PETER and ANN FROST find you can still ride trams, trolley buses and other vintage public transport
In the days before car ownership was common the humble tramcars, buses and branch line railways moved thousands of people to and from work.
At weekends these popular public transports took hundreds of hikers, walkers and even campers out of the grimy towns for a taste of the clean air of the countryside.
Today brand new trams are coming back to the streets of British cities. Bendy buses ply the modern streets and railways still run, on mainlines anyway.
Here we discover there are still a few places where you can ride on the magnificent antique and evocative rattlers that are the tramcars, buses and trains of days gone by.
Back in 1952 Ann’s dad took her to ride on what he believed would be London’s last tram. Ann was just six but she can remember it still; the excitement, the crowds and the lights of her evening ride. Those trams had been important to Londoners.
The trams took dad to work, or mum to the shops, or at weekends took them both to London’s countryside. Perhaps they would head for Hampton Court or Hampstead Heath.
In 1952 the London trams were withdrawn, to be replaced by electric trolley buses and eventually the all conquering diesel bus. Londoners like Ann’s dad, if they were alive today, would be surprised to see electric trams back on the streets of parts of London and other British cities.
When in the 1960’s Dr Beeching decimated the smaller branch railways we thought they were gone forever yet today there are hundreds of preserved railways delighting new generations with rides on a real steam train.
Ann and I loved those old trams and buses and the steam trains that took us on our holidays. They gave us both a thirst for the adventure of holiday travel and we still have that thrill today.
Today we do most of our journeying in our motorhome but wherever and whenever we can we seek out a museum or a preserved railway where we can still catch a steam train, an old bus or best of all a tram – they really are transports of delight.
Blackpool is where it all started. The first tramway in Britain opened along the Promenade here in 1885, and was the first electric tramway in the country indeed one of the very first in the world.
Amazingly the first is also the last – the line is now the only remaining ‘traditional’ tramway in UK. It has run almost continuously for 120 years.
Blackpool trams run on a mix of street lines and reserved track along the Promenade. Blackpool has 76 trams including eight historic preserved tramcars.
Trams run along the sea front every 10 minutes in summer and every 20 minutes in the winter. http://www.blackpooltransport.com
Whitby’s Steam Bus Elizabeth
There are lots of great reasons to visit the old fishing and whaling port of Whitby in North Yorkshire. Visit the Abbey high over the harbour, try the best fish and chips in Britain, comb the beach for semi precious jet.
When you are in Whitby there is an amazing way to take a tour around the beauty-spots of the town. Elizabeth is a six wheeled bus dating from 1931, and she is powered by steam and fuelled by coal.
Steam buses were always rare, today Elizabeth is almost certainly unique.
Bradford’s horse trams
Once upon a time the cobbled streets of the mill towns of the west riding of Yorkshire rattled with the clip clop of horse drawn trams. Amazingly in Bradford they still do.
At the town’s wonderful Industrial Museum they have preserved the cobbled streets of a hundred or more years ago. Along those streets you can ride on one of the last working horse trams in the land.
There are many other horse drawn vehicles that give rides around the museum. Coincidently in the museum is Bradford’s and Britain’s last trolley bus to run on public roads. http://www.bradfordmuseums.org
Snowdon Mountain Railway
One of the most unusual railways in Britain climbs up the highest mountain in Wales. Puffing steam engines climb the 3,560 feet to the summit of Snowdon.
The track is so steep that a normal train would slip and slide on the rails particularly in snowy and icy weather. The Snowdon Mountain Railway uses a technique developed in on Swiss mountain railways.
A gear wheel on the locomotive engages with a toothed rack between the rails of the track. The railway dates back to 1896 when the first steam engines arrived from Switzerland.
This year the trains are particularly busy delivering holiday-makers to the new visitors centre at the summit. http://www.snowdonmountainrailway.co.uk
Crich Tramway Village
When you enter the museum at Crich they hand you an old copper penny. No it isn’t anything to do with primitive toilet arrangements here. You use the penny to buy your ticket on you first tram – a ticket that lets you ride all the trams all day.
Trams run to and fro every few minutes as visitors ride over the cobbles of the period street. Then the trams head up the valley to views over the Derbyshire countryside that will take your breath away.
Back in the village visit the Exhibition Hall which brings to life the history of the tram and includes a recreation of the 1905 Tramways Exhibition.
Llandudno’s Great Orme Cable Cars
San Francisco is famous for its cable cars but you don’t need to go to America’s West Coast to experience this unique type of transport.
From a pretty little Edwardian station in the popular seaside resort of Llandudno on the North Wales coast these smart cable cars take visitors up the steep 679 feet (207 metre) climb to the summit of the Great Orme a rugged peninsular that pokes out into the sea.
From the top of the Great Orme on a clear day you can see as far as the Isle of Man, the Lake District, Blackpool and Snowdonia. www.greatormetramway.co.uk
Seaton Tramway operates narrow gauge trams between Seaton, and Colyton in East Devon’s glorious Axe Valley, travelling alongside the River Axe estuary through two nature reserves the open top trams give an unrivalled viewing of the abundant bird life.
Today Seaton Tramway carries over 100,000 visitors a year. New open top trams are still being built. www.tram.co.uk
Carlton Colville’s Trolley buses and Trams
The museum at Carlton Colville is the only place in the British Isles where you can ride on all principal forms of public road transport from the earlier part of the 20th century.
Trams and trolleybuses are the stars of the show but you will also find old buses, cars, vans, lorries even steam-rollers
Whether you take a ride on the trams or experience the silence and comfort of the Trolleybus service, there is a new discovery to be made every minute.
On our last visit we managed a ride on a tram, a trolleybus, a motor bus and a vintage black London taxi. www.eatm.org.uk
Old Bill the bus
It’s hard to believe that many of the men who went off to the trenches of the First World War made the journey by bus.
The open top buses from the streets of London and other large cities were conscripted, given a coat of khaki paint and taken off to the battlefields. The British Tommies had a nickname for everything and the buses some became known as ‘Old Bill’.
That story is told at the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu and you can ride around the museum on an ‘Old Bill’ now returned to its original London livery.
The alternative transport system at the museum is as new as the open top bus is old. It’s a monorail. www.beaulieu.co.uk</
There are hundreds of preserved railways all over Britain but we have picked one of our favourites.
The Ffestiniog railway runs through beautiful countryside along the coast at Porthmadoc and climbs 700 feet over the 13 mile route to the slate quarries of Blaenau Ffestiniog.
Along the way there are loops and tunnels and spectacular views. The two foot gauge trains have an amazing collection of locomotives and carriages some dating back to the early days of the railway in the 1830’s.
This part of North Wales is rich with many other narrow gauge railways and you could spend a full week riding the many trains that serve the holiday towns of the area. http://www.festrail.co.uk
Some other tickets to ride</b
There are a few other places to ride trams and trolley buses. Here are some of the best.
Douglas in the Isle of Man still has horse trams on the streets of the town. www.douglashorsetramway.net
Historic trams run from the Woodside ferry terminal at Birkenhead to the nearby transport museum. www.mtps.co.uk
There are steam trains, trams and horse drawn charabancs at the Beamish Open Air Museum, County Durham. www.beamish.org.uk
The Black Country Open Air Museum at Dudley has trams and an amazing underground boat trip. www.bclm.co.uk
The Biggest Collection of Trolleybuses is at Sandtoft in Yorkshire. The museum has just a few open days when you can ride on the buses. www.sandtoft.org.uk
This article first appeared in Camping and Caravanning Magazine in 2008