As the “Boris Buses” spread across London slowly taking over fresh bus routes, one was found on Saturday in a very unusual location on a very rare bus route.
Route 23A runs just once a year, from outside a mainline train station to nowhere in particular via a totally empty village where no one lives.
It is of course, therefore hugely popular.
The village where no one lives is Imber, which was evacuated in 1943 to be used as a training ground for the D-Day invasions and to this day remains unoccupied as it is surrounded by the MoD’s training lands on the Salisbury Plain.
Although surrounded by the military, on a few days of each year, people are allowed back into the village, and the local church, which is not owned by the MoD holds services.
To help the locals get to the village, just a few years ago, the bus route was set up. In fact it was inaugurated by London’s Transport Commissioner Peter Hendy, and as it is run by a collection of London Routemasters, pretty much makes this a distant outpost of the London bus network as far as I am concerned.
This is the Imberbus Service.
A choice of a Boris bus or a vintage one simply required a trip on the new model, and it’s a short trip through Warminster as the houses and shops are slowly displaced by increasing volumes of military barracks and vehicles. Eventually though, the barrier to the military training grounds approached, and the real fun begins.
You are now within an area with an awful lot of warning signs not to leave the road as the ground could contain explosives. Although passing along a narrow country lane surrounded on either side by potentially lethal explosives, it was a remarkably relaxing and scenic journey.
Deep valleys dominate the landscape here, which is untouched by modern farming or developments. It’s a little changed land our ancestors would have recognized, apart that is from the occasional burnt out tank along the roadside.
A short pause at one of the several temporary bus stops that had been set up along the route for those who wanted to walk some of the route, and on to Imber itself.
For an abandoned village, it was a hive of activity as buses came in, often two at a time to drop of sightseers or cart them off to other destinations along the route.
Although made up of a mixture of locals, curious visitors and the all too obvious bus geeks, it wasn’t the heritage buses that got the most attention — but the new one. It also tended to have carried the most passengers on each trip.
The church was doing a roaring trade in tea and cake, although we slopped off to a burger van which delivered travel sickness cures in the form of a magical bun of bacon cure-alls.
Within the village there are just a few buildings left of any significant antiquity, and the rest are concrete “council houses” with burnt out window frames and no redeeming architectural attributes whatsoever. These are the training grounds, and sadly, strictly off-limits.
Time to catch the bus again — this time to complete another leg of the trip through the rest of the firing range and training grounds and eventually come out the other side and thence on to another small village and church, and past a pub with possibly the gaudiest pub-sign I have seen in a long time.
This is an area where the locals are used to seeing tanks rolling over roads, but the sight of a red double-decker bus brought them out to wave or just stare, especially as we entered the exceptionally cramped roads at the end of the line where the buses barely squeezed through the village.
All that open space and they squashed the houses next to each other as if they were huddling together for warmth?
All around the villages could be seen small signs warning that no MoD vehicles were permitted along that particular road — a concession by the military to the local residents, much as London streets can have specified routes for construction lorries to follow.
Destruction instead of construction, but the same principle at work.
Time to head back to Warminster, and on an older Routemaster in the occasional heavy downpour of rain that sometimes soaked a passenger as the windows seemed sometimes reluctant to close properly. You see, those new buses with windows that don’t open do have their uses.
Oh, and I picked up a special Imberbus branded cup to add to my collection.
The final hurrah of the day though came much later on the way back to London along the M3, as we passed the very same bus we had been on just a few hours ago.