Wednesday 29th September 2021
I explored the Isle of Sheppey back in April as my very own ‘Farewell to Arriva on the Island’ Tribute Tour. The Arriva bus garage alongside Sheerness station closed as planned in July with Sittingbourne based independent owned bus and coach company Chalkwell taking over operation of the bus routes on the island.
On my way last Wednesday to explore another island off the Kent coast in the Thames estuary I popped in on Sheppey to see what impact the new regime was making.
I’m delighted to report Sheppey’s buses have had a much welcome transformation with Chalkwell running more double deck buses on the island’s main routes sporting a bright red livery with a new ‘island buses’ logo …
… along with bespoke adverts promoting tickets for scholars and the company’s coach tours.
What a refreshing change to see positive messages to encourage bus and coach travel rather than some hideous display promoting a film or some other irrelevant consumer product.
Well done Chalkwell for boldly showing how it can be done.
And there’s a printed timetable booklet with details of all the island’s bus routes available to pick up from on board the buses.
This contains a colour coded network map and details of tickets.
Both are also available online together with bus timetables.
The timetables are similar to when Arriva operated the services with main cross-island route, the 360 (dark blue) running hourly between Sheerness and Leysdown with the 361 (green) running hourly on the opposite half hour from Sheerness to Rushenden. Monday to Friday only route 362 (yellow) runs half hourly on the short link to West Minster and route 367 runs two-hourly with one bus to Warden Point.
There are no evening buses on the island – route 360’s journey from Leysdown at 18:45 arriving Sheerness at 19:28 is the last bus on Mondays to Fridays and a Sunday service only operates on routes 360 (hourly summer and two-hourly winter) and 361 (six journeys summer and three in winter). So it’s a bit sparse at these times.
Arriva still reach Sheerness on its half hourly route 334 via Sittingbourne to Maidstone (hourly Sundays until mid afternoon) which as previously discussed is facing competition on the latter section from Stagecoach’s new routes X3 and X4 from Canterbury also running half hourly.
After reassuring myself Sheppey’s (albeit only daytime) buses are in capable hands ….
…. I headed westwards to explore the neighbouring Isle of Grain.
Except it isn’t an island, or hasn’t been since around 1835 when Yantlet Creek which at one time connected the River Thames and River Medway began silting up after a causeway was re-established connecting the Hoo Peninsular to the mainland. For nostalgia reasons the Peninsular is still often referred to as the Isle of Grain (see the Google map above), and for the purposes of this blog, I will too.
The Isle of Grain rose to fame a few years ago during Johnson’s time as London Mayor when he came up with the hair brained scheme of relocating Heathrow Airport here thinking it would endear him to the voters of Uxbridge and South Ruislip where he was standing for election as an MP.
Luckily for residents of Grain, as well as the hundreds of thousands of air passengers who use Heathrow, the idea went the same way as the Garden Bridge and the more recent barmy idea of a bridge or tunnel connecting Scotland with Northern Ireland.
Buses to Grain (the small community at the extreme eastern end is called Grain) run hourly. It’s Arriva operated route 191 from Chatham which runs three times an hour as far as Hoo St Werburgh where two an hour terminate (one at the Marina and one within the residential area at Wylie Road.
The other journey continues on its route to Grain alternating either directly to Grain via High Halstow and Lower Stoke and returning with a deviation to serve All Hallows and St Mary Hoo or taking in St Mary Hoo and All Hallows on the way to Grain and missing them out on the return.
This makes for an uneven departure from Grain each hour (a ten minute variation) and gives All Hallows a two hourly direct service to Chatham taking 53 minutes or a more circuitous journey via Grain taking 75 minutes, with the same arrangement available for returning passengers.
The journey out to Grain includes some fascinating views as you head towards the extreme eastern end of the ‘island’.
There’s a single track railway still in regular use which serves the power station and the National Grid have a huge presence in the area.
Much of the land is marshy but there’s much agriculture to be seen including a lot of fruit trees with their fruit dropping and rotting in the ground below.
My midday journey to Grain and back saw a half a dozen passengers with three alighting in Hoo St Werburgh, one in Grain and two staying on the bus to alight at All Hallows on the return journey (doing the 75 minute option) and we picked up about eight or nine on that journey heading back to Chatham.
Another hourly bus route on the ‘island’ – the Monday to Saturday route 133 – runs from Chatham via Rochester and Strood to the small community at Cliffe.
Redroute Buses also run three return journeys on Mondays to Saturdays route 417 between Gravesend and Cliffe.
Evenings sees just route 191 running hourly.
Sundays have a two hourly (five return journeys) on the 191 and a route 193 which links Cliffe via Hoo St Werburgh to Chatham and in a neat piece of timetable coordination the times combine to make for an even hourly frequency between Chatham and Hoo St Werburgh in both directions.
There was a mixture of double decks and single deck buses in use on route 191 last Thursday when I visited Grain, and despite being of a mature age were nicely presented.
Both Sheppey and Grain have a pretty basic bus service but it seems to be serving the needs of passengers. It’s a shame there’s not more support for evening services either from passenegers or local authorities.
My island hopping will continue into Essex next and I caught a glimpse of Canvey Island, my next destination, across the Thames as my bus headed back to Chatham.