From the grubby sands of Shanklin if ever you should stray
From Yarmouth down to Ventnor, from Ryde to Totland Bay
From Bembridge to The Needles, from Yaverland to Brook
You'll find a Southern Vectis bus1 wherever you may look - if you're lucky
- 'The Southern Vectis Bus Song' by Lauri Say
The 15th and 16th October saw the Isle of Wight Beer and Bus (and Walk) weekend. Organised by the Isle of Wight branch of CAMRA, the CAMpaign for Real Ale, and the Isle of Wight Bus Museum, for these two days the whole of the Isle of Wight is effectively transformed into a giant pub crawl. Only instead of having to walk, a fleet of classic 20th Century buses transport you from pub to pub for free along eleven different routes across the Isle of Wight.
The Isle of Wight Beer and Bus Weekend
Over 70 buses took part in the event, transporting people to 63 participating pubs across the Island. Most of the buses are privately owned and brought down at the owners' expense, some from considerable distance on the Mainland, to what is becoming one of the largest preserved bus events in the UK. Sadly the spoilsport ferry companies limited the number of buses that were able to come across the Solent to 60. This meant that many bus owners from across the country who desperately wished to enjoy the experience of driving their buses around the Isle of Wight's spectacular beauty spots had to be turned away. No busman's holiday for them.
All the pubs involved were independents serving real ale, rather than national chains. A real or cask ale is one with active yeast that gets from the cask to the glass either by tap or by hand-pump and has not had carbon dioxide added; any ale that comes in a keg and uses gas to travel to your glass is not a real ale, but a fake.
Most of the pubs involved in the weekend had special offer prices for those taking part in the beer and bus weekend and were carrying the event's programme. As the bus routes were based on where there were participating real ale pubs, the bus services went to out-of-the-way places such as Culver Haven (an isolated pub at the top of Culver Cliff) and had two stops in the small village of Arreton, but did not go to the town of East Cowes. The small town of Yarmouth had a stop but the much-larger neighbouring village of Freshwater did not. Similarly, buses travelled right through the large village of Lake without stopping.
Also involved in the event's preparation was the Isle of Wight Ramblers. They provided a selection of often country walks between pubs and circular walks from and to pubs that could be downloaded from the event's website. Many of these walks, shown with the use of an 'A' symbol, were designed to be accessible and suitable for wheelchairs, pushchairs etc. As the forecast was unpredictable, we didn't look into the walking options in any details.
This was my first year at the Beer and Bus Weekend, even though it was now into its third year. I'd been invited by one of my old school friends to enjoy the day with him, so who was I to refuse?
My friends were going because of their interest in beer, whereas I'm not really an ale drinker. I found the idea of being able to jump on and off classic buses and enjoy a drive around the Island's spectacular countryside over a couple of days very appealing. I don't normally travel by bus and so this would be an opportunity to admire the view from the top of a double-decker. So if it had been just me, I would have happily been jumping on and off buses all day and only popping into pubs for dinner, whereas my friends were more interested in the alcoholic side2. The beauty of this event was that it catered for all interests.
The event had two hubs; Riverside Centre at Newport Quay in Newport, next to the former home of the Isle of Wight Bus Museum, and outside the current home of the Isle of Wight Bus Museum in Ryde. Sadly I never made it to Ryde or the East Wight over the weekend. I arrived at Newport first and spent a few minutes admiring the buses on static display until my friends came. Though some of the buses were obviously quite old, there were some that looked strange being displayed at a classic bus event. Why, some were buses I remember being brand new when I was young.
Back when I was young.
Suddenly I felt old.
Fortunately just then my friends arrived, which was around the same time as a really dreadful looking bus, a red 1997 Volvo Olympian registration number R373 LGH that had only just come out of service. Compared to all the other buses it really looked dreadful, especially the faded and rotting rubber around the windows. The whole thing looked dirty and deteriorating, especially when compared to the beautifully bright, with dazzling chrome well-kept buses elsewhere on display that were up to sixty years older than it.
My concern at this time was on what the weather was going to be doing; the forecast for the weekend was 'sunshine and showers'. Both would be experienced before the event ended.
Go West, Young Men
By this time, which was about 11:30am, the place was hectic and there were people everywhere queuing up for a ride on a bus. By far the most popular destination was the West Wight, with the two routes (B and C, one clockwise to Yarmouth, the other anti-clockwise. Inexplicably they were running single-deckers this way, and demand far, far outstretched the seating capacity. As this was a private event, everyone was required to remain seated and standing was forbidden. I was the last one on our single-decker bus - a 1976 Leyland National B52F, so not the most exciting classic but I was happy just to get a seat as the next bus due to head out this was not for half an hour. The first stop was the Waverley Inn at the top of Carisbrooke where there was already an almighty queue but the bus was unable to stop due to it being full. The next stop was the Crown Inn, a 17th Century pub in Shorwell3, where we got off and I bought the first round of drinks as we basked in the sun in the beer garden next to the fishpond complete with duck island.
