Last week the celebrity vicar the Rev Richard Coles declared in Twitter that the No 12 bus from Eastbourne to Brighton “is without any wisp of a doubt the best bus IN THE WORLD” – his caps, not mine. It’s a bold statement.
As it happens, I’ve been on the No 12. It departs from Birch Road every ten minutes at peak periods, passing St Andrew’s and Christ Church, the Prince Albert pub and the golf club, crossing Crapham Down to East Dean, where you can alight for the walk down to Birling Gap. Stay aboard, though, and with Friston Forest on the right and the Channel on the left you’ll cross the Cuckmere at Exceat (a village devastated by the Black Death), cruise through Seaford and Newhaven, the bungalowlands of Peacehaven and along through Saltdean, Rottingdean and Roedean to Kemptown, riding beside the sea until you turn right at the Palace Pier and – dazzled by the grandeur of Brighton – reach the terminus at the railway station. Make: £ 6.90 return (buses.co.uk)
Dependable and frequent, if more urban than rural, it’s not a bad route, but the best in the world? I think you should get out more, Reverend.
Eastbourne, East Sussex
Take, for example, the Land’s End Coaster, an open-top double-decker running hourly from Penzance via St Ives, Zennor, Sennen, Land’s End, Porthcurno and Lamorna – a 50-mile round trip through wild western landscapes with sparkling Atlantic views for just a fiver (firstbus.co.uk). Then, for the same return price, there’s the 95 from Bude to St Columb Major: 23 stops along Cornwall’s heavenly north coast.
God’s Own County has the Coastliner 840, running from Leeds via Tadcaster, York and Malton then following the A169 across the North York Moors National Park before emerging from the wilderness at Sleights Bridge over the Esk and progressing into Whitby. Duration, 3 hours and 40 minutes; do, £ 17.50 return (transdevbus.co.uk).
Or the X53 along the Jurassic Coast in Dorset – a faithful servant on the road from Weymouth soaring high above Lyme Bay to Lyme Regis in a 96-minute journey that costs £ 13 return.
Rural bus services, like country churches, are always teetering on the brink of extinction. The deregulation brought in by the Thatcher government meant that operators could drop unprofitable routes – an equation complicated by the large proportion of non-paying over-60s and retirees – leaving many rural communities isolated.
According to data from the Campaign for Better Transport, bus fares increased by 55 per cent between 2012 and 2021, while total vehicle mileage – a measure of service provision – declined by 14 per cent on commercial routes and by as much as 37 per cent on local authority-funded routes over the five years to 2020.
The government’s National Bus Strategy, launched by the bus-loving Boris Johnson in March last year, promised £ 3 billion in new funding to bring countrywide services up to London levels. In January a leaked letter to local transport authorities revealed that the sum had been cut by more than 50 per cent to £ 1.4 billion over the next three years.
In the meantime, leveling-up funding requests from 45 of the 79 local authorities that applied were turned down. Among those whose prayers weren’t answered were Cumbria, Dorset, Isle of Wight, North Yorkshire and Suffolk.
Whitby, North Yorkshire
It’s a far cry from Switzerland, where the PostBus network provides at least hourly services from 6am to midnight, seven days a week, for every community of more than 200 people.
Modeling by CPRE, the countryside charity, estimates that the same service levels could be achieved in the UK for the relatively modest additional spend of £ 2.7 billion a year – about 11 per cent of the £ 24 billion allocated to National Highways up to 2025. In the race to net zero, investment in clean-tech buses is a no-brainer, so we can only pray that this government – or the next – sees sense.
In the meantime, Reverend, let me buy you tickets to ride the two best buses in Britain.
The first is the Norfolk Coastliner, departing hourly from Kings Lynn bus station and calling at Snettisham, Heacham, Holme, Thornham, Brancaster, Holkham and Wells-next-the-Sea (£ 6.30; lynxbus.co.uk) – that’s seven of the nation’s finest beaches right there. And you’ll have time for a crab sandwich before boarding the Coast Hopper to Cromer via Stiffkey, Morston, Blakeney, Cley, Salthouse, Sheringham and the Runtons (£ 7.40; sanderscoaches.com).
The first departure from Kings Lynn is at 6.30am, when there’s still mist on the marshes. I’ll meet you at the bus stop.
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