For those of us whose lust for buses was equalled with a lust for a day out this surely was the ultimate product, the ‘National Wanderbus’ ticket, launched by the state owned National Bus Company in 1978. Many of the individual NBC companies offered similar products such as London Country’s ‘Golden Rovers’ or Southdown’s ‘Busranger’ tickets but these were generally only available for use on those operator’s services. The ‘National Wanderbus’ allowed you to cross the boundaries from one operator’s territory into another. With some careful planning using the NBC’s excellent ‘Principle Bus Links’ map a good day out on the buses was guaranteed for a mere £2.97. Living in Crawley where I was largely restricted to London Country, the ‘Wanderbus’ could now give me easy access to Southdown, Maidstone & District, East Kent and Alder Valley. For the first time I could travel for miles in any direction on one ticket.

The individual NBC subsidiarys list their availability in the 'Wanderbus Ticket' leaflet.

The individual NBC subsidiaries list their availability in the ‘Wanderbus Ticket’ leaflet.

‘Wanderbus’ tickets were issued as a pre-printed card available from enquiry offices who would stamp the date of validity on them meaning that you could buy them in advance, useful if you wanted an early start the following day, there being no time restriction on the use of the tickets. You could also buy them on the bus, although not all operators offered this option. Many older ticket machines in use at the time could only issue tickets to the maximum value of 99p, so the driver simply issued three ’99p’ tickets, hence the price tag of £2.97.


There were certain restrictions. For some reason they were only available south of a line from the Humber to the Mersey, leaving the likes of Yorkshire Traction, East Yorkshire, Ribble, United, Northern General and Cumberland out of bounds. The tickets were not available for use on National Express coaches, neither could they be used on London Transport buses or municipal services (council or corporation buses), although arrangements did exist between some NBC companies and local councils such as Eastern National and Southend Transport, or Western National and Plymouth City Transport where there was joint running. Some also came to similar arrangements with local independents where they could provide links with the main NBC services. Southern Vectis on the Isle Of Wight opted out of the scheme, preferring to stick with their ‘Island Rover’ which they ran jointly with British Rail. Generally though, if the bus was poppy red or leaf green with the NBC double ‘N’ logo it was yours for the taking. If you were on holiday in another part of the country, the ‘Wanderbus’ offered a superb way to explore the area.

A selection of NBC buses await your custom.....

A selection of NBC buses await your custom…..

Your 'Wanderbus' day out starts here.

Your ‘Wanderbus’ day out starts here.


Sadly, ‘Wanderbus’ tickets were not immune from the individual politics of the operating companies. Some operators stopped issuing the pre-printed cards, but not all of them issued them from machines as I discovered one morning when London Country couldn’t sell me a ‘card’ ticket but Southdown (operator of my first bus of the day) couldn’t sell me a ticket on the bus. On another occasion City Of Oxford wouldn’t let me use my LCBS machine issued ticket on their fast 190 Express, unless I had a ‘card’ ticket I had to use the slower 390/790 services between London and Oxford.

The view from within a Western National Bristol VR, the staple double decker on a 'Wanderbus' day out.

The view from within a Western National Bristol VR, the staple double decker on a ‘Wanderbus’ day out.

However, it appeared that most sales of ‘Wanderbus’ tickets were to those of us who were bus ‘savvy’, the differing policies of the various companies meant it was not user-friendly to casual users or tourists. It’s possibly for such reasons that the ‘Wanderbus’ was gradually replaced by the ‘Explorer’ ticket in the early ‘eighties, sold in the form of a scratchcard which could be bought in advance and validated by ‘scratching out’ the required travel date and usually came with a leaflet suggesting places of interest or scenic round trips from the local operator(s). ‘Explorer’ tickets outlived the NBC, surviving today in their new guise as ‘Discovery’ tickets. But they too are vulnerable to the policies of the private companies, some not accepting them at all leaving large gaps in the network, rendering them unattractive to the non-bus ‘savvy’ who just want a simple round trip. The days of seeing a National bus and hopping on it just to see where it goes and knowing there will be an available connecting service at the other end are sadly behind us.

NBC's useful'Principle Bus Links' leaflet, essential for planning a day out, bearing in mind that only the southern half was available to 'Wanderbus' tickets.

NBC’s useful’Principle Bus Links’ map leaflet, essential for planning a day out, bearing in mind that only the southern half was available to ‘Wanderbus’ tickets.

My copy of the map with my 'Wanderbus' journeys lined in red. All of these were completed as days out from Crawley.

My copy of the map with my ‘Wanderbus’ journeys lined in red. All of these were completed as days out from Crawley.

