Sherpa’r Wyddfa (that’s Snowdon Sherpa) get’s a boost

Tuesday 9th August 2022

I was last in Snowdonia on the erstwhile Snowdon Sherpa network of bus routes almost a year ago last September and concluded my blogged review with a hope the network would receive some attention to presentational detail and expanded to fulfil its obvious potential.

Coincidentally, good news followed with a much welcome pledge by the Welsh Government to invest not only in a much needed brand makeover but to significantly expand timetables with an improved network for this summer season.

I blogged about this back in April but as the new network kicked off at very short notice with the Welsh Government commitment coming late in the day, I left a visit until now to let things settle down and bed in.

Last Thursday found me back in Caernarfon ready for some serious Snowdonia scenery spotting.

I had an online copy of the excellent brochure promoting the new network complete with bilingual colour route map and timetable downloaded to my phone so felt confident at using the new bus routes and increased frequencies.

Snowdon Sherpa map and network pre April 2022
Network, map and timetables from April 2022

The map is a huge improvement on the rather rudimentary diagram produced by Gwynedd Council for many years.

The brochure is naturally bilingual with the same map and timetables but using Welsh names on one side and English versions on the other. Disappointingly the name “Snowdon Sherpa” isn’t used in English, but only the Welsh “Sherpa’r Wyddfa” is used. This really is a missed opportunity.

The same applies to the smart livery now adorning some of the buses used on the network by Anglesey based Gwynfor Coaches. This doesn’t feature the name “Snowdon Sherpa” even on the English (offside) of the bus. Crazy.

It’s taking the ‘politically correct‘ need to give prominence to the Welsh language to a ridiculous extreme when a bus network aimed at tourists who will principally speak English doesn’t use the brand name that’ll be most familiar to them, ie Snowdon Sherpa.

When I boarded my first ride of the morning, along with one other passenger, on the newly introduced route S3 from Caernarfon to Dinorwig – I didn’t see any leaflets available on the bus so asked the driver if he had one and luckily he had a few in his bag and kindly gave me one.

He said leaflet holders are expected on the buses which would certainly be helpful as another bus had them in a pile on the front windscreen shelf but inevitably they kept flying over to the nearside when the bus went round a corner making them difficult to reach, especially when the door is open..

I spotted another handy place to store them being used by the fire extinguisher.

I’m sure once the leaflet holders are in place all will be well with that.

The new route S3 runs hourly as far as the village of Llanrug from where its two-hourly via Deiniolen to Dinorwig. Deiniolen is also served by route S2 which now runs hourly from Bangor to Llanberis and Pen-y-Pass whereas in the old set up Bangor only had a two-hourly link to Llanberis on route 85.

The S3 to Dinorwig is a fantastic ride with some great views of Llanberis Lake near the base of Snowdon from the bus as you approach the terminus at Dinorwig.

The rather desolate terminus close to the National Slate Museum must be one of the most dramatic turning circles in Britain.

What a shame the bus stop plate wasn’t more in keeping with the new branding maybe incorporating a nice logo for the network.

I understand new branded bus stop plates for the whole network are in hand so one these are in place all will be well with that.

As you can see the bus wasn’t in the new livery which was generally the case for buses on routes S3 and S4 with most of the newly adorned buses allocated to the main S1 and S2 routes, which makes sense as these are the busiest and most frequent.

Hopefully more buses will have the new imagery applied in the coming weeks and all will be well with that.

After enjoying the layover at Dinorwig I was surprised to see the driver had changed the blind for the return journey to show Caernarfon as the destination rather than continuing on to Beddgelert as shown in the timetable.

He explained the section of route beyond Caernarfon is what they still call the S4 and I’d need to change buses in Caernarfon. He just shuttles up and down between Caernarfon and Llanrug (hourly) and Dinorwig (two-hourly) as an S3

Sure enough when we arrived in Caernarfon with five passengers on board everyone alighted and a few minutes later a bus arrived displaying Beddgelert but showing route number S4 as used to be the case before the April changes. I was the only passenger who made the switch from the S3 to the S4.

We headed off with four on board who all alighted in Waunfaur after about fifteen minutes into the journey with four other passengers boarding as we left Caernarfon three of whom travelled through to Beddgelert and one alighting earlier at Rhys Ddu.

