To Scotland for free on my Bus Pass
It all started back on the 7th of March 2012, by Doreen saying "What do you want to do for your birthday?". I didn't have a ready response, so the next morning I posted the following on a internet forum that I often use, Motorhomefacts (MHF):
"Doreen asked me what I wanted to do for my 65th this year, do you know I haven't a clue. Went to The Ritz for my 60th. Any suggestions?"
Jock (User name JockandRita) came back with:
"Had you not already got your bus pass Frank, I would have suggested that you see how far around England you can travel on your free bus pass."
Well that gave me a bump start and, warming to the idea, by a couple of hours later I was thinking seriously along those sort of lines and by next morning Jock's idea of a pensioner's road trip using my bus pass was taking shape although I was still not mentioning a destination. I was already posting that I would have a birthday breakfast in the centre of Salisbury before setting out. In my own mind though the destination was always going to be the Scottish border where the English bus pass stops giving you free travel. The other facts I 'knew' were that the bus pass only was valid after 9am, or perhaps 9.30am, and only valid on what were termed local buses, and definitely not National Express or other coaches. I was going to allow a maximum of one week.
I'm sure it would be possible to call up all the timetables and plan an efficient route to Scotland and make all sorts of charts, diagrams, 'what-if' scenarios beloved of project managers but I've been retired from that sort of work for seven years, so I made a minor vow to do this trip in a manner that would involve serendipity and chance rather than meticulous planning. I tried out just a few partial routes to see what might be possible but didn't record anything. I have a feeling that I found out that there were no buses travelling north from Leamington Spa, only coaches but that easily might have been somewhere else like Kenilworth. I got a few apps for my iPad that would help me find the next bus and also joined Twitter so that I would be able to microblog my way around using SMS (texts) from my simple phone. At some point I set it up so that my tweets would automatically appear on my FaceBook page for those without Twitter. I then had important things to do like go to Amsterdam for my daughter's birthday and go to Ireland for a months holiday and some campsite assessing, so for two months did nothing towards this trip.
So fast forward now towards the end of June and the days just before my birthday. I alerted my followers on Twitter to my departure and did the same on my FaceBook page and also on a thread in an MHF forum. So then I was committed to go. My daughter told me about hashtags on Twitter and I started using #bus65 and #buspasstrip. She also sent me a T shirt with a Twitter message on it and I cobbled together some business cards to hand out and I then got down to the logistics of things like deciding between rucksack or travel bag and what size? Then realised that the question was really, what must I take? My birthday was on Monday, and on the Sunday afternoon before, I was still doing trial packs of my small rucksack and Doreen was expertly folding clothes into ever more exact sizes to fit in this or that part of my rucksack. I remember going through my electronic items trying to minimise what I needed in the way of chargers and leads. Still even pared down to the minimum there was only room if I took Doreen's small camera, clipped my waterproof to the outside, swapped some long sleeve tops for T shirts, and wore sandals instead of shoes - why? You might ask, well, less socks of course.
Just a word on photos - many were attempted whilst moving and shot through a bus window. This caused the obvious problems with reflections and bad focusing and I apologise for the quality.
Earlier on Saturday I purchased a map and tried to gauge how far I needed to travel each day. Now only six days not seven, as I decided that I should avoid Sunday travel, many bus routes only running Monday to Saturday. After some thought and googling distances between hypothetical daily runs I hit on the idea of just laying a tape measure between Salisbury and Berwick. It happened to be about 24"which of course meant 4" a day. At the same time I jotted down some place names that were level with the 4" graduations on the tape. They were then apportioned to the days, these weren't necessarily places that I would visit just an easy way of seeing if I had gone far enough up the map. Even as I did that plan B was forming, if it became difficult to keep to that pace, then the border just north of Carlisle was 4" nearer.
I decided on a sort of strategy. As I am an early riser and couldn't get use my buspass first thing, I would plan the first few buses of the day first thing in the morning, but then I would let chance or fate take control.
I should tell you of the iPad app that I had. Its called 'nextbuses' and is by a chap called Malcolm Barclay. It automatically shows a map of where you are , or where you are going to be by entering the place name, then it shows the nearby bus stops. Clicking on each of them produces a list of destinations and next departure times. I found it invaluable and along with googling for bus timetables and using the iPad map app I seldom needed to look at bus stop timetables.
