K is for King’s Lynn

Sunday 12th May 2022

King’s Lynn lies south east of The Wash in the Fenland area that connects East Anglia with Lincolnshire. It’s the western most sizeable town in Norfolk with a population of 43,000 falling within the Borough Council of King’s Lynn and West Norfolk. Nearest large towns include Spalding around 25 miles west, 35 miles (by road) west to Peterborough, 29 miles south to Ely and 45 miles east to Norwich with Fakenham closer at 22 miles, while north to Hunstanton is 16 miles away.

So, unlike Jarrow, it’s just the kind of self contained small to mid sized town I’ve been visiting in my A-to-Z wander around Britain this year. And, of course, King’s Lynn has had a somewhat unsettled history of bus provision with both First Bus and Stagecoach failing to make a go of the town’s bus network leaving it to smaller independent operators and a community bus company to dominate the bus scene. And an excellent job they do too.

Norfolk Green famously began operating in the area in the late 1990s and became a byword for quality bus services especially once it took over most of King’s Lynn’s town and regional services from First Eastern Counties in 2011 to become the town’s main bus company.

First introduced smart ADL Enviro400 buses on the excel branded route in February 2020

Only the long inter-urban route between Peterborough and Norwich via King’s Lynn (branded as excel) stayed with First Bus and indeed is still based at the company’s bus garage located to the south of the town.

First’s bus depot in King’s Lynn is a rather old affair

When industry legend Ben Colson retired from overseeing Norfolk Green due to ill health in December 2013 the company was sold to Stagecoach and uncharacteristically their tenure only lasted four years with the company ceasing almost all operations in the town in January 2018, retaining only its half-hourly route 505 to Spalding.

Prior to this another new independent operator had begun competing on the King’s Lynn to Hunstanton corridor in the form of Lynx. Like Norfolk Green, Lynx has a long standing industry stalwart behind it in Julian Paterson who had a distinguished career with Eastern Counties before establishing Dereham based Konectbus which he subsequently sold to the Go-Ahead Group. There’s nothing Julian doesn’t know about running buses in this part of west Norfolk and it came as no surprise when Stagecoach pulled out of the town to see Lynx judiciously expand, taking over routes Julian knew would work well in the company’s successful portfolio.

A busy Coastliner branded route 36 operated by Lynx picks up holiday makers in Wells-next-the-Sea

Meanwhile West Norfolk Community Transport (WNCT) which had been running accessible transport in the area for some time, and with the help and guidance of Ben Colson, established a network of town routes to fill the remaining gaps left by Stagecoach’s withdrawal using the brand name ‘Go to town’. WNCT use the profits from operating this network to fund its community services thus creating a virtual circle of funds.

I’ve been to King’s Lynn many times and always been impressed with what I’ve found including the bus station. My last visit in April was while on my way to try out Swaffham’s new DRT service and as usual I found the well designed and functional bus station bristling with a constant stream of Lynx and ‘Go to town’ buses coming and going together with First Bus’s smart new double deck Enviro400 buses on the excel branded half hourly Peterborough to Norwich route ….

…. and Stagecoach’s half-hourly route to Spalding. As always too it was good to see impressive numbers of passenger travelling on both the inter-urban routes as well as the local town routes.

The bus station has lots of space for stands as well as a large parking area.

Passengers wait under an interesting design of cover …

…. and real time displays and clear signs advise which routes depart from which bay.

Even more impressive the bus station has a travel shop come visitor information centre with a very knowledgable person on hand to answer enquiries and hand out information …

…. including timetable leaflets for both Lynx and ‘Go to town’ …

…..and it was also good to see a Stagecoach leaflet for route 505 on display on my most recent visit.

Sadly there were no leaflets for First’s prestigious excel route although prior to the pandemic the company did produce a very comprehensive booklet with times, fares and maps.

‘Go to town’ run five principle town bus routes.

Routes 2 and 4 serve an area to the north of the town centre every fifteen minutes each combining to every 7-8 minutes on Lynnsport Way …

… and route 3 runs half hourly north of that providing a circular via North and South Wootton with route 5 providing six hourly off peak journeys to nearby Gaywood Park …

…. and route 6 running eight circular journeys via Sainsbury’s and Tesco on the Hardwick estate not far south from the town centre.

