The de­lights of a slow coach

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TRAVEL & INDULGENCE - ANN REN­NIE

One of my favourite things to do in Eng­land on days not de­fined by vis­its to great houses and gal­leries is to sit on the top deck of a lo­cal bus. The vehicle trun­dles gen­tly down lanes bor­dered by hedgerows or dry-stone walls and si­dles through small sleepy vil­lages with names that seem drawn from a whim­si­cal fairy­tale almanac. Some­times the pace almost slows to a stop be­hind beetling hire cars or on nar­row lanes where cows mooch across the road, ru­mi­nat­ing gen­tly.

One does not gen­er­ally think of the sedate re­tired Bri­tish mid­dle class as be­ing particularly com­pet­i­tive, ex­cept per­haps when it comes to gar­den­ing. But that front row up­stairs above the driver is prized real es­tate.

As the time for de­par­ture from the de­pot nears there is a de­ter­mined shuf­fling in the queue, a jostling for pole po­si­tion, and a stretch­ing of aged legs in readi­ness to dart up­stairs. Such pas­sen­gers come pre­pared with bot­tles of water and lunch and of­ten a part­ner who dares not com­plain. Many are just there for the ride, pleased to see the coun­try­side from a dif­fer­ent an­gle and in rel­a­tive com­fort. Some know ex­actly to the sec­ond what time the bus will stop at the mar­ket cross or, say, The Red Lion pub or out­side the par­ish church. Some greet the driver and ex­change pleas­antries.

From my van­tage point, the land is a patch­work quilt spread out upon a gen­tle un­du­la­tion of hills and downs. A placid sky with a small fur­row of clouds only adds to the charm of this mov­ing pic­ture. I love the small de­lights of see­ing weather vanes, and cats in win­dows, and se­cret gar­dens and views be­yond the trees and steeples.

My daugh­ter and I get to Poole early to make sure we are at the front of the queue for the Juras­sic Coast Ex­plorer. She is afraid I will do the em­bar­rass­ing mum thing and tries to or­gan­ise me into si­lence. She is happy to sit down­stairs as I claim the up­stairs front-win­dow seat.

A cou­ple of kilo­me­tres out of Wey­mouth I see a pranc­ing white horse and rider chalked into the hill­side above the vil­lage of Os­ming­ton. It is of King Ge­orge III, carved in 1808 and re­freshed in 2012 for the Lon­don Olympics so sail­ing events broad­cast from Wey­mouth could use this ar­rest­ing nat­u­ral back­drop. This is a top-deck view only; those on the lower level have no idea of the topo­graph­i­cal de­lights en­graved into the Dorset hin­ter­land.

I can see the long sweep of Ch­e­sil Beach and the 14th cen­tury bar­rel-vaulted chapel of St Cather­ine on top of the hill out­side Ab­bots­bury, a vil­lage famed for its swan­nery, and a scene that could have come straight out of Thomas Hardy’s Wes­sex nov­els.

The bus wends gen­tly through Bur­ton Brad­stock, a pretty vil­lage of thatched roofs, tea­rooms and a self-suf­fi­cient com­pact­ness.

I delight in the names of th­ese quaint ham­lets and larger towns as I take th­ese more leisurely trips across the south­ern coun­ties. Who wouldn’t want to live in the vil­lage of New­ton Pop­ple­ford or Tem­ple Cloud or (hope­fully mur­der-free) Mid­somer Nor­ton where Roald Dahl spent some of his child­hood?

I am dis­ap­pointed when we pass Down­ton, which has no abbey, just a large stor­age cen­tre with the bus stop­ping out­side the garage on the main street. My heart lifts when I spy the spire of Sal­is­bury Cathe­dral in the dis­tance.

As the day mel­lows into even­ing I see the sun strik­ing the hills in a mo­ment of in­can­des­cence. Un­like so many, I am not look­ing at a phone but gaz­ing up, over and be­yond to the hori­zon. I bask in the sim­ple joys of the slow coach.

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