Saturday 6th July 2019
I thought it was high time I ticked off more bus routes on my lengthy ‘to do’ list compiled from the many suggestions kindly passed on from various sources, not least Twitter, which qualify for the accolade of being the Best of British Bus Routes. So for the next few days that’s my mission beginning this weekend in Devon….
….. with the Summer Saturday only route 271 from Newton Abbot to Widicombe.
It’s operated by Country Bus – the trading name of Alansway Coaches who have built up a sizeable amount of tendered bus work in this part of Devon from their base on the Heathfield Industrial Estate just outside Newton Abbot.
Stand in Newton Abbot’s ‘bus station’ (bus stops either side of the bus only Sherborne Road) for a short time and aside from Stagecoach it soon becomes obvious just how dominant Country Bus has become in the local market.
Route 271 runs four times a day but only on Saturdays from June to mid September – that’s sixteen days in all. One minibus covers the schedule.
Interestingly no concessionary passes are valid on this route, it being deemed by Devon County Council who fund the service, to be a tourist route. Instead pass holders get a £1 discount on the round trip fare of £5, paying just £4. My experience this afternoon indicated this policy certainly hasn’t deterred seniors from travelling. Indeed, I suspect they value the service even more by handing over cash to travel. Two seniors on my journey paid up, like me, to just enjoy the trip right around the circuit which takes an hour and forty-five minutes. It’s certainly well worth it.
Journeys leave Newton Abbot railway station at 08:55, 10:55, 13:40 and 16:10 calling at the bus station in Sherborne Road five minutes later.
The route then follows the Stagecoach half hourly route 39 north to Bovey Tracey about twenty minutes from Newton Abbot on the A382 towards Mortonhampstead. Bovey Tracey’s a delightful small town come large village on the River Bovey and buses do a complete circuit of the residential area to the east of its commercial centre in both directions.
Route 271 then heads off to the west along the B3387 to Widicombe in the Moor via Yarner and Haytor which truly is a magnificent road to travel along and admire the wonderful scenery as you enter the Dartmoor National Park.
I travelled on the 13:40 departure from Newton Abbot this afternoon and there were five of us on board as we left although one didn’t travel far getting off at an exclusive looking private school, Stover School, just outside the town with another passenger joining us at Bovey Tracey getting us back to five again, although he alighted at the Moor’s Visitor Centre just past the hamlet of Haytor Vale where the Moor proper begins.
We picked up four more here and when we got to Widicombe one got off and there were eight waiting to board who’d all obviously travelled out on one of the two morning journeys and had enjoyed a walk across the wonderful scenic countryside.
After a short pause in Widicombe in the Moor we retraced our route up the steep narrow access road for a couple of miles before turning sharp left and heading up a narrow unclassified road, along which, after a few more miles we picked up three more walkers who’d travelled out this morning.
We then turned right along the narrowest of roads for the longest duration I think I’ve travelled along – it even beat some of the narrow roads in Pembrokeshire used by the Strumble Shuttle.
Inevitably we met a car coming towards us which had no option but to reverse some distance to enable us to pass.
At the village of Manaton one of the five passengers who’d got on at Newton Abbot alighted and we picked up three more making for twenty on board.
I heard the driver telling the lady alighting that he’d look out for her on the next and last journey of the day and he reassured her there’d be room but “I’m expecting the journey to be busy”. It had obviously been a busy first two journeys this morning; and it’s great to see that.
The photographs here cannot do justice to the amazingly spectacular scenery this bus route offers; sadly the bus windows were not particularly clean, especially the back window, but I still found it exhilarating and I rank it as one of the best scenic bus routes I’ve travelled on. It was also lovely to see so many Dartmoor ponies freely roaming around too.
It seems a shame the route only runs on a Saturday as I would have thought it would be just as popular on a Sunday with both walkers and people just enjoying the ride around. The fact that everyone pays a fare means the revenue is as it is with no discounted reimbursement issues.
Unfortunately the bus was not accessible having a three step entrance rather than being low floor so there was no provision for a wheelchair despite the capacity stating there was.
The standing capacity showing as zero indicates Country Bus are using the ‘get out’ clause of the vehicle being classified as a ‘coach’ so will only be caught by the accessibility legislation from next January when it will become illegal.
The interior of the vehicle also had an odd pair of seats which made for an unkept appearance.
That aside, it was a very enjoyable ride around with a friendly and helpful driver, expertly driven and scenery to die for. It was very encouraging to see it so well used too and not a free ride in sight. Definitely a bus route ‘to do’.
I was planning to head on from Newton Abbot to Exeter on the quick and direct Stagecoach route X64 via the A380. It was showing on the network map on Stagecoach’s website …
…. but entering X64 into the ‘Timetable’ look up brought no results. I’m grateful to John Crowhurst, who also encouraged me to ride the 271, for explaining the X64 has been replaced and revised and the section of route between Totnes, Newton Abbot and Exeter is now numbered 7.
I’m not sure how you’re supposed to know that as even the map dated April 2019 in what’s left of Exeter bus station is showing the X64 still operates.
Anyway we made good progress on the 41 minute journey to Exeter thanks to the free flowing A380…
…and arrived at the now truncated Exeter bus station where redevelopment of much of the former land is now well under way.