Stokenchurch to Land's End by your Editor
June 2nd to 5th 2008
To see the pictures full size just click on the thumbnail
Day 1 - Stokenchurch to Lyme Regis
Monday, 2nd June 2008 dawned cloudy and disappointing for the start of my 405 mile journey to Land's End.
I had packed a smallish trolley case with some changes of clothing, various items of camera equipment such as chargers etc and my washing kit. In a shoulder bag I had my cameras (digital and video), my journal and space for timetables and other items which I expected to collect en route. Finally I had my best soft light weight hat which would keep the hoped for sun of my bald pate!! I also have an excellent pair of leather brogue shoes which are very comfortable, ideally so for such a long trip.
My first day's travels were to take me from Stokenchurch to Lyme Regis in Dorset and after several attempts using the Traveline website (http://www.traveline.info/index.htm), I optimised on a journey taking in Reading, Newbury, Andover, Salisbury, the suburbs of Bournemouth and Dorchester, making a day's travelling of 174 miles. Total travelling time including stops was 10 hours and 45 minutes, putting me into Lyme Regis at 19:45hrs.
The previous evening I checked and rechecked my luggage to make sure I had not forgotten anything and feeling quite excited, retired to bed around 10 p.m. Sleep did not come easily and I had dreams of missing connections and drivers refusing my pass. I suppose one does have such dreams but they can be somewhat disturbing.
I was up, nice and early, around 6.30 a.m. and after a refreshing shower and a good breakfast I was ready for my journey. The forecast was not all gloom but showers were forecast and temperatures of 16° -20° C would mean I would not be cold. I had a lightweight shower coat but found I did not need it when leaving home around 8.45 a.m. The bus stop is only 600 yards from my front door and I walked slowly down the road having said good bye to my wife and our two dogs. The dogs looked confused, probably wondering why I had not gone in the car. After all, I always have done and where was I going with my case? Now I realise the challenge would be to take a dog with me to Land's End. I wonder if the dog is over the equivalent age of 60, can it travel for free?
Waiting at the bus stop I wondered if I should have a big label on my case saying "Land's End here I come" or some such similar message but decided against it. After all people might think I was a nutter.
Service M1 Stokenchurch-Aylesbury operated by Motts Travel of Aylesbury. (operates every day except Sunday)
Motts Travel of Aylesbury run a few tendered services including the M1 between Stokenchurch and Reading. It used to run from Aylesbury via High Wycombe years ago and I am sure I have even seen a decker on the job. Now it is combined with a local school run between Radnage and Stokenchurch and thereafter runs to Reading. It leaves the centre of our village at 9 a.m. and at around 2 minutes past the hour it could be seen approaching my stop.
There were already two passengers on board and so I chose the seat behind the regular driver Tony, not the best for forward viewing, however useful for seeing people boarding. We turned on to the M40 at junction 5 and headed westwards towards junction 6 at Lewknor. A morning Oxford Tube commuter service was climbing the hill out of Lewknor and seemed well loaded as it headed towards London. Our Solo turned off the M40 and at the bottom of the slip road moved to the left hand lane and turned towards Watlington. Almost immediately an intending passenger appeared from the line of parked cars on our bus stop, flagging us down for him to join the service. At this point there are nearly 100 cars parked each day, left by passengers joining the Oxford Tube to London or Oxford.
Our next stop was Watlington where one passenger, a schoolboy headed for The Icknield School in the town, left us and we were joined by four more passengers all booking through to Reading. This part of the service used to be operated by the orange and maroon coaches of House of Watlington now sadly long gone and only a memory. The stop for this service is also used by Thames Travel on their 101 service to Oxford but the 101 leaves at 9.10 a.m. and we missed this by 5 minutes so no connection could be made.
We left Watlington by the Nettlebed Road and climbed up the steep hill towards Nettlebed and Reading. We passed Cookley Green and Park Corner arriving at Nettlebed just before 9.30 a.m. Three more passengers joined us on this section and we now had 10 passengers on our 23 seater. After Nettlebed we headed towards Sonning Common and Reading along the B481 but a surprise was in store as we turned off the 481 and went down roads or rather lanes which seemed too narrow even for our small bus. Villages such as Rotherfield and Kidmore End are served by this service and we did meet the odd car when I am not sure who was more surprised. In fact we did not pick anyone up but passengers told me it was not usual on a Monday to get passengers joining from these villages. Two passengers did join at Peppard Common and we ended up with 14 passengers travelling into Reading.
We ran into Reading over the Caversham Bridge and turned left up to the station where there were numerous buses from a number of operators including the ever present Reading Transport with their multi coloured fleet of mostly new buses.
