Wednesday 24th July 2019
There are lots of wonderful heritage railways all over the country attracting thousands of visitors enjoying a nostalgic train ride. Most are run by volunteers with maybe just a few paid staff and are hugely successful. Who doesn’t enjoy a ride-back-in-time rekindling memories of how things used to be?
Although running days with vintage buses have become quite common these days heritage bus routes running regular services are few and far between. Cumbria Classic Coaches run a great network of once-a-week bus routes with their fleet of wonderful old buses throughout the summer based on Kirkby Stephen, some routes even run all year round; while Quantock Motor Services runs a fantastically scenic weekday route 300 between Minehead and Lynmouth during the summer with a vintage Bristol single decker and Seaford & District has run vintage buses on Sundays between Lewes and Pevensey in recent years but not this year. Sadly the Tuesday only vintage bus route 127 between Ripon and Hawes ceased a couple of years ago.
Britain’s oldest bus still in regular use (that’s the claim) dates from 1929 and started operating again from today on the summer only route 250 along the Suffolk coast between Aldeburgh and Thorpeness.
I went along this morning to sample a ride and it was well worth the effort especially as my trip over to Aldeburgh this morning was bedevilled with mishaps (more on those in the next blog).
The 1929 Dennis ‘E’ Type is operated by Buckland Coaches based in Rendlesham. It’s a small set up with ten coaches together with the Dennis, christened Ermintrude, which owner Tony Buckland found back in 1987 in a night club in Stoke-on-Trent about to be demolished and with the bus destined for scrap. It was originally owned and operated by Accrington Motor Services and subsequently passed through many owners with various uses in later decades (including with a travelling circus) and its condition deteriorating.
Tony has lovingly restored Ermintrude and obviously takes great pride in her excellent appearance and sound mechanical condition, including an original 4-cylinder Dennis petrol engine, righthand gate-change crash gearbox, centre throttle pedal and push-on handbrake. It’s an amzing amount of hard work that’s gone into the restoration.
This will be the fifth year Tony has operated route 250 along the Suffolk seafront. It runs on Wednesdays and Sundays up to 1st September including Bank Holiday Monday. The timetable incorporates a 40 minute frequency between 10:30 and 15:50 with a half hour break for lunch. At the beginning and end of the day at 09:25 and 15:50 the bus runs in service to and from the Buckland Coaches garage in Rendlesham via Tunstall and Blaxhall.
Journey time between Aldeburgh and Thorpeness is about twelve minutes but the extended route to Rendlesham takes another forty minutes. A £5 day ticket is available as well as single fares issued from an original Setright ticket machine. No concessionary passes are valid.Tony and conductor Owen (who also drives Ermintrude in the afternoon and works full time at Buckland) were both in fine form today.
Both took a turn at expertly cranking the engine to start turning at the termini (no electric starter motors in 1929), here’s Tony showing his professional technique ….
…. and Owen expertly changed the blinds just as would have been done ninety years ago (no roller blinds in those days let alone electronic displays!).
The 29 seater bus was way ahead of its time with separate forward entrance and rear exit – or was it the other way around – to minimise stop dwell time and I noticed Tony expertly doing hand signals out of the cab window.I’m grateful to Twitter friend Steve (@BusAndTrainPage) (also check out his blog) for alerting me to this service and he joined me for a ride this morning and we were both impressed with the seat comfort offered from ninety years ago.
It was good to see prominent timetables on display at temporary bus stops along the route commendably provided by Suffolk County Council and an attractive leaflet was available and Owen was handing them out to many interested passers by.
Even though this morning was the first day’s operation there were a few passengers on board and others taking an interest. Ermintrude not surprisingly turns heads and attracts camera phones as she travels up and down this section of Suffolk coastline.
If you’re in the East Anglian area in the next few weeks it’s well worth taking a ride on route 250 (the number harks back to an original Eastern Counties bus route on the same road) along this delightful scenic coastline and meet the friendly Tony and Owen – both Aldeburgh and Thropeness are beautiful places to visit too.
If you’re unable to make it, you can take a ‘virtual ride’ by viewing this YouTube video.
More Suffolk travel experiences in the next blog.