On the A65 close to Kirkstall Abbey near Leeds there stands a marker post. As milestones go it’s quite impressive and also remarkably accurate considering it was put there in 1829 when horsepower was the best way to feed the roses. It marks the exact 200 mile halfway mark between London and Edinburgh. The B&B mentioned on the sign doesn’t stand for bed & breakfast but records the Butler & Beecroft families who ran Kirkstall Forge in 1779. Local historians think it celebrated the 50th anniversary of their business.
Although the Forge no longer exists, a recently built modern railway station there now bears its name. On my 10 minute rail trip into Leeds from Apperley Bridge it’s the only stop. Today, instead of a Forge making metal with sparks, smells and noise there’s an impressive office building housing smart tech companies and young entrepreneurs. Progress perhaps.
According to Google maps, to get to London from here would take me 3 hours 43 minutes if I took the M1. In 1829 a coach and horses using dirt tracks would have taken about 4 days at an average speed of 9 mph. But at least you’d have got there as hay was the only fuel needed to feed the horses.
You can see where this is going.
In my retirement, I have decided to start attending the live home matches of my football team Leeds United. The first one was against Crewe Alexandra in the Carabao Cup. My Volvo and I sat on the Leeds Outer Ring Road for over 2 hours wasting fuel before finally finding a parking space for a tenner. Not doing that again. So for the West Ham game I decided to use public transport there and back. It was a decision driven by a lack of fuel.
As a driver who likes the privacy and covid safety of his car this was initially a challenge. But the experience was much cheaper (£6.75 return), less hassle and way quicker. I was at the stadium eating an overpriced burger an hour and three quarters before the game even started. What a revelation.
It also had the bonus of being more entertaining as I’m a people watcher. Getting down with the masses is good fun.
Hen parties arriving to meet their friends on the concourse at Leeds railway station on a Saturday are just the funniest thing to witness. Tottering on massive heels in short skirts and towing their overnight bag with one hand and clutching a bridal gift in the other, they squeal and hug and dance and are full of the celebration of youth as they head into the city centre for a night of celebration. You have to love them.
A crammed bus full of mostly pissed up male football fans is probably your idea of hell. I thought so too until I tried it and actually found how friendly and well mannered they were. As long as you can take the swearing, they were fine. Even when Leeds lost 2-1 to the Hammers, they were considerate to a lone older guy with a limp trying to get home. This was probably because I was in their camp, a Leeds supporter. Some-one even gave up their seat for me. A first!
Manners however have been in short supply at petrol stations. Pictures of folk filling cans with fuel in their car boots and fisticuffs at the pumps are reported by a British media who started the panic in the first place.
But it doesn’t have to be like this for those us within the reach of decent buses and trains. You might think you’re not but even in the remotest parts of the Yorkshire Dales there is regular public transport. When I was in Hawes recently with my caravan I discovered The Little White Bus.
Founded in 2011 by the late John Blackie, it ferries over 60,000 passengers a year across Upper Wensleydale and Swaledale in North Yorkshire. It’s a massive area of unspoilt beauty – and it has red squirrels!
The Little White Bus operates a book in advance service throughout the year from the Dales Countryside Museum in Hawes to the start of the Red Squirrel trail. The bus ride takes about ten minutes. The driver drops you off at the top of the track at Snaizeholme which leads to the start of the trail. It’s a 2.5 mile circular walk to the red squirrel viewpoint. If you allow 40 minutes there and back to walk to the viewing area you get to see these rare creatures – by bus!
I was fascinated by the exemplary organisation of the public transport I used to a major public event and I’ve also seen my first red squirrel.
Some folk refer to the bus as a “peasant wagon”. It has overtones of the French Revolution. A bit like being thrown onto the floor of a cell before you’re led to the scaffold. My history teacher Mr Hutton liked my essay on this so much I got top marks.
Yes, getting on a bus is about dealing with sharing your personal space but it is also a refreshing revolution we should adopt. You meet people and have conversations. You say thank-you to the driver and they smile back knowing their care of you has been recognised. It’s a shared experience.
Plus you get to look out of the window instead of at the road and if you’re lucky sit on the top deck of your double-decker and see the world from a completely different view. London by bus instead of the tube is so much more interesting.
The milestone for me will be when I finally qualify for my free bus pass in 2022.
I intend to use it.
More articles from Northern Male can be read here