Monday 31st May 2021
It was 45 years ago this month when I first made the journey from Leeds to Hawes by bus. I remember it was a Saturday on a West Yorkshire Road Car Bristol RE and with a conductor too. As a Londoner with bus and train rides until then largely confined to the South East it was a revelation to travel through increasingly more stunning Yorkshire Dales scenery as we headed north on the three hour plus journey (I’m pretty sure we went via Bradford). And if the novelty of squeezing through Bolton Abbey arch wasn’t enough, beyond Grassington my eyes were positively popping at the boundless beauty the spectacular landscape of the Dales has to offer.
After leaving the West Riding bus company in 1977 for a career in Kent, South Wales and, of course, Brighton which involved lots of time consuming commitments it was many years before I could make a repeat visit and soak up that wonderful Dales countryside again. It’s only since retirement I’ve been able to make an annual pilgrimage to ride on what is now a Sunday only route numbered 875 (and 874) within the fantastic DalesBus network.
I can’t praise the volunteers who work so hard behind the scenes to organise and oversee DalesBus every year enough. They put the meagre efforts of some professional well paid bus company and local authority managers to shame with their consistent delivery of high quality information comprising timetables, tickets and maps to encourage passengers on to the network contracted out to, and complimented by, local bus operators.
I had the privilege of giving a talk to the annual meeting of the Friends of DalesBus a few years ago and it really was impressive to see the enthusiasm and passion for their bus routes among those attending. Despite the significant financial challenges they face every year, it’s a consistently successful operation hugely popular with regular passengers. On some buses it’s like a club outing there’s so much camaraderie among the regulars.
I was absolutely delighted to hear route 875 has this year been upgraded to a double deck and contracted to First Leeds rather than the previous single deck operation which has been the mainstay of Arriva Yorkshire for many years and York Pullman before that, then numbered route 800.
Although this means taking a different route between Ilkley and Grassington via the outskirts of Skipton rather than through that archway at Bolton Abbey, any fun of missing the driver squeeze the bus through is more than made up for by the tremendous views now available from the top deck.
Indeed, when we left Leeds precisely on time at 09:15 yesterday morning there must have been a good 25-30 passengers on the upper deck with a completely empty lower deck.
I’ve always thought some bus operators miss a trick by not running more double decks on a Sunday though scenic areas to encourage leisure travellers and this experience certainly reinforces my view.
I’d made sure I was at Leeds city bus station in very good time before departure to stand a chance of a front seat view but knew there’d be regulars also doing the same and indeed one stalwart told me he’d been there since 08:00 as I arrived at 08:40 – that’s dedication for you.
The bus arrived at 09:05 enabling the by then large queue of passengers to all be on board prior to the scheduled departure.
Even more impressive a copy of a DalesBus summer weekend timetable produced by West Yorkshire Metro containing details of selected routes into the Dales from West Yorkshire had been placed on every seat pair by our driver Darren. A small gesture but a fantastic one.
And there were more supplies by the door.
We picked more passengers up as we headed out of Leeds through Headingley and Otley and made the connection in Ilkley with the York Pullman single deck operated journey numbered 874 from Wetherby via Leeds to Buckden which is routed via Bolton Abbey but otherwise acts as a sort of duplicate bus for much of the route about five minutes behind us.
In Grassington we made a scheduled ten minute stop at 10:50 and picked up a good number of transferring passengers from the Keighley Bus Company operated route 72 from Skipton as well as providing a toilet stop for those on board.
We left spot on time at 11:00 with what I’m guessing were about 50 passengers on board making it just as well we had a double decker.
We dropped off passengers at many of the good points to start a ramble and beauty spots during the following 75 minute journey to Hawes as we passed through the very best scenery anywhere in England on offer from a bus.
Quite a few alighted and boarded at the delightful Kettlewell …
… where another brief and welcome comfort stop was offered to passengers by our driver Darren who took the opportunity to stretch his legs after two hours of driving.
A special word for Darren who drove superbly along what in places is a challenging road with narrow twists and turns especially with many cyclists out for a ride …
…as well as flotillas of motorcyclists who love to pass by in convoy on their way to the traditional leather clad gathering at Hawes every Sunday.
Darren really did a great job throughout the journey showing patience and courtesy making for a thoroughly enjoyable ride.
We arrived into Hawes just slightly after the scheduled 12:15 arrival time with most passengers alighting in the centre of the village as the bus continued on to terminate at the nearby Creamery.
A connection with the Arriva North East operated route 831 to Kirkby Lonsdale via Ribblehead and Ingleton (which had arrived earlier from Middlesbrough and Richmond – another great bus ride) was waiting our arrival.
DalesBus offer a £10 Dales Rover ticket which offers great value covering all DalesBus routes as well as Flyer A2 and A3, WitchWay and PendleWizz, all Harrogate and Keighley bus routes, Stagecoach 280 and First Leeds 33, 34 and X84.
The situation regarding Concessionary Bus Passes is complicated by North Yorkshire County Council classifying DalesBus routes as “tourist routes” and excluding them from the Scheme, but DalesBus offer a £3 single ticket for passholders and West Yorkshire Combined Authority still accept passes so they are valid on routes 72/74 and 873, 874, 875 and 884.
