Friday 9 December 2022

Awaiting the levelling-up of bus services!

A Local Adventure by Bus and by Train

One of Boris Johnson's undeliverable promises was that the whole country would have "London style" bus services, so frequent that we would not need timetables ... well, that was never going to work in the countryside, but there are places where you'd think that at least some parts might work, and yet it still doesn't. Take Stamford, where I live: no buses run anywhere after about 6 o'clock in the evening, and none on Sundays. Even on Saturdays most routes do not operate either. Some services we do have are so infrequent that although I have lived here for about fourteen years, three of them with a senior citizen bus pass, I have never used them because they just do not fit what I need to do. But one of those routes I have finally tried, and this is the story!

I had to meet a colleague, my Archdeacon, to prepare a report together for our Bishop. I have been to her home many times before and was aware that there is a bus stop right outside her house, served by the good (for Lincolnshire) bus service between Grantham and Lincoln. I arranged the meeting mid-morning so as to stand some chance of getting there from Stamford and set off to the bus station to get the number 4 bus to Grantham, where I would change for the Lincoln bus.

This bus has pretensions to being an airliner!

Bus service 4 to Grantham is a route which Centrebus acquired when they bought the Kimes company which had run it for some time. It was never frequent and acts a service linking the villages between the two towns to the towns, and it is clearly aimed at those going to Stamford in the morning and returning in the afternoon, for it was likely to be impossible to return by this way: I would probably need a train back, via a change at Peterborough, because the last bus from Grantham to Stamford was far too early for me to be likely to catch it. The company is based in Grantham and I suspect it wants to get all its vehicles and drivers home for tea!

At the bus station I joined a handful of passengers waiting by a small bus for the driver to arrive and start the boarding. It was not much more than a minibus and my seat was really only just big enough, the seat beside me being needed for my briefcase, so it is as well that the bus was not fully loaded! The same four people, including myself, remained the only passengers all the way through the outskirts of Stamford and into the Rutland countryside at Ryhall. No-one got on or off through several further villages, back into Lincolnshire. I have travelled these lanes and visited these villages on and off since I was about six years old, but always by car: from the bus, even a little bus, I saw far more of the scenery. It was a lovely, sunny day and everything looked wonderful, especially through the Holywell estate. I can thoroughly recommend a trip on the number 4 just for the ride, and some of the villages have some pretty decent pubs, too ... a summer outing is taking shape in my head! On some of the winding roads, the advice to wear seat belts (how many buses even have those?) was probably wise!

After a delightful run through the Lincolnshire countryside the bus made its way to Grantham bus station where I had a few minutes to spare before my onward connection. I checked with the driver when and where to get the bus back if my meeting finished in time, but I was fairly sure that it would not and that I'd be looking a train back from Grantham.

The bus I needed was Stagecoach route 1 for Lincoln, and I'd be getting off in Welbourn at the stop called "The Old Rectory", right by the gateway of what has now become the Archdeacon's house. This was a full-sized double-deck bus with even better views of the countryside, again on a road I have driven many a time but only once before by bus, and that was long ago when a meeting in Lincoln overran causing me to miss my train back to Grantham where I then lived, so I had to go to the bus station, then at St Mark's, to get a green Lincolnshire Road Car home. It took ages compared with the train, and I was late already, but in those days it was buses that were always there for us when everything else had packed up. Now it is the buses that pack up while the trains often continue until late. Funny how it goes.

Not quite sure what my Archdeacon was trying to tell me with
this mug 
Meeting over, I was kindly entertained to lunch (pumpkin soup; it was that time f the year!) and was kindly given a lift to Grantham railway station, too, so I did not use the bus as planned for that section of the trip. From Grantham to Peterborough there are two train services: LNER's from Lincoln or the north to London, and East Midlands Railway's from Nottingham or beyond to Norwich. They depart just a few moments apart, so I did not buy my ticket until I saw how they were running and which was likely to get me to Peterborough earliest. I ascertained that it would be LNER (as it should have been by the timetable), which also had the advantage of not needing me to cross the bridge to the other platform, so using the LNER app I bought a Standard Class single to Peterborough and boarded the train a few moments later. Had I not had the app I am not sure what I'd have done, as although there were many staff the booking office was not open. I suppose there'd have been a ticket machine somewhere but I did not bother to look because I knew I did not need it.

I was in no hurry to get home and had an invitation to my son's home in Hampton, Peterborough, so on arrival in Peterborough I made my way to the bus station and instead of taking the bus home I took the bus to Hampton, the end of a day of local adventure.

Now, all of this could have been done by car, and yes, it would probably have been "quicker" but it seems to me that car travel is often simply tedious even if it is quicker. I did not have to drive, I had a great view of the scenery, on the train part of the trip I was able to get ahead with the things I had undertaken to do at my meeting. As a senior citizen, of course, my expenses claim was just for the short one-way train trip on the return, far less than the mileage would have been at 45p a mile (which with today's petrol price is probably not enough to cover essential car use anyway). And it was fun! I have longed for a reason to take that bus number 4 which, it seems to me, would also be great for getting to or from some country walks.

It is easy to believe, especially in a county like Lincolnshire or Rutland, that without a car it is impossible to get about, but it is not impossible. It is not always very convenient, though, and we look forward, with no confidence at all, to the "London style" bus services we should get as part of the levelling-up agenda. Or at least buses that run all day and every day. Or for some places any bus at all ... but meanwhile, even now there are more useful bus routes than we sometimes think, and by bus and train it is quite possible to make some quite complex journeys, and even to do spontaneous things. But it does need rather more thought than it might in London.