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Multi-coloured New Forest Tours

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.

Roger French

BusAndTrainUser View All

I used to run a bus company but in retirement am a full time passenger travelling all over Britain enjoying its splendid scenic delights by bus and train. Currently social distancing at home.

8 thoughts on “Multi-coloured New Forest Tours Leave a comment

  1. Good job you didn’t have Mrs Thatcher on the top deck with you when that NBC liveried Hants and Dorset bus came around the corner as she might have had a heart attack and died!and it wasn’t raining!I don’t think that we’ve had a single dry day in over 6 weeks now.

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  2. Those double runs to holiday camps & attractions were popular when I travelled on the services a few years back.

    Suspect COVID has reduced demand this year, but back in 2018 Bealieu, Exbury Gardens & New Forest Golf were all quite busy on the Green tour with the holiday parks on the Red and Blue tours providing some much needed custom too.

    As a resident of Southampton, I’d like to see Go South Coast running the tours throughout a larger part of the year, albeit without the open top buses.

    A weekend service running through May & June, when there’s usually acceptable weather, would open up the Forest to a lot of new visitors.

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  3. The Holiday Parks are probably worth serving at the start and end of the day, but not in between as the high ticket price makes it uneconomic to use for a half-day trip.

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  4. I’ve often thought the season for the New Forest Tour is quite short, but I didn’t know that the buses are from college contracts. I (also currently a Southampton resident) agree with MangopearUK that a longer season but at weekends only would be a great idea, especially as it could presumably be run at marginal cost during college terms (and in fact, depending where the college(s) are located, perhaps an off-peak variant on weekdays) – all closed top of course.

    The New Forest Tour has been a welcome (if expensive) part-replacement for the sadly depleted ‘normal’ New Forest bus routes. I say part-replacement as the Tour is a different beast to a standard out-and back service suitable for walkers.

    The Forest’s year-round service is not what it once was. The main victim has been route 112 Hythe-Lymington which is now a much reduced two-days-per-week service, with only one-two trips serving Hythe (for ferry and buses from Southampton). A couple of brave Summer-only attempts at replacements (Beach Bus, Forest Bus Baby) haven’t survived.

    Anyone wanting an evening in Lyndhurst after a walk now has to walk or get a taxi to Ashurst or Brockenhurst rail stations as the last bus is around 1930 on route 6 (there used to be a late evening service).

    In the north of the Forest, the former route 31/31A to Cadnam which used to be at least hourly, with extensions to Lyndhurst via Minstead and to Fritham, is now Taxibus only or a two-days-per-week link to Totton on Bluestar T3 ; T4 – very surprising for the sizeable villages between Cadnam and Totton (even the one peak journey off Bluestar route 11 didn’t survive).

    It seems the New Forest isn’t as successful at attracting bus-walkers as other more established National Parks such as the Peak District and the Yorkshire Dales. I’m not sure why, as there are sizeable populations on both sides of the forest.

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  5. The Peak District benefits from having lots of well-established all-year round bus services, with Bakewell in the middle of the Park acting as a good interchange point. The route network caters for local use as well as tourists, so has stayed fairly static for a number of years with just a few changes of operator and a bit of tinkering around the edges. In normal times there is also a comprehensive (albeit expensive) bus timetable book and map available, plus two multi-operator day rover tickets covering the whole area (although both are quite expensive as they include train travel).

    Until approx 10 years ago, there was also an extensive network of Sunday services bringing people into the Park from surrounding towns and cities, all funded by Councils and the Peak District National Park Authority. However these eventually became the victim of budget cuts, although it is still possible to visit the Peak District from most surrounding towns/cities using public transport on Sundays.

    I will let you draw your own comparisons with the New Forest !

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  6. The New Forest did have a reasonable network of all year round services crossing the Forest – the only significant gaps being in the north around Fordingbridge and Fritham.

    But now, other than the New Forest Tour, the only daily routes are peripheral except Bluestar 6 which serves Lyndhurst in the middle, and Brockenhurst rail station, but with no evening service. I think this is down to Hampshire County Council budget cuts, and despite some attention and funding from the New Forest National Park Authority I guess use of replacement services was not sufficient. I think Beach Bus did OK for a while. But I don’t know much about either. Even National Express no longer serves Lyndhurst.

    Along with the New Forest Tour, the other bright point is the excellent train service at Brockenhurst and Ashurst which gives almost immediate access to the open forest, along with the occasional service to Beaulieu Road which is even more special (and a great pub right next door).

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  7. Midlands Bus & Coach Company Travel De Courcy has gone into administrtion. It employed a 180 staff and is thought to be the Midlands largest Bus and Coach company

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