When Jo Kibble, a 39-year-old civil servant from Greenwich, set out to travel as far as he could from London in one day only using public bus routes it was supposed to be a personal project. But he ended up sparking a Twitter storm, causing a debate about how to build a fairer country along the way.
“I like travelling by public transport and by bus; I think it’s a great way to see the country,” Mr Kibble explains.
Mr Kibble figured the furthest he could get in one day would be Morecambe in Lancashire – some 260 miles from Charing Cross, the geographical centre of London.
I’m sure that many of you, like me, really enjoyed The
Political Travelling Animal‘s Twitter adventure up the country, last week. If you missed it (and you should really go read it if you did): Jo decided to see how far he could get from London within 24 hours via local bus routes only, and live-tweeted the entire experience for the world to enjoy too. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I particularly enjoyed that fact that he gave a nod to Preston’s unusual and iconic bus station.
Reading it, though, I found myself reminded of a time, long ago, that I planned (although never took) a similar journey. In 1999 I moved away from my family in Preston to Aberystwyth to go to university.
Before he became a bus my father was a bus industry professional and at a rest stop during the journey to Aberystwyth as he dropped me off, he and I perused the (paper) timetables to explore a hypothesis that the pair of us had come up with.
Our question: Is it possible to travel from Aberystwyth to Preston, in a single day, using local bus routes only?
After much consideration, we determined that yes, it was possible, but better than that: it was possible to do so (at the time) entirely on Arriva buses. This presented an unexploited opportunity: for the price of an “all day” Arriva ticket (£2.20, IIRC), an enterprising and poor student could, in a pinch, find their way back from Aberystwyth to Preston over the course of about 16 hours for only a fraction more than the price of a pint of beer.
This was utterly academic: in the years that followed, I would almost invariably leave Aberystwyth by train. Sometimes I’d do this to go to London: a route for which, I discovered, I could catch the 6am train, hide aboard it as it was vacated at its Birmingham New Street terminus and take a nap, safe in the knowledge that the same rolling stock would subsequently become a train to London Euston! Other times I’d return to Preston; a journey for which not even floods could stop me.
But regardless, for my first full term at university I kept on the corner of the desk in my study room the sum of £2.20, as an “insurance policy”. No matter what happened in this new phase of my life, that small pile of coins could, at a stretch, get me back “home”.
By Christmas 1999 I’d re-purposed the coins to do my laundry (the washing machines in the halls’ laundrette took pound coins and the dryers 20p pieces, so this was a far more-valuable use of spare change in those denominations). By this point I’d settled in and had become confident that Aberystwyth was likely to be my home almost year-around, and indeed I’d go on to live there another decade before saying goodbye for Oxfordshire.
But we answered the question, at least in theory: a hypothetical but symbolic question about the versatility and utility of an interconnected network of local bus routes. And that’s just great.