Route 46 is now on a Michelin star menu

Tuesday 28th June 2022

A little used minor bus route in Oxford got a boost on Monday last week when it was extended beyond its normal terminus east of the city by the Asda store in Wheatley for two-and-a-half miles further on to reach the idyllic village of Great Milton.

And it now runs hourly and right through until 02:00 in the early hours, every day of the week. Quite extraordinary for a rural bus route. And quite a change for a village that otherwise has had to survive on one journey a day into Oxford at 10:52 with a return at 14:35 on the Red Rose Travel route 275 which diverts to serve the village on its way between High Wycombe and Oxford on that one occasion on the four-journeys a day service.

Route 46’s transformation is all thanks to top French chef Raymond Blanc at one of his ‘high end dining’ Michelin star restaurants and hotel called Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons located in the village. The bus route boost is not so much for diners and guests at this exclusive Michelin two-star eatery but a move to make it easier to attract staff to work there. The restaurant is renowned for having trained a formidable number of Michelin-rated chefs and it’s reported since Brexit and the pandemic there have been difficulties in attracting enough staff due to its isolated location.

An hourly ‘staff bus’ running late into the night to a village effectively pretty much cut off from public transport is a very magnanimous and philanthropic way of recruiting staff through the bus route’s wider availability to the public.

The financial subsidy provided by the restaurant has enabled the Oxford Bus Company to increase the number of buses on the route from one to two, buy two new buses and also extend the route at the western end from its former terminus at the Templar Square shopping area in Cowley so it now reaches Oxford’s city centre via an area called Florence Park, thereby restoring a route lost at the beginning of the year when Stagecoach withdrew its route 16 to much protest at the time.

So it’s a truly good news story and a win win all round. All the more so with a printed leaflet available giving details of the timetable. Supplies were available on buses too.

I took a ride from Oxford out to Great Milton and back last Friday lunch time to see how the new route was settling in at the end of its first week.

The route includes a circular arrangement in the city centre dropping off (from Great Milton) and picking up in Westgate alongside the new shopping centre ….

….. before crawling along the pedestrianised (with buses) Queen Street ….

…. to the Carfax and taking a few minutes stand time at one of the bus stops in St Aldates before continuing back to Great Milton.

The 12:51 journey left with four on board dropping two off in the newly served area where Stagecoach’s route 16 used to operate. This includes a bus gate to prevent other traffic using the area as a rat run.

One passenger alighted when we reached the old terminus at Templar Square and the other city centre boarder travelled to Horspath who would have previously had to change buses. We picked up one more in the newly served Cornwallis Road who travelled to Templar Square and four more boarded in Templar Square (where we had time to pause for a few minutes) and travelled on the route as it previously was with two more boarding (and a driver changeover) in Cowley.

Everyone had alighted by Wheatley and it was just me on board as we headed on through rural Oxfordshire to reach Great Milton where the bus operates on a circular route around the village.

A bus stop and timetable case have been sited just past the entrance to the restaurant and hotel ….

….. and it certainly looks an impressive establishment in a delightful setting.

Great Milton has some other wonderful buildings to devour on a wander around including The Bull which is a 17th/18th century thatched Grade II listed pub.

Photo courtesy Bus Users Oxford

There’s also a lovely old style original bus stop in the village.

As well as The Bull, route 46 passes other great looking pubs including Shotover Brewery in Horspath village with a little brewery taproom and the hamlet of Litleworth which I’m told has a popular real ale free house called The Cricketers.

The route also passes two restored windmills in Wheatley and Great Haseley.

I’m very grateful to Hugh at Bus Users Oxford for all these local gems as well as letting me know the encouraging news “one young woman in Great Milton told me that even before the route started running, it enabled her to accept an offer of a full time job in Oxford that otherwise she would have had to turn down”. Which is perhaps not quite the direction of travel Raymond had expected but a great consequence of his philanthropy.

My return journey to Oxford didn’t see any custom from Great Milton but we carried 19 during the journey from Wheatley including three on the new section within the city and four who could have caught other buses along Abingdon Road.

For bus watchers, the buses being used on the service are currently still in the dealer stock white they’ve worn with other operators (including Vectare) before arriving in Oxford but I understand will soon be given branded livery. These two Alexander Dennis Enviro200 MMCs were being supplemented last week by two similar short wheelbase vehicles with one borrowed from the Bicester Village shuttle and the other from the Thames Connector fleet. Here are some photos courtesy of Hugh at Bus Users Oxford of them in action.

