Tuesday 27th August 2019
It’s not often a National Park Authority trials a new bus service these days so hats off to the Peak District for funding the new H1 and H2 bus routes for six weeks during the summer school holidays.
Branded as the Hope Valley Explorer two Stagecoach Optare Solos are providing an hourly service (with a short break at lunchtime) in the north western corner of the National Park linking Bamford, Hope and Edale stations on the scenic Sheffield to Manchester Hope Valley Line with Derwent Fairholmes (for the reservoirs and dam), Castleton and the nearby Blue John Cavern.It’s good to see Derbyshire County Council have updated their online bus map to show the H1 and H2 which are basically the same route except the H2 does a 25 minute double run to serve Edale on every other journey (four out of the seven journeys in each direction). There are through journeys to Chesterfield, where the buses are based, at the beginning and end of the roughly 09:00 to 18:20 day.
It’s a shame the timetable is buried in the Peak District National Park Authority’s website but you can find it easily on the Stagecoach website once you’ve narrowed down the geographic area and know to enter H1 or H2 in the look up function under timetables.
There’s a simple £6 day ticket and a rather pricey £4 single journey fare regime on the Hope Valley Explorer with no other ‘explorer’ type tickets valid. English National Concessionary Passholders can buy the day ticket at a discounted £3 rate. The National Park explain in their FAQs this is a “limited period seasonal service” for 42 days and they wish to “investigate the commercial viability of the project and offering a (free) concessionary rate may not provide an accurate picture of the use of the service”.
The Park Authority’s laudable aim is to “reduce the number of car journeys … at one of the busiest times of the year”.
As the Hope Valley Explorer’s 42 days operation ends on Saturday I thought I’d better see how it’s doing in its final week so popped up to Hope this morning to take a ride.
Incidentally it was a first time experience on an Abellio operated East Midlands Railway train for me (they ousted the former Stagecoach run East Midlands Trains just over a week ago) but the only discernible (and much welcome) difference on the 09:02 from St Pancras International to Sheffield was free Wi-Fi throughout the train……. and the retro 1970s Letraset style block lettering logo is going to take some getting used to.I passed one of the Class 222 Meridian trains in the new purplish livery on a Corby working which look quite smart but I’ll reserve judgement until seeing it close up.
From Sheffield I caught the all stops Northern Rail train to Manchester Piccadilly leaving Sheffield at 11:14 and due into Bamford, at 11:36 (a refurbished Class 150 with its smart new moquette on comfy seats) ……. offering a handy connection with the H1 at 11:41. Five minutes might seem a bit tight but the bus stop in the Bamford turning circle is only a stone’s throw away from the station exit.In the event I resorted to Plan B as despite leaving Sheffield on time we were three minutes late into Bamford and I didn’t want to risk missing the bus. I stayed on the train to the next station at Hope …….where we’d got further ahead of the bus providing a more comfortable 11 minute connection even though it involved a short walk down Station Road to the main road.There is a bus stop in the car park at Hope station but the H1 and H2 stay on the main road rather than double run up Station Road.Down on the main road the H1 came along spot on time and I bought my £6 day ticket from the driver and sat back to enjoy a full rounder of the route.I always enjoy visiting the Derbyshire Peak District and have travelled around the National Park many times taking in all the delightful bus routes which serve this scenic county, but visiting Blue John Cavern at the end of the Hope Valley Explorer route eight minutes beyond Castleton was a first for me, and it truly offers some spectacular views aas the bus climbs up through the Winnats Pass ……..to reach one of the most scenic bus termini in England for sure.
I was impressed to see a bus shelter and full information about the Hope Valley Explorer next to the cafe.After a short break I jumped back on board for the hour’s ride across to Derwent including that H2 twenty-five minute double run routing via Edale.
It’s a pleasant ride as the bus hugs the Hope Valley railway line crossing it twice along the way along a fairly narrow unclassified road.Even better, at Edale station we picked up another passenger – the first so far – who travelled down the road to Hope. We continued on via Bamford to the spectacular Derwent reservoirs travelling alongside the picturesque Ladybower to the Visitor Centre at Fairholmes about x miles off the A57 Snake Road.We arrived about ten minutes later than our scheduled time of 13:20 and the driver took the bus into the ‘staff car park’ for his lunch break while I wandered off to the picnic tables by the cafe and Visitor Centre.The other Hope Valley Explorer bus arrived about an hour later at 14:10 for its lunch break just as we were leaving (also about seven minutes late – timetables for 14:03) ……. but we were back on time at Bamford by 14:25, indicating some generous running time for that section of the route.It was good to see a group of three passengers boarding at Derwent Fairholmes who travelled to Bamford and connected with the First Bus route 272 to Sheffield, while another passenger boarded in Bamford village.
But otherwise it was just me; and sadly when we passed the other bus it was empty on two occasions and had just two passengers on board on the third.
My driver reckoned it the buses have been busier at weekends ‘or when there were events on’. He revealed there’s funding for the service for three years which is good news, and I suspect Stagecoach have come up with a good competitive price bearing in mind it’s a school holiday only service and there will be spare resources available.
It was encouraging to see a lot of effort has obviously gone into promoting the Hope Valley Explorer as this is always a challenge with new services, even more so ones which are time limited.
There were prominent posters at both Bamford and Hope stations (and I’m sure at Edale too) ….
… at all bus stops along the route….…. and at the Visitor Centres where there were also supplies of the leaflet.
There was even a poster in the toilets at the Visitor Centre ….I was a bit surprised there weren’t leaflets for the route available on board the bus and the window notices were a bit functional.
Bearing in mind the spectacular views on offer along parts of the route ….…. you’d think Stagecoach would have ensured windows were clear of price information blocking views ….
…. particularly when it’s not even pertinent to the Hope Valley Explorer. Bit of a fail from Stagecoach for that – it makes a mockery of the buses being branded.
More positively an informative commentary plays out from onboard speakers at various points along the route although it’s a bit difficult to hear above the bus engine noise at some points.
It looked like the two drivers were regulars on the route and they seemed friendly to each other, but I detected a lacklustre approach to passengers; albeit there were only five transactions to judge this by.
The H1/H2 provide a greatly enhanced bus service to Derwent Fairholmes (Hulleys route 273 provides just two journeys a day on weekdays with a few more from T M Travel on Sundays) so seven new journeys a day are a great bonus and I don’t know when buses last regularly ran to Blue John Cavern or Edale station but it’s great to see both places now on the bus map, albeit for just four more days until next July.
It made me wonder whether it wouldn’t have been better to spread the funding out over 21 weekends from the end of April to September so passengers get used to the service being there over a longer period of time rather than running on weekdays during the summer school holidays – Dalesbus and Moorsbus find this works well for them.
I appreciate the reason for having a restrictive ticket policy to ensure maximising revenue for the route but it’s a bit off putting to be unable to use tickets like the versatile Derbyshire Wayfarer; and £6 does seem a bit pricey if you’re really only making an out and back journey while £4 is steep if travelling just a short hop.
But I’m very pleased indeed to see this initiative and well done to the Peak District National Park Authority for embracing buses – other National Parks take note.