I decided to set the record for travelling on the most London buses in numerical order, for some reason

A bus! Look! Image: Getty.

I’ve always been vaguely intrigued by the people who set public transport world records – visiting all 270 tube stations in the shortest possible time, say – but not enough to actually compete. After even if I had delusions of grandeur that I could be a competitor, who wants to spend 15+ hours on the tube?

People have attempted similar challenges with London buses, setting records for the number of routes ridden in a day or a week, but that doesn’t feel entirely satisfying either.

Because buses have numbers. Buses have an order.

Let’s do this.

8.30am – Caught the 11 from Parliament Square to Horse Guard’s Parade

Why start with 11? Because the 10 no longer exists, having been brutally murdered by Sadiq Khan/merged with the 23 as part of a probably doomed plan to make Oxford Street less horrible. So what would you do once you’ve got the 9? Stand by the former route of the number 10 crying and throwing flowers into the road? That would be stupid. Starting with the number 11 means that, in theory, you can ride buses in sequence all the way to 71.

8.33am – Caught the 12 from Horse Guard’s Parade to Margaret Street

I planned (well, programmed a computer to plan) my journey by comparing the distances of the stops on numerically consecutive routes to find the closest pair, as the crow flies. In some cases, as with the 11 and 12 this ‘pair’ is actually a single stop served by both buses.

But to get the 13 I had to walk half a mile across town, from which we can conclude that consecutive numbering doesn’t necessarily indicate that the routes have any connection.

8.55am – Caught the 13 from Orchard Street to Hyde Park Corner

So what does the number mean, if anything?

In the early days of motorised buses, the London General Omnibus Company decided to brand one of their routes as “Vanguard” – then added another called “Victory”. Traffic manager George Samuel Dicks presumably realised that a massive error had been made and, instead of launching the Vile, Vague, Vapid and Vasectomy buses, reverted to the Vanguard name and differentiated the routes by sticking discs with numbers on to the sides of the buses.

9.19am – Caught the 14 from Hyde Park Corner to Gerrard St

In 1908 the London General Omnibus Company bought out all its main rivals and consolidated most of London’s bus routes into its numbering system, which ran from 1 to 20, omitting 5 and 12:  the system has never made any particular sense.

Much of the 14’s route dates back to this point, when it replaced its predecessor, the T – the London Road-Car Company used letters for its ‘Union Jack’ branded services. Why not write an alternate history novel in which the London Road-Car Company won the bus wars, and now all the bus routes are called “J” and “FH”, and that’s the only difference from our universe?

9.45am – Caught the 15 from Bedford St to Charing Cross

The computer’s directions prompted me to try and get on the 15 at the route’s last stop, where it was throwing everybody out, like some sort of shameful tourist. So I had to walk up the Strand and get the next one in order to get back to where I’d started in the first place.

10.11 – Caught the 16 from Grosvenor Gardens to the London Hilton Hotel

There is logic behind bus numbers – unfortunately, it’s several different types of logic that have been inconsistently applied over the course of more than a century.

In 1924, A. E. Bassom, the Metropolitan Police’s first traffic policeman (and inventor of The Knowledge, black cab fans), came up with a scheme in which the number would indicate the area the bus operated in and/or the type of bus it was. So routes 1 to 199 were central London double deckers, 200 to 289 central London single deckers, and so forth.

Given that portions of the Vanguard numbered routes survive in many of their numerical descendants, we can presume that numbers were only changed when necessary, rather than given a full overhaul. Lazy Bassom.

11.17 – Caught the 17 from Grays Inn Road to York Way

Letter suffixes (W12, P4, etc) originated in an attempt to simplify the once over-complicated fare structures by creating “flat fare” areas. This won’t be relevant to my adventures today, as I don’t think you should be allowed to cross between lettered routes and non-lettered routes for the purposes of completing sequential journeys. But perhaps we can debate this at the first meeting of the longest numerically sequential London bus journey record-keeping committee.

11.37 – Caught the 18 from Euston to Great Portland Street

I didn’t want to go to all the way to Great Portland Street but the two intervening bus stops were closed. There are many unexpected challenges in life, and also in numerically sequential London bus journeys.

12.08 – Caught the 19 from New Oxford Street to Monsell Road

There is an occasional hazy logic to the individual numbers – for example, the 59 and 159 share the southern portions of their routes. But the 60 and 160 don’t, so is it that helpful a system if the numbers only imply an association some of the time?

Walking down Tottenham Court Road I spot and wave to someone I used to work for years ago, and reflect on a time when I had a real job with a desk and meetings, and didn’t spend all my time thinking about things like bus numbers.

To get from Monsell Road, near Stoke Newington, to the next stop requires a somewhat further trek than I’ve done yet so far, across the Lea Valley.

I see many interesting things, including a nature reserve and a car that hates women.


14.24 – Caught the 20 from Walthamstow Bus Station to Grove Rd

It seems very important to me that you should have to walk between bus stops rather than using another method, even if this involves spending the best part of four hours walking to Walthamstow and back again to go one stop on a bus.

If this does not seem important to you and you think you should be allowed to use a bike or a train or another bus to get there, perhaps you should try and set your own record for catching London buses in sequential order.

