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 bus wherever you may look - if you're lucky
- 'The Southern Vectis Bus Song' by Lauri Say
Since 2014, the annual Isle of Wight Beer and Bus (and Walk) weekend has been held every October. 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 numerous different bus routes stretching across the Isle of Wight. All you are asked to do is purchase a programme (£7 in 2018), the proceeds of which goes towards the upkeep of the Isle of Wight Bus Museum and its exhibits. In 2018 the event attracted over 12,000 participants.
On the Omnibus
Over 100 buses take part in the event per year, transporting people to almost 100 participating pubs across the Island. Dating from the 1930s onwards, most of the buses are privately owned and brought down at the owners' expense, some from considerable distance on the Mainland1, to what is becoming one of the largest preserved bus events in the UK.
Part of the joy of the event is seeing the buses in their different colours from all across the country, proudly displaying the liveries and logos of bus companies that would never normally be seen on the Island. As well as local Southern Vectis cream or green, it is possible to see buses previously operated by Ulsterbus, Brighton & Hove, Wilts & Dorset, London or Merseybus. A vehicle originally from New Zealand has even participated.
When interviewed for the Isle of Wight County Press in October 2017, one of the organisers, Tim Marshall, said,
It has just mushroomed over the years, and this year we have 101 vintage buses, with at least 70 coming over from the mainland. This year we have one bus coming all the way from Glasgow – that's the one coming from furthest afield, and many others are making quite a trek… It is difficult to work out a precise number but the buses ran on capacity last year so we estimate about 8,000 people took part. This year we anticipate over 10,000. Over the years the popularity of has grown and the percentage of Islanders and mainlanders who take part is now thought to be about 50/50. Two programmes have been sold to residents of Hong Kong, though we don't know if those people are coming.
Having an Ale of a Time
All the pubs involved serve real ale. A real or cask ale is one that gets from the cask to the glass either by gravity feed 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 the glass is not considered a real ale. The Isle of Wight has over 300 members of CAMRA who help organise the event, with over 90 pubs and licensed premises participating. 22 pubs on the Isle of Wight are listed in the 2019 CAMRA Good Beer Guide, which lists only the nation's finest real ale pubs.
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, bus services regularly go to out-of-the-way places such as Culver Haven2, but not the town of East Cowes. The small town of Yarmouth has always had a stop but the much-larger neighbouring village of Freshwater did not until 2018. Similarly, buses travel right through the large village of Lake without stopping as the village does not have a real ale pub, but much smaller hamlets may have more than one stop.
The three award-winning Isle of Wight breweries have wholeheartedly supported the event, in some cases creating special-edition beers. These include Island Brewery's 'Hop Aboard' and 'Busman's Holiday', Yates' Brewery's 'On the Buses' Goddard's Brewery is the oldest brewery on the Island and is well-known for its beer named after its bank, 'Duck's Folly'3. All three breweries are listed in the 2019 CAMRA Good Beer Guide. Nearby mainland brewery Ringwood's have also participated, creating ale 'Double Decker'.
The Isle of Wight Ramblers4 are also involved in the event. They provide a selection of town and country walks, both between pubs and circular walks returning to the initial pub. Walking guides have been available from the event's website and in 2018 a variety of different walk guides were available to collect,. These included many accessible walks designed to be suitable for wheelchairs, pushchairs etc. Pubs participating in the walking and hiking routes were labelled in the main event programme with a 'H' hiking boot symbol.
Letting off Steam
The Isle of Wight Steam Railway has also regularly participated in the weekend, running free trains between Wootton and their main station at Havenstreet. The Isle of Wight Bus Weekend's stopping5 Newport to Ryde service stops outside Wootton Station to allow passengers to disembark and ride along the steam railway.
