I could have caught this bus all the way from Romford, but no, I'd have missed out on the edge of London doing that. Instead I'm boarding the 370 towards the end of its route, shortly after exiting London for the delights of Thurrock. And there'll be no going back.
ROUND LONDON BY BUS(xxiv)
Route 370: South Ockendon - Lakeside Length of journey: 3 miles, 15 minutes
South Ockendon doesn't initially look like it deserves a double decker, with its small village green, old church and minor parade of shops. But there is a considerable amount of postwar housing estate parked off to the south, plus it's on the way to somewhere greater... the mall at Lakeside. Hence when the bus arrives, even after its ride through the back of beyond, it's rather full. I climb upstairs to an unfamiliar sight. For a start almost everyone on the top deck is female, and for another thing they're almost all fairly young. If my last bus was the Retirement Express, this is very obviously The Bus To The Mall.
A lot of chattering is going on. Up front the schoolgirl section is rather gossipy, further back the talk is more of evening plans and potential purchases. A few houses along South Road have been here for some time - there's one set of villas datemarked 1903. But the great majority of housing is modern infill, and various roads lead off to sprawling postwar estates on either side. A lot more people board as we pass through, the 370 acting as a weekend escape route for the young. The houses break for a flooded meadow and a large garden centre, which I get to stare at for a while because it's here that the jams start. I then get to stare at some window-height blossom for a while, as pre-Lakeside traffic conspires to extend my brief journey by several minutes.
When an electronic voice announces that the next stop is Stifford Road the three girls in front of me burst into a prolonged fit of giggles. They cackle more when a branch scraping down the site of the bus sounds like a fart, then go back to checking their phones and showing each other stuff. Stifford Road is later revealed as the source of all this congestion, being one of only two ways for residents to cross the c2c railway hereabouts. We then curve downhill to cross the Mardyke, the slopes below almost scenic, past a thatched cottage no less. But that's the only brief nice bit as we return to the estuarine plain and enter Thurrock's built-up retail wonderland.
A big Sainsbury's, several pylons, warehouse sprawl - there's little here than Betjeman would have eulogised about. That's Chafford Hundred ahead, a modern maze of drives and cul-de-sacs set around a set of chalk quarries. The largest is now home to Lakeside, or intu Lakeside as the site's owners would now like us to call it, despite the bland weediness of their brand name. This is the seventh largest shopping centre in the country, as is readily apparent looking down from above across the domed mall and vast car parks. So so many cars glint in the spring sunlight, but we avoid the majority of the traffic by entering the site via the bus-friendly back road. There is much queueing toalight - I let the ladies off first - and then I have one bus to go. X80>>