Exploring the Dartmoor Explorer

Tuesday 18th May 2021

First Bus in the South West are launching a number of exciting bus route initiatives this summer with the aim of tapping into the tourist and leisure market.

They’re all featured on a new website adventuresbybus.co.uk which takes you through to a colourful page on the First Bus website showing all the new brands from which a further click takes you to a page with more details of each route and a downloadable pdf of an attractive brochure.

Most of the new routes began on Sunday with the Exmoor Coaster and Discover Exeter routes “coming soon” which means at the end of the month.

Many of the routes provide opportunities for a day out in the off-peak as they’re operated by buses used on college contracts in the peaks. One of these is the new Dartmoor Explorer linking Exeter with Plymouth via Moretonhampstead, Postbridge, Princetown and Tavistock and operating seven days a week.

Two buses operate the route with a departure from Exeter St David’s station at 10:05 operating as far as Tavistock while a second bus leaves Plymouth at 10:00 and operates as far as Moretonhampstead meaning the section of route across Dartmoor between Moretonhampstead and Tavistock has two journeys each way.

It’s the first time the B3212 – the road through the central part of Dartmoor – has been served by bus since the Transmoor bus route was withdrawn in 2015. Although the current timetable is fairly limited it does provide opportunities for a walk and time to take in the unique Dartmoor scenery for two to three hours. For example the bus from Exeter arrives at Postbridge at 11:19 and returns at 13:40.

I took a ride on the route today to get a taste of one of these exciting new service offerings from First in the South West for this summer. I caught the 10:05 departure from Exeter all the way through to Tavistock.

This and the other “adventures” have a day ticket with second and more passengers travelling together paying half price. The Dartmoor Explorer fare for the “first adventurer” is £10 and for extra adventurers” is £5. But what was a very pleasant and welcome surprise was that concessionary passes are valid.

It’s just under a two hour journey from Exeter to Tavistock and is one very much in two halves. The first hour to Moretonhampstead is along the winding B3212 passing through delightful Devon green fields and forests. The road narrows in many places with lots of twists and turns requiring unstinting concentration from the driver.

The second hour after Moretonhampstead is across Dartmoor with spectacular views of the rolling moorland as the road continues in the distance as fas as the eye can see.

Sheep and their lambs are the main hazard at this time of year as many like to lie on the tarmac rather than the moorland.

There’s also a few cyclists which need careful overtaking. Especially when accompanied by their dog!

I’d had one of those nail biting train journeys from Paddington this morning with mounting delays and slow progress (slow line behind a TfL Rail train in the Maidenhead area then a faulty level crossing west of Newbury) which meant a comfortable 34 minute connection at Exeter St David’s turned into a two minute dash from platform to bus stop with my train arriving at 10:02 for the bus departure at 10:05.

In the event it turns out it’s a bit tightly timed for the bus after finishing its college contract and getting to the terminus at the station for 10:05 so as I rushed out of the station at 10:04 and saw no bus on the stand I wondered if it might have already left.

Luckily not, and a couple of minutes later the bus with its eye catching livery appeared and I was welcomed aboard by a very courteous and smartly dressed young driver called Xavier.

And we set off with just me on board until Phil joined us – another of the six drivers on First’s Exeter based rota which is running college contracts along with the new Dartmoor Explorer.

Phil came upstairs to also ensure I felt welcome and would enjoy the ride and it was good to see the interest being taken in my welfare.

We made good progress to Moretonhampstead and on arrival it wasn’t clear whether the queue by the bus stop was for the mobile bank or for us. Unfortunately everyone was for the bank so we continued on our way.

It had been many years since I’d travelled on the central route across Dartmoor and this was the first time I’d had the pleasure of enjoying a top deck view.

It really is magnificent.

Warren House Inn in glorious isolation

A great way to see the vast expanse of moorland and beats travelling in a car completely.

There’s simply no comparison of what you can see from a top deck.

