Great British Bus Journeys, by David McKie

Bus trips down unmemorable lanes reveal some unlikely delights
Click to follow
The Independent Culture

Such stuff makes David McKie's mesmerising book. Here are 24 journeys around "not very special places that do not often get written about". In this un-epic journey, McKie rides from one end of Britain to the other, from Glasgow to Cornwall's hamlets - where he traces St Brychan and his 24 children, all of whom became saints (including "St Wimp").

McKie's technique is digressive and anecdotal: the bus route's circuitous sweep takes in an unexpected panorama of British life and history. Here are the overlooked, the unfashionable, the forgotten, and the strange music of such place names as Ashby-by-Partney, Claxford St Andrew, Tumby Woodside and Yaddlethorpe.

The outlaw French poet Paul Verlaine is here (he abandoned his excesses with Rimbaud to be a schoolmaster in Stickney, Lincolnshire), as is Attila the Hun, invader of Hunstanton. There is a fetching nostalgia for the old high streets of fishmongers and butchers, for local trades and their impertinent radical politics.

This is a sociable social history. The trips are punctuated by cups of tea and the conversations and camaraderie of travellers, usually schoolchildren or the elderly, for whom the bus is a social nexus. Buses bring a sense of unity to villages, towns, counties, and ultimately to a country justifiably proud of its lack of a cohesive identity.

Great British Bus Journeys is restless and aimless, a travelogue driven by an eagerness for the next diversion. The most remarkable thing I learnt from this delightful gallimaufry was that Nottingham Forest football club, formed in 1865, decided to play in red to honour the architect of Italian unification, General Garibaldi. He had visited England in 1864, and the team resolved to play with their hero's dashing spirit. Their strip came from a local outfitters called Daft's.

Nick Groom's The Union Jack is published next month