Predominantly a Victorian branch line, uniquely, the Isle of Wight Steam Railway is the only steam railway to operate compartment carriages rather than corridor carriages6. A marquee in Havenstreet's event field serves a range of real ales. In the past this has coincided with bird flight displays by Haven Falconry7 who are also based at Havenstreet.
Additionally, Island Line rail service have also offered discounted travel to travellers carrying the Beer & Buses Event Programme, with many of the event bus stops located near railway stations. As the Island Line trains date from 1938 they also can be considered to be heritage transport, albeit still in daily use. Southern Vectis, the Isle of Wight's bus company, have also offered discounted weekend rover tickets to participants.
Move Over, Buster
The event has two bus hubs from which it is possible to catch buses to all over the Island.
Quay to the Island
The main hub is located at the Riverside Centre at Newport Quay in Newport, next to the former home of the Isle of Wight Bus Museum. Riverside Centre is located in the Island's capital in the very middle of the Island, making it the ideal place to access the rest. As the event has grown so has the organisation, with a large marquee allowing separate queues for passengers wishing to travel to different destinations, and with entertainment in the form of Morris Dancers provided.
Ticket to Ryde
The second, smaller transport hub of the event is located outside the Isle of Wight Bus Museum in Ryde. Formed in 1997, the museum contains many exhibits and over 20 vehicles covering a 110-year period. Their oldest is Civility, a Newport-built stagecoach dating from the 1880s, which is the oldest-surviving road vehicle on the Island and designed for a three-day Round the Island tour. Although not a bus its restoration has been funded by money raised at the 2017 Beer and Bus Weekend event. The newest exhibit had the same role a century later. An open-top 1993 Leyland Olympian, when in service offered a 4-hour round-the-Island hop-on/hop-off tour and was donated to the museum by Southern Vectis in 2017.
The collection also includes the bus that ran over singer Adam Faith, whose father was a bus driver. The museum also has dressing up areas and a bus converted into a café.
The number of routes served by the Beer and Bus Weekend has grown substantially. In 2014 there were seven routes, by 2018 this had almost trebled to 19 routes. The different services' total journey times vary from 15 minutes (Route Y: Ryde Circular) to 120 minutes with buses varying in size from 40 to 70 seaters. Relief buses operated in addition to the timetabled service at peak times. The buses run 10am – 7pm on Saturday and 10am – 5pm on Sunday.
As participants are spread across riding on the numerous buses and dining and drinking in the various pubs across the whole Island, it is not an event that has a strict limit on the number of people who can participate. Due to Transport and Insurance Regulations bus drivers are not allowed to collect money on board and standing is not permitted, even when the buses were designed to allow standing passengers. Once all the seats are filled, no-one else is allowed on board. Visitors coming from the mainland or abroad needing somewhere to stay will be delighted to know that a wide range of accommodation is available, from camping to luxury hotels in many spectacular locations8.
A noteworthy local bus is 1939 Bristol K5G The Old Girl, an open-top bus that is the oldest bus in the country to still belong to its original owner, Southern Vectis, 79 years after they first bought her. She is the oldest bus in their fleet.
The 2017 event was especially poignant for local bus enthusiasts as it marked the first time for 20 years that the former closed-top Southern Vectis Vintage Fleet has been reunited. Operating on the Island between 1986 and 1996, the four members of the double-decker fleet preserved in the Isle of Wight Bus Museum were reunited with the three members owned privately. You will never see a finer collection of well-preserved 1950s-60s Bristols.
Sadly the most famous bus on the Isle of Wight, the Spice Bus featured in Spiceworld: The Movie, has yet to take part, while another noteworthy former Isle of Wight bus became famous at the 2012 London Olympics as London Booster. This is a former Southern Vectis bus that was modified to do push-ups.
Harbouring Bus Enthusiasts
The weekend attracts a wide variety of participants, from those enjoying a day out away from the car to dedicated fans of classic buses as well as real ale drinkers. It is common to see participants writing and comparing lists not only including the type and number plates of buses travelled on, but also the pubs they have visited and what real ales they have sampled. To cater for this interest a wide range of merchandise is available from Newport Harbour, including a wide range of official Beer & Bus Weekend clothing. A vast array of bus merchandise is further available from Ryde's Bus Museum.
