Exmoor Coaster meets Exmoor Sunseeker

Saturday 23rd July 2022

First Bus in the South West has expanded its Adventures by Bus portfolio of leisure services in north Devon this summer.

After my Bridgwater to Minehead quirky rural ride last Tuesday, on Wednesday I sampled the reinstatement of the much missed Minehead to Ilfracombe link (albeit with a change in Lynmouth) to see how it’s doing.

The newly branded Exmoor Sunseeker runs between Lynmouth and Ilfracombe taking in the climb up to Lynton then operating via Coombe Martin. It’s another wonderful scenic bus route operated by two single deck buses in a bright attractive yellow livery.

The novelty being the buses have their last three windows removed on either side to create an “open air deck” which was just what was needed on a lovely sunny day such as Wednesday of last week.

The daily timetable stepped up at the beginning of this month (yellow days) to comprise four full length return journeys together with two positioning journeys, I assume from First’s base in Minehead, at the start and end of the day running in service between Blackmore Gate and Ilfracombe.

A colourful timetable leaflet has just been produced …

…. and became available at the end of last week after I travelled so I picked up a temporary A4 sheet showing the times which was available on the buses along with a plentiful supply of the Exmoor Coaster brochure.

The new leaflet shows connections to and from the Exmoor Coaster in Lynmouth making it possible to make a seamless journey by bus from Minehead to Ilfracombe along this spectacular coast for the first time for many years.

I caught the first Exmoor Coaster departure at 09:30 from outside Minehead Butlins and it was pleasing to see a queue of excited passengers forming even at 09:15.

Around 25 passengers boarded and all were visibly thrilled to be catching the bus. Most were travelling all the way to Lynmouth with a few alighting in Porlock. Open top buses really do create desire, especially when well presented, as these are.

We picked more passengers up at the stop by the West Somerset Railway station in the centre of Minehead….

…. and even more boarded at Porlock ….

…. making the bus very busy; almost full up.

It truly is one of the most spectacular bus rides with great views across Exmoor and across to the coast as well as the intrigue of the bus taking the lovely narrow route down into Porlock (spot another beautiful floral display)…..

…. before ascending out of the village on Porlock Hill renowned for its steep gradient and hairpin bends.

We got into Lynmouth about ten minutes late at 10:40 simply reflecting our busyness but the driver performed a quick turnaround and it wasn’t long before he’d got everyone waiting on board and heading back to Minehead, not too much later than the scheduled 10:40 departure.

The first westbound Exmoor Sunseeker departure from Lynmouth to Ilfracombe is an hour later at 11:40 which officially connects with the next (11:30) Exmoor Coaster arrival but having ridden this last year and seen it being susceptible to traffic delays as it comes from Watchet (east of Minehead), I didn’t want to risk missing the connection.

Both buses are due into Lynmouth at 11:30 and both should depart at 11:40.

In the event Exmoor Sunseeker arrived first at 11:38 with eight on board and the driver explained he’d got stuck on the steep narrow hill between Lynton and Lynmouth for 10 minutes trying to pass a lorry.

Only one passenger boarded with me – he was bound for Coombe Martin – a direct journey not possible until Sunseeker – and although we were ready to go at 11:40 our friendly driver explained he’d just remembered (good job too) he needed to wait for the “big blue bus to arrive”.

I tried to help by looking for a tracking website to check where it was but couldn’t find one showing the buses on that route. So we just waited to see when it would arrive.

Shame about the Lands End coaster livery.

It pulled into the car and coach park fully loaded eighteen minutes late at 10:48 and our driver gave some time for the unloading to take place before calling out to the Exmoor Coaster driver if he had anyone for Ilfracombe. It seemed not, so we headed off at 10:52, 12 minutes down. But neither I or my fellow passenger minded. It was such a gorgeous day and we weren’t in a hurry.

The route from Lynmouth up to Lynton is quite something to experience – a very steep hill on the B3234 via Glen Lyn Gorge which entailed a few cars having to reverse back up to let us pass – always amusing to see …

…. and then taking the road via Lynbridge as the first hairpin junction for Lynton is simply too acute to negotiate.