A pint later we got on the next bus of the day, a 1970 Bristol single-decker, which was only going as far as the next stop, the Three Bishops in Brighstone. A short while later another single-decker, a 1992 Leyland Lynx arrived, which took us past the 600-year-old thatched Sun Inn in the hamlet of Hulverstone to the West Wight's town, Yarmouth, where we planned to have some dinner. There was a worrying moment when the bus was driving down a twisting and turning country lane with hedges either side so you don't know what is round each bend. All of a sudden another classic bus travelling in the opposite direction came round a corner and down a hill, showing us how well-kept the brakes on both were kept.
Move Over, Buster
Yarmouth is a town with three pubs taking part, the Wheatsheaf, King's Head and Bugle Coaching Inn, with at least two of those 16th Century. They all participate in the Yarmouth Real Ale Experience in which they each always have six real ales but co-ordinate to ensure that they always have different ones. As we arrived in Yarmouth we were shocked to see the red Volvo Olympian R373 LGH pull up behind us. As we ordered a meal in the King's Head, the conversation turned to how annoying I find it when pubs gave you food on boards or slates rather than plates, which I and others had recently been discussed on h2g2's Petty Hates thread. Even though we had all ordered burgers, theirs both arrived on plates whereas mine arrived on a wooden plank with chips in a tin cup. Hmm...
After a quick stroll to the pier and beach it was back onboard the next bus.
By now the weather was turning and it looked as if it might rain. Instead of our original plan of getting off at Calbourne's Sun Inn we decided to get straight back to Newport to keep options open; we didn't want to be stranded in a country hamlet or village waiting ages for a bus that wasn't already full. Back on a single-decker we went. We passed Ningwood's Horse & Groom the New Inn in Shalfleet, dating from 1743, and Calbourne's Sun Inn. After passing the Waverley once more we descended down through Carisbrooke, arriving back in Newport. Off the bus we went and as we decided to walk to Newport's Ale House, the red Volvo Olympian arrived. It must have overheard us discussing our plans...
Still, off to the Ale House we went, the Island's smallest pub. Newport has plenty of real ale pubs including the Bargeman's Rest in Little London, the 17th Century Wheatsheaf, Prince of Wales, Wren's Nest and the Castle Inn which is Newport's oldest pub having been licensed since 1550 although the end wall dates from 1300 when it was the only building within site of Carisbrooke Castle. The Riverside Centre itself had a bar, selling Island brewed bottled real ales with plastic cups. In the Ale House we soon ordered three pints of Thwaites' 'Double Decker' and it quickly dawned on us that we weren't really taking the weekend seriously. The Ale House's other patrons were wearing On The Buses t-shirts and/or writing lists. These lists not only included the number plates of the buses they had travelled on, but also all the pubs they had been to and what real ales they were selling. True, I had been photographing buses throughout the day, but these were mere holiday snaps in comparison. Within minutes of our arrival at the Ale House the sky really opened and the world outside was drenched.
After our pint, we decided that with the weather being what it was, we'd head back home, but travel the scenic route. So back to the quay and waiting for a bus. And what a bus - one that my friend Daniel ran to catch, the first time he has run for a bus since he was a teenager. But it was a bus certainly worth running to catch - finally what we had been hoping for all day, a classic 1965 AEC Routemaster, this one in London Transport Green Line colours. A beautiful, classic double decker. Sadly the top deck was full, so instead we sat at the back of the bottom, on the sideways seats over the rear wheels where we could experience every bump and boing of the journey. The swish leather seats were impossible to sit still on, and after every jolt we found ourselves sliding sideways, it was great. The route back went via Rookley's Chequers Inn, Chale's 17th Century Wight Mouse Inn and the 16th Century Buddle Inn at Niton, the southernmost pub on the Island and where I spent the latter stages of my stag night. The bus was travelling in convoy, with a second double-decker, a 1991 Leyland Olympian, travelling behind and another bus behind that.
It was while the bus was driving round the narrow country lanes by the Buddle that the horrible truth dawned on us; to get back to Shanklin we would have to go through Ventnor.
