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.
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.