Day One Monday
It's now Monday morning we've walked the dogs, Doreen has put on a summer dress and we walk to town to a Spanish restaurant, La Mollina, a few hundred yards from the bus station. The condemned man ate a hearty breakfast! Doreen took a photo of me there, and at around half past nine we strolled to the bus station. I know there is a bus to Devizes at about 10am and I am expecting to go Devizes - Swindon - Oxford. When we got there we walked past a stop that said Swindon and there is a direct bus route after all. Not only that, there is a bus on the stand and the time table says it leaves soon, at 9.50am, before the one to Devizes, so I get aboard and very shortly after I am waving goodbye as I leave the bus station on my big adventure.
The Condemned Man ... The First Bus
As we go north through Salisbury I start to have second thoughts. How come, I thought, I didn't see this bus when using my planning tools? I googled its timetable, there it is, a number 5 Salisbury to Swindon, then I look closer and find the snag, The bus I am on is only going as far as Larkhill then returning to Salisbury! Now this lets me mention one important drawback that I encountered more than once,. If the bus is sitting with its engine off, in a lot of cases the destination board on the front remains blank. This is often the case at bus stations. What an own goal that is. It explains why all the old dears on my local in-town bus stop are always asking is this the bus to.... etc. It would be a simple matter of electrics or electronics or programming to hold the destination board live with the ignition off.
Amesbury Bus Station... Guess Where I'm Going
So I have to get off at Amesbury and wait a 30mins for a number 5 that is going to Swindon. My first bus and already I have messed up, that didn't bode too well. The rest of the first leg went ok but I did witness a couple of strange things. A child relay: A man had a toddler in a buggy, when we got to one stop he started to leave without the child, kid started screaming he came back and tried to reassure that mummy would be coming but he had to wait there until mum got on the bus and then he left without a word. A bus relay: The driver switched off the engine after beeping the horn twice, he got out and crossed the road to a bus stop, a bus came towards us and at the same time a new driver came out of a nearby industrial estate. The first bus driver got on the other bus as a passenger and the new driver got aboard, wished us all good morning and off we went!
As I approached Swindon I looked on the iPad for my next bus. There were several choices going north but when I looked at the Oxford route I couldn't see a suitable connection northwards from there, whereas, if I went to Cheltenham there were several possibilities. The Cheltenham bus would be soonest but I had the offer of a bed in Abingdon (just south of Oxford) decisions, decisions. In the end I stayed in Swindon bus station for the shortest time possible and caught the bus to Cheltenham. One feature of Swindon that you may not have encountered is The Magic Roundabout. Five mini-roundabouts arranged in a circle, one per joining road. Interestingly you treat each mini normally but it means that you can go clockwise or anti-clockwise around the whole thing.
To Be Avoided?
Since the start of the journey I had been tweeting progress tweets from my simple phone using SMS texts. That of course was one way traffic. I could only see them and any replies when I switched on my iPad (and either my mifi or used a wifi connection near me). The internet connection was for essential navigation and far too important for reading my and other people's tweets. So for example I caught up with my birthday good wishes only when I got to the end of the day and then at least I could charge up the iPad, mifi and phone at the same time. Some days it would be that I had to use the mifi so much for navigation, that it had no power left to let me on the internet to find that elusive B&B. However normally I got to see at least some of the messages enroute. What I didn't realise was that people were also copying my progress to other parts of the internet including the forum where I had announced it. I'm glad I didn't go to the forum at that point as someone on there was complaining that I was having a jolly at the expense of taxpayers.
I am quite widely travelled in UK and, let's face it, Swindon is local so it's not surprising that I am familiar with the area but when we diverted from the A419 after Cricklade I realised that although I had been to some of the lakes here at the Cotswold Water Park I had by no means visited all of them nor the surrounding villages. Nowadays I use the A419 as just a fast way to the M5. We shall rectify that. I didn't get off the bus at Cirencester, which is a town I am very familiar with given its proximity to the Caravan Club campsite. I was pleased to see that from Cirencester we followed my old route to the M5 (pre junction 11a being built) down as far as Cheltenham. I got off the bus there in mid-afternoon and tried to find a bus to Stratford or Evesham or anywhere north. My problem was this, they are far too posh in Cheltenham to have a mid-town bus station, well actually they do, it's a gentrified set of stops with wrought iron roofed shelters. Its called the Royal Well Bus Station, but only two bus companies and National Express seemed to have stops there. So I wandered around but only found very local services. A traffic warden nearly directed me to where I could get a bus to Tewkesbury but he was wide of the mark. However by dint of seeing a bus go pass me headed there I found the stop. So on to Tewkesbury and I thought, that will do me I'm hungry, thirsty, I'm north of my intended target for the day, just find a B&B or hotel.
