Bus adventurer Roger French shares his experiences of the best of British bus travel.
"How often have you heard retired people remark: 'I just don't know how I found the time to go to work'? Well, that's me too. It's three years since I hung up my Brighton & Hove Bus Company Managing Director gloves and took retirement. After a lifelong career running buses I'm now throughly enjoying my passion for travelling all over Britain by bus and train.
I've completed rides on trains and trams on every piece of publicly available track and been on every inch of London's extensive bus network, tram operations, Underground and Overground lines as well as the River bus and cable car! But most enjoyable of all has been travelling by bus throughout the fantastic countryside Britain has to offer as well as exploring vibrant cities, smaller towns and delightful villages and rural areas.
I've enjoyed bus rides in places stretching from Penzance to Thurso and from Holyhead and Carmarthen to Dover and Ramsgate. As I'm of that age where my state pension (and therefore concessionary bus pass) entitlement keeps drifting ahead of me I've become adept at working out the best value tickets to buy for all these travels. Who said there's a lack of integrated tickets? I've rarely had a problem finding a multi-operator ticket offering excellent value, and in many areas there's also an option to include train travel too. Of course the best-value, often-forgotten ticket is the fantastic PLUSBUS which with a Senior Railcard (good old railways offering a commercially attractive deal for those over 60 but not quite pensioners) offers amazing value for travelling by bus around towns and cities having arrived by train.
Best value was a day in Milton Keynes where for £1.47 I travelled from Wolverton (seeing innovative electric buses recharging in the street) to Bletchley (the wonderful Bletchley Park museum) and all over Milton Keynes. You'd be surprised just how impressive the bus network is throughout the area considering petrolheads initially planned Milton Keynes with its infamous grid layout and roundabouts.
Two most memorable bus adventures are at opposite ends of the country: John O'Groats and Lands End. The former was reached after a journey from Inverness with Citylink where I forwent the Highland rail line in favour of the road trip from Inverness to Wick with connections to John O'Groats and Thurso. Best of all was the Stagecoach route which ran late afternoon hugging Caithness's north coastline taking workers home from the Dounreay Nuclear Plant as far as Bettyhill. The great thing was the bus continued 'on request' for another 35 minutes across to Tongue. Both times I used this wonderful route with its spectacular views, sadly I was the only passenger so it perhaps is not surprising to see it no longer runs, and now Tongue can only be reached by limited journeys on either the Post Bus from Lairg or the weekly bus across from Durness in the extreme north west of Scotland. Both are wonderful trips to make - I hope to do them again before they too might disappear.
Down at Lands End, there have been a number of incarnations of routes in the summer to provide a link from Penzance which continues along the coastline via St Just and Zennor to St Ives. First Bus have operated an open-top bus service between Lands End and St Ives during the summer with connections at either end of the route to provide a circular trip from Penzance. The day I travelled in 2014 there was a particular hairy moment when the bus from Penzance arrived late as it approached Lands End and scandalously the open top (which only ran three times a day) was departing just as we approached. Being a well-practised bus nerd I realised the danger and jumped off the late running bus before it reached the terminal point to dash across to just catch the departing connection. Frustratingly most other passengers missed out.
I have compiled my Top 5 beauty spots accessible by bus (including the Lake District, pictured right). There are some great gems out there and luckily many of them are run commercially by enterprising bus companies so hopefully they will continue to provide pleasurable travels for many more years yet in my retirement."
- Bus travel is wonderful, but many bus services are being lost due to Government cuts. Find out about the Save Our Buses campaign