Lynx also operates one town route: the 20 minute frequency route 42 to Fairstead to the east of the town.

Lynx also run the already mentioned routes 34, 35 and 36 north to Hunstanton every 15 minutes with the 36 continuing hourly along the coast to Wells-next-the-Sea before turning south to Fakenham.

This splendid route branded as Coastliner is also home to Lynx’s two smart Enviro400 buses which arrived new to the company last year.

Route 35 also runs hourly within the 15 minute combined frequency between King’s Lynn and Hunstanton and diverts to serve Sandringham making for a lovely ride and you never know who you might meet there.

Fakenham is also served by route 49 operating direct to King’s Lynn via West Rudham five times a day while route 48 runs hourly to Grimston and route 37 runs south to Downham Market eight times a day.

Lynx also operates route 46 to Wisbech every two hours.

‘Go to town’ also run to both Hunstanton and Downham Market but by more indirect routes and less frequently. Route 21 runs six times a day to Hunstanton via Flitcham and Docking and route 47 provides one shopping journey from Downham Market via Stowbridge.

Lynx operate route 39 to Marham (approximately two-hourly) and route 54 three times a day to Walpole St Peter.

As well as printed leaflets with details of timetables, tickets and a map Lynx also has a very easy to navigate website including vehicle tracking and a network map on which you can easily spot all the foregoing routes and where they go.

Go to town show maps of individual routes on leaflets (illustrated earlier) and online but there’s no network map which is a shame. A combined map of both companies’ routes would be even better.

King’s Lynn has an hourly rail service via Ely and Cambridge to London Kings Cross operated by Great Northern. In the off-peak trains run non-stop between Cambridge and Kings Cross but it’s still an end to end journey time of 1 hour and 46 minutes. Peak hour trains take even longer with additional stops south of Cambridge – the 07:48 from King’s Lynn arrives into King’s Cross at 09.48 taking exactly two hours for the 96 mile journey. Not particularly fast.

The nicest thing about the journey down to London is passing through Downham Market (the second station after leaving King’s Lynn) which was given the full Network South East retro look back in 2017 …

… and very smart it looks too.

While King’s Lynn station itself also has a retro look from an even earlier era with period signage ….

….. even incongruously on modern ticket machines.

It all makes for a rather quirky ambiance in a rather lovely station.

And finally, no visit to King’s Lynn could be complete without a ride through The South Gate on the southern approach into town. Completed in 1520 it’s a landmark building in every sense as well as being Grade I listed and a Scheduled Ancient Monument.

It’s always interesting to see if the bus driver is an old hand taking it all in their stride or a novice who slows down to make sure the bus is positioned just right.

Roger French

Previous AtoZ blogs: Andover; Bracknell; Carlisle; Durham, Evesham, Folkestone, Grantham, Harrogate, Inverness, Jarrow.

Blogging timetable: 06:00 TThSSu

22 thoughts on “K is for King’s Lynn

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  1. The Stagecoach East Midlands route 505 to Spalding is scheduled to run every 30 minutes on Mondays to Fridays, though with odd gaps at schooltimes. If it was running hourly, the reason would be the staffing problems which have plagued bus services in the area for some time. I believe it still gets funding from Lincs CC, which supported the 20 minute headway on the route in Stagecoach East days.

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    1. The only support from LCC in Stagecoach East days was for evening journeys and the Moulton village journeys. It was reduced to 30 minutes to improve reliability and make some savings

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  2. WNCT probably offering a model for other towns in the UK. They are successfully operate frequent town services in a modest size town where the large operators are failing

    Large operator have a high cost bases and due to cost cutting are frequently operating services from a remote depot which makes it difficult and costly to operate town services

    Compare the services in Kings Lynn to other similar size towns that have been visited and the difference is dramatic. Possible the demographics are different to some of the other smaller towns, A number of the routes also run on Sundays

    WNCT is basically set up as two companies. The commercial arm operating the Go to Town services and the Charitable Company operating the Dial a ride services etc

    Another interesting thing is they offer a half price far for travel before 9am. Presumably they have low demand at that time

    WNCT seem to operate on a commercial basis but many get some subsidies from NCC

    If this model could be replicated across England good town service in the medium size towns could be provided at little cost. Think what could be achieved if bus back better funding had been used in this way

    The secret seem to be to operate the services with a small efficient local company and the town services are pretty much operated the one company. The market is probably not big enough to support two companies. That might be as problem elsewhere due to competition laws. The Kings Lynn model could be wrecked as well if another operator decide to start competing with WNCT

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    1. Unfortunately these other towns would need their own Ben Colson to advise them, and similar knowlegable people are in short supply.

