On Saturday, several thousand people took the chance to take a trip in a random assortment of buses to an empty village where no one lives, because, well, why not?
That was Imber Bus – a now annual event that’s been running since 2009 and it can be fairly said that it has hit peak popularity. What started with five buses and mostly people who know about buses, is now hugely popular, and candidly, this year, unexpectedly so. Maybe there’s pent-up demand after last year’s train strike made it difficult to get there and the previous year’s pandemic cancellation.
Whatever caused the surge, what was previously small clusters of people loitering around Warminster station to catch a bus was now a long queue that snaked down the road and around a car park, and at times, was being reported to take over an hour to get from back of queue to on a bus.
And while there were grumbles, a queue when you’re waiting to do something fun is often good natured, and here, the excitement was assisted by regularly seeing the buses going past filled with people waving and smiling. The sheer oddity of it was already starting to become infectious.
Maybe next year, they’ll have to think about preselling time slot tickets to ensure the number of people attending can be managed.
But success is a good problem to have.
Bus running days can tend to be modest affairs for bus nerds – but ImberBus is so much more than just the buses. It’s the rare chance to visit a landscape used by the army as their firing range and is untouched by modern farming. To drive past burnt-out tanks, wander around a deserted village filled with modern buildings used for urban warfare training, to visit an old church, to sit in an open top seating and be covered in bits of trees that are unused to being pushed away by double-decker buses.
And not just Imber, but the villages nearby that live within earshot of regular gunfire.
To squash along narrow roads in small villages that will see more people visit on one day than they probably see in a whole year. To take tea and cake in a village hall, and take oh so many photos of signs you never see anywhere else warning about tanks and unexploded bombs.
And to do all that in a medley of old and modern buses, because, well, why not?
It’s a perfect mix, and I don’t think I’ve ever spoken to someone who didn’t have a good time. Even with the amazingly long queues that turned up this year.
The unexpected influx being great for the local community as well. The copyright dodging cafe of St. Arbucks never opens on Saturdays, except once a year. A village hall once locked up is now a hive of activity with tables under a new marquee serving coffee, and a sign nearby thanking visitors for visiting as the funds help support the village hall through the rest of the year. Private homes have started selling cream teas, the pubs are busy, and Imber Church itself was doing a roaring trade in cakes and souvenirs.
What brings thousands of people to a deserted village? The sheer barmy bonkerness of it. That’s what.
If you missed catching a trip on bus route 23A, don’t worry, they’ll be back again next year.
See you next year!