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the B3212 – the road through the central part of Dartmoor – has been served by bus since the Transmoor bus route was withdrawn in 2015.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.
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.
I used to run a bus company but in retirement enjoy Britain’s splendid scenic delights travelling by bus and train, and commenting along the way.