Wednesday 2nd June 2021
This is the one I’ve been waiting for.
Of all First Bus in the South West’s exciting new initiatives for the summer season under the “Adventures By Bus” brand, it’s been the new Exmoor Coaster open-top service between Minehead and Lynmouth I’ve been looking forward to the most.
It began at the weekend offering six daily journeys along the spectacular cliff top coast through the Exmoor National Park with three journeys commencing east of Minehead at the Haven Holiday Park in Doniford operating along the coast via Watchet to Carhampton and Dunster before reaching Minehead. Two of these journeys are single deck operated and act as feeder routes into the open tops from Minehead west to Lynmouth.
The last time I caught a traditional service bus between Minehead and Lynmouth was a Filers operated route 300 which continued beyond Lynmouth via neighbouring Lynton and on to Ilfracombe.
Running rather infrequently it was a great route linking Somerset with Devon but sadly fell victim to County Council cutbacks and disappeared completely a few years ago.
All was not lost though as Quantock Motor Services ran their heritage buses during the summer period on a limited timetable which was great fun to travel on especially in the westbound direction where the route used the alternative toll road out of Porlock rather than the A39 due to the sharp left hand hairpin bend on the latter.
However there’s an even tighter hairpin bend on the toll road which required a couple of shunts to get round but at least the road is much quieter than the A39 – the other right hand hairpin could just be achieved in one go with careful manoeuvring.
I’d travelled out from Taunton yesterday on the Buses of Somerset route 28 which runs half hourly on Mondays to Fridays. New interchange arrangements between bus and train are being built at Taunton Station which will be alongside a huge new multi-storey car park.
The new bus bay is still under construction and I hope there’ll be some decent covered waiting arrangements alongside all the bollards already installed.
On a windy day the overhang from the platform won’t be sufficient.
In the meantime the signs inside Taunton Station are a bit confusing telling you to go both left and right for Minehead…
…. also not helped by station staff giving me conflicting information about where the Minehead bound buses are stopping.
I found the stop on the main road and a smart liveried bus soon arrived and we were off to Minehead with about ten on board.
These buses have also been refreshed inside with new moquette and retained their large luggage racks for the many holiday makers who use the route to reach Butlins in Minehead. They look very smart for their age.
I got off at Watchet by the West Somerset Railway station to catch the Exmoor Coaster feeder bus into Minehead that runs via the coastal road.
The single deck arrived empty from Doniford and one other passenger boarded with me who would normally have caught a 28.
The route used by the connecting bus out of Watchet along the B3191 is a very narrow road in places …..
….. and just our luck a lorry was delivering goods on pallets which looked like it was going to be a long job.
The delivery driver showed absolutely no interest in our plight nor would he be aware we had a ten minute connection in Minehead onto the open topper.
Although the timetable does say “guaranteed connection” it looked like we were in for a major delay.
After some time a passer by closed the offside rear door which just gave us enough room to squeeze by.
It really was first class driving in action.
We picked up a couple of families from the Blue Anchor Holiday Park further along the coastal road which was impressive to see and hopefully is the start of a new market for bus travel from this location, not having had a bus before.
They were just travelling into Minehead for the day rather than on to the open topper but they picked up a timetable on board (just a printed sheet) and spotted there is an earlier departure which is open top operated and pledged to get that the next day.
Such is the power of printed timetables. Those non-believing companies please take note (Arriva and Stagecoach).
Now running around 10 minutes late we made the connection at Butlins in Minehead arriving just in time at midday for the onward bus to Lynmouth which was waiting for us.
But it was rather disappointing to see a single deck substitute for the expected open topper.
It’s the problem with raising expectations. If you’d have told me First Bus were now running six return journeys a day between Minehead and Lynmouth, I’d have been really excited and made sure I took a ride, with an assumption the route would be single deck operated.
