If you think you know what a busman’s holiday is, think again.
Four years ago, Steven Roberts set up an expedition club for his employer, Oxford Bus Company, taking his colleagues to Snowdon, Dartmoor and even the Tatras mountain range in Poland.
Now the ex-RAF man has left his job as a bus driver to offer others the chance to explore the great outdoors through his new business, SPR Expeditions. He said: “I spent six years driving buses and it was a really enjoyable job, especially if you like meeting people. I was sorry to leave, but this is something I enjoy and I want other people to experience it.”
He developed his passion for wild places while serving in the RAF and explored the Black Mountains while living in Brecon. He said: “I have spent seven years planning SPR Expeditions and I believe it is something that will grow.”
One of his leaders, Chris Grice, is also a former Oxford bus driver as well as being a former geography teacher.
Mr Grice has helped to draw up detailed booklets that will be given to participants, describing the geology, history and landscape features of each expedition. But while the expedition leaders have experience of the toughest treks in the world, including Everest and Kilimanjaro, SPR will start closer to Mr Roberts’ home in Wallingford, where the company is based.
He believes there is plenty of scope to train people in the skills they will need on longer treks and to increase people’s fitness. He said: “ If people need to learn skills in navigation, we can use the Chilterns. We can build things up gradually so they can manage longer and steeper walks.”
He is encouraging people to become members of SPR Expeditions for £30 a year to qualify for a 20 per cent discount on Oxfordshire walks, 10 per cent on other UK walks.
Later in the year, expeditions will go to the highest mountains in England, Wales and Scotland – Skiddaw, Snowdon and Ben Nevis. Eventually he envisages SPR taking groups overseas to more exotic mountain areas.
He said: “We are all keen to do things for young people. We have detailed information for every expedition and we are putting them out to schools. The expeditions are aimed at people aged 16 and up. It is attractive to teenagers who really want to learn – we have presented it in a very educational way.”
He believes Oxfordshire has potential to become a centre for mountain education and next year hopes to take on an apprentice to train in mountain leadership. Mr Roberts said: “The reason I am setting this up in Oxfordshire and not somewhere like Wales is that I have lived here for six years and I have never seen such a lovely county. I even prefer it to Devon, where I was born. It’s cosmopolitan as well, and I believe a venture like this will stimulate the local economy.”