We were scheduled to pass the Plymouth to Moretonhampstead bus at Postbridge but as we were still around five minutes behind schedule it drove past us near Warren House Inn a little further east.

The route could operate direct to Tavistock by by-passing Princetown but it makes sense to serve this community for the sake of a small deviation and not least for the views of the famous Dartmoor Prison and its fascinating museum.

We arrived into Tavistock just a couple of minutes after the scheduled midday arrival with an hour’s break ahead before returning at 13:00.

The journey back was as enjoyable as the outward. We passed the Plymouth bound bus on schedule at Princetown.

We also picked up three concessionary passholding passengers east of Moretonhampstead and dropped them off in Longdown (one) and on the outskirts of Exeter (two).

They seemed surprised to find a double deck on the route and were interested to hear it had started on Sunday.

I think they were waiting for the two-hourly route 359 operated by Country Bus which was due to leave Moretonhampstead for Exeter fifteen minutes after us.

It was also noticeable how many people enquired about the service after we’d pulled into Tavistock bus station and also prior to departure. There was almost a constant stream of enquiries.

The livery was certainly doing its job of attracting attention, creating desire and raising awareness and interest.

Timetables were on display at Tavistock bus station…

…. as well as along the route, for example, here at Postbridge.

Although I couldn’t see any reference to it at Exeter St David’s but it probably needs an extra timetable case.

The colourful Best Impressions leaflet available online is not yet in printed format but I’m sure, knowing First Kernow, once it is, it’ll be widely distributed. And I’m sure Xavier and Phil and the team will help to spread the word as they were doing today.

They were great ambassadors for the service and displayed excellent driving skills along the narrow twisty roads and coping with a couple of short sharp sudden downpours too.

And it was noticeable how they’d often pull in to let following motorists pass when possible. Xavier even stopped at a scenic spot on the moor to let me take photographs. What great customer service.

The bus interior was smart for its age and as commented on above, the livery really does stand out.

The economics of the service are obviously helped by it being slotted in between a peak contract which I assume has been costed on the basis of covering the vehicle overheads.

But there’s a fair bit of mileage involved on the Dartmoor Explorer and five hours worth of duty time. And the same with the Plymouth based bus too. So it’s going to need a fair number of passengers to make it viable. The 13:00 return time northbound from Tavistock may be a bit early for many people (the return journey southbound leaves Moretonhampstead even earlier at 12:45) but presumably there’s scope to review this in college holidays although that would render all the nice publicity out of date.

I noticed this need for very early afternoon return times on the range of “daytripper” branded routes too; again understandable to fit in with afternoon college times but may not be so attractive for the target leisure and tourist market.

Notwithstanding this I strongly recommend a ride on the Dartmoor Explorer. It’s one of Britain’s greatest bus routes, and I wish the service every success as well as all the other initiatives from First Bus in the South West. It’s going to be a great summer ahead for bus riding in Somerset, Devon and Cornwall.

Roger French

23 thoughts on “Exploring the Dartmoor Explorer

Add yours

  1. A lovely route, indeed, Roger.
    I didn’t spot any smoke coming out of the chimney at the Warren House Inn. The fire is always on at this remote location, reputedly having been burning continuously since 1845 !

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It is great to see this route restored. Until 2015 there had been a daily (seasonal, but also weekends in winter) service between Plymouth and Exeter via Moretonhampstead, which I made a point of riding every summer. I shall certainly make a point of riding this one, and the efforts being made deserve good patronage.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. It was good to read your report on the new Dartmoor Explorer as we shall be on the 359 to M’h’pst’d next week, as we usually manage twice a year. Although we know the whole road rather well, we still hope to fit in a trip as the old 82 is much missed and the views are great.
    Lets hope the publicity is good and enough passengers use it.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I used the service yesterday and had a similar experience… It is so good to be able to get to the central moor again. I was on the final Transmoor service back in 2015 (and vividly remember several passengers on that day in tears at its demise…). I really look forward to supporting this service this summer. The big disappointment is that the Devonday bus pass (valid on all other routes in Devon) is not available/valid on this route. This means days out involving longer walks from this bus but returning on other bus routes from around the edge of the moor, whilst possible, become very expensive. Sadly the service will lose much potential custom from serious walkers who will find the short time allowed on the moor solely using this service very restrictive.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Seems strange that they don’t use Plymouth and Exeter bus stations assuming that both cities still have bus stations they did when I last visited both about 3 years ago.


