Tuesday 10th August 2021
As well as bringing back open top bus routes all along Bournemouth’s seafront between Mudeford and Alum Chine this summer, Yellow Buses have also introduced a new route aimed at the leisure market linking Christchurch with Ringwood taking in the western side of the New Forest.
It began operating at weekends only and the school half term at the end of May but is now running daily until the beginning of September.
There are four return journeys with the route leaving Christchurch in an easterly direction to serve Somerford, Highcliffe and Walkford before heading north crossing the boundary into the New Forest National Park and serving Bransgore and Burley continuing to Picket Post on the A31 and then westwards to Ringwood.
As well as providing a great opportunity to see this part of the New Forest from the top deck of a double decker bus the service also provides some extra journeys from places on the route not normally served by bus every day of the week – Burley and Bransgore for example usually make do with a couple of return journeys three days a week.
Also in the area, Go South Coast (GSC) have been operating a three circular route seasonal network around the vast New Forest using open top buses for many years. This is the first venture of its kind by Yellow Buses and brings the National Park within reach of residents of Christchurch and its immediate environs not covered by GSC’s network.
One of GSC’s routes links Ringwood with the popular village of Burley (shown in red on the above map) taking the same route as Yellow Buses New Forest Explorer but all three coloured coded New Forest Tour routes have the downside of only operating in one direction around their circuit meaning Ringwood to Burley takes nearly two hours (via Fordingbridge, Ashurst and Lyndhurst) rather than 20 minutes on the direct bi-directional Yellow Buses route.
I’m also pleased Yellow Buses are using conventional closed top double decks as although open-tops can attract the crowds for that special breeze experience on a typical British mixed weather day with showers and sunshine it can be quite hazardous when you’re on board for a two hour or more stint.
What GSC’s New Forest Tours have is high awareness arising from the network being established over many years and the buses have attractive colour coded liveries promoting the routes, as well as being in eye catching open top format – see my review from last summer here.
But I found a normal bus allocated by Yellow Buses when I tried out the new service on Saturday which seemed to be half promoting “the world’s largest sports and music festival” but with no other information it was hard to determine where or what that was about from the bus. I subsequently found out there’s an annual Festival known as Bournemouth 7s over the last weekend in August and the bus was in the branded colours for that.
Sadly it didn’t offer any promotion for either Buster or his New Forest Explorer. However, it seems I was unlucky with vehicle allocation again as browsing the Yellow Buses website I see there is a bus with promotional messages about the Explorer and I’m guessing it was off the road for servicing or other maintenance requirements on Saturday.
Yellow Buses have been busy putting up branded bus stop plates all along the route as well as timetables and information which was good to see.
One slight niggle was at Ringwood the departure point is shown as Stop A in Meeting House Lane in the timetable, but that’s only used by local bus routes run by morebus.
I got a bit worried not finding any details of the New Forest Explorer on display but wandered along the other bus stops located there and was relieved to find a plate and timetable specifically for the route the other side of stop C on a No Waiting pole.
I caught the midday departure from Ringwood and the bus arrived just a few minutes late from its previous journey from Christchurch at just after 11:45 with no-one on board.
After a short break, the driver was back in the cab and two other concessionary pass holding female passengers boarded with me, one taking a seat downstairs and one joining me upstairs at the front.
We headed off spot on time on the A31 towards the Viewpoint at Forest Services. As usual for a summer Saturday the A31 was very busy with slow moving traffic in both directions …
… but we soon reached the services and were heading south to the delightful Burley across the New Forest proper.
You get some splendid views from the bus and our driver took the road at a moderately sedate pace keeping an eye out for the ponies which have a habit of using the road at will.
One annoying feature of the bus was a loose stanchion at the back of the upper deck making for a noisy rattle for the entire journey. Hopefully that can soon be fixed.
That annoyance aside we reached Burley on time and it was as busy as usual for a Saturday lunch time but sadly no passengers for us, so we continued south towards Bransgore.
Both Burley and Bransgore have really benefitted from this new service giving residents extra journey opportunities to reach either Ringwood or Christchurch. In fact I believe the passenger who sat downstairs was taking advantage of the bus route for shopping purposes as opposed to enjoying the views.
Mind you, I’m not sure what fare payers would have to pay for a ‘local journey’ like that, as the only information online indicates a fairly pricey £15 – although I see a one day ticket on GSC’s New Forest Tours is £17.
We continued on our way towards Christchurch arriving by the palm trees and flower displays in the High Street on time at 13:06 and the driver drove off for his lunch break.
He was telling me he’s a regular driver on the route and thoroughly enjoys it but was disappointed, as I was, not to see more people on board.
Routes like this really do need a lot of promotion especially as it’s a relatively short season to get the message out there to raise awareness and persuade people to come on board.
The New Forest Explorer is a great addition to the route network in this part of Dorset, and I do hope it picks up business in the remaining 24 days left.