Photo courtesy Bus Users Oxford
Photo courtesy Bus Users Oxford

As Hugh told me “route 46’s upgrade is a rare moment of cheer in what are still challenging times for the bus industry”.

If you fancy lunch or dinner at Le Manoir there are some mouth watering menus available online with prices for a six course meal starting at £190. If you don’t want to catch the last bus back at 01:00 an overnight stay in July can be had for as little as £1,165 for the night (on Wednesday 27th at the time of writing).

The bus fare into town is a snip at £3.50 single or £5.50 return.

Roger French

Blogging timetable: 06:00 TThSSu

31 thoughts on “Route 46 is now on a Michelin star menu

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  1. My first (and only) visit to Great Milton was also by bus – in 1967(!), when the City of Oxford Motor Services ran an hourly service there, though I don’t know how late the buses ran. That was when they still had their bizarre (to me, then) red, green and purple livery; I can’t remember the route number, though I don’t think it was 46.

    This (the subject of your blog) seems an excellent idea, and I should have thought that Oxford was quite possibly an area where some of the restaurant’s clientele might be persuaded to take the bus to and from their evening out. A shame that the timetable doesn’t stretch to including the railway station; back in 1967 – the era when bus and train company staff appeared to be at war with one another – it was common to arrive on a late train from London, to see the last bus disappearing into the gloom; nowadays there are healthier attitudes, but I don’t know how long one might need to allow for a bus trip from the station to get to somewhere one might change on to the 46 – probably so long and unreliable that that sort of clientele would get a taxi for the whole trip.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Often wondered if this could be a model for other rural routes. I grew up in the pretty but isolated village of Hinxton in South Cambridgeshire. Other than a for a few years where we were served by Greenline 799 after a local campaigner succeeded in procuring a stop on the main road bypassing the village we endured a very sparse service (Premier Travel IIRC).

    The village has since become home to the Genome Project Campus employing 1,400 people. In a 2018 consultation about possible expansion by far the largest concern of those employees was access by public transport.

    Access to the village by bus remains poor however, with no direct service from Cambridge, the nearest nearby (10 miles) large settlement.

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    1. I’ve also sometimes wondered whether the various church minibuses running round picking up worshippers could be combined into a more widely useful Sunday morning bus service for all

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  3. At the moment at least in my view the system is biased in favour of the car. Without some subsidy for buses they will not survive outside of the large towns and cities. Fares are already too high and service too limited to attract fare paying passengers. We need more initiatives such as this. Currently in the rural areas of the UK about 80% to 90% of passengers are concessionary pass holders’ Just trying to rely on fares revenues from where bus services are at present will simply not work

    The LTA’s are supposed to report to the government as to their plans for the post Covid support bus network. It appear the government want to see no reductions in services but equally unless the LTA has been lucky in the Bus Back Better funding lottery their will be no more money so quite how that will work out who knows as passengers numbers are still typically 20% down

    The so called Enhanced Partnerships may make a small difference but will not make up for the loss of 20% of passengers

    The next month or so will be interesting . What will happen ? Who Knows

    . The LTA’s have to report to the government with their plans next month and the bus companies will need to register any changes by about mid August

    Who knows what the take over of Go Ahead and Stagecoach will bring? A quick check on Companies house indicated that all the GO Ahead UK bus companies Except London were making a trading loss

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  4. I think you mean Tuesday 28th June *2022*.
    The Bull in Great Milton is community owned and run.
    A local lad (who has met Hugh)

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  5. Great idea! Though successful buscos attract investment (as indeed they always have done).

    Who, though, would want to be associated with a down-at-heel operation? We get no closer to turnaround.

    The usual private sector story. To those that hath shall be given, and to those that hath not shall be taken away.

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  6. Well done Raymond Blanc! Many organisations would have just laid on private transport for their staff.
    Perhaps some other staff shuttles and contracts could also be opened to the public to provide facilities to places not otherwise well served?

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I notice from the timetable that there appears to be no layover time at either end. A continous service for 19 hours!