It was now time to leave Tony and what had been a most interesting journey. I had seen places quite new to me en route and enjoyed my first service very much indeed. In fact Tony very kindly allowed me to leave my bags with him, whilst I took photos of the many buses around and before I was to catch my next service at 10:40 to Newbury.
Time to spare in Reading.
Reading is a very interesting place for bus enthusiasts as it has several operators running services in the town.
Reading buses are the major operator and they do have a really modern fleet, the latest buses being very green and using Ethanol fuel. Buses generally are provided in route coloured livery and it is easy to identify your bus once you know which colour you are looking for.
First Bus operate some services in Reading and also provide the RailAir service to Heathrow, one of the surviving type of service in the U.K.
Arriva operates in the 800/850 services from High Wycombe and this can provide a lot of variety, as nearly anything can operate the service from double decks to midi buses. Thames Travel operate several services into Reading including the 144 to Wokingham as seen below.
Whilst taking pictures I noticed a tri-axle Scania Irizar coach turning on to one of the southerly stops and wondered why and where. I found out it was from Newton Abbott owned by Abbott Coach Travel and it was picking holiday makers for the Shelly Court Hotel in Torquay, with passengers I expect going on a week's holiday. http://www.shelleycourthotel.co.uk/
Newbury Buses service 102 - Reading to Newbury operated by Dennis Dart 610. http://www.reading-buses.co.uk/prev/tt_newbury_aug2007/102MF22a.HTML
All too soon it was time to join my next service. This was to be the 10:40 102 Newbury Buses service and found I was to experience my first Dennis Dart, a 56 registered bus with ADL bodywork. One thing one notices, sooner or later, are the number of taxis in Reading. They seem always to be blowing their horns when stationary in the taxi rank. This appears to be because their colleagues do not fill up the empty places quickly enough. Indeed there is very often a cacophony of sound which must drive locals mad. My bus was waiting on its stop but because there were so many taxis, forming three lines instead of two, we had to move off a minute or so early. The bus seemed to wander around the town before heading up towards Calcot and the A4 main road to Newbury.
The Dart was in fact quite comfortable and we had some 15 or passengers aboard for our continuing journey. We left the main A4 and stopped in the Arlington Business Park thereafter heading for Theale Village on what had once been the A4 but now by-passed. Here our buggy friendly bus set down one lady and pram before setting off towards Aldermaston.
The run down the A4 westwards is quite quick and we are running on time. On our way to Aldermaston we pass a pub called the Rising Sun which is a really yucky yellow and shortly before that we pass an inbound Newbury Buses Spectra on the 102. The next Reading bound service passed is at Kennett Park and it is a Dart but which one I could not see.
We turn off the A4 to serve Thatcham Broadway and pick up four more passengers bound for Newbury. We leave the Broadway spot on time at 11:34 and take the A4 again for our final run into Newbury.
As we head into the town centre and pass Vodafone we catch up with one of the Wrights Solars, just delivered for the Vodafone contract, this one is number 51 which I will see later in the bus station. The approach to the bus station is through narrow streets, one of which has single way working controlled by traffic lights.
We are soon into the bus station at 1152 and I now have just over the hour before my next bus to Andover.
Time in Newbury for a sandwich.
Newbury Bus Station is a rather nice compact place with plenty of opportunity for photographs. There is also a nice information and booking office on site. I enjoy a pleasant 15 minutes taking pictures and then take time out to get a sandwich in Munchies which was very pleasant and the food, filled roll and a pot of tea, very good and reasonably priced.
The main operator is obviously Newbury Buses but Stagecoach and Weavaway also serve the bus station. I did not see any Weavaway services and noticed that the Cango services were being operated by Stagecoach Mercedes Benz mini buses.
The C24 is home to Mercedes Benz 709Ds and there was no sign of any of the Cango Aleros seen on my last visit a year or so ago.
These buses are based at Andover and driver changes are done using the connecting X20 service.
Newbury to Andover on Stagecoach in Hampshire's X20 service : http://www.stagecoachbus.com/timetables/20timetable280805.pdf
Now, as they say, never judge a book by its cover. The Dart, 32604, one of several similar buses allocated to Andover, was a sprightly performer and in no time at all we were off towards Andover at a brisk pace. As with so many routes these days, time was not on our side and the driver had to make a real effort to keep to time. The roads traversed varied from the A343 main road to very narrow country lanes which seemed to be used by extraordinarily large tractors with wheels as big as our bus. We served Highclere, Ashmansworth, Hurstbourne Tarrant and Enham Alamein on our way to Andover and kept popping in and out of small villages. The loadings were quite good for a middle day service and we were 12 minutes later into Andover Bus Station despite our drivers efforts.
