Oh what transports of delight for Norfolk’s bus bloggers
Tucked away in a quiet corner of West Norfolk is Gerard Fletcher – a man determined to make sure that the joys of a very particular bus service are shared with the wider world.
Just the one bus service, albeit probably the longest single route in the country, features on his blog which pulls in hundreds of readers a week.
For this die-hard group of enthusiasts there is nothing quite like a bus, and not just any bus – but the white and pink-liveried X1 variety.
Plying its trade from Lowestoft to Peterborough, the route has its own group of fans who keep a running update on the world of 'The Beast' and the goings-on along the 120 miles of X1 country.
Obsessive can be a harsh word, but the blog's founder readily admits he is, particularly when it comes to the buses he watches from his office window on a daily basis.
Although he's not regularly found on an X1, Gerard Fletcher, of Walpole St Peter, has an encyclopedic knowledge of the 19 buses which carry hundreds of passengers a week and his enthusiasm shines through on the blog which has 500 readers a week.
The X1 is hard to miss if you are driving on the A47. The buses head to the various pick-up points in Great Yarmouth, Norwich, King's Lynn and Wisbech. It is run by First East England Buses and provides a link between the major centres for both shopping and employment.
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The X1 also provides a wealth of material for the transport fan who used to be a regular visitor to inspector's office at Lynn bus station when he was a schoolboy in the 1970s.
It was about five years ago that 53-year-old Mr Fletcher's interest in all things bus was rekindled when he noticed a high number on his way to work at an opticians in Wisbech. Unbeknown to him, the X94 service from Yarmouth to Peterborough had stepped-up to every 30 minutes, renumbered to become the X1 and expanded to Lowestoft.
'My interest first became obsessive in November 2005, two months after the commencement of the X1 when I spent an entire day monitoring how many vehicles were used. The answer was 18 and over the years this has peaked to 21 and on weekdays is currently 19,' he said.
Fortunately he has a very understanding boss who doesn't worry that Mr Fletcher is often seen staring out of the window – just to check the X1.
'I have been there for 35 years and I think they have got used to me,' he said.
Initially the blog was set up in the summer of 2008 for the introduction of the 17 new Gemini double-deckers. These arrived in November that year and he decided to call it a day.
'That didn't go down very well with my loyal band of readers and contributors, so I was persuaded to carry on until the few remaining coaches were eliminated from the X1. That still hasn't happened and an odd single-decker vehicle still appears, one of which is affectionately known as 'The Beast'.'
'It has never been my intention to spy on the drivers; in fact, the opposite is the case and we are a sort of fan club,' he said.
The company does not appear to be in the least upset that its service comes under such close scrutiny by those who use it.
'Our commercial team is aware of the X1 blog, and we make note of all comments that may help us to improve our services. We think the blog is an excellent example of how modern technology can be used in a positive way to monitor local services,' said a company spokesman.
Mr Fletcher met a former bus driver on another internet forum and discovered Bruce Billingham, 63, had also been monitoring events on the X1 and his house is, helpfully, on the route at Walpole Highway. Now the two of them ensure the blog is up to date – along with contributions from passengers and other fans.
Mr Billingham, who was once a bus driver, even has two Leyland Nationals in his garden. 'I had been watching the X1 route as well, then I met Gerard and if he misses one going into or coming out of Wisbech then I pick it up here,' he said.
Both men are in no doubt that the X1 service is incredible – the odd hiccup notwithstanding.
Mr Fletcher said: 'For the distance it covers and the number of places it picks up, it's amazing really. We are definitely fans.'