Where’s the best British city to survive the apocalypse?

Oh, yay. Image: Getty.

Times are tough in the world of international relations. Kim Jong-un rubs his hands and markets tremble as President Trump’s diminutive digits hover, wotsit like, over the nuclear button.

Citymetric has already explored how nuclear bombardment could affect Earth’s major cities and those most likely to witness nuclear war. But where is the best place to be in the event of annihilation? Not merely when the bombs are dropping – but in the dreadful aftermath as politics collapses, agriculture withers and society disintegrates.

Picture the scene. Perhaps North Korea has decided to use the UK as a test case. Perhaps Donald Trump has a particularly acrimonious falling out with Sadiq Khan and unleashes hell. Whatever the reason, armageddon has arrived and Britain is the theatre.

Ostensibly, all hope is lost. But keep this handy guide in your bookmarks folder in the event of calamity. It might just give you the edge when the end times ensue.

Detonation

The discerning househunter knows that swerving catastrophe comes at a price. Once a bonus, a home combining cost efficiency and minimal likelihood of evisceration is now a necessity.

eMoov’s map of home buying options outside nuclear impact zones offers some handy insights. Unfortunately, nearly everywhere south of Scotland is out of action by their reckoning. Exeter and Truro escape the Plymouth radiation zone on a good day. Carlisle and Lancaster deserve honourable mentions, but are uncomfortably close to Newcastle and Manchester’s respective obliterations.

The really savvy apocalypse avoiders should get out of England entirely and head to Inverness. It’s cheap, has a lovely castle and even a prison for locking up the inevitable looters. If there is a better place to be as the missiles are dropping, I can’t think of it.

Detonation + 1 hour

But what if a missile goes astray? In the immediate moments following meltdown, nowhere is truly safe – an action plan is required.

WMDs carry with them the risk of radiation poisoning. But experts say it’s better to risk a little exposure while finding sanctuary than remain somewhere flimsy for the long haul.

Nuclear shelters, both mothballed and functioning, are dotted around the country. Although reserved for use by military personnel, let us assume that, if cities were being burned off the map, this conventionally miserly bunch would extend the hand of hospitality to the rest of us.

The main contenders are Bath and London. The latter is an obvious one – with bunkers available in the centre (such as the Pindar military citadel beneath Whitehall) as well as more peripheral areas (see Horsham’s Central Government War Headquarters), there are refuge opportunities aplenty.

The former is a bit riskier, but swashbuckling survivors are well rewarded. Civil Defence Today lists Basil Hill Barracks and the “infamous Corsham Computer Centre” as viable options. It’s also home to the now defunct Burlington Bunker (very much the Rolls Royce of wartime getaways in its day).

York’s Cold War Bunker has been out of action for some time but may still work in a pinch, as would Birmingham and Manchester’s telephone exchanges. But Bath and London’s combination of quality and quantity make them ideal destinations for dusting off the radiation and hunkering down for the collapse of civilisation.

Detonation +1 week

Congratulations! You have survived for a whole week.

But you aren’t out of the woods yet. Perhaps you’ve run out of socks, or need a shower, or have already eaten your granny and are on the prowl for something meatier. It’s not ideal, but if a mad dash for supplies is the only option then you need to know where to go.

London’s density of supermarkets makes it a strong choice – but its dense population means a higher attendant likelihood of violence breaking out. The apocalypse, I imagine, will be stressful enough without having to fight over a sausage roll with famished irradiated Cockneys.

You might more profitably consider Edinburgh: it has the highest number of Sainsbury’s and Tesco local stores per capita of any city in Britain, according to the Scottish Green party. Retail consultant CACI also touts Canterbury as one of the UK’s most over-serviced supermarket cities, with over 1m square feet of supermarket space in the Canterbury postcode alone.

So where are the main contenders at this early stage? Nowhere is perfect. Peripheral cities are unlikely targets but ill-equipped to deal with a possible onslaught. Core cities are often built with annihilation in mind precisely because their inhabitants are at the greatest immediate risk.

The real test comes when the dust settles and people emerge from their bunkers to rebuild society – or contend with its collapse.