Many words have been used to describe the roads in Ventnor, however 'smooth', 'flat', 'straight' and 'wide' have never been among them. The word most often used might well, in fact, be . When it comes to twisty, bumpy, narrow, zig-zagging steep roads with sharp drops inches away, Ventnor has more than its fair share. And we were on a classic double decker bus with an engine and brakes 50 years old, not to mention the slippery seats. Every twist, turn and bump was magnified by our seats over the rear wheels, which made travelling through the town an experience, especially as there were a few hills that the bus really was struggling with. Of course the bus stalling or breaking down was a genuine concern; we had heard how one double-decker had driven down from the Midlands only to break down when trying to ascend up Culver Down. It hadn't even made it as far as the cattle-grid4. Still, the bus just managed through all the town's twist and turns and though there was a long struggle up the hill out of town it kept going, even at snail's pace, and as it crested the hill the passengers onboard broke out into a rousing chorus of 'The Wheels on the Bus' in celebration. Pubs in Ventnor taking part included the Crab & Lobster Tap, Perks of Ventnor, the Volunteer Inn and the Winter Gardens.
From Ventnor it was downhill to Shanklin, passing through the tourist trap Old Village with its thatched charm, including participating thatched pubs the King Harry's Bar, IW CAMRA 2015 Pub of the Year, and the Village Inn. Here we got off and walked down to the Chine Inn, established in 1621, for the last drink of the night. Afterwards some of us caught the train5 back to Lake at the end of the day. Sadly, Lake didn't have any pubs participating in the weekend. The Manor, the pub where I started my stag do, has since turned into a Tesco, the Stag only has one on tap if that and the Merry Gardens is a chain pub. This meant Lake didn't have a stop.
The next morning we gathered in Shanklin and walked down to the train station, which was one of the first stops on routes D and E between Shanklin and Newport as well as G for services to Ryde. This time we planned to head anti-clockwise back to Newport and hoped to finally get on a double decker. Our wishes were granted as we saw a 1958 Leyland PD2 pull up. Eagerly we ran up top and secured window seats top right (so I would be able to photograph any interesting buses we saw coming the other way through the window). Soon we were off, driving back to Newport via two stops in the village of Arreton, the Fighting Cocks and Dairyman's Daughter. The latter boasts of having an adjacent mediæval carp pond and is named after a famous Isle of Wight girl Elizabeth Wallbridge, whose life story was written by Reverend Legh Richmond6, published in 1814 and translated into 19 languages.
As we arrived at Newport Quay a rainbow was visible over the buses. We had a look at the buses on display there, admiring how far many had come. There were Ulster buses, Scottish buses, Northern buses and even an offensive 'HampshireBus' - who allowed that on the Island, eh? There was an 'Eastline' bus that stated it went to Yarmouth - didn't it know that Yarmouth is West Wight? There was even a bright pink 2009 Scania bus, which being only 7 years old can't possibly count as a classic. Also at Newport Quays was a marquee where a range of Beer and Bus clothing was on sale. How often do you get a chance to buy a t-shirt listing lots of bus number plates on the back as if they were acts at a Festival (along with an alphabetical list of Isle of Wight pubs)? How could I resist?
Just then, the stalking r-reg bus arrived so we knew we had to leave, quickly, before it caught us. Yet since yesterday we had a plan on how to best escape its clutches. If we went to Cowes it would be unable to follow, for Cowes has a pedestrianised area.
We joined the queue for buses to Cowes on Route A. The first bus to pull up by the bus stop was a rather nice 1953 single-decked London Transport AEC Regal IV which apparently is only one of two surviving buses of its type. Behind it pulled in a 1961 AEC Routemaster in Clydesdale colours and as most of the bus enthusiasts had rushed to board the first bus, we grabbed the chance to the top front seats of the double-decker. Soon we had left Newport behind before the R-reg monstrosity could get us as we travelled behind the 1953 bus north to Cowes, even travelling on 'The Motorway', as the Island's only short stretch of dual carriageway is known.
The stops north of Newport on the Cowes route were the Mess Bar at the Isle of Wight Military Museum, the Horseshoe Inn, a former coaching inn at Northwood and then the bus stopped outside the Maritime Museum, which is just along the road from my granddad's house. This stop in the centre of town served most of the pubs in Cowes taking part, although others in the Cowes and Gurnard area were accessed via circular Route H. The nearby pubs the Kingston Arms, Duke of York, Anchor Inn, Union Inn and Vectis Tavern as well as the two pubs that we were aiming for. The first was the Pier View, where we enjoyed a lovely dinner as well as a pint of Island Ales' 'Hop Aboard', a local beer specially brewed for the weekend. After that we walked to the Cowes Ale House on Shooters Hill, and had a pint of Yates' 'On The Buses'.
Sadly Sunday was only really a half-day of bus running as many of the bus owners had to return to the Mainland to get back to their homes, so I stayed in Cowes as my friends took the routemaster back to Newport. That was the end of the day. Yet it had proved to be an extremely popular event and we looked forward to doing it again next year, hopefully aiming to do East Wight instead.
Please drink responsibly