Dookes H.Q. is situated on the edge of Bodmin Moor, an area of high granite moorland covering 80 square miles of North East Cornwall.
There’s only one slight problem, it’s a bit remote. Not exactly “Off Grid” to use a trendy term, but certainly a bit rural, we call it “Out in The Sticks.” Most of the time this isn’t a problem, but occasionally it can be a bit awkward, like today; I had booked my car into the local garage, eight miles away, for a service and Mrs Dookes was working 60 miles away at the other end of the county. Not good planning.
Let me be very clear, I love where we live and I’m not moaning!
I had three options:
1. Borrow a “Courtesy” car from the garage.
2. Book a taxi.
3. Catch the bus.
One thing about living in a rural area like ours is that you can easily slip into a sort of “bubble” existence and traveling everywhere by car only heightens that feeling of isolation; you look out at the world rather than being part of it. Another issue is that us rural dwellers often moan about the lack of services that townsfolk enjoy, like Post Offices and Public Transport. Often though the problem lies in us not using what is provided, the old “Use it or Loose it” conundrum!
Having spent a career running public transport services, on rails, I hang my head in shame to say that in sixteen years of living at Dookes H.Q. I’d never used our local bus. This is a service that is viewed by the good members of Cornwall Council to be of sufficient social necessity to warrant it being subsidised.
So with all things considered, I took the decision that today I would ride the bus!
With three spaniels barking to greet the dawn and eager for their breakfast, most days at Dookes H.Q. start pretty early. It really wasn’t any hardship therefore to drop my car off at the garage just after eight o’clock, which was great as I had time for a leisurely double espresso and perusal of the newspaper before catching the bus outside a local supermarket just after nine.
I found the bus waiting at the pick-up point, it’s engine running and the driver busily mopping the floor. The previous trip had been collecting up school children from the surrounding areas and their muddy shoes left evidence of the rural nature of the catchment area.
This morning I was the only person joining the bus at the start of it’s journey.
It turned out that my jolly driver, Julian, was originally from Romania. I more friendly person you couldn’t wish to meet. He explained that he was an economic migrant looking for better opportunities for his family, his wife was a school teacher and they had two children – I found all that out before we had even got moving, it was a glimpse into life on the little bus!
We looped around town to our next pick-up stop; road-works with temporary traffic lights played havoc with Julian’s schedule, but he kept smiling.
“Try driving in Bucharest,” he grinned at me, “A million times worse than this!”
I don’t doubt it.
The three of us happily chatted the miles away, as the morning sun rose higher in the blue winter sky. As the route looped around a number of villages it drove home to me just how many widely splintered communities this little bus served. Small numbers of people joined as the bus made sporadic stops, sometimes in villages, sometimes at scattered farms. The atmosphere on board was like a friendly club; everyone knew each other. Well except for me, I was like the new boy in school and came under friendly scrutiny; this was quite a microcosm of the local society!
Sadly my destination point hove into view and Julian slowed the bus to a halt for me to disembark, where had the last hour gone?
I waved farewell to my travelling companions and set off to walk the two miles to Dookes H.Q. where the first Snowdrops are now in bloom, perhaps Spring is just around the corner.
On such a lovely morning it was a joy to meander back to home along the lanes, it gave me time to ponder the service that such buses provide to rural communities.
With the exception of myself and one other chap, everyone else riding this morning was a senior and therefore in receipt of free bus travel. It was clear to see that this little bus not only provided a vital lifeline to the communities that it served, but it enabled people to access amenities that otherwise may be beyond their ability to travel to; it provides a real social need. In addition one little bus this morning kept a dozen cars off the road and that’s good for the environment as well, everyone wins!
The thing is though, these services are audited for the number of people riding and if those numbers fall to far, there is a real risk that the route will be cut or at least severely reduced.
I made a promise to myself to go ride the little bus again and get others to do so too.
“Use it or Loose it!”
Catch you soon.