Detonation +1 year

Now we’re firmly in the realm of science fiction, there are multiple schools of thought on what to do and where to go when you’re one of the few hardy remnants of humanity.

Perhaps you should get as far away from the main disaster zones as possible. Assuming the UK’s most populous cities are the top candidates for dissolving into widespread looting and pillaging, the appeal of somewhere like Inverness is enhanced significantly.

Or maybe the opposite is more plausible. Concerted efforts to restore order are more likely to get going in the nation’s capital before anywhere else.

One compromise I came up with was to head for somewhere reasonably agricultural and therefore self-sustaining. London, Bath and Edinburgh, home to some of the country’s biggest urban farms, all boost their cases in this respect. But, with nuclear winter setting in, a more radical solution is required. Tinned goods are the way to go.

Wigan is home to Heinz’s biggest UK factory, producing over 1bn tins a year. However, equidistant from targets Manchester and Liverpool, it’s likely to be a Mecca for hungry hangers-on.

Consider instead their Worcester plant: although smaller, you could trek there after sheltering for a while in Bath and enjoy a delicious post-apocalyptic minestrone and baked bean banquet until the chaos blows over.

The verdict

As Donald Trump flits between scandals faster than he does communications directors, catastrophe is off the cards for now. But with megalomaniacs in charge of the world’s WMD arsenals, scares will surely become more frequent.

My view is there’s a lot to be said for moving around a bit come Doomsday. If you start off in Bath you’re unlikely to be instantly eviscerated, then can progress to one of the city’s fabulous bunkers pending further developments. If nothing changes after a few months, the provision preservation paradise of Worcester is a relatively short trip away. It’s a strategy that requires going off the beaten track and taking some risks with radiation, but strikes quite a good balance between immediate and long run survival.

Overall there are really no winners in an apocalypse situation. One thing I am convinced of is that city-dwellers are the biggest losers of all. If you really want to watch the calamity unfold from a safe distance, you’re better off evacuating the mainland entirely.

What about seeking asylum in Sealand or Sark? Some say the UK’s extant feudal enclaves don’t have much going for them in times of geopolitical stability – but think how urban and politically innovative they will seem when nuclear war has reduced Parliament to dust and capitalism to a memory.

Following Armageddon, the security of serfdom may be a blessing. The choice between peasantry on an island and a bunker in Bath is a tricky one, but soon it will face us all.

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You’ve heard of trainspotters and planespotters. Now meet Britain’s growing army of busspotters

Some busspotters in action. Image: Damian Potter.

In the summer of 2014, with too much time on my hands and too little to do, I found myself in the middle of an incredibly active, 200+ person Facebook group. How I ended up here (record scratch, freeze frame) is a little too convoluted and stupid to explain – but what I found was a world that I a) could not have imagined nor b) had any clue even existed.

The group I tumbled into was what I now understand to be a very, very small example of a “busspotting” group – that is, a Facebook group full of dedicated bus enthusiasts which exists to share pictures of buses they see on the road. This group had members from all over the country, with a concentration on northern buses, and was predominantly filled with young, white men.

What I expected to see was a range over relatively interesting buses, holding some significance or another, that were tough to find in your average day-to-day life. This was, largely, not the case. What fascinated me was that the vast majority of the group was not focused on unique buses, new buses, historically significant buses, and so on – but simply on the average bus and or bus route you might take just to get around your city.

What was even more bizarre to me was that people from across the country were meeting up in small towns (Morpeth, Livingston, Stevenage) to take seemingly mundane bus rides to other equally small places (Washington, Gloucester, Grimsby). The busspotters would travel hours on end to meet at these locations simply to ride this bus, often for three or four hours, and experience a bus route they’d never been on before or one that they just particularly enjoyed.

Ooooh. Image: Damian Potter.

After a couple of weeks of silently watching and one semi-ironic post, I left the group. And, for the next three years, I gave barely a thought to bus enthusiasm, as no busspotter group/page/person crossed my path. Unlike similar enthusiasms like planespotting and trainspotting, it didn’t seem to me that busspotting had any significant following.