Enham Alamein - we stop to pick up at this pretty bus shelter. This is a place with some history.
Knight's Enham was renamed Enham Alamein after a gift from the Egyptian nation in gratitude for the Allied victory in the Battle of El Alamein
(with acknowledgement to wikpedia.org.)
We entered Andover Bus Station, very much a home to Stagecoach buses and I had about 20 minutes to see what was around. Stagecoach uses the branding Star on many of its local services and I liked the message on the back of the departing Solo seen below.
Stagecoach Activ8 - Andover-Salisbury service : http://www.stagecoachbus.com/timetables/Activ8timetable.pdf
Now I was looking for a bus with 8 on its blind by which I would reach Salisbury and don't ask me why but I did not appreciate that the service was operated by Stagecoach and Wilts & Dorset jointly with subtle branding. Also Stagecoach use Activ8 on the blinds. My steed for the journey onwards was a Stagecoach Trident, 18504 and once again the timetable demanded some very smart running. Our driver was Hungarian and settled to his task extremely well. The departure was scheduled at 14:05 and we were away just a minute down with a healthy load, I reckon around 25+ passengers.
Having extracted ourselves from the environs of Andover we took the A342 northwards towards Ludgershall at a very brisk pace and then south towards Tidworth and the massive army camps which are being extended with new building to house super garrisons. In Tidworth we seemed to go round in circles and recovering any lost time was more than difficult.
As we were progressing through the maze of roads and housing estates we passed an Andover bound Activ8,
This one being operated by a Wilts & Dorset Spectra. If I do this route again I will try to get on a Spectra, they are still nice buses.
Now leaving Tidworth after our circular tour I noted we were just one minute down, a credit to our driver on a difficult service. We were now headed for Bulford Camp and Amesbury. I was interested to see Bulford Camp, since my father had first come here in 1941 when he joined the army in the Second World War. Again we saw much building for an extended camp and I was pleased to see a solider boarding our bus in full desert gear.
As we headed towards Salisbury we passed signs to Old Sarum Airfield and we were then in turn passed by a Wilts & Dorset Spectra on the Stonehenge Tour. One had a feeling of being in an historic area with lots to see and do, well worth a return visit in the future. We were soon running into Salisbury and on our way passed the Wilts & Dorset depot in the city. I had visited this facility some two years ago and was made very welcome and took many pictures.
Our Trident arrived in Salisbury Bus Station just two minutes behind schedule at 15:27 and I had a short time to look around and get some timetables before my next service which was Wilts & Dorset X3 at 15:40.
A few moments time in Salisbury.
A Spectra waits for duty on the Stonehenge Tour, kept company by an Excel on Park & Ride duties, keeping a watch on our Trident
which was due out to Andover at 15:35 - pretty quick turnaround huh?
I also love the name of the stop -Endless Street.
Salisbury to Lansdowne - Bournemouth on Wilts & Dorset X3 - http://www.wdbus.co.uk/htm/ttSouthern/S_X3.pdf
My bus was waiting on stand as I came out of the enquiry office having secured some local timetable information. I was disappointed that many timetables were unavailable, wondering if the companies were on a cost cutting exercise.
The X3 has, I am told, recently updated the branding on some of the buses used on this service. They still use Spectras which I found to be very comfortable and rattle free. Indeed the bus I travelled on had coach seats and for a seven year old bus gave a very good ride indeed. Our Spectra, 3175, carried the much older Wilts & Dorset livery which I find rather attractive. This bus is, I think, based at Salisbury.
We left Salisbury heading for the A338, a single carriageway road through Fordingbridge and Ringwood towards Boscombe and Bournemouth. This road skirts the westerly edge of the New Forest, now served by its own open top service provided by Wilts & Dorset. We experienced some delay due to roadworks leaving the city and passed Solo 2666 inbound. However we were only a minute down passing through Downton and then Fordingbridge.
I noted that Fordingbridge would be a nice place for pictures but by now the rain was falling and looked to be settling in for the evening. Passing Breamore I noticed a field full of goats, somewhat unusual and we were too quickly past for my camera to record same.
Onwards towards Bournemouth and the rain was quite heavy by now, though to my surprise it was quite dry in Ringwood where I had the chance to get a quick picture of the Spectra waiting time in Meeting House Lane.
We left Ringwood with about 20 passengers on board and headed towards the Royal Bournemouth Hospital and Boscombe before dropping down into my stop in Christchurch Road, Lansdowne where my next connection was waiting.
