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Travel

Cruising by coach

Modern coach tours are light years from old-style outings on rattling 'charabancs'. Coach trip veteran Norman Wright hails a stress-free way to travel Europe and the world

The enjoyment of a coach tour is the same whether you're island-hoping on Scotland's wonderfully scenic west coast, sampling tranquillity in the Black Forest or traversing the Flinders Ranges in South Australia heading for Alice Springs and Kakado.

Holidaying aboard a coach in 2018, wherever in the world, is far removed from the old-style seaside outing on a biscuit-tin bus coughing and spluttering up the hills.

Nowadays you will usually get:

A luxury coach with all mod-cons, costing upwards of £300,000

Plenty of leg-room

Door-to-door pick-up and drop-off via feeder minibuses or taxis

The best view on the road and peace of mind to enjoy it as you cruise above hedge height

On-board toilet and refreshment facilities

Well planned itineraries often with expert commentary

Good-quality accommodation at overnight stops

No worries about driving or travel arrangements – it’s all done for you.

One thing that hasn’t changed is the fact that over a few days there will be plenty of opportunities to get to know your fellow passengers in a relaxed atmosphere with shared experiences.

As Chris Wales, chief executive of the Coach Tourism Association, says: “On a coach holiday you start as strangers and end as friends.”

With a multiplicity of destinations and holiday types, from general tourism to specialist tours such as battlefields or gardens visits, pretty much all you have to do is choose which one.

You’ve probably gathered by now I am a coach holiday enthusiast. I’ve been to all the destinations I mentioned in the introduction and many more besides.

I’m lucky enough to have travelled for a living for the past 25 years or so. I’ve loved cruising on ocean and river, driving trips, long and short-haul holidays and lovely country cottages, hotels or B&Bs, but my coach trips have been up there with the best experiences.

Apart from those seaside jaunts as a boy and some memorable days at the National Cross Country Championships with my Dad (not to run, you understand, just to cheer on the red hooped vests of the Kettering Harriers), my first coach tour was to the bulb fields of Holland, as were the next three trips all within a couple of weeks.

I was editor of Garden News in the mid-Eighties and accompanied four reader holidays to Amsterdam and the Keukenhof Gardens. On the first I took my wife and toddler daughters. The girls had a great time. They found a coachload of new grandparents and spent most of the time being entertained and entertaining in different parts of the coach.

On the other weekends I made many friends and found out what they really thought of the paper – good and bad. It shaped our editorial plans for a couple of years and helped increase the circulation every year.

Bulbs and battlefields

Bulb field trips are still very popular coach tours now. The colour of the growing fields and the superb gardens at Keukenhof, combined with an Amsterdam canal trip, perhaps a stop at the lovely town of Delft and Bruges on the way back to the Channel crossing, is something to savour.

Near-Europe destinations make for excellent touring. We have taken one to Luxembourg, to Liege and Cologne for the Christmas Markets, to Champagne and Alsace, to the lower Rhine and Moselle valleys. All of them without airport hassle and with a spot of sea air on the Channel hop.

Specialist tours to the battlefields of the Western Front are particularly poignant this year, the centenary of the end of the First World War. Next year the focus will be on Normandy, Holland and Italy with the 75th anniversary of D-Day, Arnhem and the battle of Monte Cassino, as well as assorted military campaigns such as the Battle of the Bulge in the Ardennes.

The UK’s luxury coaches will also be spreading further afield in Europe to the Italian Lakes, Provence, the Black Forest, the Austrian and Swiss Alps and many other destinations.

Taking the long haul…

Long-haul coach touring has all the same advantages once you have taken the flight.

We took an APT tour from Sydney to Adelaide and then up into the outback of the Red Centre, calling at Ayers Rock (Uluru), Kings Canyon and Alice Springs on our way to Kakadu and Darwin in the tropical north of Australia.

This was an epic journey and involved long drives through barren lands while we looked out for kangaroos and wild camels between the visits on the itinerary. Coach companies, however, are experts at making those journeys seem short, with information, videos and entertainment from both driver and tour manager. One coffee break we took near the Woomera rocket range proudly announced its filling station name followed by ‘Population: 34 souls; 25 million flies!’…

The USA and Canada offer rich pickings for coach tours, too. Music of the Deep South based on Memphis and Nashville with visits to Elvis’s Graceland and his birthplace in Tupelo Mississippi are essentials, but also visit the Lorraine Motel Civil Rights Museum: it was where Martin Luther King was assassinated 50 years ago in April when it was just a motel.

A couple of years ago when we were doing a drive tour of Detroit and Michigan we met a group of British travellers taking in Motown Records, the Henry Ford Museum and touring upstate Michigan like us.

It was the same driving Highway One in California and the Gone With The Wind tour in Atlanta, Georgia. It’s great when you’re driving but better by coach.

Britain and Ireland revisited

If you want to see the parts of Britain and Ireland you haven’t been to for a long time, there will be a coach tour to suit you.

My absolute favourite was the west coast of Scotland exploring the Inner Hebrides courtesy of the famous Caledonian MacBrayne ferries. Iona, just off the west coast of Mull, was so beautiful it was unforgettable. From there you can take a boat trip to Fingal’s Cave, inspiration for Felix Mendelssohn’s orchestral masterpiece.

Try Wiltshire with a visit to STEAM, Swindon’s railway museum, Salisbury Cathedral, the Roman ruins of Old Sarum, Stonehenge and then on to the lovely old town of Bradford-on-Avon and nearby Longleat.

If you would like to take to the sea but still stay at home, the Isle of Wight is an established coach tour destination. Northern Ireland gets you a bit longer at sea. Belfast is a vibrant and interesting city and the coastal route up to Giant’s Causeway and on to Londonderry is very pretty. The Irish Republic is just as accessible.

Really there’s an inexhaustible choice, not to mention the many day trips to beauty spots, concerts, theatre shows and events.

What do you think of this? Have you been on a coach tour? 

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