Home from scenic Scotland

Day 5  Sunday 3rd March 2019   Glasgow to Carlisle

I always look forward to a journey down the West Coast Main Line between Glasgow and Carlisle, or for a bit of variety, ScotRail’s alternative via Kilmarnock and Dumfries, but today I thought I’d try out the bus option. It takes much longer than the train but as the first of the two routes involved was awarded Best Bus Route in the Scottish Transport Awards 2018, with such an accolade under its belt, the X74 had to be well worth a ride.

IMG_0268.jpgRoute X74 is part of Stagecoach West Scotland’s impressive network of express bus routes, of which yesterday’s ride on the X76 from Kilmarnock to Glasgow was another. Whereas over in Stagecoach East Scotland territory their network of express routes is marketed under the ‘express city connect’ brand between Fife and Edinburgh, as well as some routes across to Glasgow and it’s airport, the West Scotland network linking Ayrshire and Dumfries and Galloway with Glasgow are each branded individually.

IMG_0264.jpgThe X74 runs hourly between Dumfries and Glasgow with twelve return journeys on Mondays to Fridays, the same with an extra in the early evening on Saturdays and eight journeys every two hours on Sundays. Journey time is two hours and ten minutes although the first journey into Glasgow on weekdays is given an extra twenty minutes to allow for peak hour congestion.

IMG_0353.jpgI caught the 1315 from Glasgow’s Buchanan Street Bus Station. The impressive looking three year old coach (a Volvo with Plaxton Elite body) arrived bang on time from its incoming journey at 1255 and unloaded a large number of passengers – I didn’t count but reckon it must have been pretty full, and many had luggage in the ground floor ‘under the upper deck’ compartment – not sure of the technical term for these things, but I realised how useful the storage area is, including space for bikes, and the upside is you get a great view from what feels like a top deck.

IMG_0271.jpgUnlike the X76 yesterday, these vehicles have e-leather seating – not as comfortable for me as the traditional cloth moquette as experienced on the newer X76. The front seat arrangement was a 3+1 layout which worked perfectly for me in the one, and a Mum and two kids in the three.

IMG_0272.jpgOur driver reappeared at 1309 and he got the 30 or so of us on board efficiently and we left on time at 1315. Within minutes we were on the M8 and then the M74 for a non-stop journey to our first stop at Hamilton bus station arriving on time at 1340 where Mum and the two kids as well as a few other passengers alighted.

Back the short distance to the M74 and south we go for another twenty minutes before coming off and doing a short circuit around Lesmahagow dropping a few more passengers off then back on the M74 for around 20 minutes more and a brief stop at Abington service area for no other purpose it seemed to me than “to comply with Department for Transport guidance – the service connects – the connection is guaranteed and passengers may remain on the vehicle” as the timetable states. What a load of baloney.

Anyway we’re back on the motorway which has now become the A74(M) but you’d not really notice the difference to the M74 as we sped down to Moffat where at least half our passengers alight and we wait time for a few minutes before retracing our route back to the A74(M) junction again and I’d expected us to continue on the minor road through Beattock to stop by the ‘Primary School’, as listed in the timetable leaflet, but instead we headed straight on to the A701 (which acts as a Beattock by-pass) and pretty much runs due south all the way down to Dumfries.

IMG_0338.jpgYou might think a bus route which runs down a motorway for the best part of an hour and a half would be a tedious ride, but nothing could be further from reality. The more you head south the more fantastic the scenery becomes, and nearing the Moffat turn off comes the familiar sight of the West Coast Main Line paralleling the road in the valley between mountains (or big hills – again technical terms may vary) and it was good to see the scenery from a different perspective to what I’m used to on the train.

IMG_0341.jpgThe A701 skirts the huge Forest of Ae which takes its name from the village called Ae. Must be the only place name in Britain just comprising two vowels; aside from the former London bus garage in Hendon!

IMG_E0532.jpgAs we entered Dumfries and Galloway territory I spotted what looked like an interesting network map and brand name displayed in a rather forlorn looking bus shelter with adjacent moss encrusted bus stop flag.

IMG_0342.jpgTurns out the ‘SWestransport’ brand is all about a partnership between local politicians and the NHS but their promoted website on the posters contains minutes of their Board meetings rather than any useful transport information. For that there’s a click through to the Dumfries and Galloway website where you can helpfully find timetables in route number order but unhelpfully no sign of the network route map.

IMG_0356.jpgFor future trip planning I took a photo of the map which was commendably on display in each shelter in Dumfries’s small bus station taking care to find one which hadn’t been defaced.

IMG_0356.jpgI was very impressed with the X74. I don’t know what criteria the Scottish Transport Awards use to judge what’s best, but it was a decent travel experience.

It was now time to finish off my journey south on Stagecoach’s route 79 down to Carlisle. Another hourly service* and two-hourly on Sundays taking around an hour and a half for the journey. * Half hourly between Annan and Carlisle.

IMG_0362.jpgThe 1550 departure had just six of us on board but we picked up a similar number in Annan and a few more in Eastriggs and Gretna Green who all mostly got off along the way so as we crossed over the border back into England there were just five of us left on board.