Lansdowne - Bournemouth to Dorchester on First Hampshire & Dorset X55
Now I was in for a treat as this was to be my first coach ride of the day. As my W&D Spectra passed along Christchurch Road the driver said there's your coach which turned out to be a Dennis Javelin with Plaxton Expressliner II bodywork seating 46. There was a toilet on board from its National Express days but this had long been locked up.
I had hopped off the X3 and was walking back to the X55 feeling pleased that, one - the connection was working and two - the next vehicle would give a comfortable ride. I called up to the driver, who seemed rather disinterested in this strange twirly with the summer hat on, during a less than summer's day, complete with case and bag, who asked to be taken to Dorchester.
"This is a University service and we don't normally carry other passengers" he said. I replied "well, it's on my Traveline plan as I can show you".
I showed him my plan and he somewhat grudgingly issued a ticket and allowed me on board. We were soon joined by a mini coach driver who seemed to know the X55 driver and there followed a somewhat one sided conversation with the two drivers. As our time for departure came, 17:15, one passenger/student joined the coach and we headed for the University site at Poole where we were assailed by precisely no passengers at all.
By this time our driver had thawed out a little and when we found common ground, in that we had both driven at different times for bus operators in Cannock, Staffs, he became much more conversational. In fact again, don't judge the book by the cover, he was a really nice fellow. It seemed that he only drove coaches from Weymouth depot and normally did this particular journey which was paid for by the University.
We followed the A35 towards Dorchester, turning off the main road by Stinsford to run into the town centre. My driver suggested I got off at the Top o Town to wait for my connecting service to Lyme Regis which I duly did. I was quite sorry to see him go as the place where I was deposited was not the nicest place I have ever been too.
By now the rain had settled in for the night and as my 31 service, Weymouth to Axminster was running 20 minutes late, I had a rather miserable wait, only brightened by two other services passing my stop. Indeed two ladies waiting for the number 10, seen below, warned me that my bus could be late or even very late.
It was by now 18:20 and I was tempted by the smell of curry from the two Indian Restaurants on either side of the road which seemed to beckon me for evening repast.
however I really wanted to get to my first night stop in reasonable time and so waited for my 31.
First 31 Dorchester - Lyme Regis.
Twenty minutes late, another Dart turned up proclaiming Axminster on its blind. I thankfully climbed aboard to be greeted by a cheery driver who apologised for being late and once I was seated, set off at a fine old pace.
We circled the local hospital and then headed off towards Winterbourne Abbas and Bridport. The A35 is quite a fast road in places and our driver lost no opportunity to gain time. Leaving Dorchester we passed by some strange buildings, which did not seem quite real, at a place called Mansell Square. The light was strange and they looked rather ghostly.
Stapleton Manor is near Winterbourne Abbas and looked to be an interesting place. As we approached Bridport we found ourselves in what was I presume a heavy sea mist blowing in off the coast. Our driver stopped in the main street and took the opportunity to prepare for a driver change at the bus station. The buses used on the 31 and X53 all have tachos and this limits how long the drivers can work, meaning additional crew changes on these routes.
We were soon in Bridport Coach Station just 10 minutes late. I thought this to be a fine effort on the part of the driver from Weymouth. The changeover gave me a few minutes to look around and see the First - Southern National Depot behind the coach station.
We left Bridport, still some 10 minutes down and passed through Charmouth on our way to Lyme Regis. I had left home some 11 hours previously and was much in need of some rest and a good dinner. At the time I had not made plans but was to return to Bridport the next morning so more of the Bridport-Lyme Regis trip on Day 2.
Now the driver of my 31 Dart kindly dropped me outside the front door of my hotel in Lyme Regis and I was "home" for the night.
I had dinner at The Harbour Inn in Lyme Regis, an excellent steak platter washed down with a pint of shandy, yum yum!
The Kersbrook Hotel was really nice and I dropped off to sleep with the sound of the rain on the thatched roof, the end of a most satisfying day.
My tickets for the day.
Note Reading Buses do not issue tickets to Concession Holders. Also First Hampshire & Dorset do not issue tickets for a specified journey as they receive a flat rated reimbursement from the local authority.
My thanks to all the drivers who gave me such good trips on their buses and also the pleasure many fellow passengers gave to me by their company and interest in my journey.
Stokenchurch, 12th June 2008
Day 2 will be published shortly.
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A note regarding photographs which show drivers faces.
Following one complaint from a bus driver in Oxford but considering the fact that the photographs are taken of the vehicle not any person,
I will blank out the face to avoid any discomfort to the individual concerned. If you are the person involved send me an email to have this action taken.
I am sure people will realise that to ask everyone in advance of publication, whose face may appear in a picture is wholly impractical in both time and practice.
I am sorry to have to mention such a matter but we now live in a world of human rights and political correctness which must be considered.