worse. Thankfully several children pour off, so I'm going to get a seat, but the driver doesn't expect anyone to be boarding and nearly shuts the door in my face. Such are the potential pitfalls of a single-door vehicle. Although we're now technically on the return journey, this end of the route is a loop so the remainder won't be getting off just yet. We climb Antlers Hill to run round the back of the estate where our driver simply stops in the middle of the road to let the next two batches alight. It seems astonishing that so few homes could be the source of so many children, but this willingness to use public transport must be how the route has survived.
There's a nice twinkly view of Enfield from the crest of the hill. The road surface up here is appalling, with badly-filled-in utility trenches at closely-spaced intervals. Yardley Lane is so narrow, descending between parked cars and a wooded incline, that it's clear why buses only tour this loop one-way. One of the last schoolchildren to alight is so engrossed in her phone conversation that she forgets her scarf and has to dash back on board to retrieve it. By the time we return to the main road, then swing back into the second part of the estate, there are only three of us left on board. I am therefore expecting the remainder of my ride on the 379 to be quiet. I am again very wrong.
The local primary school has turned out, so a large cluster of kids, parents and guardians is waiting patiently at the kerbside. They too are perfectly well behaved, fear not, but any hopes of silent running have been dashed. Drysdale Avenue is the spine road for further residential backwaters with a better bus service than guidelines specify they deserve, but who's complaining? Before long we reach the almost-foot of Kings Head Hill, which climbs the flanks of Pole Hill towards Chingford Green. The 379 is no longer the only bus, so waiting passengers leap aboard whichever comes first, saving themselves a brief but steep upward hike. We gain a lady with a shopping bag and a teenage boy with shiny black cartoon-like trainers which look like they're moulded to his feet.
The traffic lights beside the cemetery are the only hindrance on an otherwise speedy ride. The chosen destination for most passengers at this time of day isn't the station but the shops, or the library, or any of the other facilities at the Co-Op end of the high street. Station Road is served by as many as eight bus routes so we are by now an irrelevance. We snake past retailers considering winding down for the evening, retailers who gave up the ghost over Christmas and one bakery window full of startling icing-covered architecture. At the station/bus station our driver doesn't even pause for a rest, he's behind schedule so needs to head straight back to the Yardley again. Short routes aren't always quiet routes.