Coastal holiday coach services on the A11 in Suffolk
Deregulation of coach services and excursions in 1980 gave many companies the opportunity to try their hand at providing fresh alternatives to the almost 50 year old licencing regime.

Among these ventures were a number of summer Saturday coastal holiday services to the popular holiday destinations on the Norfolk and Suffolk coast.

Many of these would take a refreshment/toilet stop around Red Lodge and Barton Mills on the A11 in West Suffolk as this area was rather conveniently about halfway from London and the West Midlands to Great Yarmouth. Many private hire coaches would stop for a break in the area also.

Over the past thirty odd years I have taken photographs of some of the coaches and I have an album which may be seen here which also includes the odd timetable:

The services:

Taylors of Meppershall, Bedfordshire: Services to the Great Yarmouth/Lowestoft resorts and to Sheringham/Cromer from an array of pick-up points in their native area including Bedford, Biggleswade, Henlow, Hitchin, Letchworth, Baldock etc

York Brothers of Cogenhoe, Northamptonshire: Great Yarmouth area resorts from Milton Keynes, Daventry, Northampton, Wellingborough, Rushden, Kettering, Corby etc

L F Bowen of Birmingham: Bowen’s service was quite popular and duplicates from a range of other companies were regularly seen including Leon’s of Stafford, Sealandair of West Bromwich, Lichfield City Coaches etc.

Harry Shaw Travel of Bedworth/Coventry: I never got any timetables for their service but did see coaches bound for Great Yarmouth which would have originated from the Coventry area. They sometimes had duplicates covered by Wainfleet Coaches of Nuneaton.

The old established express coach services of the Eastern Counties Omnibus Company between London and Norwich/North Norfolk etc called at the Suffolk Punch for many years. These subsequently became part of National Express and gradually with road improvements, the speeding up of services and the on board facilities of ‘Rapide’ coaches they ceased to make refreshment stops.

There were two summer Saturday holiday services under the National Express brand that called at what became Sanara Services. Services 102 (Luton to Sheringham) and 103 (Hatfield to Great Yarmouth) shared a common route and timings between Baldock and Norwich. United Counties provided the coaches initially although service 103 was later covered by London Country North East usually with a Green Line coach. I think Luton and District later became the operator of service 102.

I always looked out for the rather nice blue vehicles of Central Coaches, the coach operating subsidiary of the West Midland PTE. Central ran to Great Yarmouth and Caister from the towns around Wolverhampton, Birmingham and Coventry however they never seemed to make a stop at either Red Lodge or Barton Mills. They just drove straight through. Travelling from a little further inland and starting out slightly earlier than the others I assume they took a break somewhere along what became the A14 between Huntingdon and Girton. Usually the service was operated by a Bova Futura but sometimes a Metroliner double deck coach appeared!

The hostelries:

Red Lodge, more often defined as ‘Freckenham Red Lodge’ in the past, had a number of different catering establishments set along Turnpike Road that was once the main A11. One of the most popular for coaches was the Suffolk Punch restaurant/café that later became known as Sanara Services. Directly across the road was the Road House Café built where the Doctor’s Surgery now is. The Red Lodge Inn and neighbouring Red Lodge café are the only two caterers remaining today in the now by-passed community. Close to these was the Happy Eater, a family friendly restaurant chain of the more modern day variety, although its presence was only for a few years compared to the others.

(Happy Eater was a chain set up by former Trust House Forte managers in 1972. THF bought Happy Eater in 1986 and some of the then managers went on to form AJ’s of which more anon. THF was bought by Granada in 1995 and all the Happy Eater sites were rebranded Little Chef. Granada later bought the company that owned AJ’s and these sites also became branded as Little Chef)

About 3.5 miles to the east of Red Lodge is Barton Mills, famous for the notorious Fiveways roundabout where the A11 and A1101 cross and are met by the A1065. Until the time of the A11 road improvements and the by-passing of Red Lodge in the 1980s, Barton Mills was secondary to Red Lodge for available facilities although it was Barton Mills that had served coach travellers from a much earlier era. The Bull Inn dates from the 16th/17th century and was a staging point on the mail coach routes. The Bull still trades today but the smaller Dog and Partridge that stood just a short distance away and used by a small number of 1980s coaches closed some years ago. Today though Walker’s Snack Bar at the Barton Mills picnic site on the A1065 remains popular with coaches.

On the roundabout itself there is a Little Chef although this has never really handled much coaching traffic and a new Shell/MacDonalds service area which is very close to Walker’s. I suspect this new site will not really become as popular with the coaching trade as Walker’s.

One roadside establishment at Barton Mills popular in the past was AJ’s Family Restaurant. As mentioned above AJ’s disappeared into the Little Chef empire and then finally closed although the premises survive as the ‘Pancake and Waffle Shack’. During the AJ’s era it became the regular calling point for York Bros from the Northampton area plus Bowen Travel and Harry Shaw Travel from the Midlands. The property was on the eastbound side of the dual carriageway. On the afternoon return trips when the coaches were returning westbound they at first travelled past the site turning round and returning eastbound to make a call. After the break they travelled the short distance eastbound back to Fiveways in order to return to the westbound carriageway.