Thursday, 24 October 2013

Book Review: Bus Pass Britain Rides Again (Bradt Travel Guides – £14.99)

As the route below is the third one to pass the offices of the London Councils, one of whose tasks is to distribute and manage the Freedom Pass  (which in London of course covers all forms of transport), it seemed appropriate to include a review of a guide to fifty routes round the UK (islands but not Ireland included).  In order not to demonstrate an overly Londonist view I did read all the routes up to Number 42  (short essay that is, not Route Number) after which, as I have not been as far as Glasgow there seemed little point. Mary took a broader perspective…

Firstly it has to be said the book looks lovely – its production values match those of any Bradt guide: good paper quality (makes it heavy!), acceptable fonts and schematic route maps attached to proper map references.  The colour photos are grouped together rather than integrated into the text as this was presumably cheaper. The cover, like that of its companion volume, ‘Bus Pass Britain’ would certainly make you reach for it in any display. It is however pre-eminently a volume for dipping, rather than reading end to end (which is of course what we do with our bus routes; ride them end to end).

To say some of these routes are rare is to put it mildly (Blue moons where there is an ‘R’ in the month springs to mind – a Londoner finds it hard to believe that a route that runs once a week constitutes a ‘service’, but the least London-y of the three LWB has a different perspective: see below).  Many cover areas of outstanding natural beauty, often within our National Parks, and it is easy to wax lyrical about the landscapes of the pretty Cotswolds or the dramatic Pennine passes.  In some ways therefore this helps the apparently ‘duller’ routes stand out – flat Fenlands with their ditches, or down at heel ex Pottery towns, so I guess the editors should be congratulated for making some judicious selections.

While a few of the authors are professional travel writers, most fall into the demographic of allotment holder/rambler/(former) teacher, the occasional spy (?) and of course bus user. It takes one to know one. The pieces are all a combination of local knowledge, local history with the ‘out of London’ Blue Plaque equivalent comments (sound familiar?). Few venture into the arena of politics and there is some deference given to local bus users/ fellow travellers as well as grand vistas. Strangely though many writers may exchange words with their bus drivers the skill of the operatives is rarely praised – only in Pieces 39 & 40 are there comments about dexterous manoeuvring around parked cars or over narrow hill-top passes. Where the writer is a regular user, warmth for their chosen route usually shines through while some others rather self-consciously over-egg the writing pudding.

For one of us the book evoked positive memories:

I enjoyed dipping into the Bradt guide very much.  I feel this is the best way to use it.

Uncannily it covered areas of the country that I know and love and it evoked good memories!   Stafford to Lichfield, my old "hockey" stamping ground.  Daddy's favourite pub ‘The Sun at Leintwadine, and the Welsh trips, some of which I have cycled and others I have driven. It also took us through Chagford where my daughter teaches, and around Sheffield where I walk with an old friend. 

The Scottish trips were good, and having driven the Jura bus route I know how invaluable the service is, taking groceries to people and children to school. I met the family near George Orwell's writing house whose children use the bus! I also know the route to Oban and certainly for me the guide will inspire me to travel further, hopefully to the Hebrides.

I know the lack of services frustrated some, but for both Scotland and Devon the winter weather is often dire and dangerous. I spoke to the Scottish bus company when I was planning to go to Oban from Glasgow and they explained the difficulties.

However having just been in Devon I know how invaluable even an infrequent service is and the bus companies do try to link up. It can be a daily lifeline. I also think we forget just how few people live in some of these country places.

So for me it was an enjoyable read, both for reflection and hopefully inspiration to travel the country more. I liked the personal approach to each journey, the differing styles and interests of the writers.  I think I will go and buy the first one and my own copy of this one as hopefully I may well start to travel more by bus than car!

Perhaps because we have ridden and written ourselves about the London routes we found these the least satisfying with the exception of the 277. Nostalgia is fine: we do it ourselves and it is hard to avoid if you have been riding the red routes from the age of 3 (no such thing as ‘buggies’ in the Fifties) but we do not necessarily think the Routemaster is the be-all and end-all of vehicles. A greater sprinkling of humour might have been welcome, and few observers reference street art, graffiti or street furniture.

While the Concessionary Bus Pass remains a reality this book reminds us that it affords us, the holders, the privilege of passing through some of the land’s loveliest scenery and most vibrant city and this book offers a good companion for a hopefully clean – if you can grab it – top-deck  window.

STOP PRESS: Bradt has agreed a 40% discount to blog followers, if you order direct from their website quoting the discount code LONDONBUSES

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