All aboard the UK’s rarest bus service

The 113 bus from Tavistock to Dawlish in Devon takes passengers on a scenic route through Dartmoor, and runs just three times a year

Dartmoor between Princetown and Ashburton. Photograph: Alamy

If you’re planning on catching the 09.05 bus from Tavistock to Dawlish this Saturday (31 August), it might be a good idea to get to the stop in plenty of time – if you miss it, it’s a seven-month wait for the next one.

In a piece of scheduling that looks at first glance to have come straight from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, the Tavistock Country Bus company’s 113 service runs only on the fifth Saturday of the month and only once in each direction, and only from March to October.

However, there is a method in the apparent madness. The bus company – which started in 1981 and is staffed entirely by volunteers – is responsible for local services in Tavistock during the week, but on Saturdays between March and October it becomes much more ambitious, with Exeter, Plymouth, Torquay and even distant Truro in its sights. A service to each of these destinations is scheduled on one of the four Saturdays of every month, leaving poor Dawlish the rather less coveted fifth-Saturday slot. “‘It’s not as popular as the other four places we run to,” explains company chairman and sometime driver Douglas Humphrey.

Unsurprisingly, this coming Saturday will see the Tavistock to Dawlish bus run for only the third time this year. It’s a pity that it’s such a rare event because the route the doughty 113 takes puts it firmly in the pantheon of great British bus journeys.

From the ancient stannary (tin mining) town of Tavistock, with its fine buildings of green stone (much of it filched from the abbey when it was dissolved by Henry VIII), the bus hauls itself up on to Dartmoor. It takes in Princetown – home of the infamous Dartmoor prison and the tasty Jail Ale – and Ashburton, old enough to be in the Domesday Book but progressive enough to be the first town in Britain to elect an Official Monster Raving Loony Party councillor. Here the bus dips off the moor to visit the attractive market town of Newton Abbot, before hitting the coast by way of Teignmouth.

After two hours of pootling around some of Devon’s most eye-catching scenery, the 113 arrives in Dawlish (not to be confused with nearby Dawlish Warren) at just after 11am. The lone bus back leaves at 4.30pm, allowing passengers a leisurely five hours or so to enjoy the seaside town’s sandy beaches, tea rooms and famous black swans.

In June, when Douglas last drove this route, eight people got on at Tavistock – “though only two went all the way to Dawlish”. With the weather set fair for this weekend, there’s every chance that this total could be beaten. Which is another reason why you might want to get to the bus stop early – the 113 has only 16 seats and no standing places, and it would be an unhappy event indeed if you were the 17th in the queue …

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