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.
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.
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.
Blogging timetable: 06:00 TThSSu