Toon Time

Friday 23rd August 2019

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It’s always a pleasure to spend some time on Tyneside.

Open tops

IMG_7564.jpgYesterday I sampled the new open-top sightseeing tour introduced this summer by Go North East and branded as ‘toontour’. There’s been a bit of a change round on the open-top tour front on Tyneside this year. Stagecoach pulled out of the City Sightseeing franchise with Go North East filling the void and confidently using their own unique local brand for the service rather than paying to use the familiar red and yellow City Sightseeing livery.

IMG_7628.jpgProbably a wise decision; the Best Impressions designed livery looks great and it very much does what it says on the buses.Screen Shot 2019-08-23 at 18.43.35.pngTwo buses provide a half hourly frequency between 10:00 and 17:00 on a circuit taking in the sites of both central Newcastle and south of the Tyne on the Gateshead side including the Baltic and Sage buildings ..IMG_7640.jpg…and a great view of the Millenium Bridge, which unusually was open as I passed by yesterday.IMG_7646.jpgThe full tour takes just under an hour and has a very informative commentary which can be easily heard over the bus PA system. There’s an attractive and informative leaflet widely available with map, times, prices and descriptions of the attractions including some discounts. There’s also detail about Go North East bus routes to other tourist towns and cities in the region (eg Durham and Hexham).

A 24 hour ‘toontour’ ticket costs £8 or £12.50 including travel on all Go North East buses. A reduced £6 price is available for concessionary pass holders and students. It’s good value and if you have a spare hour the tour is well recommended.IMG_7544.jpg

Meanwhile Stagecoach have redeployed their ousted City Sightseeing open top buses on a new tour linking North Tyneside with Tynemouth and Whitley Bay branded as ‘The Seasider’.IMG_7768.jpg The bus seats might still be in CS colours but the buses have been repainted into ‘The Seasider’ branding with a pale sky blue and yellow beach livery which strangely makes no reference to the route taken or destinations served.IMG_7718.jpgScreen Shot 2019-08-23 at 19.33.33.pngThe Seasider route also runs half hourly from 10:00 to 16:20 and is more in the style of a traditional seaside open-top service than a city-sightseeing operation reflected in the cheaper fares of £2.50 single or £4 all-day with concessionary passes fully valid. It’s a weekends mid-April to mid-September venture with daily operation during school holidays.IMG_7706.jpgBuses pick up conveniently from the bus turning circle just a short walk from the cross-Tyne passenger ferry’s North Shields landing stage and the route stops outside North Shields, Tynemouth and Whitley Bay (photgraphed below) Metro stations.IMG_7739.jpgIt’s a great half hour ride offering some delightful seafront views on this popular stretch of coastline.IMG_7714.jpg I hope Stagecoach are having a good summer with the venture and repeats it next year.IMG_7774.jpg

New interchange

IMG_7652.jpgI took the opportunity on my journey on the Metro between these two open-top rides to check out the brand new transport interchange which opened earlier this month at the end of the line at the South Shields terminus.

This £21 million investment by Nexus has involved moving the elevated Metro station terminating platform about 100 yards further west (just visible in the above photo and below more clearly) so it can provide a direct link via escalators and a lift to the new bus station which has been built immediately below at ground level.IMG_7653.jpgBus station provision in PTE/Combined Authority areas is usually exemplary and it was great to see a brand new facility offering an airy and clean area to wait for a bus with a large passenger circulation area and seats for each front-on departure bay.IMG_E7660.jpgIMG_7665.jpgIMG_7667.jpgReal time departures were shown in the concourse and at each bay but I was a bit surprised there were no toilets; the Travel Shop was a closed-in talk-through-window affair and the only retail offering was a Greggs (which at least you could walk into rather than be served at a security window).

IMG_7657.jpgIMG_7655.jpgMeanwhile upstairs the Metro platform offered scant protection from the elements although there is a large area well under cover between the top of the escalators and the ticket barriers which would provide shelter waiting for the train to arrive before ‘turning round’ and heading back.IMG_7659.jpgPerhaps finances were tight and these extras got culled.

Ferry cross the Tyne

IMG_7672.jpgI took a ride across the Tyne on the passenger ferry which is just under a ten minute walk from the South Shields transport interchange.IMG_7675.jpgGerry Marsden has made the equivalent Mersey ferry world famous with his dulcet tones blasting out from the vessel’s speakers as you cross; I half expected Lindisfarne’s ‘Fog on the Tyne’ on this trip but it was all quiet on the impressively quick seven minute crossing.IMG_7677.jpgIt almost took as long to load all the passengers on the pay-as-you board system!IMG_7680.jpgThe ferry runs every half an hour with a bargain fare of £1.30 single and a range of other tickets which on first reading can appear quite complex. Run by Nexus, my Metro day ticket was valid for travel so that was a welcome bonus.IMG_7669.jpgIMG_7670.jpgOn the North Shields side as well as the Seasider open-top, Nexus fund a half hourly route 333 which provides convenient timetabled connections to the ferry a short walk from the landing stage. Ferry tickets (including my Metro day ticket) are valid as far as the nearby North Shields Metro station which is handy as it’s a bit further to walk than on the South Shields side.IMG_7686.jpg