But, as is the way of these things, a weird thread on Twitter three summers later sparked my memory of my short time in this group. I wanted to see what busspotting was actually and about and if, in fact, it was still a thing.

So I spoke to Damian Potter, an admin on several popular busspotting groups, about what it’s like to be deep into the busspotting scene.

“I used to sit upstairs on double decker buses and 'drive' them, including the pedal movements!” Damian announced right off the bat, speaking of his childhood. “I've been driving coaches at home and abroad since I passed my PCV test in 1994. I've been driving for Transdev Harrogate and District Travel since 1998.”

Damian, as you might have gathered, has been a busspotter since his early youth. Now, at the age of 50, he manages four different busspotting Facebook groupsm, mostly based around the Harrogate area (Transdev Enthusiasts, The Harrogate Bus Company, iTransport Worldwide and Spotting Bus and Coach Spotters). Some of them have over a thousand members.

He also participates in busspotting IRL, travelling around the country participating in busspotting meet-ups and events and co-organising trips along different bus routes. When I asked him what busspotting was to him, he explained that it can manifest in different ways: some people focus on makes of bus and routes, other focus on particular bus companies (National Express is particularly popular). Of course, bus enthusiasm is not solely a British phenomenon, but busspotters can certainly be found in practically every corner of the UK.

“People tend to think that spotters hang around bus stations furtively, with a camera and some curly cheese sandwiches, but this isn't really the case,” Damian continued. That said, he also mentioned some particularly hardcore bus nuts who have been known to trespass on company premises to be the first to snap a picture of a new bus.

“They really do produce some brilliant pictures, though,” he added.


Although much of busspotting culture happens online, predominantly on Facebook, groups often have what are called ‘running days’ which involve meet ups having to do with particular routes. Damian mentioned one particularly popular day following the London Routemaster buses that happen periodically. Not only do these routes draw in enthusiasts, he noted, but also draw huge numbers of tourists who want to claim they’ve ridden on the original London buses.

“I reckon the general public miss the old Routemaster buses. There is only one 'heritage' route in London which still uses Routemaster buses and that's the 15 service between Trafalgar Square and Tower Hill.”

Despite this widespread interest in buses and bus history, though, busspotters often find themselves treated as the lesser of the motor enthusiasts. This became clear to me almost immediately when speaking to Damian, and continued to strike me throughout our conversation; without my saying anything sarcastic, malicious, or snarky, he became instantly defensive of his fellow enthusiasts and of his hobby.

When I asked him why he felt this immediate need to defend busspotting, he explained that people often ridicule busspotters and bus enthusiasm generally, arguing that bus drivers are the most common attackers. “However,” he noted, “if I bring a load of pictures into the canteen they're the first to crowd around to see bus pictures...”

Aaah. Image: Damian Potter.

Despite being perceived as an often-mocked hobby, bus enthusiasm is expanding rapidly, Damien claims. “The bus enthusiast culture is growing, with younger generations getting more involved.” Drawing in new, younger enthusiasts has become easier thanks to social media, as has creating real personal connections. Social media has made it easier for bus enthusiasm to not just stay afloat, but actually thrive over the last several years.

It’s so widespread, in fact, that a national competition is held every year in Blackpool to mark Bus Driver of the Year (Damian himself came in 34th out of 155 back in 2002). This event draws in everyone from the bus world – drivers, manufacturers, tour companies, and enthusiasts alike. Here is one of the many places where great friendships are forged and busspotters who’ve only known each other online can finally meet face-to-face. “Personally I have made some great friends through Facebook,” Damian told me. “I have even stayed over at a friend's house in London a couple of times.”

Busspotting may be less well-known than motor enthusiasms like planespotting and trainspotting, but that very well could change. Thanks to active social media groups and regular in-person meet-ups, people have been able to use busspotting forums as not only a way to find lifelong friends, but also spend more of their free time exploring their hobby with the people they’ve met through these groups and pages who share their enthusiasm. For all the flack it may receive, the future of busspotting looks bright.

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