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The Big Bus Trip    

Travel guides founder Hilary Bradt puts the new England-wide free bus pass to the test on a coast-to-coast tour using only local buses. At 10.20 this morning, my companion and I will take the first bus on what we expect to be a week-long journey from Land's End to Lowestoft - the most westerly to the most easterly point in England - without spending a penny on transport. The government's new National Bus Pass for the over 60s is a wonderful opportunity for those with the time to travel slowly to do just that, pottering around the country lanes, going to places off the beaten track, and exposing themselves to serendipity.

In the lead-up to April 1, the media seems to have been determined to winkle out the negatives of this plan. Bus Passes Fiasco! shouted one local newspaper, complete with photo of an outraged pensioner whose bus pass hasn't arrived yet. They're valid until May 29 2011, so I don't see the problem. And, yes, you can only travel after 9.30am, but can continue until 11pm, which should be enough for anyone. But you can't pop into Scotland or Wales - the pass is only for travel in England.

One advantage of free transport is that we can indulge ourselves in other ways. So, each day my companion and I plan to do something special, whether it's spending a night in a comfortable hotel or a spot of sightseeing. Our route is giving us a night's stop in Bodmin, Taunton, Glastonbury, Avebury, Aylesbury, Stevenage (well, maybe even that town will yield its secrets!), Bury St Edmunds and Lowestoft. The AA route-finder gives the distance by car as 435 miles, but I reckon we may end up doing almost twice that distance, given the vagaries of bus routes. And all without increasing our carbon footprint. Or our stress levels.

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