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Thursday, March 4, 2010

Thrill rides

I had quite forgotten, in my many years over in the Colonies, the sheer joy of riding on the 400 from Tenterden to Ashford. If you've never experienced this thrill-a-minute ride, I urge you to put it on your Bucket List. I guarantee you will never yearn for Alton Towers, Six Flags, Universal Studios theme park or Disneyland ever again. That the ride is bumpy is one thing. That the streets are narrow is another. But nothing compares to sitting in a long metal tube on wheels with no seatbelts and edging out into a roundabout whereupon some silly ass decides to shoot out and cut in front of the bus, causing the driver to naturally put his foot on the brake, thereby catapulting the little 3-year-old girl on the back seat with her mum into the aisle and causing the kid to bonk her head on the floor, thereby making her cry all the rest of the way.

There are two wonderful moments on this ride, back and forth.

The first is when you hit Bethersden. Here the bus has to go off the main road (A28) and go round the back way, through the village proper, and stop to pick up and drop off. The stop is by The George Inn, which happens to be across the street from a small village store. Last time I rode the 400, about a month ago, there were delivery vans outside both of these establishments. As the road through the village is narrow, there was only a centimetre or so to spare when the driver squeezed the big double-decker through. Today, there were cars parked on one side of the street and the bus coming back the other way outside The George. Again, a narrow squeak.

The second is at Great Chart.
Many moons ago, as Ashford was becoming more and more built up with the addition of new housing estates in Singleton, it was decided to build a bypass where the road turned at Great Chart so that the great influx of new cars and trucks would not have to go through the tiny village and could enjoy greater space on a dual carriageway. That was all well and good for those people, however, the bus had to still travel through Great Chart so that the townsfolk could catch the bus to Ashford, presumably after spending all day boozing in The Swan. Great Chart is not a terribly long walk from Ashford, but the bus still thunders through there, even though the road is fairly narrow and one side of the street seems to be covered up with parked cars. Another white-knuckle moment.

Don't get me wrong, I love buses. I grew up riding buses. My Dad used to be a bus driver for Maidstone & District, the M&D as it was referred to. Before my Mum got her driver's licence, going for a day out meant a long bus ride to Maidstone or Hastings or Ashford or even Canterbury. Those were great times. Even when I was older, in my teens and early 20's I would still catch the bus to go somewhere rather than learn to drive.  I love the smell of buses, that dirty, diesel smell. It somehow makes me think of those halcyon days of my youth when I had not a care in the world except where the nearest record shop was. (All the young'uns scratching their heads - what's a record shop?). I am a firm believer in public transportation. Always have been. When the buses were privatised I was a bit sad. We lost some of the more rural routes, and all these different companies were suddenly doing the buses rather than the M&D I had become used to. But it's good to know that if I want to sit up on the top deck of a bus and hurtle round a hairpin bend in a narrow country lane, that option will not cost me a plane fare to Florida.


  1. I enjoyed your blog as I was a conductor with the M&D in 1956/7/8 then we left to come and live in N.Z., My parents lived in Tenterden and used to make the trip to Ashford at least once a week.
    In those days before motorway and few bypasses it was often a rocky ride in narrow country lanes, Thanks for the memories, Les Gudgion in NZ.

  2. Kia Ora, Les! Glad I could be of service!


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