A 'Wanderbus' ticket from 2nd September 1982 purchased from Devon General in Paignton for a trip via Buckfastleigh and Plymouth to Saltash. The attached ticket is where I had to pay for a 2p day return (even though it's printed as 'single') as a 1p each-way supplementary fare to cover the Tamar Bridge tolls into and out from Cornwall!

A ‘Wanderbus’ ticket from 2nd September 1981 purchased from Devon General in Paignton for a trip to Buckfastleigh then via Western National to Plymouth  and in Cornwall at Saltash. The attached ticket is where I had to pay for a 2p day return (even though it’s printed as ‘single’) as a 1p each-way supplementary fare to cover the Tamar Bridge tolls!

I shall be recounting some of my days out with a ‘National Wanderbus’ in future posts on this blog page. But I’d love to read about some of yours in our comments section below. How far did you travel? Did you get to use any non-NBC services with your ticket? Did you have to pay any supplements such as mine for the Tamar Bridge? Did you get to ride on any of NBC’s fast disappearing blue buses?


  1. I’m glad I came across your website. I had quite a few enjoyable days out on the Wanderbus both solo and with a like-minded friend. My favourite was probably the first, a hot, sunny day from my home in Bromley (using the Green Line to London) then on to Oxfordshire probably via High Wycombe and Thame. It really was a pioneering event and the world was so much more relaxed than our usual rush and crush around London on our Red Rovers!
    I wish the ticket was around for longer- there were so many more places I would have liked to see.

    • Thank you for your ‘Wanderbus’ story Colin, being able to use the tickets on Green Lines was a real gift, speeding up journey times across London and on that occasion giving you easier access to what was then the Oxford-South Midland services. For me (as I suspect also for you) the excitement levels always slightly raised when crossing from one NBC operator’s territory into another and I think that’s part of what’s missing now. In Sussex Surrey and Kent we have the Discovery ticket which can be used across most operators but not all and none of them have territories as such, so there’s little sense of crossing boundaries. Prior to deregulation you could estimate the distance travelled by counting how many NBC companies you’d encountered.

      Happy times!

  2. It was great to see your post – I have many happy memories of journeys using the National Wanderbus ticket. My first would have been in 1979, aged 12. Starting from Newbury the first destination was Oxford. The service was a joint operation between Alder Valley and Oxford South Midland, and the first journey of the day necessitated a change at the territorial boundary onto the other operator’s vehicle. Having arrived in Oxford it was a quick change onto the X50 to Birmingham, another joint operation this time between Oxford South Midland and Midland Red. Mine being the first of the day meant it was an Oxford South Midland vehicle, a very new ECW/VRT3 double decker. From Birmingham it was onto the X99 to Nottingham, operated by Midland Red using then newish Plaxton Supreme Leyland Leopards. From Nottingham onto the X53 to Sheffield, the service operated by Trent using slightly older ECW Leopards. My next journey would be fraught with potential problems, Sheffield being as far as the National Wanderbus ticket was valid. I wanted to go to Leeds, and the X32 ‘White Rose Express’ service was a tripartite operation between West Riding, Yorkshire Traction, and South Yorkshire PTE. The first one to leave was the SYPTE and I remember not being brave enough to even attempt it, knowing the National Wanderbus ticket was not valid on any municipal operator’s service. I waited an hour for the Yorkshire Traction, and presented my ticket. The driver didn’t even bat an eyelid. Buoyed with confidence, on arrival in Leeds I caught my last bus of the day, a West Riding 168 to Castleford. The driver said he’d never seen that type of ticket before, which in fairness he probably shouldn’t have done, but let me on regardless. A great day’s travel for £1.80 and a journey I repeated several times over the next few years. In fact I remember a book which may have been called ‘Days out by bus’ which had a voucher in the back for a free National Wanderbus ticket. Whether the cost of the book was less than the cost of the ticket, or there was more than one voucher in the book I don’t remember, but whatever it was, it was cheaper to buy the book and throw it away just to get the voucher. I remember buying all 6 in stock at WH Smiths at the time.

    • Sounds like a brilliant trip Simon, thank you for your fascinating account!
      Coming from Crawley Oxford was usually the furthest I could get to in a northbound direction. Getting all the way to Leeds was a real achievement. Joint workings with municipals and PTEs was always a potential problem when presenting the tickets, some would, some wouldn’t.
      I remember the book you refer to, it was by Elizabeth Gundry I believe although it was a voucher for the new Explorer ticket that was enclosed, heralding the demise of the Wanderbus. Like you though, I bought several copies of the book just to get the cheap tickets, once I’d realised that the Explorers would more or less do the same job as the Wanderbus!

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