Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Eight Minutes Late

Lancaster lies at the southern end of Stagecoach's mighty 555, a three-hour extravaganza of a bus route right through the heart of the Lake District via Kendal, Windermere, Ambleside and Grasmere all the way to Keswick. To be honest, the first hour or so northwards to Kendal isn't all that exciting, especially if you've done it a few times before, but in the summer holidays Stagecoach puts on extra buses, which not only double the frequency but run via the Motorway to Kendal saving half-an-hour and some tedium.

So yesterday, brandishing my free bus pass, I boarded the 10.30 departure for a swift run up the M6 and on as far as Windermere. We lost a few minutes on the motorway being stuck behind an HGV that was going too fast to overtake but not quite as fast as the bus could have managed. Then, coming into Kendal we lost more time whilst a boarding passenger explored the various ticketing options for a rather complex onward journey. At one time that would have been left to the conductor to sort out, but now the driver has to do it and the bus gets delayed. Arrival at Kendal was thus 8 minutes late. We lost more time here whilst the drivers changed-over and some passengers boarded but then had a quick run through to Windermere, picking up some of the lost time. The reason for this became evident as we arrived at Windermere to find the previous bus - that should have been 30 minutes in front - just leaving!
At Windermere I transferred to the 508 for a run over the Kirkstone Pass (454 meters), something else that's only possible in the school holidays.

Kirkstone Pass (c) Lucy Melford
 Quite a trial for the driver as we kept meeting cars and sometimes heavier vehicles on the narrow winding roads edged with dry-stone walls. At the top he stopped and got out to check the bus for damage - thankfully finding none!  Then it was down towards Ullswater and along the lake shore to Pooley Bridge and on to Penrith with spectacular Lakeland scenery all the way.

After an hour or two looking round the town the next step, according to the timetable, was the 106 to Kendal via Shap. I was at the bus station in good time and being well-used to the foibles of the bus industry, wasn't overly surprised when the bus came in showing "Kendal 107" on the front!
Another spectacular ride, along the old A6 trunk road to Shap village where in the days before the motorway drivers would often get stranded in winter when snow blocked the road across the high fells for days on end.  No snow today, although it did start to rain as we turned onto the minor road via Orton and then to the former railway village of Tebay that now makes a living as the northern hub of the well-known internet auction site:  -  't-ebay (local joke!)

I had a seven minute connection to make at Kendal which didn't seem a problem until we reached the outskirts of town and got caught up in the rush hour traffic. The last mile or so took 15 minutes meaning that instead of arriving 7 minutes before the Lancaster bus was due we got there 8 minutes after it should have left. But the 555 had also been delayed and it was still on the stand as we approached the bus station with a handful of people waiting to board.  The 106 (or was it a 107) stops at the next stand and I made my way to the platform for a speedy exit. But the driver, who had been driving very cautiously all the way from Kendal, pulled past the stop and reversed very carefully on to it, waiting until he was happy that the bus was neatly lined up before opening the doors. Thankfully the 555 driver was equally carefully engrossed in some paperwork so despite his bus being 8 minutes late I was able to make the connection.

This was another motorway journey and I realised for the first time that from the top deck of a bus you get a good view of the derelict locks of the Tewitfield flight that were lost when the northern reaches of the Lancaster Canal were closed when the motorway was built.

Buses these days are timed to run at the maximum speed possible at all times, so despite a clear run into Lancaster we were unable to make up time and were still 8 minutes late on arrival. Luckily there was a connection into a bus that would take me home, saving a 20 minute walk, but there was a problem.

Recently I wrote about how reliable and predicable buses were and almost the very next day I was forced to eat my words when the bus I was on broke down (read again here). Now, here again was another example, right in the middle of the bus station!

The bus and recovery vehicle were blocking access to several departure stands meaning that buses were using whichever were available on an ad-hoc basis. Despite the efforts of an inspector to relocate passengers to match, some were missing their buses and we suffered a delay after two ladies boarded our bus to find that it wasn't going where they expected it to and proceeded to blame the driver and demand an explanation. We eventually got away - 8 minutes late!

Just another day on the buses!

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