7 places you wouldn’t expect to find a Routemaster (but will)

The Routemaster bus has been a staple on London’s roads for over 50 years. But when the last was phased out in 2005, excluding the heritage service which bite dust during containment – many had lived strange and wonderful lives all over the world, usually like anything but a bus. Here are a handful of places you would be shocked to stumble upon a Routemaster.

1. Squamish, Canada

And there, you thought that London public transport did not have meals on board.

For most companies that buy buses, it is the culmination of a carefully planned strategy. For Kyla, one of the co-owners of the Vancouver vegan restaurant Full buddha, it’s because she had dreamed of being transformed into a food truck. She found one a few hours away – Canada is curiously full of Routemasters – and made her dream come true. The Buddha Full bus (looks “beautiful” when you say it with a Canadian accent) serves plant-based fuel to skiers in the winter and mountain bikers in the summer in Squamish, BC.

2. Ghost village in Wiltshire

a fleet of red routemasters crossing the Wiltshire countryside
You expect us to make a “you’re waiting for a bus …” joke, right.

The notion of Imberbus rather needs a lot of backstory. The once peaceful and bucolic village of Imber on the Salisbury Plains, was requisitioned by the army during World War II, so that the Americans could train there before D-Day. At the end of the conflict, the inhabitants wanted to return home, but the Defense Ministry wanted to keep the land. The government won a high-profile lawsuit, but the ruling made it clear that civilians should be allowed access for a few days a year.

Decades later, a few transport professionals were in the pub, discussing the strangest place to operate a bus service. “… A place where you can’t normally go and where no one lives,” said Sir Peter Hendy, now president of Network Rail. This is how they settled on Imber. So, one weekend a year at the end of August, the Routemasters transport a mix of bus enthusiasts and history buffs around the uninhabited city.

3. The Russian circus

There is a romantic trope where people leave their dead end town and run away to join the circus, hopping into an open boxcar. But in Russia, you can ride on the open rear platform of the Circus Routemaster. RM23 is useless during the show – we doubt it will even fit under a marquee. Instead, his main role seems to be that of herald of the circus, drawing eyes to the arrival of the runaways in each new town.

4. German McDonald’s

a red routemaster with the mcdonald's brand everywhere
We’ll have a double (decker) cheeseburger please.

Gaming buses were all the rage in the UK. Many Routemasters have found second lives as activity pens for children’s birthdays, although their popularity has since waned (I blame Kidzania). However, they are still strong abroad – a McDonald’s franchise in Germany and Austria has six. On board, there is a dining area for the little ones to savor their Happy Meals, and a slide from the upper deck to a ball pool below. The best known is in Kolbermoor, which is often photographed by tourists surprised because its place of residence is visible from the route taken by coaches to and from Munich.

5. Stockholm

Partybussar in Sweden, also organizes birthday parties, but these are rather less PG. It is a very popular place for graduation parties and bachelor parties. These two events have one thing in common: drinking – and people won’t settle for a simple innocent drink. I think the bus saw more spilled drinks than any other Routemaster in the world, especially considering the upstairs dance floor of the vehicle where guests can swing from side to side while being transported between the party and the club.

6. Sri Lanka

British buses have a long history in Sri Lanka, as London often sent its used vehicles as part of development packages. It is believed that 1,500 buses made the trip, including 41 Routemasters. Most of these buses are long gone – their carcasses can be spotted in regional depots, one of which has been turned into a cricket scoreboard. However, one of them still survives in a town called Kandy, providing service to the Royal Botanic Gardens. The bus doesn’t look healthier, but like the proverbial turtle, it never stops.

7. Bermuda

Next stop: Greenford. ETA: four months. Image: Darkroom Daze on Flickr.

Everyone knows planes and ships mysteriously disappear in the Bermuda Triangle, but what about a Routemaster? Okay, this one hasn’t gone away, but it’s certainly not the place you’d expect to find a Routemaster with its shades set to “Greenford, Red Lion” – a pub in Ealing. Like many Global Routemasters, this bus markets tours for visitors, but with a difference. You see, you don’t see the island from the bus, but from a Segway: it is only the (air-conditioned) head office of the tour operator.

This is just a taste of the unusual afterlife of Routemasters. Find out more in Routemasters of the Universe, published by Safe Haven Books at £ 12.99, available now.

In addition, Harry gives a book conference at Stanfords on November 30, where he will dive even further into the world of Routemasters. Tickets cost £ 5 and include a free glass of wine.

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