Tuesday 19th April 2022
It’s been six months since I’ve done a marathon bus journey (Stagecoach’s route 35 in Aberdeenshire) so decided it was opportune to take another extended ride over the Easter weekend.
Stagecoach’s long established route 700 takes a lengthy 4 hours and 40 minutes to travel all the way from Portsmouth to Brighton along the south coast. However 21 minutes of that time involves changing buses twice after the route was split into three overlapping sections in May 2014.
The 700 is now a route of three thirds.
Ironically the route’s predecessor, Southdown’s route 31 dating back to the 1920s, was also split in the early 1970s to improve its reliability. Route 700 partly replaced it in 1975 and initially ran limited stop and in a prosaic move was marketed as ‘Stagecoach 700’, a brand that Southdown went on to use for other limited stop bus routes across Sussex a decade before the 1980s Stagecoach company was invented and, among others, bought Southdown from its management in 1989.
Route 700’s initial western terminus in 1975 was Winston Churchill Avenue, Portsmouth but the route also went as far as Southsea’s South Parade Pier at one time but was subsequently cut back to the Hard Interchange where it remains today, although it’s now more commonly referred to as Gunwharf Quays after the nearby retail complex.
The Brighton terminal point was originally Pool Valley but when that closed it moved to the adjacent Old Steine as it still is today.
Interestingly in March 1980 end-to-end running time on the 700 between Pool Valley and Portsmouth Harbour Station was a sprightly 2 hours 55 minutes on an hourly frequency and that was before the A27 was rerouted to a new dual carriageway avoiding the long prone-to-delays single carriageway stretch through Southbourne and Emsworth, although this was also before calling at Havant Bus Station (only served from March 1982) and, of course, it was running on a limited stop basis.
As well as route 700, back in March 1980 stopping services ran between Brighton and Worthing every 20 minutes (route 230); Worthing and Bognor Regis every 30 minutes (routes 231/232) with Littlehampton to Bognor Regis also having two an hour on route 249; Littlehampton and Chichester every hour (route 248/249); and Emsworth and Southsea (routes 331/332).
Current frequencies on the (no longer limited stop) all stops 700 are half hourly between Portsmouth, Chichester and Bognor Regis/Felpham; half hourly between Chichester, Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (making for a combined 15 minute frequency between Chichester and Bognor Regis) and every 12 minutes (reduced from a pre-Covid every 10 minutes) between Littlehampton and Brighton; the latter journeys continue to and from Wick, north of Littlehampton (for some years some journeys continued on to Arundel, but that link was severed from Coastliner in 2017).
I made my journey while a Sunday service was operating over the Easter weekend. On the Sunday timetable the Portsmouth journeys only run as far as Chichester and the middle section runs between Chichester, Bognor Regis and Littlehampton both sections being half hourly with the third, eastern section, to Brighton running every 20 minutes.
I caught the 11:00 departure from Portsmouth’s Hard Interchange.
It’s an impressive relatively new (rebuilt five years ago) bus station situated adjacent to Portsmouth Harbour railway station and the jetty for both the Wightlink FastCat ferry across to the Isle of Wight and the Gosport ferry.
The bus was one of the few allocated to the route based at Chichester which are in the new Stagecoach all-over yellow livery to denote long distance bus routes with added minimalist reference to the brand that’s been used for some years now – Coastliner 700 – above the nearside door, the rear and the offside.
We left on time, with just one other passenger on board besides myself. Naturally we both grabbed the front seats upstairs to enjoy the views as we headed out of the city towards Chichester.
This enabled me to make a photographic record of the 280 minute, 50 mile or so journey to Brighton, so come along with me and enjoy the following 54 photographs – that’s about one for every mile of the journey.
Heading north out of Portsmouth there’s time to appreciate the City Council’s investment in bus priority as we pass through the southern end of the pedestrianised Commercial Road and ….
…. impressive bus lanes between North End and Hilsea.
At Hilsea there’s just time to reminisce at seeing the site of Southdown’s former bus garage on the east side of the A3 (just south of the junction with the A27) ….
…. and clock the original bus garage on the west side behind a petrol station which remains operational under First Bus ownership.
Heading east towards Havant includes a spirited run along the fast flowing A27 ….
…. before arriving at Havant bus station.
Then it’s onward and eastwards along what’s now the A259 (formerly the A27) through Emsworth, Southbourne, Nutbourne and Fishbourne …..
….. before arriving into Chichester at 12:17 where I made my first bus change alongside the cathedral.
It takes six buses to operate the Portsmouth to Chichester section of route on a Sunday (nine on weekdays when it continues to Bognor Regis/Felpham). Two of the buses spotted were in the new livery and three were in the much nicer and attractive old livery introduced in 2010 when a new fleet of Enviro400 buses were introduced.
My next bus bound for Littlehampton was in neither Coastliner livery (new or old); instead, it was wearing the new Stagecoach all purpose corporate livery. We were due to leave at 12:22 but headed off at 12:27.
On the previous bus we’d picked up a few passengers heading home from Havant as well as a few more heading into Chichester and we left Chichester on this second bus with about a dozen on board.
Shortly after leaving the cathedral we called into the former Southdown bus station in the city, now run by Stagecoach. Good to see nice clear signs indicating which routes use each of the nine bays.
The bus station is situated opposite the bus garage and adjacent to the railway station.
We left the bus station on time at 12:30 and had a nice run over to Bognor Regis setting down all the passengers who’d boarded in Chichester and we were soon passing the railway tracks heading into the station….
