Friday 9th April 2021
The Isle of Sheppey has been on my ‘to visit again’ list for some time, so news Arriva are retrenching from the island by closing their garage with its rather basic facilities sited alongside Sheerness station seemed a good reason to arrange a trip yesterday.
I’d also been browsing Arriva’s infamously impenetrable website again recently and stumbled across a page enticing a visit to Sheerness with the tag line “a remote island feel just half an hour from Kings Cross”. Now, I know I slagged off the website when it was launched last August, but I hadn’t realised so much rubbish verbiage sits alongside the unreadable PDF timetables.
Just who sat down and wrote that drivel? Sheerness a “remote island”? The island is called Sheppey of course (Sheerness is only the main town) and since the rather brutal looking massive dual-carriageway four-lane flyover A249 “Sheppey Crossing” opened in 2006 and dwarfing the rather barren Swale station, you could hardly call the island having a “remote feel”.
“Just half an hour from Kings Cross”? Where to begin with that claim! Certainly not at Kings Cross, that’s for sure. The current best journey time by train from St Pancras International to Sittingbourne is 57 minutes, and thanks to a tight 3 minute connection with the hourly shuttle train to Sheerness, the end to end journey time during daytime offpeaks from St Pancras to Sheerness is officially 2 hours 18 minutes, as journey planners don’t recognise such a tight connection. That works out at four and a half times longer than the claimed half hour. If you’re lucky and that three minute connection works, then it shaves an hour off the otherwise very frustrating journey time, with a nerve racking connection on your mind all the way from London. And it’s no good catching Arriva’s route 334, now running half hourly, from Sittingbourne to Sheerness as an alternative as the slower journey time means there’s no time advantage.
Two features of “Sheerness” are highlighted in the website’s blurb. Barton’s Point Coastal Park and Sheppey Little Theatre. I took a walk to see the delights of the Little Theatre on my visit yesterday, but, of course, sadly it was very much closed.
Barton’s Point Coastal Park kind of looked “amazing”, as described, but the “outstanding natural beauty” descriptor is pushing it a bit and I’m sure the “cycle routes” through the park are worth visiting but I decided to stay put on my 367 bus as we drove past the park, as I’d left my bicycle at home.
If you know where to look on Arriva’s website you can find a rather helpful network map showing the “several bus routes which run in and around Sheerness” (it’s hidden away under Locations – then click Kent and Surrey – then click ‘Choose a town or city’ – then click Bus Travel in Sheerness – then click Zone maps – then click Swale map). Phew.
“Why not let us drive while you relax and enjoy the scenery by bus?” That sounded like a good idea to me. It’s my kind of day out.
My previous visits to Sheppey have involved taking the train or Arriva’s route 334 from Sittingbourne to Sheerness and then returning again either on the train or bus, but this time I wanted to venture over to the east side of the island to Leysdown-on-Sea, Warden Bay and Warden Point, not least because the latter is described by Arriva’s website as a “town” which I reckon would be news to the handful of permanent residents and the many seasonal visitors to the adjacent caravan park.
Thankfully the “Bus Travel in Sheerness” page listing the four routes serving the island looked helpful (the fifth, route 341, shown on the map, seems to have disappeared), but sadly clicking on links for routes 334 and 367 you end up with ….
…. but luckily links to routes 360 and 361 do work, but you then have to battle your way through the completely unintelligible PDF timetables, which are worse than useless, seven months after launching on the new website.
It’s all the more pertinent to have easy access timetables online, especially when all timetables at bus stops have been removed.
Just how passengers are supposed to find out when route 334 and 367 operate to “let us drive you” I simply don’t know.
And yesterday, even Arriva’s app was useless. Reckoning no bus routes were operating when I checked live times a couple of minutes after a non appearing bus had been due.
But, despite this information dearth, I battled on, made a few plans and found the main bus stop in Sheerness town centre, at the Clock Tower, and noted the impressive list of bus route numbers on the flag.
Except not only was this out of date (it looks to me as though routes 339, 341, 362, 363 and 365 have long since disappeared) but the road alongside is now closed, so it didn’t really matter.
I decided to wander over to the large Tesco store where I knew the island’s bus routes congregate and, thanks to the Traveline website, which fortunately just about hangs on to an existence, I’d found a timetable for route 367 ….
….and arrived for the 11:15 departure – one of five a day on the service – to Warden Point.
To say route 367 is a circuitous route is an understatement.
The route map on Arriva’s website (shown earlier) marked yellow, might give you some idea of the tangled web involved, however as I was wanting a bit of a sightseeing trip it suited my needs perfectly and we soon dropped off the three passengers who had boarded at either Tesco or by the shops in Sheerness, so I had most of the journey to myself, taking in lots of different roads in Minster, the island’s rather inconveniently located community hospital, the three prisons clustered together (Elmley, Standford Hill and Swaleside) necessitating a tedious double run over no end of speed humps in a long 15 mph speed limited no-through road all to no avail re any passengers, and not surprisingly bearing in mind only three journeys a day serve this complex….
… there was a rather large car park which looked somewhat full, as well as passing through the communities of Brambledown and Eastchurch before finally arriving after a pleasant 55 minute journey at the dead end which is the metropolis of Warden Point.
I took a pleasant walk south from Warden Point through Warden Bay and along the coast down to Leysdown-on-Sea where Arriva’s other east-west route across the island terminates. Route 360 runs hourly and other than for a double run on journeys in either one direction or the other to serve Warden Bay takes a much more direct route across the island.
Three young female passengers boarded in Leysdown and all got off at the Community Hospital and soon after that we picked up a couple of couples travelling into Sheerness, and that was it.
I noticed one of the two vehicles on the 360 was a double deck and the other was a single deck. I missed the former, but can imagine it offers some great views across the island from the upper deck.
No surprises, this being Arriva, the interiors of buses were full of notices…..
… while the bus stops were devoid of any information.
It does make you wonder if bus travel is so safe as every bus company director I hear keeps professing, why there’s a need to put up so many notices? Why not just refer everyone to guidance and information on the website, rather like passengers have to do when it comes to finding out a bus time?
And, whoever decided all bus windows must be kept open, has obviously never travelled on a bus at speed across a windswept island, or any main road for that matter. All the windows, except one, were closed on the buses I travelled on yesterday.
Which rather makes a mockery of the notices.
It’ll be interesting to see what happens to the island’s routes once Sheerness depot closes. I understand the half hourly route 334 will be run from Maidstone, its southern terminus, and conceivably it could be operationally linked to the hourly 360 I suppose, but I hear routes other than the 334 have been deregistered …. but perhaps they’ll be saved through Kent County Council’s Enhanced Partnership under Buses Back Better.
I used to run a bus company but in retirement am a full time passenger travelling all over Britain enjoying its splendid scenic delights by bus and train. Currently social distancing at home.