Dave's tour of England . . . on a free buss pass

Back in the mid-1970s, as a reporter on the Star's weekly sister titles, Dave Hadfield would zoom around the Shropshire countryside on his tiny motorcycle, occasionally leaving a liberal coating of leather on the ground as he misjudged the county's winding roads.

Dave's tour of England . . . on a free buss pass

"Once I was so saturated after getting to Whitchurch on my motorbike that the only thing to do in the little one-man office was to strip off and try to dry out my clothes in front of the electric fire while I clattered away on the typewriter," he says recalling that he was convinced he had locked the door.

Route 63: Around England on a Free Bus Pass

"The good news is that the lady with the results from the Women's Institute vegetable and produce show, who proved that I hadn't, is now out of therapy."

Forty years later, the journalist and author finds himself negotiating the county once more, only this time he is using his free bus pass.

Route 63: Around England on a Free Bus Pass chronicle's Dave's adventures after he celebrated his 63rd birthday with a month-long road trip, without paying a penny towards his transport costs.

"My publishers are Yorkshiremen and I can't begin to describe to you just how excited they were about this aspect of the game-plan."

The voyage, which more or less took him on the full circuit around the perimeter of England during the summer of 2014, begins and ends in Dave's home town of Bolton.

Whitchurch is Dave's first port of call in the county, arriving via the Helms of Eastham No 41 service from Chester.

He says one thing that surprised him about Shropshire was how little it had changed.

"Some parts of the country have changed a lot, but a lot of Shropshire was how I remembered it," says Dave.

No-go – Birmingham avoided

"Shrewsbury seems a lot bigger, the area around it seems to have grown, and I went out to Ludlow, that's changed a lot, I found that to be very different.

"I lived in St Georges near Oakengates, in a big rambling house opposite the cricket ground, I don't know whether that is still there now."

One thing that has not changed was the River Severn's propensity to flood around the Shrewsbury area.

"I used to be particularly fond of a floating Thai restaurant, but one year, after unusually heavy rain, I went to its mooring and found nothing," he says.

"There was a chap of vaguely oriental appearance, so I asked him where it was. 'Bewdley', he said. 'Float away'."

In the book Dave tells how his plans were thrown into chaos by the Shrewsbury Carnival, which caused the bus into the town to stop early.

"The procession of floats filled the town centre and blocked off all the routes to the south," he says.

"Somewhere beyond it, but unreachable was the bus for Ludlow."

Dave and his friend Andrew, who had helped organise logistics of the expedition and followed behind in a support vehicle, decided there was only one thing for it – pretend they were part of the procession.

London – Included in book reluctantly

"We must have looked like beaten finalists in the over-60s backpack-carrying event, and drew a smattering of sympathetic applause at a couple of points on the route."

The journey south along the A49 through Church Stretton and Craven Arms brings back memories of town council meetings for Dave.

"The road is at its best when it squeezes between the Long Mynd on the right and Wenlock Edge on the left," he says.

Ludlow, famed for its gastronomy, has carved out a reputation as a "slow town", a concept pioneered in Italy as a reaction to the fast-food culture. However, Dave says this is all very well providing you are not in a hurry.

"Someone might start pulling you a pint of Ludlow Gold, but break off in the middle to have a chat about metaphysics," he says. "It's fine if you're not thirsty." It is in Ludlow that Dave, now working as a sports writer for the Independent, watches England's disappointing defeat to Italy in the opening game of the 2014 World Cup. And it is on this occasion where he makes an unsuccessful attempt to find somewhere that serves less-than-excellent food.

"I think I'm on to a winner when I get a bit peckish whilst watching the latter stages of that ill-fated match in the early hours of the morning," he says.

"The pub where I'm ensconced has a sort of snack bar attached. There, in the pie-warmer is one last, lonely pasty.

"Surely this must be the back-to-basics experience which I crave. But no, it's infuriatingly delicious. It tastes like fillet steak in a red wine jus, with shallots and just a hint of anchovy, all wrapped in delicate pastry that melts in the mouth."

Obstruction – Shrewsbury Carnival cut short bus journey

Following an equally hearty breakfast the next morning, he waits outside the Assembly Rooms for the bus to Hereford. Passing through Richards Castle, he spots a wonky fingerpost sign pointing to Goggin – and makes a mental not to visit the tree-lined valley one day.

Dave's expedition, which takes a month to complete and involves 100 buses, continues through the Cotswolds and along the south coast, before heading northwards along the east of England, and finally heading westwards across the Lake District.

"I tried to go around the edge of England as far as I could," he says.

"The one thing that struck me was how green and empty so much of England is. We keep hearing how crowded we are, but Shropshire is an example of a place that doesn't really have much heavy industry, and you can go a couple of miles without really seeing anything but greenery."

He also says that despite complaints that modern towns and cities look increasingly alike, he found there is still considerable variety in the different landscapes around England, and some delightful pubs.

Dave admits that he tried to avoid the major cities during the tour.

"I always avoid Birmingham like the plague, I always find going through Birmingham quite a stressful experience," he says.

"I was going to avoid London, but my son lives in London, and said to me 'you've got to respect the capital, so I did include London."

Surprisingly, he says London has the most unreliable bus services, but makes up for this by having the friendliest drivers. And in wilds of Norfolk, the buses run like clockwork.

* Route 63: Around England on a Free Bus Pass, published by Scratching Shed, is £13.99.

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