Just by the bus stop was a Wetherspoons with accommodation. Sorry no singles the receptionist said, I can let you have a twin without ensuite for £66, I think she said, so I declined and looked elsewhere. Well having walked out of town on the main road as far as Morrisons I sat down, had a coffee, and examined options, rang one or two B&Bs and a Premier Inn (£69 instead of £39 - obviously I'm not Lennie Henry). Decided to walk back to the centre and try the other main road in Tewkesbury. No B&Bs but a pub serving Butcombe ales and nearby a bus stop with a 6.05pm connection to Evesham.
The Anchor Tewkesbury
Had a pint, found a B&B in Evesham on my iPad, so celebrated by having another pint, after all it was my birthday, a point I had largely forgotten. It was Butcombe Rare Breed by the way. By 7pm I was in Evesham by 8pm I had booked into my room and was wandering around the town again.
The River Avon at Evesham
Many years ago I must have passed through Evesham more than once but I didn't recognise any of it. Now for some people that would not be unusual but for me not to remember a place is so odd that it is worthy of analysis. You see I could remember a place that I thought was Evesham and a quick look at the map reminded me of the journeys that I had taken, Worcester to Stow or to Burford. Then a look on my map on the iPad showed that the A44 joins the A46 north of the town, so possibly I hadn't been to the town centre, however I have a clear recollection of a town centre filed in my mind as Evesham. A couple of days later I worked out that the the place I was remembering was Congleton! Only 80 miles and many counties out then. At least that is sorted, I wouldn't want to think all my brain cells had died on my 65th. Had a great meal in Evesham/Congleton that night at a Polish restaurant called Via Cracow. Can't remember all the details but it was heavily pork loin and sausage based.
Monday's summary: 9 hours 10 minutes travelling (from getting on first bus to getting off last bus) 5 buses and 115 miles or 5½ inches on my map, a good start.
Day Two Tuesday
Before starting I was not sure if my bus pass worked from 9am or 9.30am but around the country it seemed to be 9.30am and this was more and more to influence my choice of first bus of the day. My intention was to start seeking out a place to lay my head at tea time say 5pm, so starting as early as I could was important. However yesterday I exceeded my expectations so was 1½"further up the map than 'planned'. This morning I looked on my iPad in vain for a bus to Redditch, I could get there but only by travelling to either Worcester or Stratford upon Avon and the Stratford bus left at 9.25am, I did ask the driver of the Stratford bus, but no exceptions, so I got on the 9.50 to Worcester instead.
A word about bus drivers, at the bottom of each timetable page my nextbuses software says "Be nice to your bus driver :-)" and in general that was easy to do. I met some brilliant ones who would for example let everyone get seated before pulling away or leap out of his or her seat to help a disabled or frail person. The one this morning used his bus as a weapon. He was pulling into the Evesham bus stop 20mins early. A car driver had stopped at the end of the large bus layby and was helping a wheelchair user out but the bus driver beeped and pulled his bus to within an inch of the car whilst the driver was struggling to get help his disabled passenger out. Ironically that passenger waited with some other disabled people to catch a special coach from the stop. Clearly the bus driver wanted to park his bus in the layby but not by the stop and after he exited the bus he went away until his bus was due to leave. The drive to Worcester was not a smooth one and the seats were cramped but from time to time it was sunny.
An Uncomfortable 'First' Bus ... Evidence of Some Morning Sunshine
At Worcester I knew I only had minutes to go before catching my next bus but I had to take a comfort break first even if I missed the bus. As it was I had more minutes than expected so all was safely accomplished before leaving on the number 144 to Birmingham. As you can see from the map Evesham to Redditch would have been a better journey. Imagine my chagrin later seeing a bus labelled Redditch to Evesham. Now that I'm home and checking my facts there is an Evesham to Redditch bus BUT at no time does the route cross that of the buses I was on that Tuesday. Just one more of life's mysteries which I won't waste sleep over.
Well it rained most of that morning and most of the route into Birmingham wasn't of much interest to me so I was on the net trying variations of my journey from Birmingham. I knew that I had to walk at least a few hundred yards from the arrival bus stop to any of the possible departure stops and as it was raining I wanted to minimise my exposure to the weather. Birmingham is a huge hub for bus travel but how many of us not from that part of the world can identify which locations are to the N S E or W of the centre. At one point I was even going to catch a bus to Solihull because although I know that is near the NEC and hence to the SE, I had temporarily forgotten that, and because Solihull was part of a putative route from Stratford to the north I thought it was on the way. Still by making notes and looking at my online map I saw Walsall as my way out of Birmingham. Yes but it would have been better, as I got myself ready to disembark if I had taken note of the U turn that the bus made in the last few metres. I didn't realise the implications and so headed off in the rain in the opposite direction to the route I needed. Luckily I had decided that the rain wasn't too much for my iPad and I quickly realised that the distance to my new stop was increasing and not decreasing. I retraced my steps but found that there were major road and building works and my bus stops had vanished. What follows is luck. The bus I was going to catch, the X51, was at the temporary stop and had its number on both sides of the bus so I was able to see it from were I stood.
