Route W7: Muswell Hill to Finsbury Park London's 6th shortest bus route Length of journey: 2.48 miles (15 minutes)
Muswell Hill and Crouch End are infamously railwayless, so the W7 exists to whisk residents downhill to the nearest decent station. Previously this was the 212, renumbered in 1969 when it became a pioneering one-man-operated flat fare service. The W7 embraced experimentation again in 2001 when it was chosen to trial a cashless "Pay Before You Go" system aimed at speeding up boarding, with tickets available from roadside machines. It remains a speedy and very frequent route with a specific purpose, and recent figures confirm its crown as London's most crowded bus (in terms of number of passengers carried per mile travelled).
TfL are fortunate that the very heart of Muswell Hill, the roundabout on the Broadway where five roads meet, has been given over entirely to parking buses. W7s roll out at six minute intervals, perhaps three minutes if it's the rush hour, and spin round to pull up beside the Keith Blakelock memorial. While I wait for the next service my attention is drawn to the adjacent Broadway Hair Stylist, a very old fashioned barber shop whose front window photographs resemble a lineup from the late 1980s, as does the cluttered pomade'n'mirrors interior. The barber appears to be asleep but perks up when a regular customer arrives, and soon snippings of lank grey hair are falling onto his brown tunic, same as it ever was.
Although the interval between buses is short, at least 20 people are waiting to board by the time a W7 turns up. I grab the front seat to best enjoy the steep descent of Muswell Hill, beyond the foot of which a panorama of north and east London is arrayed. That must be Stratford directly ahead - I recognise the Orbit and that skyscraper with a notch in it. A sweep of Edwardian avenues stretch off to left and right, confirming this undulating suburb's enduring appeal. We have a clear run down to the tiny traffic island with a palm tree, where the road levels out, broadens and splits. Bus drivers attempting the journey in reverse can't have it anywhere near as easy.
The W7 is the only bus along Park Road, mopping up further passengers as it goes, although the park itself is not readily spotted behind a screen of housing. Homes along one section are enhanced by white-painted wooden balustrades in various stages of maintenance or disrepair. Hornsey's war memorial chapel sits incongruously outside the Neighbourhood Health Centre. The Princess Alexandra is proud to have been serving beer since 1896, when the first houses spread across the fields hereabouts. The shops veer increasingly upmarket as we continue - organic greengrocer, wine merchant, art gallery, chandelier boutique - and hey presto, Crouch End.
The clocktower is still draped with icicle lights, or at least it was at the weekend. A pre-Worboys sign embedded in its brickwork confirms the distance to FINSBURY PK as 1¼ miles... so, halfway there. We enter another Broadway, very much the go-to-name for high streets hereabouts, where a former bank is now a Dirtyburger and the town hall is currently destined to become an arts centre stroke hotel stroke flats (although it wouldn't surprise anybody local if that fell through). The W7 has sole ownership of the bus stop outside, because it's also the only route heading for Finsbury Park and blimey hasn't it got full on board?
A mother and daughter climb upstairs, their conversation progressing from how they always say thanks to the driver to how nobody else does to numerous examples of how bloody rude today's youth can be when on board. The bus now faces another long climb to get over the final ridge, from the top of which the Shard can be clearly seen behind the central City cluster. Finally descending to railway level we pass over the top of the Parkland Walk, mostly unseen, and then the Overground at Crouch Hill station. This is not the point of departure those aboard are seeking, it appears.
This won't take long now. The London Buses' Incident Response Team, aka a man in a van, are busy replacing a broken timetable panel on Stroud Green Road. The Old Dairy is a terracotta masterpiece with seven decorative panels across its front, which alas can't be seen if you're inside with a burger and a pint watching the football. And then, because a low railway bridge prevents buses proceeding to the useful side of Finsbury Park station, the W7 twists off to unload its passengers in an inconvenient sidestreet outside a gelateria, then limps into the bus station round the corner. Muswell Hill in fifteen, anyone?