Having done a tour of Lynton which lies at the top of the cliffs – a real tourist hotspot with ultra narrow roads – and picked no-one up, we headed back down to rejoin the A39 and off towards Ilfracombe, but not before meeting the other bus …..

….. which just managed to squeeze by.

As we dropped our Coombe Martin passenger off a holidaying couple from London boarded to travel the few miles west to Hele Bay and were pleasantly surprised to be told their London concessionary passes give them free bus travel outside the capital.

As you can see from the timetable, it’s a 75 minute journey and definitely another one for the scenic bus rides list.

Coombe Martin to Ilfracombe is already covered by route 301 operated by Filers Travel which continues through to Barnstaple but the section of route between Coombe Martin and Lyndon/Lynmouth has been a network gap for seven years. I last travelled on it in 2015 before the plug was pulled on Filers Travel route 300 which used to run through from Minehead all the way to Ilfracombe.

The section of route between Minehead and Lynmouth used to see Quantock Motor Services run heritage vehicles during the summer on a few journeys a day at a premium fare which was always a great ride.

Not having been able to travel between Lynmouth and Ilfracombe for 7 years, It was good to remind myself how lovely the route is offering some great views…..

… especially through the rear“open air deck”.

It’s a shame only three passengers made this journey although the driver, who’d only transferred on to the route three days previously from his usual route 28 (Minehead to Taunton) haunt, said he’d carried 33 on the journey towards Lynton and Lynmouth.

This was very encouraging to hear as were the fantastic loads seen on the Exmoor Coaster.

It’s also good to see social media reports of many people making the connection in Lynmouth.

Very well done to the enterprising team at First South West for creating these successful initiatives in a part of the country previously given up on by predecessor bus companies as well as the local authorities.

It’s really heartening to see.

But, it’s a pity this new initiative doesn’t get a look in on the Adventures By Bus website where an expanded list of leisure journeys includes the similarly branded ‘Sunseeker’ routes in the Newquay area as well as the Jurassic Coaster of sister company First Wessex and Dorset.

And there’s some confusion by the Discover Exeter tour still being listed and marketed….

…. whereas if you click on the News and service updates icon you see the unfortunate news that it’s been cancelled for the rest of the summer.

As I occasionally do, not sure why, I received a complaint by email using the ‘contact’ icon on my website from a very disappointed member of the public about this just a few days ago reinforcing the need to keep websites up to date.

Roger French

Blogging timetable: 06:00 TThSSu

13 thoughts on “Exmoor Coaster meets Exmoor Sunseeker

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  1. Lots of interesting information here thank you. Regarding the Exeter bus, I was informed by an ex bus driver last month that there would be driver shortages and bus cancellations in Devon due to drivers and possibly also buses being sent to assist with the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham. Could you investigate this please.

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  2. I know the Linton and Lynmouth area very well as we stay at the superb Choughs Nest hotel from time to time. Some of the hills are formidable especially the hairpin on the climb out of Linton

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  3. Thank you for another delightful scenic bus ride. I recall the Lynton to Ilfracombe connection being made on Bristol LS buses on Southern National 106 back in the early sixties. Then there was no direct connection with Minehead; it being necessary to use the cliff railway to or from Lynmouth for Western National SU on their 260.

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  4. I spent a couple of days in Lynmouth about a month ago, and on sampling these routes was pleased to see them attracting custom and the enterprise of First South West and Devon County Councils paying rewards.

    I think its also worth mentioning that Filers, with subsidy from Devon Council, has extended and increased its service 310 Barnstaple – Lynton. This is now hourly, and all services are extended – at the Barnstaple end from the bus station to the railway station and connecting with train arrivals/departures from and to Exeter, [Yes!] and at at the Lynton end down to Lynmouth, giving Lynmouth an unprecedented hourly service to the railway station in Exeter. As Filers use smaller buses, these can negotiate the first hairpin bend out of Lynmouth, but still need a three-point turn on the bend, much to the frustration of other road users!