The Rotunda Bull Ring Birmingham
I remember tweeting my departure, using for once my iPad, and getting an immediate response from one of my followers. I began to realise that this was important to me so from then on made time to quickly look at the responses. After all I was on my own but when I was being followed didn't think that I was alone. I also had the confirmation that on the first day I had only used up 100MB of my 1 GB allowance of my mifi internet connection so had some in hand.
At Walsall there was an instant connection that took me on to Cannock. One other proviso that I made was that I wouldn't take food with me, just water, so by now at 2pm, my breakfast was a distant memory. In short I was hungry! I stopped at Cannock bus station for a meal and a charge up of my mifi. When I was just finishing I noticed my next bus was at its stop, a number 75 bus to Stafford. Luckily as I moved from the cafe, it moved off the stand so I returned to my table to find I had left the mifi plugged in there. That might so easily have been a journey stopper. It wouldn't be the only tech issue I was to have today. By the way, although the staff were nice I wouldn't recommend the cafe food in Cannock bus station nor their tables, to which I stuck when resting my arms.
Like Birmingham, Stafford was also one of those places where I had to alight and walk to a different part of town. I had asked the driver how close we got to my new bus stop. In reality I didn't need to get off where I did because a minute or so after I had walked across Stafford to the next bus stop, the bus I had just got off pulled in. Perhaps I had asked the driver the wrong question. Stafford would have been a good finishing point, well north of my target of Tamworth but it was only just after 4pm so I decided to go on to Hanley a pottery town, part of the six towns we southerners just refer to as Stoke or perhaps Stoke on Trent.
It was raining really hard as we went up the A34 towards Stoke. I tried one or two B&Bs from the internet but either received no answer or I didn't like the terms but I did have two numbers for B&Bs in Leek, just a wee bit further on. So as Hanley looked scruffy and waterlogged I carried on to Leek.
Have you ever seen someone you think you know only to be met by a blank look? Shortly after the bus left Hanley a women got on who I was sure I recognised as Christine who owned an older Trafic campervan and who is in RTMR, the Renault camping group that I belong to. As she came down the bus I raised my hand in greeting but she just looked puzzled and a little put out. Don't I know you, I said, when clearly by now it was obvious that I did not. Yet I was so certain it was she, and even after she said that she didn't have a camper and she didn't know me and I had apologised I still thought it was her or perhaps her sister and anyway her spitting image. I kept giving her sidelong looks. I'm hopeless with names but always thought I was good with faces.
It would be a short walk to my home for the night from Leek bus station but first I spent some minutes looking at the very few bus timetables displayed. It looked as if my first useful bus wouldn't leave till after 11am which would be a bit of a setback. A bigger setback was to come. As I replaced my note book and pen in my rucksack my iPad slid out of it on to the pavement. It took the force of the fall on one corner and cracks immediately propagated from that corner across the edge of the glass face. Here was a calamity, I gingerly switched it on and it seemed to be working ok but more cracks started so I carefully carried it to my B&B and, with the aid of some sellotape provided by my landlady, I patched it up as well as I could. None of the cracks went on to the used part of the screen and the switch at the corner and the camera etc still worked. From then on the iPad was treated with the utmost care.
Leek - Bus Station and Protest
The main thing going on in Leek that day, was a protest about a roundabout nearing its climax. People have been camping on it and many were supporting the protest. Whilst I was there the court handed down the decision that the work should go ahead and the protestors should leave. I had a nice Thai meal near the protest where I took advice from the menu and for once didn't just settle for a Thai green curry.
Tuesday's summary 9 hours 40 minutes travelling 7 buses and 125 miles or a further 6 inches on my map.
Day Three Wednesday
Because I was to have a late start I made the most of my time, planning various options and thinking that I could make it up to the level of York. My normal method would be find the bus station in each town and click on the bus stops in Nextbuses. Then having identified which bus I would try and locate the timetable on the internet. In today's case I had no options for the first part of the trip, bus to Buxton then a wait. My landlady caused me some confusion when she announced that there was a 118 bus to Buxton at 9.30am, she was wrong.