…. which we passed by and noted has been nicely refurbished.
Bognor Regis High Street was looking attractive in the Easter sunshine but sad to see the site of the Southdown bus garage now long gone (well over 40 years ago).
Leaving Bognor Regis via the massive Butlins complex having picked up a handful of passengers …
…. we travelled through Felpham suburbia ….
…. before making our way through West Sussex countryside and the village of Yapton …..
….and reaching Littlehampton and in a dose of déjà vu entered the town alongside the railway tracks heading towards the station ….
…. before passing the (also) refurbished station.
This second section of route 700 ends in Littlehampton’s Anchor Springs; a side road running parallel with the town’s High Street and where there are three separate bus stops for route 700.
The western most stop is for buses arriving from Brighton and heading on to Wick (and also used to continue to Arundel); the middle stop is for buses arriving from Chichester and returning back there and the eastern most stop (nearest the camera) is for buses arriving back from Wick and continuing to Brighton.
The middle section of route between Chichester and Littlehampton requires six buses on a daily basis. We’d passed the other five and none had been in either the new or old Coastliner livery; instead wearing the new all purpose livery, a bespoke livery for the University of Chichester and one was a single deck in standard livery. Coastliner branding seems to have passed by the middle section of route 700.
I’d arrived into Littlehampton at 13:29 and after a quick wander around the town caught the next bus onward to Brighton at 13:44.
It was a nicely liveried old style Coastliner branded bus (still displaying the frequency “up to every 10 minutes” – it’s not) as were all the other 12 buses we passed on the journey to Brighton making for a real divide between the Worthing garage operated buses being all ‘on brand’ on the eastern end of the route and the Chichester operated central section being ‘off brand’ and the western section being a ‘muddled brand’.
Interestingly the bus stop plates also reflect this divide, with those at the western end of the route displaying an updated corporate Coastliner 700 yellow sticker….
…. while along the eastern end of the route, the original Coastliner 700 stickers are still in situ.
We left Littlehampton with about a dozen on board and the journey to Brighton saw us get busier and busier. By the time we reached Shoreham we were almost at capacity.
The route between Littlehampton and Brighton is by far the busiest section of the route, reflected in the better frequency, and also the rather wiggly nature of the route taken as it seeks to serve the communities along the way between Littlehampton and Worthing south of the A259 and either side of the West Coastway railway line. Weekdays see 22 buses operating the 12 minute frequency on this section with 13 out on Sundays providing the 20 minute frequency that day.
The route passes through the delightful Rustington with its busy shopping area offering a great selection of shops even including a Waterstones…
…followed by the rather well-to-do-concessionary-pass-holder-dominated East Preston (where we passed two Littlehampton bound buses running together) …
…. then it’s north across the railway line (hoping the gates stay up) ….
….(they did)… before heading to the A259 again ….
…. and then on the A259 passing the famous Roundstone garden centre…
… which was doing brisk bank holiday trade….(including two passengers boarding with their plant haul)….
…. then its back south from the A259 again (via a natty piece of bus only lane) ….
… to head towards Goring-by-Sea which entails crossing back south over the railway line ….
…. except this time the gates stayed down for nearly six minutes to let two trains pass by …
…. before passing just a few of Goring’s many bungalows ….
…. and heading east past another handy parade of shops ….
…. and eventually heading south again and reaching the coast …
… before turning left and enjoying the coastal views as we approached Worthing’s Marine Parade ….
… where we passed another the two buses running together towards Littlehampton rather than being twenty minutes apart – reflecting the busy nature of this section of route, the unpredictability of Bank Holiday traffic delays and the problem of level crossing waits – by this time we were 13 minutes behind schedule ourselves ….
… as we arrived alongside Stagecoach’s Worthing bus garage and changed drivers.
After a slick changeover we were on our way again with more coastal views as we headed towards Lancing …..
… and soon reached Shoreham-by-sea where we meet a bus on Brighton & Hove’s route 2 from Rottingdean to Steyning….
…. as well as another pair of Littlehampton bound Coastliner 700s running together. I began to wonder if this third pair indicated there were duplicate buses out on the service, but when I added up the number we passed it came to the scheduled requirement and just indicated the unreliability of the service on a busy Bank Holiday weekend.
We were soon passing Southwick’s long disused lighthouse….
…. and enjoying the views of Shoreham’s extensive and busy harbour ….
…. before reaching Hove’s seafront and spotting a bus running out of service from Brighton along the seafront instead of taking the correct route via Western Road, presumably to make up lost time ….
…. and we arrived in Brighton’s Churchill Square where there was another Littlehampton bound bus picking up a large number of passengers after a long gap in service.
By now we were ten minutes down, which meant an in-and-out at the Old Steine terminus at 15:45 ready for the return journey to Littlehampton as our bus full of passengers alighted.
And that completed my marathon 4 hours and 45 minutes journey from Portsmouth to Brighton.
Coastliner 700 is a great route to explore with so many different facets to it, from coastal views, countryside rides, suburbia and vibrant commercial centres and splitting the journey in Chichester and Littlehampton makes for convenient breaks along the way.
Not surprisingly it’s a very busy route, especially the eastern end. It looks to me as though 37 buses are allocated to the route making it one of Stagecoach’s most significant bus routes in the south of England.
It’s got a fascinating history, and let’s hope, a secure future.
My thanks to my former retired B&H colleague and friend Mike Cheesman for helping with the historical references.
Blogging timetable: 06:00 TThS