Saturday 22nd August 2020
Continuing my Covid curtailed summer open top bus rides, I popped down to the New Forest today to sample Bluestar’s colour coded circular tours around the National Park.
There are three circular routes with the Blue and Green routes running anti-clockwise while the Red route goes clockwise. I last travelled on all three in Summer 2015 but today only had time to do most of the Blue and Green circuits thanks to a missed train connection in Basingstoke on the way down (thanks SWR) and ‘animals in the road’ causing delays in the afternoon.
The timetables operate daily during college summer holidays with the buses used on college contracts for their mainstay revenue earning activity for most of the year. The open-top work is a summer bonus.
All three routes take around two hours to complete the circuit with frequencies about every hour to an hour and a quarter. Two buses are deployed on each route appropriately colour coordinated.
Both Green and Red routes have a fifteen minute layover in Lyndhurst in between journeys. The Green and Blue routes both serve Brockenhurst and Lymington, albeit from different directions making it possible to switch from one route to another.
A day ticket provides the freedom to travel on all three routes but at £17 it’s not cheap. Concessions reduce the price to £14 for seniors and £9 for under 16s. Hefty discounts are available for any two days out of five or five days out of 14 – the latter works out at £6.80 per day for example.Tickets are available through the usual channels – driver, online and app.
The Blue route is my personal favourite as it’s handy to jump on at Brockenhurst at the start of the circuit at the bus stop right next to the station exit, although passengers can ride ‘through’ and indeed yesterday there was already a good load on board the 11:40 departure when the bus arrived as well as about a dozen waiting to board, many of whom had got off the Green bus which passed through at 11:29.
There’s good information about the Tours at the bus stop at the station, as there is all around the three circuits. At Brockenhurst there’s an electronic departure sign which purports to be ‘real time’ but didn’t seem to be.
After leaving Brockenhurst you’re straight into the New Forest proper and the recorded commentary gives some great background and insights into the history of the New Forest as well as describing the scenery you pass including the course of the sadly long closed Southampton to Dorchester railway line which the road parallels for a while.
It’s not long before the bus arrives in the very popular village of Burley; well worth a visit if you haven’t been. It’s also on the Red route and I had to do a double take when a brightly red painted Bristol FLF appeared round the corner.
I wondered if it was out in service on the Red route especially as the destination blind appropriately showed New Forest Tour, but the direction of travel was the wrong way and the number 50 in the number box was indicative of something else. It turned out to be the beautifully preserved vehicle owned by Trevor Shore on a private hire marking a 50th birthday party.
The Blue route does a couple of double run diversions off it’s circular route to serve two holiday parks but neither gave any custom today – which perhaps isn’t too surprising as the one-way nature of the circular route plus the high fares means it’s not an attractive option for holidaymakers wanting to reach the coast where our route next took us – New Milton, Barton-on-Sea and Milford-on-Sea …
… before arriving in Lymington where I swapped colours with half an hour’s connecting time to the next Green route departure.
This gave enough time to wander along Lymington’s main High Street closed eastbound for a traditional Saturday market with many stalls to browse through.
I also checked out the former site of Lymington’s bus station, finally succumbing to demolition to make way for nine homes, offices and a shop. It’s been five years since it closed so probably time for something new.
The Green route bus at 14:00 arrived about five minutes late with less passengers than when seen earlier in the day at Brockenhurst.
We left with just five of us on board and after a somewhat prolonged driver changeover at Lymington Town Station carried on our way just over ten minutes late.
The first stop after Lymington is another double run to serve a crazy golf course (‘Lymington New Forest Adventure Golf’) which looked to be popular but again there were no takers for us so we headed on, continuing on our way towards Beaulieu where we picked one passenger up at the Motor Museum (involving another double run) and dropped two off in the village.
But that was after a considerable delay caused by a large herd of cows in the road refusing to move for quite some time …
… and further along, ponies exercising their right to exercise on the road.
We were by now twenty minutes late and I realised I would miss my planned connection at Beaulieu Road station with the hourly train to Southampton. Fifteen minutes had seemed ample enough connection time in the planning for the day but I hadn’t counted on delays caused by ‘animals in the road’.
We made a bit of time up as we continued our journey for another double run on the circuit, this time to Exbury Gardens (again, no takers) but I decided to abandon the tour and my three fellow passengers in Hythe and take a Bluestar route 9 on to Southampton (which conveniently came in just behind the tour bus) rather than a long wait at the solitary Beaulieu Road station; although the unique Hythe Pier train and ferry option was very appealing.
The New Forest Tour first started back in 2004; set up by Solent Blue Line and City Sightseeing it had a number of incarnations in its early years with financial support from various sources.
However in more recent times it’s become a purely commercial venture by Go South Coast’s Bluestar and ‘more’ companies and has proved a popular way to travel around this lovely National Park across a wide area from Fordingbridge to Hythe and down to the coast. The scenery is truly stunning and for me, I’d ditch all the double runs to serve the holiday parks and crazy golf course – it would add some much needed recovery time into the schedule. I don’t recall anyone getting on or off five years ago when I last travelled, although I acknowledge my sample journeys aren’t a ‘robust’ sample size!
It really is a great way to see this great National Park and the New Forest Tours are highly recommended.
This year’s truncated season continues until 31st August.