When we arrived in Beddgelert – another gorgeous Snowdonia village very popular with tourists ….

…. I asked the driver for confirmation where I needed to wait for the connecting bus on route S4 down to Porthmadog that would come from Pen-y-Pass ….

The bus showing S97 in Beddgelert which should have been route S4

….. and to my surprise he explained he was that bus and duly changed the blind to show the old route number S97 for the former Beddgelert to Porthmadog route…

… and we waited for the bus from Pen-y-Pass to arrive to make a connection. That bus was heading on to Caernarfon as an S4 or maybe an S3, which I’d expected the bus I’d arrived on to do.

And then the penny dropped. I realised the network wasn’t being operated in accordance with the published map and timetable at all. It was running as per the previous route number and connectional arrangements. Indeed the S4/S97 driver confirmed they couldn’t make the new schedules work when introduced in April as it had led to drivers handing over to others in awkward places for breaks so they’d reverted back to the pre April route and network arrangements, albeit still with the improved frequencies.

When we arrived in Porthmadog having picked up six passengers along the way the driver changed the blind to display S97 Beddgelert for the return journey and unsurprisingly it caused noticeable confusion from some of the 14 passengers boarding who had been expecting an S4 to Pen-y-pass.

All the more so as in Beddgelert this same bus actually did continue through to Pen-y-Pass as per the published timetable and we connected with a bus showing route S3 to Caernarfon (rather than Dinorwig).

I don’t know what number was displayed on the bus I was on, as I stayed on the bus. I suspect S97 as that’s what the driver displayed for the next return journey when we reached Pen-y-Pass.

It’s all very confusing but I’m sure it can all be sorted out soon and then all will be well with that.

All the more so as I noticed lovely new bus maps on display for all to see in various locations around the National Park including Beddgelert…

…. and Pen-y-Pass.

At Pen-y-Pass that display shows departure times for the routes which is very helpful…

… but it’s a shame the actual display in the timetable case attached to the bus stop lie behind a rather murky cover. But I’m sure this can be improved on and all will be well with that.

And it would also be good to get that bus stop pole in Caernarfon bus station sorted as I’m sure it leans a bit more every time I visit. Maybe one day it’ll be horizontal and that’ll be the day it will get fixed and all will be well with that.

And maybe a new cover for the timetable case too. Attention to detail and all that.

Meanwhile back at Pen-y-Pass I was impressed to see the number of passengers using double deck operated half hourly route S5 which shuttles motorists from the Park & Ride car park at Nant Peris near Llanberis every fifteen minutes in a coordinated timetable with hourly routes S1 and S2.

There was some late running going on as the S5 arrived simultaneously with the S1 rather than being fifteen minutes apart. I’m sorry the double decker in the new livery wasn’t out last Thursday and instead a rather dull looking 18 year old ex London red liveried bus was on the service which was not really in keeping with the new image and brand.

It’s peak season in Snowdonia at the moment and it’s good to see the higher frequencies and improved network being well used but the application of the branding is definitely ‘work in progress’ and much is still to be done. The Snowdon scenery is as stunning as always with spectacular views as the bus climbs up to Pen-y-Pass. A ride around the Snowdon Sherpa network (oops, sorry, Sherpa’r Wyddfa) is strongly recommended.

I’m sure work will continue over the coming months and hopefully the 2023 season will see that ‘work in progress’ progressed. Not least sorting out which route numbers and network are actually being operated and then promoted.

Finally for North Wales, arriving at Bangor I couldn’t help but notice the welcome posters at the foot of the steps as you leave the railway station include what looks at first sight to be a very helpful map and index of bus routes on the right hand side.

Until you study it in more detail and realise that references to long ago withdrawn and changed bus routes as well as bus companies (Express Motors ceased trading in 2017) makes it at least five years out of date.

How to mislead and confuse passengers in one easy lesson, not least as this is a major interchange point between train and bus with passengers continuing their journey to Caernarfon having to make the modal switch here. Anyone hearing about the fabulous new hourly route S2 into the heart of Snowdonia or the new TrawsCymru route T10 to Betws-Y-Coed which picks up right outside the station exit will be disappointed. There is of course no mention of either of them.