Hadrian’s Country

IMG_8213.jpgIt’s been a few years since I had a ride on the splendidly scenic and appropriately, yet oddly, numbered bus route AD122 which links Hexham with Haltwhistle along the eerily straight B6318 (thank you, Romans) adjacent to Hadrians Wall.IMG_8335.jpg

IMG_8328.jpgTwo buses in a bespoke livery provide the hourly service (with some lunchtime gaps) daily from mid April to the end of September. It’s a popular service with tourists, campers and walkers enjoying this fascinating part of Northumberland with its rich history across a number of easily accessible sites to explore along the route.IMG_8367.jpgI caught the first journey from Hexham at 08:35 this morning. This runs direct to Haltwhistle using the A69, only deviating off it to call at Barden Mill, but as a 685 runs at a similar time it wasn’t surprising I was the only passenger on what is effectively an in service positioning journey.IMG_8268.jpgIn Haltwhistle an obvious regular passenger with shopping bag got on for the return journey to Hexham even though a 685 had departed a few minutes earlier and would have got her to Hexham in 36 minutes instead of the 57 minutes we took. Still I don’t blame her as the views along the AD122 route are stunning and the commentary over the bus PA provides a fascinating insight into the sites and sights the route passes.IMG_8337.jpgWe picked up and dropped off nine passengers at various points along the route and it was just me and my fellow shopper who travelled the full route.IMG_8324.jpgA few were obviously camping in the area while others looked as though they’d left a car nearby and were taking the bus to then walk back.

There’s a great leaflet available giving full details not only of route AD122 and the places it serves but also timetables and information about connecting bus routes at Hexham and Haltwhistle.IMG_8313.jpgIMG_8341.jpgThe two buses have a fantastic display of leaflets and information on board too, and I was impressed to see these being topped up on our arrival back at Hexham bus station.IMG_8370.jpgAD122 is part funded by Northumberland County Council, the Northumberland National Park Authority as well as a commercial input, at their risk, by Go North East. It’s an excellent example of partnership working which other county councils and National Park Authorities should take notice of. Well done to everyone involved.

Hexham bus station

IMG_8264.jpgHexham bus station is a smart functional, if somewhat clinical, affair opened just three years ago. There are three departure bays on the north side (as well as some layover space) with two on the south, roadside.

A waiting room is available with leaflet racks and departure screens at the western end of the central building off a short covered passage midway along…..IMG_8171.jpgIMG_8176.jpgIMG_8173.jpg….. and three individual toilet cubicles (signed for male/female/accessible) on the eastern side …..IMG_8373.jpg…… which also has a number of anonymous doors creating a bit of an unfriendly impression – one door leads into a staff facility which drivers accessed and the leaflet rack filler-up man tooIMG_8170.jpgIMG_8156.jpgBus timetables weren’t displayed by each stand but instead were grouped together in one place, stuck on the large waiting room windows.IMG_8372.jpgReal time departures were showing in the waiting room and by each stop on the north facing three bays but not on the two south facing roadside bays.IMG_8378.jpgThe bus station is used by Go North East buses in their localised branding for ‘Tynedale’ routes ….IMG_8137.jpg….. as well as the half hourly all stops ‘Tyne Valley Ten’ (route 10) to Newcastle (84 minute journey time)….IMG_8210.jpg….the semi limited stop hourly ‘Tynedale Express’ route X84 to Newcastle (65 minute journey time) and the hourly route X85 very limited stop (48 minute journey time)….IMG_8021.jpgGo North East also run a more rural 4-5 journeys a day route 74 taking 84 minutes between Hexham and Newcastle.

There’s yet another route to Newcastle (and westbound to Carlisle) – the infamous 685 jointly operated by Arriva North East and Stagecoach Cumbria. The 685 runs hourly and takes 51 minutes to Newcastle. I saw an Arriva single deck in the Best Impressions designed Cross Pennine livery ….IMG_8267.jpg…. but the following bus was in standard livery …IMG_8320…. as was a Stagecoach single decker showing its age too.IMG_8275.jpgIMG_8379.jpgStagecoach does have at least one double deck sporting Cross Pennine branding but Twitter comments indicated this is not always allocated or possibly a temporary diversion on route is currently making a double decker unsuitable. Either way it’s a shame this prestigious route with its inspiring brand is not more consistently promoted.

IMG_8104.jpgIt’s also a bit odd Northumberland County Council have left the two former shelters and bus stop flags in situ at the old bus station in Hexham (closer to the town centre too). Three years on, it’s now looking somewhat forlorn and unloved.IMG_8109.jpgIMG_8108.jpgAt least the timetables have been removed and I know Martijn Gilbert will have in hand the removal of the poster heralding the new look X84/X85 which must date back to over five years ago, at least!IMG_8371.jpgIt’s a shame to see the building in such a dilapidated state and sadly gives public transport a poor image while those shelters remain.IMG_8107.jpgBefore leaving Hexham it’s worth noting since May Northern have improved the frequency of trains on the line to Newcastle with two semi-fast trains an hour taking just 31 minutes and a third train an hour stopping at all stations taking 43 minutes. Journey time from Hexham to Carlisle is 52-56 minutes (twice an hour) compared to 84 minutes on the 685.