The hype surrounding open tops has raised the anticipation bar but when you’re running a fleet of ageing vehicles some of which have been shipped in from other fleets it’s inevitable, especially in the early days of a new operation, unforeseen mechanical issues will arise.
I soon put the disappointment behind me and set about enjoying what is one of the finest bus rides in the south west.
Exmoor isn’t so high profile as some of the other more famous National Parks (eg the Lake District or Peak District), and it has to be said, its bus connections are very poor, but it really is a gem.
With some spectacular scenery.
Lynmouth itself is also an absolute delight to visit.
This new route presents a great opportunity to enjoy the stunning views – which are superb even from a single decker.
Especially if you don’t sit where some thoughtless person sticks a poster in the way.
The route through Porlock is always precarious with its narrow main street and approach road either side.
And the hairpin bends are great fun too.
I saw some excellent driving skills from Buses of Somerset drivers and thoroughly enjoyed the journey to Lynmouth and back.
There were seven on our outward journey and ten on the return. Not bad for the first weekday operation of this brand new service and bearing in mind the colourful printed brochure is still awaited. Timetables were on display at bus stops all along the route.
Even the presence of our single decker at the terminus in Lynmouth was attracting interest, so I’m sure once both open-top buses are on the road passenger numbers will soon grow and this service will be a great success.
I’m now weighing up whether to make a return visit for that unique open top experience. If so, I guess I’d better incorporate an option of catching “the other bus working” just in case.
It’s certainly very tempting.
With reference to your reply to my comment of 31st May on your previous blog, it’s now MY turn to be envious!
I must really clear the diary and get down to Lynmouth again!
I was wondering how they would tackle Porlock Hill – that hairpin bend is tricky, even when driving a car!
I wondered if they’d use the toll road, but I guess the vehicles are too long.
I wish the service every success, and thank you, again, for a fascinating account.
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It’s such a shame that Devon County Council objected to Quantock Motor Services’ plan to run Minehead to Ilfracombe with open top double deckers. Whilst one Scania open topper was delivered, the other two on order were cancelled. The one open topper proved popular between Minehead and Lynmouth, but QMS really wanted to run a through service to Ilfracombe, so set about the conversion of single deck Volvo B10Ms to open top form, which was just not the same, and I think only one ever got done. It’s very brave of First to give the idea another go, but it’s incredibly annoying that the only open top journeys to or from Donniford arrive or depart out of service. This could be a great morning or afternoon round trip from Minehead.
You commented that Blue Anchor does not have a bus service, but in fact I presume the people boarding there on your journey were waiting for the Bridgwater to Minehead bus due there at 1156. This free service is operated 3 times a day, Monday to Friday only, by Somerset Passenger Solutions, and effectively replaces the 14 service that used to be run by Webberbus between Bridgwater and Minehead through Blue Anchor.
The thought of these journeys on an open top is rather inviting, but all th fancy liveries count for little when the advertised open topper is not available.
First try to do a good job, but the old penny pinching ways seem to continue.
Using older vehicles is probably a means of testing the market this year. If it works a case for investment can be made. However, there is a limited market for open toppers.
Go Ahead Hedingham seemed to have made Open Top work by incorporating an Open top section into a Normal route. It only uses Open Toppers in the Summer
The thrice daily Bridgwater bus mentioned above is as described below. Presumably it is nuclear powered?
Hinkley Community Bus – runs 3 times daily between Minehead and Bridgwater and back. FREE bus service for local residents.
Restrictions: local passengers may not be carried between any points wholly between Minehead & Carhampton, or anywhere between to or from Watchet WSR station.
timetable link: hinkley buses
Customer Helpline: 01278 557001
Monday – Friday 10 – 3
We stayed at the Blue Anchor holiday site in 190 or 1991. At that time a local independent was operating a bus service along the coast road to Minehead four or five times a day . We caught the service one day to get into Minehead and then caught the West Somerset railway to return. Unfortunately I cannot remember the name of the company but I think they were based in Williton, and I’m sure it was still operating a few years later.