Passengers in the know will walk to the right and then turn left to catch Arriva’s route 5C to Caernarfon from a bus stop I highlighted on my last visit was in desperate need of attention being completely devoid of any timetables or bus route numbers to offer reassurance.

I was told after my visit that plans were in hand to improve the waiting area and guess what? Peak season, and those improvements are now underway.

Except there’s now absolutely no information about whether buses are stopping there while work is in progress, and if so, at what times, and if not, where to wait instead.

I can imagine across a whole day hundreds of passengers are bewildered and confused by this. Around 15 passengers got off the train I was on and everyone was asking everyone else if they knew if buses were still stopping there.

No-one knew for sure. And, frankly, it was quite dangerous to walk round the ‘Footpath closed’ sign, in the road, to reach the bus stop area.

And finally when a bus appeared ten minutes late it thankfully did stop.

How not to attract passengers.

I wait with great anticipation to see the new improved facilities on my next visit. The foundations for whatever the super shelter is going to look like are certainly substantial.

Roger French

Blogging timetable: 06:00 TThSSu

30 thoughts on “Sherpa’r Wyddfa (that’s Snowdon Sherpa) get’s a boost

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  1. I read your musings regurarly. However, this time i am astonished. It is important Welsh is used prominently. Why is Sherpa’r Wyddfa so hard for English speakers to understand. The english travel all over the world. Spain, France but don’t expect these countries to use English to suit them. Yr wyddfa and welsh language names are regurarly being anglicised to make it easier for the English visitor understand. With welsh being eradicated in the process. Maybe we should change the name of caernarfon and aberystwyth while we are at it

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    1. Well abroad English is often widely used. Even in Wales only about 10% have even a basic grasp of Welsh so given over 80% of the potential market use English it is sensible to use English as well as Welsh

      Liked by 1 person

    2. I completely agree. I enjoy your blogs but I’m shocked by your opposition to the use of Welsh branding. This is Wales. North Wales. Not England.. it’s not about political correctness, it’s just called being in a different country, and I’m sure you’ll have to get used to it, I’m afraid

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    3. I remember Crosville’s ENL dual purpose Leyland Nationals on the L1 Cymru Coastliner service. It was possible to identify which depot at each end of the route the bus was allocated to by the destination blind and how it displayed Caernarfon/Caernarvon.

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  2. Such a positive development, let down by attention to detail and political posturing .

    The Welsh language only approach is not used on the railway or the highway, so why on buses? As Roger says, a tourist oriented service should take account of the likelihood that prospective passengers may not understand Welsh.

    The situation at the main railhead on the network is quite disgraceful. Would passengers be treated like that on the railway, having to walk along a running lane alongside traffic?

    Running a tourist network with different route numbers to those advertised? They really know how to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

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    1. Have you seen a road sign in Wales? Have you been on a train in Wales? Both are bi-lingual. The issue, here, is one graphic on a bus.

      I confess to knowing little about the issue. I am English and only worked in Wales for 9 years – and learned some Welsh.

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      1. Yes, that’s the point. Everything else is bilingual. Why choose a tourist oriented service to solely use Welsh?

        It’s the Welsh Assembly who pay, they get to choose. But it does not encourage those who cannot speak Welsh.

        It is difficult enough with some of the pronunciation, without adding further obstacles.

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    2. Are you also suggesting that buses, in say, Spain, should be bi-lingual? It really isn’t difficult when in another country. It is common courtesy to try and learn some of the local language. I have managed tourist, and local, services in Croatia even though my linguistic ability is such that my German master told me to stick with French whilst the French master was convinced that German was my strongest option. O level failed and CSE grade 4 scraped.

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      1. Buses in those parts of Spain which are officially bilingual do indeed show both languages.

        As far as I’m aware Wales is officially bilingual, so why not show both of the official languages?

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  3. There is a common theme with these visits. Poor Publicity or no publicity, out of date and incorrect information Bus stops and bus shelters in poor condition

    Given these services are in tourists areas there can be no excuse. It is not as if it costs a lot

    Maybe the Enhanced Partnerships will help. I would seem sensible at least to me if the LTA’s took responsibility for bus stops, bus shelters and bus stations. If need be they could sub contract it but at least you have one single organisation responsible for it

    Another issue is the condition of buses and the publicity material on them. The Enhanced partnerships could perhaps come up with a standard for that, Far to many buses have a scruffy and dirty exteriors and old and out of date notices etc pasted on to the windows etc which never get removed

    Pasting them o is probably not the best approach as it makes it difficult to remove them,

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  4. The network map (white background) shows the 12 serving Llandudno Junction station which is not the case.
    The 12 runs via Rhos on Sea and the Little Orme following the coast line and not the inland route via Mochdre be used by be the 13.