The 79 heads due west between Dumfries and Longtown along the B724 which parallels the newer A75. I’m guessing the B724 used to be the A75 as it was pretty much deserted of other traffic and we made amazingly good progress as well as serving the two or three tiny villages/settlements along the way.

IMG_E0534.jpgAs we arrived in Longtown, 27 minutes and nine miles north of Carlisle, we came up behind a West Coast Motors/Borders Buses X95 on one of the three journeys a day (on Sundays) from Edinburgh (one journey) or Galashiels (the other two) and in an unfortunate clash of timings followed each other all the way down the A7 into Carlisle.

IMG_0385.jpgDespite travelling many miles over the last five days from Kyle of Lochalsh to Gretna Green I’d seen a West Coast Motors bus or coach on service every day such is their amazingly large operating area!

IMG_0389.jpgI paid single fares on the X74 (£9.60) and 79 (£8.30) as the cheapest way to make the journey. Interestingly when I travelled on the aforementioned X95 from Edinburgh to Carlisle (changing buses in Galashiels) last October the through fare was just £7.80 and journey time (including a half hour in Galashiels) was four hours compared to a similar 4 hours and 7 minutes from Glasgow via Dumfries. Glasgow via Dumfries to Carlisle is 110 miles and Edinburgh to Carlisle is 92 miles.

Day 6  Monday 4th March 2019   Home from Carlisle

I always try and fit in at least two or three trips on the Settle-Carlisle line each year so today was a good opportunity for the first one of 2019. I’d left home on Wednesday with temperatures in the low twenty degrees so it came as a shock to see slushy snow on the streets of Carlisle this morning.

But all the better for seeing the splendid scenery heading south towards Settle with snow covered mountains followed, once the sun came out, by beautiful greens and browns across the landscape.

IMG_0410.jpgIMG_0403.jpgI ranked this line fifth in my recent Hundred Best listing and having travelled the first, second and fourth in as many days since Wednesday, it reaffirmed my scoring judgement. Definitely England’s best scenic line and just one point behind (as Nicholas Parsons would say) those top iconic Scottish lines.

IMG_0416.jpgArriving in Leeds I headed over to the bus station spotting some further recent welcome investment in new buses by First West Yorkshire sporting the smart colour coded green based ‘Leedscity’ brand and livery.

IMG_0449.jpgThe X10 running hourly between Barnsley and Leeds is another Stagecoach ‘express’ route initiative; this one introduced in November 2017. I tried it out during its first week so thought it was time to give it another ride to see how it was doing sixteen months on. It’s doing very well, I’m pleased to see.

IMG_0468.jpgThe journey time is an impressive 53 minutes making for an efficient timetable with seven minutes stand time at each end. The coach arrived into Leeds slightly ahead of time at 1154 and a good load of around 25-30 passengers alighted – not bad for a Monday lunch time in early March. My southbound departure at 1205 left with ten of us on board.

IMG_0510.jpgThe X10 departs from the coach departure bays in Leeds bus station which I guess is to give emphasis to its ‘coach’ quality of travel rather than the image portrayed by a standard double deck bus, although Harrogate & District’s famous route 36 exudes quality and manages just fine from the bus bays. Or maybe the departure charges are cheaper?

IMG_0512.jpgIt’s a shame I couldn’t find any timetable leaflets for the X10 either in the bus station area ….

IMG_0470.jpg…or in the coach section; mind you there weren’t any National Express leaflets either, possibly because they don’t print them anymore (all online and all that).

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IMG_0517.jpgBut at least there were a few on the coach itself (if you spotted them) and refreshingly some behind the counter in the South Yorkshire ‘PTE’ Customer Services kiosk in Barnsley bus station, where I noticed the former helpful and well stocked Information Centre has been relet as a betting shop. So much for making bus travel a responsible choice for positive lifestyles!

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IMG_1261.jpgThe X10 is a real treat to ride on. Within just a few minutes after leaving Leeds bus station you’re gliding down the M1 to junction 38 to serve the catchment area of Darton heading into Barnsley. Taking this route usefully gives the bus the edge over the train for people living in this catchment area as well as supplementing local bus services. The train takes 35 minutes (half hourly fast) or 54 minutes on an hourly stopper.

IMG_0524.jpgThe X10 single fare is £6 with an attractively priced £7 Explorer day ticket which is also available on Stagecoach’s other routes, thereby also competing with the train on price which costs £9.20 single £11.20 peak day return or £9.40 off peak. Railcard discounted fares are £6.10 single and £7.40 peak or £6.20 off-peak return.

My driver was very friendly and gave a smooth and enjoyable ride all the more so as I approved of his ‘best of the sixties and seventies’ compilation music choices which played out for the journey!

IMG_0525.jpgAs I’d bagged one of LNER’s bargain basement priced first class advanced fares from Leeds to return to London Kings Cross at 1415 I headed back to Leeds on one of Northern’s two-an-hour fast journeys and was soon in ‘Seat 29’ heading south to bring these six days of enjoyable travels to an end.

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IMG_0529.jpgNot before a quick hop over to St Pancras International for the Thameslink journey to Hassocks as the finale.

Roger French

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