Getting the Hang of This
Oh dear, she said, I've just remembered I catch it going the other way to Hanley! From Buxton there were two main options; towards Stockport or towards Sheffield. I looked at the next stage. From Sheffield, you were tending to commit to the east of England, from Stockport to the west. Going up the middle involved many more buses and longer waits and in any case tended to suck you back to the east or west. What I wanted to avoid at this stage was too many options, zig-zags and also the risk of getting to somewhere interesting or apt like Holmfirth (Last of The Summer Wine) but then not being able to progress much further. I decided upon Sheffield, the bus from Buxton would cross the peak district and I was sure to see Well Dressing. Once I had made up my mind to go to Sheffield I quickly found a route via Barnsley, Leeds and Harrogate that would get me to to Ripon by early evening.
Never change horses in mid-stream! Because I had time in hand I went onto a journey planner which promised a similar route but left Sheffield slightly earlier and got to Ripon over a good hour earlier. It was a slightly more complicated journey. I had to head for Rotherham get off the X78 bus at a certain stop, cross the road, wait ten minutes and get on the X12 Barnsley bus. Because it was a faster one it got me to Barnsley in time to catch a direct bus to Leeds and then all subsequent buses had much better timings.
As I've written, I had a wait in Buxton which I used up with lunch having a steak and kidney pudding, chips and gravy, proper northern fare. The bus driver, Buxton to Sheffield, was not one of the better ones. There was a small snag at Buxton. Because of emergency tree felling just outside Buxton the route had been altered and you had to catch the bus from a stop on the opposite sdie of the road. Signs proclaiming this had stickers on saying 'extended to Jun 27th' ie today. We all waited for the bus at the new stop and duly the bus stopped and people were let off. We weren't allowed on. No, the driver shouted through the closed door, the road is now clear, you have to catch the bus at the normal stop. So the bus turned round in the nearby car park and we crossed the busy road again and got aboard. I removed the stickers extending the diversion. I told the driver. "Nowt to do with me" he said "that's the councii's notice!" That driver had 108 days to do before retirement, a fact he impressed on several passengers. He also had a mate on the bus, who stood at the front distracting him all the way. One passenger threatened to report him. Don't mind' he said,' did I tell you I have only 108 days to do.
Bus Stops in Buxton
However as expected it was a lovely part of the trip, over the Peak District, which we know so well and we did see well dressing at Tideswell. Photos (most of all mine) don't do the floral displays justice, you will have to see them for yourselves.
From Sheffield I had to catch the X78 towards Rotherham. I knew the name of the stop: 'New Wortley Road' but it wasn't mentioned on the timetable at Sheffield nor did the X78 driver know of it. It was listed in nextbuses though, so I used the iPad map to find out where to get off. The ten minutes passed, no bus. There was a tiny revolving timetable for all the buses using that stop. It said how many minutes past the hour my bus was due, in my case 4 minutes but there was an asterisk *except 15.04 and 16.04 on school days. You are probably ahead of me now. It was the 15.04 that I wanted to catch. Now if I had planned this journey using timetables it would have been my fault but I had used a journey planner and I had inputted time and date of journey. It gave me no warnings about missing buses. Perhaps I was just unlucky. The journey planner popped up on google when I was searching for a timetable. Since then I have found several others route planners that do give the right answer and I can't find the one I actually used. There was nothing for it, I crossed back over and caught the next X78 into Rotherham bus station. After an urgent stress related comfort break I caught a 22 to Barnsley by a interesting but slow route. I now know, for example, where 'Next' have a main distribution centre.
There was a direct bus to Leeds at Barnsley but I had just missed it. Instead I was advised to go by train(!) but failing that catch the 194 bus to Wakefield. Now all my planning of the morning was out the window and I was playing it by ear, if that's not too many cliches for one sentence. One other effect of my problems was that my mifi was very low on battery. At Wakefield I got lucky. As we approached our stand at the bus station a man got up and hurried to the door. He got off the bus but didn't go into the station. Instead he crossed in front of our bus to board another at the next stand, a 110 to Leeds. That bus wasn't on my radar, our bus should have arrived five minutes after it had left, but our bus was very early so I rushed after him and caught it. Likewise when we got to Leeds I was able to board a number 36 Ripon bus that again we shouldn't have connected with. I wouldn't have minded a longer time in Leeds.
On this whole journey, apart from Evesham, Walsall, Rotherham and Burnley, I'd already visited every major place. I had been to Leeds twice, once driving through and another on a factory acceptance test for some electrical equipment. Neither gave me much chance to look around. Buxton, Wakefield, Harrogate and Ripon were all on my campsite assessing trip last year, as were a number of smaller places like Ripley, that I passed through today. The further north we went the more familiar I was with the territory.
