Rural Yorkshire is just one gem for over-60s to explore by bus for free, says STEPHEN McCLARENCE
IAM UP well before dawn.
I need to get to Leeds bus station early to bag a front seat. There's keen competition for them on the Coastliner services that surge out to the Yorkshire coast, bringing a hint of summer holiday to even the bleakest day.
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They're among Britain's most scenic bus routes and one of them, to Scarborough, features in Bus-Pass Britain, an engaging guide book that celebrates journeys which the over-60s can enjoy for free.
The guide packs in plenty of practical advice about its 50 chosen routes, which take from 30 minutes to three hours.
They cover urban London and Birmingham as well as rides through Cornwall, Wales, the Lake District, Northumberland and Scotland.
I'll be test-riding the Scarborough run, and another from the book, but I'm starting my two-day whistle-stop Yorkshire bus tour with a personal favourite: the 840 Coastliner service from Leeds to Whitby. It takes three and a quarter hours, covers 60 miles and climaxes with the North York Moors and some of England's wildest, most inspiring landscapes.
At Leeds bus station I bump into Tony and Margaret Smith. Passes in hand, they're off for a couple of days in Whitby. "We don't have a car. Too much hassle and too expensive," says Tony. "It's a lovely run to Whitby," adds Margaret. Isn't it a bit long, though? "We're both retired, so we're in no rush," she says as the bus pulls in.
A dozen of us, mostly pass-holders, get on. It's a plush, smooth, comfy bus, with a seaside wave crashing gaily along its marine-blue livery.
I bag my front seat on the top deck and we set off through suburban Leeds. The meditative calm is shattered near York when a student gets on and unexpectedly meets an old friend: "OMG! This is well cool!"
He goes into vivid detail about his recent body-piercing. "How cool is that?" yelps the friend. Well cool, I'd say. Behind me, busy with his crossword, Glyn Collinson is on his way to Malton to catch a connection on to Scarborough, where he has a caravan.
He's a Coastliner regular, knows the routes, knows the timetables, knows the toilet stops. When I say I've kept off the coffee this morning because it's such a bladder-challenging journey, he's straight in with reassurance: "You'll have nine minutes in Malton to go to the loo. It's next to the bus stop."
It's grand up here at the front, with a kestrel's-eye view over the hedgerows. Half an hour before Whitby, tweedy moorland gives way to a vast, broad, almost primeval landscape. The sun bursts through the mist and lights up Whitby Abbey, half-a-dozen miles ahead on its cliff. We're on top of a bus that's on top of the world.
As we get off in Whitby we all thank driver William Elliot.
"We have people who travel up here every week," he says. "They go round for a couple of hours, have a cup of tea and fish and chips and then they're off back again."
I'd be happy to stay in Whitby but I have to catch the bus to Scarborough.
Not a Coastliner, but a Seasider. It takes an hour and, as Bus-Pass Britain points out, offers glorious panoramas of Whitby and the great sweep of Robin Hood's Bay. As we near Scarborough, we pass the intriguingly named New And Used Baby Shop.
I'm staying at Crown House@No.20, a stylish B&B with great breakfasts and civilised luxury. "We can chill your wine," says a note to guests. "Just ask." Owner Barbara Firth knows all about bus passes; her parents have them.
"They have a list of places they want to go to and tick them off," she says. "Sometimes they'll say: 'The Leeds bus came before the one we were going to get, so we caught that instead'."
It's early evening and Scarborough looks magical. From the Esplanade, the castle headland rears up and the lights of the town are reflected in the South Bay. It's like Fairyland-on-Sea.
Next morning, I take the Coastliner down to York (as in the guide), through farming country where platoons of gulls line up in the fields to sun themselves. I open a window for a bit of fresh air.
"If there's a draught, that will get shut," snaps Mrs Grumpy (not her real name) across the aisle.
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It's a lovely day with fabulous scenery and the 100-minute journey passes so quickly that I don't even have time to think about toilet stops.
Crown House@No.20 (01723 375 401/crownhousescarborough.co.uk) has doubles from £90 a night (two sharing), B&B. Yorkshire Coastliner (01653 692 556/coastliner.co.uk) offers return bus from Leeds to Scarborough from £13 (Bus Pass holders free; restrictions apply).
Welcome to Yorkshire: 0113 322 3500/yorkshire.com
Bradt Travel Guides (01752 202 301/bradtguides.com) offers Bus-Pass Britain for £11.99 (free P&P within the UK). Quote BPBEXP25.