  6. Scottish National Entitlement Scheme ( Concessionary passes)

    There scheme must be costing a fortune. . Over 60’s can get a National Entitlement card as well as under 22’s. There are as far as I can tell no restrictions on there use . They can be used at anytime. In Edinburgh they can also be used on the trams

    In the Highlands and Islands they can also be used to obtain a 50% discount on a internal air fares. They also give free or discounted travel on ferries

    I guess the fares revenues on buses in Scotland is no very low as most bus users tend to be young or old


    1. Bob,

      Over 60 Scottish concessionary passes are only valid on Edinburgh trams if they have been issued by the City of Edinburgh Council.

      The free return ferry journeys apply only to residents of the Orkneys, Shetlands and Western Isles.

      The basic concessionary scheme is Scottish wide and paid for by the Scottish Government through Transport Scotland. It covers registered bus services but does include express services provided by Scottish Citylink. Premium fare tourist bus services and night buses are not included. Any enhancement with the exception of the ferry concession above is paid for by the appropriate local authority.

      Later this year all under 19s and from early next year all under 22s will be eligible for free travel on bus services in Scotland. This is a commitment by the recently elected SNP Government with support from the Greens.


  7. This service illustrates a very good point. Buses, and indeed rail, aren’t a form of transport for the working population (at least outside of the mets). As indeed this blog. Just a hobby for the affluent leisured classes, who somebody else pays for!


    1. Nothing wrong with that! Of course a Dartmoor Explorer service is for leisure, paid for by fares, or bus passes which have been earned by older folk who have paid enough taxes of one kind or another!


  8. I tried to contact First about whether concessionary bus passes would be valid on these new leisure bus services but sadly no response received so far. The pick up point in Plymouth is confusing according to First’s timetable stop A8 on Royal Parade while Traveline shows it as Derrys Cross bus stop which is different to stop A8..
    I would have thought on weekends and school holidays a later trip back to Exeter/Plymouth could be timetabled to allow more time walking on the Moors. Feel First are missing a trick with no printed promotion/timetable leaflets being available to promote the service from day one when these have been planned for awhile now. At least roadside in most places has been done. Lets hope patronage picks up otherwise will be expensive service to operate.


  9. Not missing a trick – soft launch with promotion ramping up once it’s bedded in and any issues have been identified and ironed out.

    Later journeys maybe but caution is the name of the game. This is a first step that will allow us to understand the demand without committing heavy cost.

    We’re bothered by the potential need to duplicate so rightly hesitant to utilise more available fleet without some experience.

    We’re in this for the long term so there’s no rush to take a big risk or to maximise it now.

    We already plan for this to be year round so we can test the underlying concept and demand.

    We’ve just had confirmation that ENCTS passes are valid



    The white paper is not out yet but it appears the Railways will now be operated by Great British Railways an arms length government company, It looks as if they will be responsible for everything other then the actual train service. The set up looks as if it will be similar to how TfL operates. The train services will be put out to Contract rather than Franchise an they will not be responsible for raising fares revenues. Ticketing and fares will be as far as I can tell the responsibility of Great British Railways. I assume there will be a common Great British Railways Branding possible with a tag lime of Operated by XXXX

    The white paper is due to be released today(20/05) so could make an interesting read . There are some speculation that something similar will be done with England’s bus services a sort of TfL approach


  11. There’s a great marketing opportunity for First here, a round robin combining a trip over Dartmoor on the bus, using the Exeter-Tavistock bus then then the Moretonhampstead-Plymouth bus to North Road then train back to Exeter via Dawlish along the sea wall.