Leeds I think - The first Sign that said 'The North'
Normally I was self reliant on this trip but with no access to the internet and arriving around 8pm I felt that I needed the comfort of knowing that I had a bed for the night so I rang up Doreen. She got me in at The Unicorn on Ripon market square just around the corner from the bus station.
Tonight I experienced one of the more bizarre incidents. I was standing at the bar next to some very noisy women who were on a mid-week night out, when, from the other side a woman approached me. She asked, Do you have a camper and are you on Motorhome Facts? I nodded yes, then are you Sallytrafic she said. I had to agree, for that is my username (a long story but spelt with one 'f'). I asked her her user name and she said she couldn't remember, which I thought well odd, and clearly the husband wanted to leave. The only other fact I elicited was they were staying at the campsite at Ripon (Riverside). Clearly one or more one of the women at the bar had heard this exchange and when they were sitting down around a table near me I heard various comments which I hope doesn't mean there will be lots of rumours going around about Sally Traffic (two 'f's who is Sally Boazman on Radio 2)
Wednesday's summary 8 hours 40 minutes travelling 8 buses and 130 miles or a further 4½ inches on my map. I have made up a complete day over that planned.
It was spitting with rain as I waited for the first bus of my day to Richmond. Initially the 159's route took me through parts of Yorkshire that I visited doing assessments for Alan Rogers Guides in 2011. Then it took me much further back in time. When I first joined the Army in the mid 1960s I was stationed near Richmond at Catterick Camp so the villages of Middleham, Leyburn, Bellerby are all well known to me. I learnt to drive around here as well as walking all over the moors.
There were some heavy spells of rain which was to be the theme of the day but by the time I got to Richmond it was drying and the sun was trying to burst through. A quick walk around the town brought it all back to me. The first time I sang a folk song, on my own, in public was here, long before the days of open mic sessions. I can remember the quirk of the licensing laws that let pubs stay open all day on market days in the days when that was not the case elsewhere. I went into the market hall where I can remember crate digging, as I understand its now called for LPs. Early Joan Baez, Pete Seegar and the new kid on the block Tom Paxton, were my targets but if I came away with Johnny Cash or Woody Guthrie I would be satisfied.
Bus to Catterick - Richmond's Indoor Market
Too soon it was time to leave for Darlington. Another memorable place was Scotch Corner, when I was first at Catterick, I used to hitch from here home to Bristol. Later on I found a better way, a bus over the A1 towards Leeming then scramble down the bank to a layby where I would wait for a lift.
When I was at Catterick, Richmond was a place you could easily get to but Darlington was more of an expedition to be savoured at the weekends. Mostly it was a question of going by bus or hitching but Richmond, in pre-Beeching days, had a railway service to Darlington so that was always an option. Now they say that if you can remember the '60s you weren't there, perhaps I don't remember the '60s because I certainly couldn't remember Darlington. Again I got off a bus and started to go the wrong way. This time I asked a little old lady and not only did she show me the way she walked with me right up to opposite the bus stop and then turned around to go back the way we had come. Aren't people nice?
I know two people in this part of the world, one at Haydon Bridge and the other at Spennymoor, so I had tried to contact both, even if just to say I was passing by. One was away on a bike ride, the nearest should have been at her stall in Durham Market but was working from home. We established a connection by Twitter and Facebook. At some point earlier I must have twittered that I was on 7a bus, and as she caught up with my tweets she realised the implication. She had moved house from Spennymoor two weeks before and was living opposite a No7 bus stop. We quickly started making a plan, she might be waving to me as I passed, or perhaps would I come in for coffee. At that point I lost the internet so I tweeted blind on my phone: "coffee". I asked the driver how many bus stops in her village, three, ah I said well I don't know which one it will be, but if you see a pretty blonde waving furiously, that will be my stop. Don't worry he said, for a blonde waving I'll stop anywhere!
I should explain. Poppy was one of Doreen's daughter's barmaids from Farnham and as a friend had often looked after Lottie and Jake (who she loves). I have to say that she hid her disappointment well that we weren't visiting in our motorhome accompanied by the two of them. By the way she isn't a friend on Facebook but her dog is a friend of Jake and Lottie ..... sad isn't it. We are friends now and she deserves a plug for her stall, 'Poppy Likes Dresses', which I was later to see in the market .
As the result of this dalliance, and having a late afternoon lunch in Durham, it was getting on for four thirty before I was on my bus to Newcastle. The sky was black and boiling over Durham and looked like something from a science fiction film, but there was no rain to speak of then.
