Thursday 7th October 2021
While down in Cornwall last weekend I took the opportunity to take a ride on First Kernow’s new-for-the-2021-summer-season Falmouth Coaster branded open top bus tour of the town.
It’s part of FK’s Adventures By Bus over arching brand of initiatives introduced this summer to attract the leisure travel market.
Regular readers will know I’ve already tried out the Dartmoor Explorer, the Exmoor Coaster, the Discover Exeter tour as well as the Lands End Coaster and Atlantic Coaster and observed the Day Tripper network before it got suspended due to driver shortages, so as a compulsive completist it was good to finally catch up with this final piece of the Adventures By Bus jigsaw.
Except Saturday morning wasn’t the ideal time to relax and enjoy an open top bus ride bearing in mind the damp weather but knowing the bus would have an enclosed front section on the upper deck I wan’t going to be deterred by a bit of rain. At least the open top format meant windows wouldn’t be misted up with condensation – another drawback of scenic bus travel in the rain.
I arrived in good time for the first departure of the hourly timetable at 10:00 from The Moor terminal point in the town centre and sure enough soon after 09:50 the driver pulled up ready for the day ahead, although then promptly got off the bus and wandered off leaving the bus doors closed.
He reappeared at 10:07 which was a slight niggle to set the journey off to a late start and not surprisingly, in view of the weather, I was the only passenger to board. Having used my concessionary pass on other ‘Adventure’ brands including the Exeter open top city tour (which did surprise me) I wasn’t entirely surprised to be told by the driver “that’s not valid on here” when I tried to use it on the ticket machine and instead paid £6 for a one journey adventurer trip.
The colourful leaflet promoting the tour advertises an £8 ticket but that would have given me a day’s travel which didn’t seem appropriate for such a wet day.
We set off at 10:09 and drove round the corner to the first stop on the tour at the Prince of Wales Pier which I then noticed from the leaflet had a departure time of 10:15 and I realised the fifteen minutes running time between those two stops just 200 metres apart is designed to presumably give the bus plenty of time to stand in a prominent place to attract passengers being closer to the shops in High Street and Market Street.
I wondered if there might be a better way of presenting this arrangement in the timetable as passengers boarding at The Moor start point might not appreciate spending the first fifteen minutes effectively waiting for the tour to start at the next stop. I also wondered if it might be helpful to identify The Moor starting point as well as identifying it as ‘Falmouth Art Gallery’ on the map in the leaflet.
We headed off on the tour at 10:15 along the town’s Market Street famed for causing a bit of a rumpus during the summer from those who think open top buses shouldn’t be allowed in shopping streets like this, even though there’s a twenty minute service operated by OTS under the Transport for Cornwall brand on its route 60 Town Centre Loop service.
Councillor Kirstie Edwards at Falmouth Town Council “has complained both to the Department of Transport and to First Bus about the tourist bus that ploughs the town on an hourly basis” the local newspaper reports. Councillors reckon “the service was making a mockery of the pedestrianisation trial, and was ‘literally’ driving a bus through it”. Councillor Edwards says she made the complaint as a resident about “the massive bus constantly going through town”.
She continued “many of us in council have attempted to find out why the huge double decker bus is allowed to go through town during pedestrian only times. It makes little sense that just because the small hopper bus is allowed to do it, the massive bus can also”.
On my journey I noticed delivery vehicles are inevitably allowed to service the shops through Market Street as well as a number of private cars which seemed to take advantage of the clear pavements to park.
Councillor Edwards reckoned she’s enjoyed “the circular open top with my kids and have done for years, but there is just no need to send it through town- the old route from the park and ride along the marina road into the Prince Of Wales pier and up Killigrew and around to the Dell area worked very well, with plenty of sights to see before it hit the sea front”.
For me, the tour was all the better for travelling through Market Street as we soon reached the National Maritime Museum and views of the docks.
We then headed through the wooded area surrounding the one-way Pendennis Rise …
…. until reaching Pendennis Point with its views across the bay to Mawes ….
…. and to Pendennis Castle.
The tour continues around Falmouth Bay ….
…. with views of Gyllyngvase Beach …
… and then down to Swanpool Beach.
At each of these points the schedule allows time for a pause of a couple of minutes which gives the tour a characteristically comfortable and leisurely pace.
The bus then returned via Kimberley Park to The Moor arriving on time at 10:55 ready for its next trip.
Despite the poor weather I really enjoyed my tour around Falmouth. I noticed the bus was fitted with loudspeakers but there wasn’t a commentary but there was a good supply of the brochures in the luggage rack as you boarded.
The upper deck didn’t have the benefit of drain holes, so it had accumulated a fair amount of rainwater which sloshed around as the bus turned corners and went up and down hills. Sitting at the front I soon learned to lift my feet as the waves gushed to the front when we went downhill!
On a lovely day I can see why this Adventure has reportedly done very well during the summer season. First Kernow have decided to keep the tour going during the autumn and winter to keep its presence in the minds of potential customers. That’s a laudable aim, but I just hope the profits from a good summer aren’t squandered on a lousy winter season. Time will tell.