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  3. Good to read another positive story showing that public transport can exist outside the big conurbations, it just requires the right people to be running it. I think it also shows that buses work best when they are local businesses (municipal or private it doesn’t matter) with a stake and pride in the success of their communities.

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    1. It’s really so obvious, with so many examples, that perhaps we can wonder why some ops still do the exact opposite? Perhaps they have no choice. It’s a matter of luck, as much as anything, to get the right people at the right time and place.

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      1. There are a good few reasons why it’s so poor.

        With independants often they are ran by donkeys who don’t have a clue what they are doing and end up running a shambles. Point blank refusal to listen to passengers and employees, do their own thing and mess it up.

        With the big firms, the ‘area directors’ have far too much power over what happens locally. Refusal to let companies do their own thing to improve patronage then demand cuts when they aren’t doing well. Too many management aren’t local to the operation that they are meant to run and are so stuck in their bubble, they don’t even care. Limited interaction with staff and passengers. I don’t think people even see the local management anymore as they are ‘busy’ with other stuff.
        Then add into that, if and management make a hash of things, they simply get moved about. There is no punishment for running a shambles of an operation. Just keep moving management around and let them ruin somewhere else. There is no loyalty or reward for doing well and no punishment for doing badly. Just move onto the next area. Even more true for the hairdressing graduates which seem to be freely flowing through the big ops.
        Further additions are big firms don’t like moving with the times, they stick to their old ways. Finally, they have gotten more greedy and want everyone else to fund their new ventures. No commercial risks taken anymore. Make everyone else pay for the new ventures and if it goes well, they want the profit, if it goes badly, they haven’t lost out.
        Lazy operations with poor management. Newer management (excluding graduates), don’t get a look in because it’s all about who you know, not what you know. Any hint of trying to improve things or wanting to do things slightly differently, you are shot down. The industry hates people who don’t follow the status quo.
        Combine all that, it’s easy to see why things are going so badly wrong.

        There are exceptions to this and there are some excellent management and excellent operations. Please don’t take the above as gospel but from experience, there are more bad than there is good.

        Liked by 2 people

  4. That castle gate reminded me of the one in Alnwick the United use to go through and I think that there’s one in York too leaving the centre going north which the overnight National Express went through perhaps I’ll go through it this week as I’m hoping to get the Reliance bus to Easingwold? King’s Lynn use to have a ferry too across to a village called West Lynn (might have been East or North?).

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    1. The Kings Lynn ferry closed in 2020 but has now re-opend with new owners . I have found no web site for it though. The info is from the Kings Lynn and West Norfolk council web site dated 28th August 2020 so presumably it is still operating

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  5. The Coastliner service is indeed wonderful but it would be even more wonderful if it connected with trains from London Kings Cross leaving after early afternoon, as it’s impossible to get to the Coast for a weekend away, and even the last bus doesn’t necessarily connect well with a train, given the King’s Lynn one-way system

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    1. There is a place called Zeals in Wiltshire and there is a suburb of Bristol called Zetland. Don’t know about X – may be RF will “mark the spot”.

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      1. Don’t forget Zennor in Cornwall!As for X I think that the Basque Country might be the nearest place names beginning with X?

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  6. Having used the excellent buses around Lynn a few times, there is also route 40 of ‘Coach Services Ltd’ from Thetford and Brandon 4 times a day(once on a Saturday), which is another rural run.

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  7. A good round up of what’s on offer, but missing from the write up this time is a list of where you travelled and how these various operators actually deliver on the road. Lynx have a great reputation for friendly polite staff and clean tidy buses but what about Go to Town?

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