Three minutes after I tweeted that I was on the X2 bus, I said that the internet was down and we were in the middle of a storm. The rain came down like a waterfall, and progress slowed to a crawl. We were having to negotiate stopped vehicles in the appalling conditions. At one point near Gateshead we went through a lake and water came up through the floor of the bus to a depth of two inches or more. The driver dealt with it by warning us to hang on, then braked and flicked the doors open. A woman lost her shoe but by the time I got my camera out there was just a wet floor. We had passed over the Tyne bridge when there was a close flash of lightning and instantaneous thunder clap which may have been the time the bridge was hit. Police were closing roads, cars were all over the place, all jammed up and I reckon it took 30mins to get from the bridge to the bus station, a distance of less than a mile. Several people, including me, gave our driver a special thank you, he was visibly shaking. Well most of you will have read about the trouble Newcastle and Gateshead were in that night. I certainly have never seen weather like it and I've been through monsoons.
Down came the rain.....
...and Washed that Bus Right Out
One person who wasn't coping well was a girl on the bus. As we came through Gateshead during the height of the storm she had just heard that the electricity was off at home. I've never been without electric, I heard her say, how do you see? Later - I won't be able to do my hair so I won't be able to go out. I don't know what happened to her but I reckon that getting her hair ready would be the least of her problems.
The scenes in the bus station were amazing, there were people queuing to get into the station, let alone onto a bus. Where were the buses? There were only a few at the bus station. Doreen and I were ringing around trying to get a hotel while I was also trying to find a way north out of the city. The lady from Haydon Bridge that I mentioned, had cycled through part of the storm and told Doreen that her husband was blocked in and had given up trying to leave his car park in central Newcastle. I queued for a bus for Morpeth, it filled up before I could get on, but the driver then suddenly left his bus so I don't know if or when it made it out. Just a few hundred yards down the road I tried a hotel at random and got one of their last rooms. It wasn't a great hotel for £70 but I had somewhere to sleep which is more than many had.
Gridlock Pointing South
I heard stories and saw sights that night I'll always remember. A lady with two small children at our hotel unable to get a room and not knowing what to do. When I went out to take a walk and get some food there were people queuing up at bus stops where buses were empty and abandoned. I saw a wedding party with the bride, I assume, sitting on the pavement crying. Traffic nearby that I walked past twice and hadn't moved more than a few yards in an hour. I went to an Italian restaurant at the same time that Italy were beating Germany in Euro 2012,. All the diners had been affected by the storm and some still didn't know what they were going to do. However we clapped the Italian victory and my sorbet came out decorated with a little Italian flag.
Around 9pm Gridlock. No Trains, Metro or Buses
Back in the bar at the hotel people were telling their stories. A Polish lady who lived in Sunderland made two attempts to get home and had returned to the hotel four hours later (by then the booked rooms of 'no shows' were being resold). Earlier she had been in a basement, stock taking, when lights went out and water started pouring in, she got out aided by the light from her laptop screen. There was a wedding guest who had been unable to get to the evening 'do' in Gateshead. She was dressed up in hardly any clothes at all and her boyfriend was giving her grief over the phone because he had made it and she hadn't. I didn't see her at breakfast, perhaps she snuck away under cover of darkness. The manager was at a loss what to do about staff. At midday she had been expecting the hotel to be around a third full. Now she faced a full hotel with half of the expected staff. The barman had been working all day as a doorman.
The metro was closed and the Metrocentre in Gateshead had been damaged and had been evacuated. Most people coped somehow but there was talk on the radio next morning of fifteen hour journeys. Breakfast next morning was a revelation though. We have only overnighted once in Newcastle before. We went to the after-wedding party of the lady from Haydon Bridge in 2001. As I went in to breakfast I realised this was the same room as the party had been held in. Looking at the car park later it was clearly the same Hotel.
Thurday's summary 8 hours 55 minutes travelling 5 buses and 90 miles or a further 4 inches on my map. I have stayed a day ahead.
The journey from Newcastle to Berwick on Tweed is an easy, if long, bus trip, just one bus, the 501 taking 3 hours or so. The TV news was full of the storm and some places on my intended route had suffered badly, Alnwick for one. So I arrived early at the bus station and took advantage of the fact that the bus station is co-located with a large M&S to prepare a survival/celebration pack. Normally on this trip I didn't carry food or drink but I thought it safer to on this leg. The bus was due to leave at 9.30am I went to it as it was loading five minutes before. It wouldn't accept my bus pass. No matter the driver said and she fiddled with the machine to produce a free ticket before time. I don't know if that was the cause but 9.30 came and went and she was having difficulties with the ticket machine. It was producing lots of unwanted tickets. She addressed the passengers saying she was sorry but unless she sorted this out with someone in authority she would end up paying for them from her wages. We left shortly after but at Morpeth she still was having trouble with spurious tickets. The advice then was to reboot the machine which she did, and we carried on to Alnwick.