Hawes really is a must visit gem in the Dales.
I absolutely love the quaint shops and the bustling nature of its popularity every Sunday.
Especially on a gorgeous sunny day as yesterday was.
After some lunch my usual next trip is on route 856 eastwards via Leyburn to Northallerton.
This is operated by Dales and District with smaller single decks and one year I recall just an 16 seater minibus which ended up leaving passengers behind. I didn’t want to risk anything similar so decided to use the facility to pre-book a journey westwards to Garsdale Station with the community run Little White Bus company.
I booked it on the telephone a few weeks ago. There’s no fancy apps with their unfriendly restricted offerings here, oh no, this is a customer friendly book by phone affair with a locally based person taking your call and giving you every confidence the bus will be there for you and sure enough it was.
David, my driver, is a full time paid employee for the Little White Bus and drives a number of scheduled journeys to connect with trains including one morning and two afternoon journeys between Garsdale and Hawes but any extra journeys during the day such as mine run only if pre-booked. The company also run a number of other routes across Wensleydale.
The fare from Hawes to Garsdale was £5 single and no concessionary passes are accepted on bespoke journeys like mine.
It’s great to see small community bus companies like Little White Bus in rural areas such as the Dales as they provide a vital addition to the bus offer. David was telling me that over 90% of passengers are normally visitors from overseas especially the Far East as well as The Netherlands who particularly like the rolling scenery compared to their rather flat home country. They obviously do their online research well before travelling to find out about the travel opportunities Little White Bus offers as I suspect many British visitors to Hawes would be unaware it operates, thinking it’s much easier to jump in a car or on a motorbike.
Garsdale Station is a wonderful one to visit and catch a train from. Splendidly isolated with nothing else nearby, it’s such a tranquil and peaceful spot to wait for a train.
From Garsdale I took a Northern train on the infamous Settle-Carlisle line back to Leeds which involved a change at Skipton due to engineering “improvement” works restricting the number of trains into Leeds yesterday.
It’s always an absolute pleasure to travel along this outstandingly scenic railway line and yesterday was no exception.
From Leeds it was back down the East Coast Main Line with LNER and home.
I’d travelled up to West Yorkshire on Saturday and took the opportunity to take a ride on two of the County’s most scenic bus routes.
The first is route 901 operated by the small Bradford based bus company called tlc. This tendered operation runs between Huddersfield and Hebden Bridge on a rather quirky route taking in Stainland, Barkisland and Ripponden then heading out westwards towards Rochdale before turning northwards across Blake Moor to Hebden Bridge.
The views of the valleys and across the moors as well as passing by a large dam are absolutely stunning.
The last time I made the journey was in February 2018 when there was snow on the moors and slush on the roads so sadly very dirty bus windows meant sideways views were obliterated through the murk and dirt.
However on Saturday the weather was perfect and the windows lovely and clean and it really was a spectacular journey – sadly with only around half a dozen of us on board.
The journey takes about an hour with the timetable offering five journeys a day. It’s definitely worth a ride if you can make it.
From Hebden Bridge I continued heading north to Keighley by catching the Keighley Bus Company’s Bronte Bus branded route B3.
This provides an hourly bus across Oxenhope Moor to Haworth from where a 20 minute frequency is provided with fellow routes B2 and B3 into Keighley.
It’s another superb route with some great scenic views especially on a glorious day as Saturday was.
Our driver was really skilled too in negotiating some difficult parking and oncoming traffic as we headed up the narrow and winding A6033 out of Hebden Bridge, particularly when it soon became obvious one of the motorists heading towards us couldn’t reverse out of the way at all well.
We lost almost ten minutes while the hapless driver ultimately gave up and turned the car round (goodness knows how they passed their driving test) but impressively our driver managed to get us into Keighley on time despite that delay.
Bronte Bus is promoted with great branding on the vehicles outside and inside showing how effective a well designed livery and fitting out in the interior can be even on a 16 year old vehicle.
That journey also takes about an hour making for a fantastic two hours of great scenic bus riding. I took the train from Leeds to Huddersfield and back from Keighley making for a great afternoon travel experience.
A DaySaver £9 ticket offers unlimited bus and rail travel throughout West Yorkshire offering convenient integrated travel at a great value price – perhaps Andy Burnham should take note, you don’t need a franchise structure and take huge revenue risks with public money to achieve such great value tickets.
All in all a splendid weekend’s travels by bus and train around a glorious part of the Country and the bonus of a Bank Holiday today to rest at home, especially as Saturday night’s sleep in Leeds was disrupted with a fire alarm at 02:30.
I hadn’t realised just how young the average weekend guest at a Premier Inn was until then – I was the oldest by a long chalk – and it was good to see hotels getting busy again.
Once again, well done to all at DalesBus, you really are doing a great job.
I’m already looking forward to my next visit.
PS By then I hope North Yorkshire County Council might do their bit and clean up or even replace the rather murky bus stop plate in the centre of Hawes. It might just create a better impression among passing motorists and motor cyclists.
PPS I’ll keep taking a photograph every year until you do replace it! Good to see the timetable cases up to date though, so well done for that.