Event publications and programmes published have included:
- A detailed Event Programme, which is up to 100 colour pages in length.
A 54-page Vehicle Supplement, which provided more information as to the vehicles taking part.
A 24-page beer guide, listing exactly what ale is sold at each participating pub.
The event publications list all participating pubs, their addresses and contact details, opening times, whether they serve food and when, which bus stops are nearby, a summary of available beer, whether they are family friendly, have a children's play area and provide accommodation and special offers over the event. It also contains a basic map of each of the main town centres showing bus stop locations and those of participating pubs as well as an event bus timetable. A more detailed bus timetable stating exactly which bus is due to be operate which routes when is provided in the Vehicle Supplement.
While most people enjoying the Isle of Wight Beer and Bus Weekend are happy to refer to buses as 'that blue double-decker heading to Ryde', bus enthusiasts are provided with a more convoluted and informative way of identifying each bus, which can seem strange to the non-enthusiast fraternity. This method is used, but not fully explained, in many of the event publications.
Buses are referred to by Registration, Year, Chassis, Body, Body Type, Capacity, Passenger Entrance and Livery.
- Registration: This is the bus's registration (number plate).
- Year: the year the bus was constructed
- Chassis: The manufacturer who made the bus frame and mechanical running base and the model.
- Body: The company that built the bus body.
- Body Type: A letter that indicates the type of body:
- B: single-deck bus
- C: Coach
- DP: Dual Purpose (cross between bus and coach)
- H: Highbridge double-decker
- O: Open-top
- PO: Partly Open-top
- Capacity: The number of seated passengers.
- Passenger Entrance: Where do passengers get in? F: Front or R: Rear
- Livery: In which operator's livery is the bus running.
So using this system the Southern Vectis Bus called The Old Girl is referred to as 'CDL899 1939 Bristol K5G/ECW O56R Southern Vectis'. This shows that her number plate is CDL899, she was built in 1939 and is a Bristol model K5G but her body was built by Eastern Coach Works9, she is an Open Top bus that can carry 56 seated passengers with a rear entrance and is in the livery of Southern Vectis.
It is far, far easier just to call her The Old Girl.
Isle of Wight Roads are Different
There really is no substitute for seeing the Isle of Wight from the top-deck of an open-top Double Decker bus. With the sun in your face and the wind in your hair, you can enjoy an unbridled view of chalk cliffs over the hedgerows either side of the narrow, twisty-turny roads and see why most of the Island is an official Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. This was recognised in 2018 when two of the Island's bus routes were recognised in the Top Ten most beautiful bus routes in England, in 2nd and 6th. Of course, the driver, most of whom have come over from the mainland, is sat on the bottom deck, driving a large bus round narrow, unfamiliar, winding turning country lane with hedges either side completely unaware of what is round each bend. When all of a sudden another classic bus with decades-old braking technology is seen travelling in the opposite direction round a corner and down a hill, you get a chance to appreciate how well classic bus brakes work.
Many words have been used to describe the Island's roads in areas such as Ventnor, however 'smooth', 'flat', 'straight' and 'wide' have never been among them. When it comes to twisty, bumpy, narrow, zig-zagging steep roads with sharp drops inches away, Ventnor has more than its fair share. These are best experienced on a classic double-decker bus with an ancient engine and braking system, not to mention slippery leather seats. In order for the full effect with every twist, turn and bump magnified, it is best to sits over the rear wheels. Sitting on an old bus with very little suspension as it drives over a cattle-grid is not an experience that is granted every day. No wonder the Beer and Bus Weekend is proud to be part of the Green Star Scheme for encouraging car-free holidays on the Isle of Wight.