There was little to show of the storms at Alnwick so perhaps my survival pack would not be needed for that purpose. We were running a little late on what was normally a three hour journey and were now heading down smaller roads. The word from the new driver, however, was that there were no problems with the road, just minor flooding. In fact we had no problems, apart from a BT repair lorry that blocked a corner. The bus driver had words and they reluctantly moved a few yards to let us pass.
North Sea - Craster
I got my first glimpse of the sea near Longhoughton and celebrated by starting on my strawberries sharing some with nearby passengers who I had been talking to. I found the further north I went the easier it was to have long conversations with strangers. Down south on this trip any conversations died out quickly. This was the first time on the trip that I actually mentioned my quest to fellow bus passengers. When I told them that the bus pass stopped at the border one of them offered me a lift to Edinburgh so that I could fly back. I explained that I had to cross the border on the bus.
Seahouses - Bamburgh Castle
Just after arriving at Berwick I was on the last bus of my trip a 253 as far as Burnmouth. Flushed with my success I mentioned to the bus driver what I was doing. "Did I want a picture at the Border?" he asked. I said yes thinking he might slow down a bit there. No he pulled his bus into the layby and jumped out of the bus and took a picture at 14.00 of me at the Border, he then dropped me in Burnmouth and there was just time to cross the road, drink a toast, put on my 'follow me' T shirt over the top of the 'Keep Calm' one, take a photo at the bus stop and tweet my success before I caught the bus back to England. That cost me the princely sum of £2.
The Border and Burnmouth Bus Stop
I got off near the railway station at Berwick and stayed there most of the afternoon. To East Coast Railway management: You presided over a shambles. I've had my rant already elsewhere but the main points were:
1. You didn't lay on buses to get past the landslip just south of Berwick. That resulted in taxi touts from out of town offering to convey hapless passengers to Newcastle for £120. (normal fare around £65-70).
2. Even though some trains were running your staff abandoned the station leaving notices up that no trains were running.
3. Your website and ticket booking system is flakey to say the least.
There is lots more but eventually I got a ticket home for Saturday, £150.10.
I found a nice B&B, a nice Pub with a nice barmaid and had a nice Chinese meal so all in all Berwick you were a nice experience. I even did what I never do these days brought home some souvenirs an 'I love Berwick' mug, and a scottish fiver given in my change when I purchased my only paid ticket of the trip back to England, and that I've also kept.
Friday's summary: 4 hours 30 minutes travelling 2 buses and 95 miles or a further 4 inches on my map to the finish.
Final summary and Reckoning
Saturday: I had to stand until reaching York but met three students on the train and we talked about all sorts of things not least of all my trip. I got home around sixish by taking a taxi, not a bus, from the station.
To begin to write this blog I gathered all my material together and as a first thing made the annotated maps of my journey. The mileages on each leg are a bit iffy but the best I can do from memory, google maps and the timetables. My tweets provide an accurate timing of where I was and when, which has helped, as did any photos taken with my iPad but unfortunately the clock in my wife's camera was not set up correctly, plus, when I changed its battery I made it worse, however assuming the town clock at Darlington is accurate I have a correction factor to set the timing thereafter. There weres also the posts I made directly to FaceBook and summaries to a FaceBook group to aid with timing so as far as I recall all that follows is also accurate.
Bus Numbers: 5, 5, 51, 28, 42, 551, 144, X51, 2A, 75, 101 ,76, 118, 65, X78, X78, 22, 194, 110, 36, 159, X27, 2A, X2, 501, 253.
Number of buses: 26
Bus companies: 8; Wilts&Dorset, Stagecoach, Arriva, First, Wardle, TM Travel, City Connect, Perryman's.
Daily milage 115, 125, 130, 90, 95
Mileage total 555
Daily hours travelling from first bus to getting off last bus each day 9:10, 9:40, 8:40, 8:55, 4:30
Hours total 40 hours 55 minutes
Number of progress tweets 86
At some point I added up all I spent. The figure I arrived at, which includes my return fare and what I spent in Berwick, after completing the quest comes to almost exactly £555 It was 555 miles, so exactly a £1 a mile.
So the title of this blog should have read To Scotland for free on my Bus Pass (or £1 a mile).
PS my iPad cost £200 to repair