Out In The Fields…

Prompted by a comment from Debra regarding the limited public transport in Southern California I thought a brief visit to the wilds of North Norfolk to show another side of Public Transport in the UK was in order.

Providing a bus service in sparsely populated areas such as North Norfolk is always going to be difficult as the returns are unlikely to make the service cost effective. Yet a public service of some sort needs to be provided as the population is often elderly and without their own means of transport. Back in the 1980’s the Eastern Counties bus company working with the local council, came up with an innovative solution to the problem – provide a vehicle and let volunteer members of the community drive it to provide the service. Communities were provided with a minibus at a secure location which then operated a set of routes specified by the company on each day of the week with a single journey each way. The unpaid drivers collected the fares which went back to the bus company to cover the fuel and maintenance costs of the vehicle. The company also provided training and medicals for the volunteer drivers.

The scheme was altered in 2001 when the bus was replaced by a Dial-a-Ride service provided by the local council. Still following the same routes, passengers intending to travel now call the day before to book collection from their front door.


A signpost on the outskirts of Briningham with the names of several villages served by the Sharrington Community Bus.

Sharrington Community Bus

The Sharrington Community Bus on its Thursday run to Fakenham for the market in 1993. Having started at Sharrington and passed through Thornage, Brinton and Burgh Stubbs it is seen in Briningham where it will collect passengers waiting on the corner (including me!).


Cottages in the Village of Gunthorpe, the next stop along the route from Briningham.

Volunteer Driver

The Volunteer Driver concentrates on the road ahead as the bus heads for the next village.

Drop Off

A 2008 view of the Dial-a-Ride service in Burgh Stubbs – the driver helps an elderly passenger with her shopping.



  1. A nice relaxed post.. like it…;)

  2. Lovely post. There’s nothing like English public transport. 🙂

  3. It’s funny… I stop by to check out your incredible photographs and later discover I’ve LEARNED all kinds of interesting background / history as well! Talk about the best of both worlds, Martin!

    • Thanks Bob – I try to make the background interesting because many of my images do not stand alone for people without a love of transport. A bit of information brings them to life 🙂

  4. These are interesting pictorials of an interesting phenomenon: people helping one another.
    The US is such a litigious nation that all kinds of obstacles are placed in the way of those who would like to use such models here, beginning with insurance issues, and then proceeding directly to liability. The tiny retirement community in which I’m living has its own tiny model of this, which works — because it’s tiny and doesn’t attract any notice. Sad, but true, commentary.

    • Hi Judith – sadly the Sue, Grabbit and Run mentality is something that we are gradually importing 😦 I’m pleased to hear that you have something similar to this in your retirement community.

      ps, The bus driver is one of my old work colleagues who retired to the area in the 1980’s – I popped out to visit for a few days 🙂

  5. What a wonderful service. You are right – fear of litigation eliminates so many practical solutions to problems like transportation in some countries.

  6. Very civilized approach to the situation, Martin.

    There are similar arrangements in some U.S. communities for transport of the elderly to shopping, doctor’s appointments, etc. Usually a phone call the day before followed by pick up at their door.

    • Pleased to hear of similar schemes in the States Nancy. People who follow my blog might have been getting the impression that the UK has an epedemic of public transport so I thought I’d cover the out of town experience for a change 😉

  7. So nice, Martin. You caught me by surprise! 🙂 Yes, we have similar arrangements, but the biggest difference is that because our cities and many services are spread over such a large geographic area, many of the transportation systems don’t connect. So many times public transportation just doesn’t go far enough to be a practical solution. I think the photos indicate a very positive experience for the seniors and anyone who can make arrangements the day before an appointment. The village of Gunthorpe is lovely! I enjoyed your tour, Martin! 🙂

    • Hi Debra – I’d agree that the large geographic area plays a part in the transport situation within the States. The growth in private car ownership and cheap air travel in competition with privately owned railways in the US seems to have killed off the passenger network (though the rail freight network looks to be very good). The European railways were by the 1950’s stage largely under the control of their national governments – so the passenger services did not suffer the commercial pressures faced by the US railroads. They were seen as essential public services – though a lot of rural routes and few mainlines in the Uk were axed to reduce costs. So, we have a very good core rail network which is complemented by bus services in local areas. There are also lots of long distance coaches – (Not as long distance as your Greyhound Bus of course).

  8. Great photos as usual . The service provided for these areas is a good idea the way it’s organised. I’m sure those who use it really appreciate the service

  9. It’s a great concept. Hats off to those volunteer members. Thanks for sharing something really inspiring here. And not to forget these pictures are really beautiful. For me few of them are even my favorites in your blog till now. 🙂

  10. I love this, Martin, text and pictures both. Dial-a-ride sounds like a very practical way to continue to provide bus services to our villages.

    • Hi Kate – It certainly sems to work. I was given to understand that the driver of the dial-a-ride in the bottom photo is also the local milkman 🙂

  11. Good to see the villages are being kept alive through access to such services. I am always in awe of the days of yore when 4 miles was as good as a world away.

    • Hi Patti – I suspect 4 miles wasn’t too far but certainly 40 miles was a world away. Most people would have walked to their work on the farm. Market day would have meant walking or riding in a wagon to the nearest major town with the goods you wanted to sell.

  12. Janice Ainslie says:

    Just remembering the fun we had with our children on the Sharrington Bus. The photo of the volunteer driver is my father – Denis Moy – now aged 90 and still going strong. Wonder if the bus us still running?

    • HI Janice – I worked with Denis at Lords until he retired.:-) Ken and I used to pop out to stay with Den and Rita regularly until Rita became ill. I must ring Den and say hi (keep getting bogged down with family/work at this end). The bus was replaced by the dial-a-ride service you see in the bottom photo – I am assuming that still operates.

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