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.
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.
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.
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.
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