  12. Reminds me of the Firstbus balancing journey from Huddersfield to Manchester which used to be an OOS trip in the very early hours of a Sunday morning.
    Colin Speakman spotted an opportunity, and had it retimed and registered as a hikers’ service – heading out around 8 am and garnering a healthy number of Sunday walkers.
    One detail that I’ll be pressing on First is to provide for cycle carriage on the route, its a stiff climb on to the tops, and with smart planning you’ll also get the wind at your back
    Having provided the fast-loading units for the Leyland Nationals that Redbus, and then First ran along the Tarka Trail from Barnstaple, and see some of the cumbersome ironmongery devised foe some bike stowage on trains & buses I’m impressed by what Brodie Engineering has devised, using similar principles to the 30+ year-old Orion Gamma (used on Swiss post buses on 1990’s – and probably earlier), where the weight of a bike holds it upright and secure, with a simple slide-down ‘grip’ in place of messy straps, and as design that does not lose a tip up seat or floor space when not in use.
    Here’s the Brodie unit being tested on the first Class 153 conversion last year


  13. What is all the discussion on the Great ENGLISH Railway proposals?
    In Scotland & Wales this is already the position and even in England Merseytravel has this arrangement right down to a deal on ‘owning’ the trains
    Elsewhere Nexus (Tyne & Wear Metro) has done this with the old NER lines, Manchester Metrolink with the L&Y (LMS), and Croydon Tramlink also took over BR tracks
    Hardly any of the franchises are in reality franchises – most are management contracts, a politically less awkward way of saying concessions, and two (LNER and Northern) are actually ‘nationalised’ – run by Directly Operated Railways (the fall-back operator of last resort owned by DfT)
    Very little change or mentions of Rail Freight – which remains as private operators, nor Rolling Stock operating companies (although their role has diminished as more fleets are hired directly from manufacturers on the basis of supplying enough working trains to operate the timetabled services)
    There’s also a massive void concerning the condition and management of the assets – with a question to ask on how a tree managed to be left to grow through the wall at Northwich station and bring it crashing down through the platform canopy with the 5-yearly inspections, and resulting instructions for maintenance (OPAS) – this is not the only station in a parlous state – Roger might take a look at Hove sometime – there’s a wee file on that
    Remember though that running trains rarely makes money in its own right – the old companies ran the hotels, warehousing and distribution and also gained the enhanced rental values for the land connected to & served by their trains – not forgetting the advertising on bridges and billboards. Worth noting that the Spean Bridge-Fort Augustus line made a profit for LNER after the trains stopped running!


  14. Can I go from Plymouth to the Warren House Inn on the Plymouth bus and then transfer to the Exeter bus to get the Exeter for the same price?


  15. I’m told that the broken open topper was back yesterday with a new turbo fitted, but that the other one was off for routine maintenance. However, the ex London Volvo was out on route test to ‘see whether it could cope with the hills’, so maybe single deckers will be rare from now onwards? Good loads were evident again though – this must be the most successful of the new initiatives.


  16. This service needs much better promotion in Exeter as the main city centre stop in South Street has no timetable nor any mention of the service at all. It doesn’t go into the new bus station opened last month as it is served only by Stagecoach, being too small to accommodate the other operators.

    Beware of the Warren House Inn if intending to visit with children. We were shunted into a back room which had all the ambience of a school dining room, and sat there all on our own. Unless they’ve changed their policy of course.


  17. We were very disappointed that the 10am Dartmoor Explorer from Plymouth on Saturday 11th December did not arrive. We were five senior citizens, but there was also a young lady here on holiday who had purchased a day ticket, was also disappointed, to say the least. We waited till 10.45am but gave up. Could you please give us a reason for this. Thank you.


    1. Hello Sylvia; sorry to hear of your experience on 11th September and I suggest you make contact directly with First Bus as this isn’t that company’s website but just a private individual commenting on their travel experiences.


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