Ten TfL bus routes enter Essex but only one returns to Greater London before the end of its route. That's the 275, a workhorse outer orbital operating between Barkingside and Walthamstow. For most of the time it weaves through the boroughs of Redbridge and Waltham Forest but for abrief while it serves the people of Essex, so that's what we're going to ride.
The first out-of-London bus stop is at the top of Tomswood Hill and comes just after a big sign saying Welcome to Essex.
Here is that very bus stop (which is in Essex) and coming up the hill is a 275 (which is in London). It's not a bad view if you like distant amorphous suburbs. The stop's named Stradbroke Park after the local cul-de-sac and you can tell it's in Essex because the adjacent house has Epping Forest bins. The houses on this side of the boundary are a bit grander and glitzier than the London lot, with bigger security gates, larger parking areas and lower council tax. Hop aboard and let's ride through Essex.
Tomswood Hill swiftly becomes Tomswood Road (because it's not a hill any more) and looks very much like this. Technically this is Chigwell although it's not proper Chigwell where Lord Sugar and Dorien from Birds of a Feather live, it's merely the other side of an invisible dividing line from some fairly ordinary homes. That said some of these do look like they were built with a fair chunk of money, quite possibly rebuilt with a few extra bedrooms and a double garage. And as the road veers to the left, look, you can now see down the hill towards amorphous suburbs on the other side, even as far as actual Loughton.
After the next stop we turn left onto the B173, otherwise known as Manor Road, and are now heading west. The houses here are bungalowier but still tarted up. To one side is the entrance to the luxury flats at the former Claybury Hospital, and oh look we've emerged at the top of Woodford Bridge just above the pond and St Paul's church. Yes that is a guide dog waiting with its owner in the bus shelter because this is precisely where the Guide Dogs association has their southeast regional centre. The problem is we just passed a sign saying 'Redbridge' pinned to a lamppost because after two stops we are already back in London. To keep our journey solely within Essex we should have alighted back at Audleigh Place, a total distance of less than 500 metres.
And the somewhat larger problem is that the stop at Audleigh Place is temporarily closed at present due to road works.
You'd have noticed this if you were on board, we got to wait at a red light for the duration of a 4-way cycle and it was very tedious. I sometimes think there are more temporary traffic lights in March than at any other time as councils try to use up their road budget before the end of the financial year. Whatever, the sad fact is that the 275 only has two stops in Essex and one of those is currently closed, making it entirely impossible to make a bus journey entirely within Essex. Dammit.
What's more, if you're travelling in the opposite direction it's not 100% clear whether the Stradbroke Park bus stop is in Essex or not.
It's beyond the sign saying Essex but it's outside the last house with London bins. It's also positioned almost exactly at the point where the tarmac and pavement change from Redbridge-maintained to Essex-maintained (just look at that photo!) and lies on the London side of the divide by approximately 20cm. Onlinemaps however show the bus stop very marginally on the Essex side of the boundary, and most convincingly TfL's database of bus stops has it down as an Epping Forest bus stop so let's assume it is. That means there are exactly two Essex bus stops on the 275 in either direction, so a one-stop Essex journey is all that's possible.
And this matters, or at least it does if you've bought an Essex Saver bus ticket, the cut-price county rover ticket. For £10 this allows "unlimited same day travel on registered local bus services within the administrative boundary of Essex County Council", hence it's important where that administrative boundary falls. Should you want to use your Essex Saver ticket for a one stop ride between Stradbroke Park and Audleigh Place it's entirely valid. You can't buy it on a TfL bus but you can use it, it's in the terms and conditions.
What's more the Essex Saver is actually valid on all buses starting or finishing in Essex (other than a few designated limited stop services) which is extra generous. Assuming you'd bought your ticket elsewhere you could board at Stradbroke Park and alight an hour later in Walthamstow, not that I can think of why you'd do that but you could. Ditto you could take the 20 from Debden to Walthamstow or even the 498 from Brentwood to Romford, indeed you could get all the way from Clacton to the Victoria line for £10 if you played your buses right.
The Essex Saver has been operational since 2008 and applies to journeys made on weekdays and Saturdays. On Sundays an even better value ticket exists, the £4.70 Sunday Saver, although that's balanced by the Sunday service being rather worse. Intriguingly the terms and conditions for the Sunday Saver specifically exclude "Transport for London Services 20, 167, 397 & 498", and you can't use it on routes 375 and 549 because they don't run on Sundays. As for the 150 and 215 they only run one stop beyond the Greater London boundary so you can't use the ticket for an entirely Essex journey. But you can ride the 462 for four stops round Grange Hill or the 275 for one stop here in Chigwell, should you ever want to see the expression on the face of the driver when you try it.