REVIEW - A BUSMAN'S HOLIDAY

We put ourselves in the driving seat for a weekend in the Sussex countryside.


Nestled amongst the trees at the end of a small dirt track in East Sussex lies a symbol of man's triumph over adversity; the result of one father's stubborn refusal to swerve from an impossible dream. It is a bus. A big, green, double-decker bus.


Fans of George Clarke's Amazing Spaces will know of Adam, the devoted father of a teenage girl, who dreamed of building a mobile home they could use to disappear to the Cornwall coast every summer to enjoy surfing holidays and lazy evenings by the lapping waves. Only his plans were slightly more ambitious than a classic VW camper van. We watched as he waited in the car park of a McDonald's Xtra service station for the arrival of a dilapidated 1980s West Midlands Metro bus with drab, orange and burgundy markings to chug its way around the corner and into their lives.


He walked television's most chipper architect through his ambitious plans. George gently pointed out the water features that flowed through the windows into puddles on the floor and nodded knowingly as Adam admitted he'd be doing all the work himself. It was the kind of nod that regular viewers of the show know all too well. It says: "This one's heading for a breakdown." Whether he meant the bus or its new owner was anyone's guess.


But Adam would prove triumphant. "The transformation is breathtaking," purred George as he returned to see the bus in all its glory. Rooms - three of them, to be exact - now sat where sulking teenagers once slumped on their way to school. A kitchen replaced the luggage rack. The back seats - once the hallowed ground of the boys from the year above - had become a soft-furnished dining area. There was even a log burner, for Christ's sake.


Thankfully for us, one part of Adam's plan that failed to come to fruition was his desire to take the Big Green Bus on family adventures. Too big, too slow, too cumbersome. But his family's loss was our gain as we visited it in its new home, on a plot of woodland in the rolling fields of East Sussex.


We leave our car at the edge of the plot and cart our belongings a short way down the track to where the bus now rests. A deck has been built around the base of our accomodation, complete with deck chairs and outdoor dining furniture. A log-fired hot tub waits at the end of a short path into the shrubbery and a firepit offers all the fun of camping without having to do any ghastly camping. It's serene, beautiful and bizarre.


We have brought our children with us, and they immediately climb into the driver's seat exactly as a child should. They pull at the steering wheel and ask for our tickets in a joke that will not get old for two whole days.


We use the outdoor shower within the first hour of our visit, not because our journey here has been treacherous and sweaty, but because a horse from the adjacent field saunters over and pokes his head through the fence. It is the first time any of us have showered with a horse.


But it is the early evening when the space really comes alive. The gentle flickering of the festoon lights hanging from the top deck and into the trees make a beautiful backdrop for a dip in the hot tub as the campfire burns, the sun dips behind the trees and we pop the bottle of local sparkling wine Adam has left us in a welcome pack. We could imagine spending hours in the hammock by the flames, if it hadn't become apparent that our children would never sleep in such an exciting new place and the quiet of the surrounding farmland is broken by their screaming at the hilarity of still sitting in the driver's seat.


On our second day, we get to really put the Big Green Bus through its paces. We start with a beautiful, crisp morning, cooking breakfast on the ample indoor kitchen and exploring the woodland collecting pine cones to throw on the fire. And then our camping trip goes... British. The heavens open, wind swirls around the bus, causing it to shake not insignificantly. It is in moments like these that you realise you're staying on a bloody bus.


Remarkably, it becomes cosier in inclement weather. The rain hammers down on the metal roof and it gives us an excuse to light the log burner, which circulates warmth and the homely smell of a real fire throughout the bus. The excitement of being on board means the children are perfectly happy being cooped up for a whole afternoon and even the dash to the hot tub feels more like an adventure than a hardship, though our wine gets watered down at an alarming rate.


We experience the kind of tiredness that only city people can feel when faced with fresh air and silence, and fall asleep in a rocking bus, to the patter of raindrops above our heads.


With our stay over, we pack our car and wave goodbye to Adam and Sally, his dog, to eke out our weekend by a few more hours with a visit to Raystede Animal Welfare. It promised a lot - goats, chickens, chinchillas, parrots - but by the time we arrived they were all sensibly sheltering from yet another incoming storm and left us alone to traipse through a balding of furious ducks as we dashed back to the warmth of the on-site cafe. It's a lovely place, but probably best left for sunny days.


We decide to thaw out in Adam's recommended local pub, The Roebuck in Laughton. It's a beautiful country pub with hearty, British dishes and a wine list you'll want to slowly work your way through for the rest of the afternoon. You'll need to book a table, as it quickly fills up with the kind of locals who are of retirement age, but you suspect were able to draw their pension at 40, such is the wealth of the area. But it's impossibly friendly, and the locals all make an effort to talk to us, completely unprepared for the 30-minute, Big Green Bus diatribe our children are about to unleash on them.


www.biggreenbus.co.uk

The Big `Green Bus, Laughton, East Sussex BN8 6JQ


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