    In all the times I’ve holidayed in Lynmouth during the past 30 years or so, I can not remember the area being so well served by public transport. Surely an encouraging step in the right direction.

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    1. On a trip to Lynmouth many moons ago our bus got stuck trying to negotiate the more severe hairpin from Lynton. The bus was pinned right up against the wall with a steep drop below. We got off and walked!

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  5. All excellent news and a step in the right direction, but not too sure about that “Open Air Deck” on the single-deck when the weather reverts to traditional British showers and worse. I was conducting a full up and fully open-top double-deck just a few weeks ago on a London tour when the heavens opened, and there was literally nowhere for the upstairs passengers to shelter! And apparently it was all my fault as I was unable to get an instant replacement vehicle from our garage in Kent twenty miles away.

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  6. I went down to Exeter last week for a ride on the Dartmoor explorer only to find that due to roadworks, it was being curtailed at Moretonhampstead and not running to Exeter until sat 18th. I had been on the website and while it may have been in the news section, I did not check there but I did look up the timetable on the Dartmoor explorer page and there was nothing about this on the page. I ended up doing the 6 to Bude which was superb, but this was very poor imo.

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  7. Hello Roger. Another excellent report on the Exmoor Coaster/Sunseeker revamped services. We spent the previous week in Minehead & our observations pretty much mirror your own. A couple of points which may be worth First South West taking on board for the future. The connections at Lynmouth going forward to Ilfracombe are too tight. Late running seems to be normal from Minehead & one feels uneasy regards to connections being held. Also, most passengers of a certain age would require a toilet break at Lynmouth before the next leg. 20 minutes would be more convenient!! Secondly, the odd timetable of the Sunseeker allows only 1hour 50mins in Ilfracombe before the last Lynmouth departure at 14.45… far too early. As you suggest, both Sunseeker buses return empty to Minehead from Blackmoor Gate. Surely one or both of these buses could provide a later service back to Minehead. Blackmoor Gate seems a wierd terminus as apart from the old station pub there is nothing there! The other slight anomaly is the 7 day weekly ticket obtained for my wife. The Buses of Somerset version costs £28 from the driver whereas the Adventures by Bus version costs £30! Both tickets valid on all buses. A lady driver on the Coaster very reluctantly accepted the ticket adamantly maintaining it was a BOS ticket even though the price was clearly shown at £30 with Exmoor Coaster printing!
    Apart from that, a brilliant service with friendly drivers.

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  8. I’m very impressed after reading this post. Something that all bus companies with scenic routes/routes serving tourist attractions etc should consider as an excellent way to attract more passengers. Local authorities should also note and copy as tourists will help maintain services in their area not to mention the sustainable travel objectives.

    I also however noted the early last departure from Ilfracombe making for only a short stay. Later departures are needed.

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  9. I did the Minehead to Lynmouth on the Exmoor Coaster back at the end of May with a friend the day could not have been better it was wall to wall sunshine we had travelled up from Exeter on a coach trip to Bishops Lyard then the steam train to Minehead. And then decided on the bus to Lynmouth the views were spectacular and the climb up Porlock Hill was a bit hair raising especially on the way back! But the driver on the Exmoor Coaster was an expert driver handling the manovers round those bend so much so we had to congratulate him on his driving!

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  10. I was in Lynton and travelled on the route to Minehead on Friday. Unfortunately the only return journey journey through to Watchet in that direction was being operated by a sunseeker E200. Thanks to bustimes.org I cut my day short in favour of a retiurn on the Volvo getting the top deck for the best part of the route as I needed to be bacjk in Lynton by 5pm.

    Unfortunately both double deckers that day were in Lands End Coaster branding, together with an off route E200, letting down the best advert for the servce! One of the two very helpful drivers told me that the Scanias needed working on as they got quite a battering the previous summer on the hills whereas the B7 has benefittted from an engine rebuild. Loads were light at those times to/from Lynton and there was a paucity of leaflets in local establishments for either route.

    Great service and fabulous route – I just hope it isn’t undermined by lack of investment in the vehicles

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