So, you’re strolling along the promenade, soaking up the sun and taking in the sea air with half an hour or so to kill. At a bus stop alongside you an open top bus pulls up with decals promising “Breathtaking Sea Views”. There can be no finer way to admire the coastal scenery.
Brighton, Hove and District started it all back in 1936 with a small fleet of specially built double deckers painted in a cream livery, a trend soon copied by almost every operator within sight of the sea.
The ride can be stunning. From the sixties through to the eighties Devon General’s Torquay to Brixham service with it’s ‘Sea Dog’ Leyland Atlanteans was always a joy, riding along the cliffs and hills beside the bay and deviating from the regular route to hug the coastline at every available opportunity. During the same period Southdown’s route 102 from Brighton to Arundel could boast at being the world’s longest open top service. Currently Wilts and Dorset’s service linking Bournemouth with Swanage is highly recommended with it’s unhindered views of Purbeck (looking up at the hills- no windows or bodywork remember!) and a ride on the Sandbanks Chain Ferry thrown in. On the Isle of Wight Southern Vectis’s ‘Island Breezer’ climbing out of Alum Bay to the Needles Battery is simply wonderful, though you do need a good head for heights.
It must be remembered though that these services are at the mercy of the fickle seaside climate as I discovered on Brighton and Hove’s route 77 to Devil’s Dyke. “Breeze Up To The Downs” it said on the side of the bus. They weren’t kidding, “Breathtaking Sea Views” meant just that! I could have retreated to the lower deck but I was among a dozen (fool)hardy souls who were being terribly British about this, determined to have our open top bus ride by the sea and damn well enjoy it!
There are of course the open top tourist buses giving guided tours and running commentaries in our major towns and cities. Being tour buses they are more expensive but they can offer a superb opportunity to see the sights from a very different angle, the unrestricted views looking up at the tall buildings while on the move on the London tours are impressive.
For me the real joy of the open toppers is when they generally operate as normal buses, either substituting traditional vehicles or as summer services superimposed on the normal timetables. Panoramic views and a chance to travel with the locals, all for the price of a bus ticket.