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  8. Closer inspection of times between timing points in either direction suggest a 7 minute stand time at St Aldates and a 4-5 minute wait in each direction at Templars Square, both mentioned in Roger’s description. That’s about 15 minutes in total per 2 hour round trip.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. It says bus gate on it but motorists don’t like obeying the few laws designed to reduce their deadly activities so they will ignore the sign and drive through it anyhow.Great and Little Milton have had a few bus companies serve them over the years and last time I went it was Heyfordian but that was about 8 years ago.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Let’s see more of this kind of thing! Amazon got it right when they realised an increasing number of potential younger employees do not drive because of the prohibitive cost of lessons, buying a car and associated insurance. Some will not yet be behind the wheel because they are still waiting on a driving test date, such is the backlog inevitably blamed on the pandemic…

    Of course, employers could help themselves rather more by basing their operations in town centres rather than remote industrial parks away from bus routes, but I appreciate this may not be possible in all situations, including this one.

    I wonder if some reduced-price dining offers will be included on the back of bus tickets?!!

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  11. Worth mentioning that the “other bus” on the route, between 0800 and 1800 on Mondays to Fridays at least, is funded by Oxfordshire County Council. The more limited daytime service between Wheatley and Cowley was reintroduced in 2020 using the Supported Bus Services Fund and has been kept going using various small pots of money until it was included in our Bus Service Improvement Plan – which was successful and there are now funds to continue our bit of the bargain until April 2025.

    A planning application to significantly expand Le Manoir is being considered by the district council tonight. If it is approved, further funds are expected through the Section 106 process.

    Dave Harrison
    Principal Public Transport Planner
    Oxfordshire County Council

    Liked by 1 person

  12. This is all very well, but how are potential employees (or the occasional diner) supposed to know about this bus service? There’s nothing at all on the restaurant’s website (that I can find anyway). They tell you how to get there by train – to Oxford, which is “a 30 minute drive” away, and helicopter (!), but not the bus which they are paying for.

    A bus service late into the evening to & from Oxford would, you might think, unlock a whole load of demand for some of the local pubs mentioned, but none of them seem to have anything to say about the 46, and the bus company itself isn’t pushing the service either, now that launch day has been and gone.

    How long are we giving this? A couple of years, if that? A bus service that, like so many others, was lost because not enough people used it, and because hardly anybody knew about it.

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    1. Just FYI, patronage increased fivefold in the week following the introduction of the improved service.

      Dave Harrison
      Principal Public Transport Planner
      Oxfordshire County Council

      Liked by 2 people

  13. Of course Oxford is lucky to have businesses that can “afford it” (and residents and visitors too).
    But there is a worry. The fad for planning payments may lead us back to the 1950s position where planning permissions could be “bought”. I’m not sure that expediency (even for “noble” causes) should be synonymous with planning policy. I understand that noble gestures too give a much better “feelgood factor” than simple taxation, but there was a reason for the “traditional” route in the first place. I’m not sure that human nature has changed all that much.

    I don’t know the area or local circumstances in this case, and I’m certainly not suggesting anything untoward. Just that we have to be careful, and the road to hell is often paved with good intentions. What is planning about in the first place? Presumably the community, not just personal interest. Are we as a country losing sight of what the community is? It’s not just our personal hobby.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The bad news is Stephenson have cancelled lots of services in Essex as have NIBS and Konect Bus and Ipswich bus. All cancelled from 31st July. Many of these may be ECC contracts so may be replaments but no information at present

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      1. Bob . . . Can you give a source for this news, please? I can find nothing on the Essex CC site, nor the other operators’ sites.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Looks like some are ECC. Ipswich buses handing the 4 and 11 to First for example. Hedingham seem to have taken some too.

        (Data on the Notice and proceedings for 29th June)

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    2. The owners of Le Manoir have been very clear there is no relationship between the planning decision and the start of the service. The requirement for staff is acute and there is a significant labour pool in east Oxford to be utilised.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Please forgive me if I haven’t read the text correctly, but I make it three buses needed for this route! Could be two if the four-minute overlap at the Oxford end could be tightened up somehow!
    Anyway, a great story, and I hope this scheme becomes a success.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, it’s two buses and it’s a terminal loop at either end so it looks like there’s an overlap.

      Dave

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  15. The owners of Le Manoir have been very clear there is no relationship between the planning decision and the start of the service. The requirement for staff is acute and there is a significant labour pool in east Oxford to be utilised.

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