15.59 – Caught the 21 from Mildmay Grove

The 21 passes pretty close to a convenient route home, so having been at this for nearly eight hours and walked 15 miles in all I decided to call it for my first attempt.

At 11 buses in order, I declare myself the current holder of the record for catching London buses in sequential order (unassisted). If you fancy giving it a go, or believe you have taken a longer sequential route already, please use the hashtag #catchinglondonbusesinsequentialorderunassisted to let me know.


Here’s how we plant 2 billion more trees in the UK

A tree in Northallerton, North Yorkshire. Image: Getty.

The UK’s official climate advisor, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), recently published a report outlining how to reduce the 12 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions that come from land use by two thirds by 2050. Alongside recommending cutting meat and dairy consumption by 20 per cent, the report calls for the annual creation of up to 50,000 hectares of broadleaf and conifer woodland for the next three decades. This would increase forest cover from 13 per cent to at least 17 per cent – a level not seen in Britain since before the Norman invasion.

Reforestation at that rate would mean creating roughly the area of the city of Leeds every year for the next three decades. At typical stocking densities of 1,500 stems per hectare, the ambition is to establish some 2.25 billion additional trees. Given that the UK, as with most of Europe, is in the grip of ash dieback, a disease likely to prove fatal for many millions of native ash trees, the scale of the challenge is massive.

On a crowded and intensively farmed island like Britain, unlocking a million and a half hectares of land will be no mean feat. But it’s not impossible – and is an unprecedented opportunity not only to tackle the climate crisis but also the biodiversity crisis that is every bit as detrimental to our wellbeing.

Trees and farms

One million and a half hectares is just 6 per cent of the mainland UK’s land area. To give some sense of perspective on this, 696,000 hectares of “temporary grassland” were registered in 2019. So if land supply is not the problem, what is? Often it’s cultural inertia. Farmers are firmly rooted to the land and perhaps understandably reluctant to stop producing food and instead become foresters. But the choice need not be so binary.

The intensification of agriculture has caused catastrophic declines in many species throughout the UK by reducing vast wooded areas and thousands of miles of hedgerows to small pockets of vegetation, isolating populations and making them more vulnerable to extinction.

Integrating trees with the farmed landscape delivers multiple benefits for farms and the environment. Reforestation doesn’t have to mean a return to the ecologically and culturally inappropriate single-species blocks of non-native conifers, which were planted en masse in the 1970s and 1980s. Incentivised under tax breaks to secure a domestic timber supply, many of the resulting plantations were located in places difficult or in some cases impossible to actually harvest.

Productive farmland needn’t be converted to woodland. Instead, that 4 per cent of land could be found by scattering trees more widely. After all, more trees on farmland is good for business. They prevent soil erosion and the run-off of pollutants, provide shade and shelter for livestock, a useful source of renewable fuel and year-round forage for pollinating insects.

The first tranche of tree planting could involve new hedgerows full of large trees, preferably with wide headlands of permanently untilled soils, providing further wildlife refuge.

Natural regeneration

Where appropriate, new woody habitats can be created simply by stopping how the land is currently used, such as by removing livestock. This process can be helped by scattering seeds in areas where seed sources are low. But patience is a virtue. If people can learn to tolerate less clipped and manicured landscapes, nature can run its own course.

A focus on deliberate tree planting also raises uncomfortable truths. Most trees are planted with an accompanying stake to keep them upright and a plastic shelter that protects the sapling from grazing damage. All too often, these shelters aren’t retrieved. Left to the elements, they break down into ever smaller pieces, and can be swept into rivers and eventually the ocean, where they threaten marine wildlife. Two billion tree shelters is a lot of plastic.

The main reason for using tree shelters at all is because the deer population in the UK is so high that in many places, it is all but impossible to establish new trees. This also has serious implications for existing woodland, which is prevented from naturally regenerating. In time, these trees will age and die, threatening the loss of the woodland itself. Climate change, pests and pathogens and the lack of a coordinated, centrally supported approach to deer management means the outlook for the UK’s existing treescape is uncertain at best.

An ecologically joined-up solution would be to reintroduce the natural predators of deer, such as lynx, wolves, and bears. Whether rewilding should get that far in the UK is still the subject of debate. Before that, perhaps the focus should be on providing the necessary habitat, rich in native trees.

A positive response would be to implement the balanced recommendations, made almost a decade ago in a government review, of creating more new habitat, improving what’s already there, and finding ways to link it together. Bigger, better, and more connected habitats.

But the UK is losing trees at increasing rates and not just through diseases. The recent removal of Victorian-era street trees in Sheffield and many other towns and cities is another issue to contend with. As the climate warms, increasing urban temperatures will mean cities need shade from street trees more than ever.

Trees aren’t the environmental panacea that the politicians might have people believe – even if they do make for great photo opportunities – but we do need more of them. Efforts to expand tree cover are underway across the world and the UK will benefit from contributing its share. Hitting the right balance – some commercial forestry, lots of new native woodland and millions of scattered trees – will be key to maximising the benefits they bring.

Nick Atkinson, Senior Lecturer in Ecology & Conservation, Nottingham Trent University.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.