All in all there’s quite a choice of travel along the Tyne between Newcastle and Hexham (and on to Carlisle).

I bounced along on a Pacer on a stopper from Newcastle to Hexham last night which was well loaded leaving Newcastle at 17:55 ….IMG_8101.jpg…. and returned later this morning on the fast X85 taking the same journey time which was also a well loaded and busy journey.IMG_8389.jpgI enjoyed both journey experiences.

I’m always puzzled by the interior layout at the rear of these Mercedes – how the designer at Merc HQ thought it was a good idea to have six rear facing seats (including one pair split level on the nearside) and three inward facers baffles me.IMG_8397.jpg

Liveries and brands

Back in Newcastle you can’t help but notice the variety of liveries used by Go North East.

I’m pleased this policy is now changing as it makes good sense to bring these disparate brands together in a more logical family – particularly the new X-lines brand now being introduced for ‘fast direct bus links’ and I wrote about back in May.

IMG_7443I kept an eye out for the latest vesion now applied to one bus on the ‘Castles express’ route X21 to replace what I regard as one of the worst liveries ever put on a bus …IMG_7937.jpg… but didn’t spot it this time. The photographs of it circulating on social media a few days ago look like it provides a huge improvement.IMG_8031.jpgI’m sure this other ‘angel’ atrocity will also be revised and replaced as Martijn Gilbert’s new broom continues to sweep through Go North East.

Meanwhile Arriva North East have a plethora of route branded liveries for their routes heading north from Haymarket bus station. They’re on both new and original MAX and Sapphire brands as well as the “eco” type green branding and it’s all a bit of a muddle particularly as the depot allocation staff seem to pay no heed to the importance of getting the right buses on the right routes.

I lost count of the number of wrongly allocated buses I spotted in a short time – I could fill this blog with photographic examples….

IMG_8407.jpgIMG_7816.jpgIMG_7875.jpg…. so it was good to see a more generalised approach to branding ….IMG_8038.jpgIMG_8054.jpg… which I hope is not just for one or two spare buses! If you’re going to do route branding you must do it properly … or not at all.

Finally to end on a positive note, it was hugely impressive and welcome to see excellent displays facilitated by Nexus of timetable leaflets from all three bus companies available at bus stations in Newcastle and some other locations.IMG_8399.jpgIMG_8401.jpgIMG_8398.jpgWell done everyone. Other PTE areas please note.

All we need now is a network map or three!

Roger French

8 thoughts on “Toon Time

  1. There is also the 74 service between Hexham and Newcastle (84 minutes). Only 4 round trips Mon-Fri, 5 on a Sat. Well worth a ride – quite rural In parts. Operated with a Solo.

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  2. I think the rear seats on the newest Citaros do all face forwards (or, at least, not sideways) – we have both variants here in Cardiff. The older version does feel very odd!

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  3. If you get chance to visit that part of the world again, try the Alton routes (X81 positioning journeys Hexham – Alton, 681 Alton – Haltwhistle) which are the last remnants of the Ribble rail-replacement service for the Alston branch line and make a very attractive circular trip when combined with a bit of 685 to fill the Hexham – Haltwhistle gap.

    The Hexham – Consett 689 is a very nice run, too, and Newcastle – Consett – Hexham – Haltwhistle – Alston – Hexham – Newcastle is (or at least was!) a viable day trip.

    Those Nexus timetable racks: they’re only put out when the information offices are staffed. When the info staff go home, so do the timetable racks, so if you happen to get to the bus station at 7 p.m. then you can’t pick up a leaflet as they’re all in the locked office…
    At least leaflets are still available in that part of the world, though, which is becoming less and less true anywhere else in the country.

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  4. And let us not forget the best route of them all, Wright Bros 888, a daily operation July-September which only takes 40 minutes Newcastle to Hexham. And must qualify for the highest operation in the UK, when travelling over Hartside Summit at 1903 feet. Stagecoach do actually produce separate Newcastle, Sunderland and South Shields maps, but most of their services are the former urban operations, and obtaining such maps almost impossible. Since the PTE gave up producing their excellent maps c2010, the lack of map information by both Arriva and Go-Ahead has been shameful. Whilst the racks may be full now, for quite a period of time this year, Go-Ahead even withdrew timetable leaflets, apparently in preparation for “service grouping” leaflets. With quite a large number of PTE sponsored services (Gateshead Central Taxis work way over thirty services alone) it remains a mystery how complete Strangers find their way round Tyne and Wear these days.

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  5. “Linking … to the heart of Hadrian’s Wall” seems a rather odd strapline to put on the bus. Surely Hadrian’s Wall is – well – linear!

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