Saturday 7 March 2020

Is It a Bus? Is It a Tram?

The Cambridge Guided Busway

I have been unfortunate enough to need and fortunate enough to receive treatment at the Royal Papworth Hospital over the last couple of years, and this month I attended an outpatients clinic at which I was discharged fit and well. The hospital used to be in the village of Papworth Everard, difficult (although not impossible) to reach by public transport, and mostly I had been taken by car for my treatments and consultations, but it has recently moved to wonderful new premises in Cambridge on the Biomedical Campus where Addenbrookes Hospital has been for many years. This is now a cinch by public transport from my home in Stamford: a train ride and a quick bus connection, but we decided to make a short break of the trip and arranged to stay with friends in the village of Over, a few miles outside Cambridge, after my clinic appointment. We used to live in Over which then had an infrequent and lengthy bu route to and from Cambridge, and although there is still an infrequent service which goes through the village, there is a stop a short walk away on the Cambridge Guided Busway which has fast and frequent buses much like a tram service, and rather than take our car we thought we'd give this a go.

This time my clinic was not until 3 o'clock in the afternoon, but we set off for Cambridge in the morning with the idea of spending some time together, including lunch, in the city and then my wife could shop while I went off to the hospital. We would then reconvene for our visit to our friends, letting them have our ETA when we boarded our guided bus.

For once we did not book our train tickets in advance, for this is a local service to us and there was little to be gained by early booking. We bought Anytime Returns between Stamford, where we live, and Cambridge, giving us complete flexibility over our timing and allowing break of journey if we decided (which we didn't!) to visit, say, Ely, on our way home, and for my wife a PlusBus ticket for the two days - I am now old enough to have free bus travel anyway. We bought coffee and biscuits from the trolley on the train when it came through our carriage just after Peterborough.

We spent the journey completing some of puzzles in The Times and gazing out of the window: the amount of water in the Fens was quite astonishing after the very wet winter we have had, but no flooding except in the wash lands that are intended to flood when rainfall is high. Soon Ely Cathedral was in view, and then the gorgeous view of Ely over the marina as we approached the station. Soon after that we were leaving the train at Cambridge and making our way to the array of bus stops to find the next bus into the city centre. There was one within five minutes and although it crawled a bit through the traffic it was not long before we were dropped right in the heart of the city. We had our lunch at the Michaelhouse café which we have visited before and then walked together to where I would take my bus to the Royal Papworth Hospital.

In the city centre the guided buses look just like any other bus on the streets, with route letters rather than numbers, but the stopping points are few with the intention of making them a little bit faster, I suppose. I waited at the stop and my bus came along, next stop Cambridge Railway Station, back the way we had come, and after the stop there I was surprised to see that the very next stop on the information display was Royal Papworth Hospital, and when it left the rail station the bus was on the guided busway and accelerated up to somewhere over 50 mph, feeling much like a tram. It stopped right outside an entrance clearly provided for the convenience of bus users: I was too early to check in for my appointment! No problem: the waiting area not only had comfortable armchairs but also a workspace with table equipped with electric sockets, and a coffee bar, so I bought coffee, plugged in my MacBook and wrote up my previous blog post! After coffee I took my appointment letter to the check-in terminal and scanned its barcode, answered the ridiculous questions about my racial origin etc (who needs to know that?) and went back to continue by writing, but within a few moments I was called for my ECG and that was the end of blogging for today.

My shadow photographing the bus on which I arrived in the
centre of Cambridge after my hospital visit! 
Once I had seen the consultant I went out to the bus stops and tried to ascertain when and where my bus back to the city would be departing. Information posted was just timetables; a map or a simple, "Buses to the city centre and St Ives from this stop," would have been good. Not everyone who comes here lives and Cambridge and knows what is where ... anyway, I was soon aboard a fast bus for the city centre, shared my location with my wife on WhatsApp and was soon reunited with her. We walked to the bus station at Drummer Street and looked for the next guided bus that would take us to visit our friends. The Bus Checker app on our iPhones is very handy for this sort of thing. When using buses in strange places I would not want to be without it. Even so, the stops here had very good live information and I am sure we'd have been OK. Once through the streets and out of town we joined the busway and zipped through the countryside like a train - not surprising, this is a former railway line, just like many a tramway.

Guided bus from Cambridge bus station arrives at
Swavesey bus stop
We were met by car at the bus stop (or is it a station?) at Sawavesey and driven the short distance to our friends home, handed over our gifts from Lincolnshire and enjoyed their hospitality, and the following morning, after a filling breakfast with them we made our way through the village on foot, streets once familiar when we lived there but now fading in our memory, and then walked to the station bus stop and awaited the next bus through to the rail station in Cambridge for our train home. Not all buses go to the rail station; some, like the one on which we had arrived, terminate at Drummer Street bus station, so we needed one that would go through. Route diagrams and information at the stop made this simple, and we showed our respective passes and boarded. We soon worked out as we approached that rail station that if we hurried we would catch a train home that was scheduled to depart within five minutes of our bus arriving - easy: no need to run, just keep going purposefully!

The train was not crowded and we had good seats together and resumed our Times puzzles as we sped home. The refreshment trolley came to us just as the train left Cambridge: great! We realised that it was four o'clock and we had had no lunch, so filling had our breakfast been, but it was fading now and we were able to enjoy sandwiches and drinks from the trolley at a very reasonable price. We thanked the host for being so timely, although it was, of course, simply good fortune that he was there just at that moment! And so to home: after all that we had done we treated ourselves to a taxi home from the station this time, and it was good to be back and with the prospect of no more appointments at this wonderful hospital, having been made well by their world-class expertise.

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