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  5. I was very impressed when I managed to pick up one of those fantastic leaflets in a Tourist information rack somewhere in Colwyn Bay. Really “created desire” to go and give them a go to visit Snowden.
    Shame to hear that it isn’t working out quite so well in practice.

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  6. Sherpa comes a language / people in north eastern Nepal.
    G
    That’s one foreign word the English managed to learn from the other side of the globe so why not a second word from their neighbours?

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Lucky tourists, facing temporary confused numbering, bus stop & naming issues. They all are, and will be, resolvable in time. Like most things in life, it’s a matter of patience.

    Locally we just wish they’d manage to run any bus at all. Take the money and run, away. Without tourists the problem is often what effective incentive is there to run the bus at all?

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    1. I would just observe it’s nothing new. Tourists have been a godsend to bus networks. We’d otherwise have lost them, long ago. Thank you, on behalf of the other passengers.

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  8. What would really give public transport a boost in this beautiful part of the country would be the reopening of the Bangor to Caernarfon railway line. Unlike many proposed railway reopening schemes that are of dubious benefit, this would be a line that would actually serve where people want to go. Caernarfon is a tourist hot spot, even more so since the reopening of the wonderful Welsh Highland Railway a few years ago. To reconnect Caernarfon to the national rail network would really be the icing on the cake: the big question would be who would fund it? (although there does seem to be money swilling round somewhere for schemes such as the reopening of Bow Street station on the Aberystwyth line).

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    1. Carllo: it would be nice, but I suspect that the building along the old trackbed, especially at the Caernarfon end, would rule it out.

      Given that the bus routes between Bangor and Caernarfon are already every 15 minutes or thereabouts, some form of proper rail-bus integration would be simpler to achieve, and far less expensive. Of course, that would need rail and bus to work together . . . and until that becomes enshrined in rail franchises and bus plans, it’s unlikely.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The big advantage for rail around Caernafon would be skipping the traffic congestion which can be appalling even out of peak season. My experience of using buses there has been that nothing runs even close to time in consequence. It’s probably on the list of lines which shouldn’t have closed however I share your view it’s unlikely a case for reopening could easily be made.

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  9. The lack of attention to detail for what is in theory a well integrated network and a big uplift in services is appalling. Compare and contrast with the recent Bournemouth blog, it seems More managed to do better taking over Yellow Bus routes in 36 hours than has been achieved here in months.

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    1. I’ve just spent 60 seconds scrolling through the document on that link. It seems to be a really helpful source of information – and recognises a number of Roger’s concerns especially on route numbering. But it is too bulky – for instance bank holiday arrangements in 2020 and 2021 are still there – and while it acknowledges that it’s unofficial, the number of spelling mistakes suggests amateurism which doesn’t inspire confidence.

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    2. That looks to be a useful source of information by somebody who cares and shares the information on buses and trains.

      But, sadly, the average car driving visitor would be bamboozled by the amount of information and ‘give up’ before reaching a conclusion. And that assumes that they find it in the first place, given its misleading, spurious sounding, web address.

      But it certainly illustrates the miserable output of the professional authorities, compared with the actual operations on the road.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Utterly amazing that the Welsh government has taken forty years to take a keen interest in these fantastic services, and this network, thanks to local operators persistence, has struggled for years to finally (almost) mature. The lack of information and infrastructure improvements are inexcusable, but we have to remember those planning such detail are unlikely to ever use buses themselves. A story much repeated.

    And the language issue is indeed utter political correctness. The size of the British Isles is about the same as two Australian sheep stations, so why on earth can we not have English as the main language with Welsh, Cornish, Gaelic or whatever takes your fancy alongside.

    And surely the most dramatic bus turning area is high on the moors above Hebden Bridge in Crimsworth, quite literally in the middle of nowhere, not only enjoying a 30 minute headway on the local 594, but also passed by each hour on the B3.

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  11. We were in Caernarfon in June on a rail holiday and then extended for three days to go to Anglesey and then down to Portmadoc and Pwlhelli and then on buses around the Penrhyn peninsular. We were impressed by the Snowdon map and timetables leaflet and found all the bus drivers very helpful. In Beddgelert on Saturday morning we were the only passengers on the S 3 and the driver checked to see if there were any other passengers transferring, then said we could stay on the same bus for the S 4 to Portmadoc! The Arriva buses were generally very late, a common complaint, especially in Holyhead, according to others in queues. But I cannot see why Roger should not expect the brand name to be in English on one side of the bus. Some tourists are German, etc, and would find Sherpa an easier name.
    We bought the excellent Day 1 Bws ticket for £ 3.70 each day, showing our English pass. But why are foreigners not able to get a reduction if they are over 65? Only English and Scottish it seems.

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  12. Well although you didn’t mean it in that way you could say what’s wrong with them using their own language in their own country! I’m sure that the English speakers will figure out what the Welsh means.Although obviously an unknown as to what the nationality of the passengers will be but I’m guessing mainly Welsh and English.

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  13. My problem is that while I can read the written word, I don’t know how to pronounce “Wyddfa” without sounding like a complete idiot. As for an apostrophe before the second “r”……

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Does dim problem ‘da fi gyda’r enw. Rydyn ni yng Gymru felly ni’n defnyddio’r iaith.

    Just fel Tesco, Pret et Manger, Avanti, IKEA, Pendolino, Azuma – ni’n adnabod yr brand.

    We see the brand name and accept it into use. Disappointing that the view on Welsh language seems to be different to the use of foreign languages with other operators.

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  15. Appreciate that the Sherpa/Sherpa’r discussion has already been discussed in detail above. Whilst I do have some sympathy for both sides of the debate, Gwynedd (and expecially the area around Yr Wyddfa) is an area where survival of the Welsh language is a key political issue. As such, I can understand the justification for the branding to be in Cymraeg – although it does rather feel a bit tokenistic when the follow on tag line is all in English!

    Far more important than the name however is the continuing woeful thrown together nature of the “network” as identified in Roger’s piece above. The apparent disconnect between those planning and those on the ground operating services seems as wide as it ever has been. I speak from experience here, having very nearly ended up stranded in Betws-y-coed on a Sunday evening after the last bus from Pen-y-Pass decided that they were operating to a different timetable than that presented on the Gwynedd and Traveline websites. This resulted in missing the last 2C to Llandudno by about 30 seconds. A £200 taxi back across the border was only averted after a lucky intervention of an acquaintance of one of our party who happened to live locally who was in a shop opposite the bus stop and agreed to drive us back to the Junction in time for the last train east. As they say, once bitten, twice shy.

    Back to the here and now however, it’s galling that whilst the “enhanced” network has been procured with help from the Welsh Goverment, the local rail network (also specified by the same Welsh Government) gets nothing more than a cursory inclusion on the promotional map. Whilst I’m quite impressed with the apparent three-way connections at Beddgelert (at least in theory, as per the article….), I’m expecting connections between Sherpa/’r and other services of all modes to be pretty woeful. However timetabling driven by bottom up operational considerations rather than top down network design is an unavoidable fact of transport planning life in the UK. You would hope however that the Welsh Government has both the will and ability to do things better and will be looking at this going forward.

    That’s not to say there isn’t some good stuff here. The provision of a direct service between Bangor and Pen-y-pass means that a day up Wyddfa or in the Glyderau is, theoretically doable from the coast/England. Nice to have however would be a later last bus than 1800 during light nights in summer, especially for those starting from further afield or who may be concerned with their overall fitness levels! Ditto some of the through connectivity provided by the S1, although I do worry about the impact of high sesason traffic on a 79 minute journey with only 12 and 10 minute turnarounds at either end. The 1bws (that’s “1bus” for anyone who’s more linguistically challenged) ticket is a decent replacement for the old Red Rovers and good value for money, even if knowledge of them by drivers was pretty patchy last year.

    I’ll still be sticking to the Peaks, Dales and Lakes however for my walking trips by public transport however until things have progressed a bit further!

    Liked by 1 person

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