Britain’s narrowest bus route is ending

Thursday 1st September 2022

I left you at the end of Tuesday’s blog enjoying a wander around Launceston preparing to take a ride on Cornwall’s other about-to-be-withdrawn-from-this-weekend bus route – the three journeys a day (Monday to Friday) route 235 from Launceston south to Callington.

Spoiler alert: I don’t really know if it’s “Britain’s narrowest bus route” but it is certainly ending after its third and last journey of the day tomorrow, that’s for sure.

And, yes, it was the same obliterated window’d bus as I’d travelled on route 76 an hour earlier!

Route 235 is what I call a deep rural route. The Go Cornwall website explains “this was a trial route and will be withdrawn due to low passenger numbers. Passengers can still use Service 237.”

You can’t get much lower than zero passengers. That was my experience on the 12:18 from Launceston’s Westgate Street on Wednesday last week (other than myself, of course).

And what a journey. It’s all along narrow country roads making passing other vehicles extremely challenging not least when we met a bus on sister route 236 on a short common section near Lewannick.

Suffice to say the professionalism of Go Cornwall’s drivers was severely tested and they both passed with flying colours.

However, the five mile section of route between the hamlets of Bray Shop and Maders is unbelievably narrow for a bus route with virtually no passing places.

I’m amazed the route was signed off as suitable and safe for buses.

It isn’t.

If you think I’m exaggerating, take a look on Goggle maps when the camera car passed through. It’s narrowness just keeps on going, with just a few exceptions, for five miles.

Thank goodness we only met one other vehicle – which was a large estate car towing a horse box. It cost us over five minutes to work out how to pass. We started off by reversing gingerly especially with a car behind us, but as we weren’t going far very fast the horse box driver managed to skilfully reverse (not easy with a trailer) and eventually found a small pull in by a gate to a field just big enough to fit alongside and we managed to squeeze past.

I asked the driver if he had ever got completely stuck. He said he hated driving this section of route and did meet a lorry once which took ages to sort out – in the end the lorry reversed. Without any reversing cameras it’s very tricky to do this with a large vehicle on a winding narrow lane, not to say how unsafe it is, not least on the 16:50 journey from Callington on a dark winter’s afternoon.

The tiny settlements of Linkinhorne, South Hill and Maders can’t really justify a bus service and I’m surprised it was ever considered a serious proposition to send a bus to them. Has a bus route ever served these tiny hamlets before, I wonder?

At least no one will be disappointed at the route’s imminent demise.

And it didn’t end there.

As you can see from the screenshots showing our location, when we got to Callington we did three separate dog legs to serve small residential areas in the north of the town either side of the A388 Launceston Road.

Two of these involved reverse turns in dead ends. I reckon most people who are able to would walk the short distance into the town’s small centre than wait for such an infrequent bus which in our case was 10 minutes down due to the earlier narrow roads issues and generally a very tightly timed route

As quoted earlier, Go Cornwall’s website advises passengers “can still use service 237”. This new two journey a day route will replace part of the narrow section of route 235 as well as enabling a streamlining of route 236 – another route which enjoys embracing narrow lanes. Both routes are certainly worth a trip if you like a hairy rural ride, never sure if the bus will get stuck.

Finally one of the routes Go Cornwall list as under threat of cuts with another review in December is route 26 between St Austell and Bodmin. My journey on the school holiday only 08:35 from St Austell on Wednesday carried 12. Three were local trips in St Austell and four were local trips within Bodmin. So not brilliant; and remember all fare payers are enjoying ticket price reductions at the moment.

This route is an amalgam of a kite flying route Go Cornwall introduced earlier this year in competition with First Kernow’s route 27, except the latter withdrew the 27 from that section leaving the market to the 26. But it seems all is not well.

Under threat – route 26 in green

Cornwall is certainly an area to watch with continuing interesting developments. If you like rural rides, it’s worth visiting while the Government funding lasts.

But as a commentator on Tuesday’s blog observed it would be useful for all those embarking on Bus Service improvement Plans elsewhere as well as interested observers if Cornwall Council could publish some lessons learned so far from the two and a half years worth of significant funding (albeit much being initially pandemic related) as well as the first summer season of fare cuts. It might help to ensure the same mistakes aren’t made elsewhere.

As for the about to be withdrawn route 235, never in a million years would it have tempted motorists out of their cars to travel between Callington and Launceston.

Not even in ‘Catch the Bus Month’.

Roger French

Blogging timetable: 06:00 TThSSu

12 thoughts on “Britain’s narrowest bus route is ending

Add yours

  1. Linkinhorne, South Hill and Maders have all been served by bus over many years, though not by a through service between Launceston and Callington. Golberdon and Maders were served twice a week by Western National up until the large scale bus service withdrawals of the early 1970s since when various small operators have attempted to serve this rather sparsely populated area. DAC Coaches ran a South Hill to Callington via Golberdon route earlier this century. Linkinhorne was the terminus of a route from Liskeard.

    Golberdon, Maders and South Hill now appear to have joined the growing number of communities that are busless along with Cargreen, Menheniot, Pillaton, St Germans and Sheviock in eastern Cornwall.

    Like

  2. For many years there has been a service 236 between Liskeard and Launceston via the villages between them latterly being 5 journeys a day with different routings depending on the day .
    The 235 was only introduced in April presumably to see if some of those villagers would rather go to Callington instead. (there is a regular main road service direct between Launceston and Callington).
    As is well known it is difficult to change long established travel patterns and from September the service reverts back to the previous situation with the routings standardised each day as either 236 or 237.

    Like

  3. Fascinating as ever. This Route 235 looks like one of those routes beloved of “crayonistas” everywhere . . . we’ve got a school bus with no daytime work: let’s take a map, draw some lines on it and call it a bus route!
    If the lunchtime bus from a town carries no passengers, then it’s never going to work. It would be better to leave the bus parked up; employ a part-time driver and save the fuel.
    I guess that at least it was tried, but really . . . what might Callington have over Launceston? Both have Tesco’s, but Launceston has other shops as well . . . Callington appears to have not much else.

    Like

  4. TfC really do need to do more publicity about these changes. It’s due to happen on Sunday and as far as I can tell, a lot of people know nothing about the forthcoming changes, including people who will be affected.

    For instance, my home town is losing the direct service to/from Truro after 6pm, which I used on a number of occasions getting home from visiting someone at Treliske Hospital. Now it looks like three buses and over an hour extra on journey times.

    Like

  5. How late were you getting yo Callington Roger ?? I notice from bustimes that some drivers took an unofficial quicker route to Lewannick to try to keep vaguely to time. Without doubt that should have been the proper route, but is not possible on the way back. On my 235 trip, I caught the pointless morning school holiday only short from Launceston to Linkinghorne and back. Needless to say, we carried no one, and lost 15 mins on the round trip, meaning the next trip was late starting, and we reached Callington over 30 mins late. Again no passengers, other than a lady from one of the Callington estates, who the driver said was the only real passenger that he had ever seen on the route (presumanly excluding the school trips?). The delay totally messed up my itiniery, but was well worth it to have travelled on this amazing route.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Sidmouth to Seaton 899 is a beautiful route with sections where the sides of the bus brush the banks on both sides of the road at the same time. We once paused for the driver to refit a section of plastic guttering he had accidentally dislodged.

    Like

  7. Given many areas of Cornwall are very rural it does seem to be an area where DRT might work. The mini buses as well being more suited to the rural roads and many of the places are too small to support regular bus services

    Like

    1. Dunno. I suspect for buses to “work”, at least financially, they have to lever in supplementary income, from tourists, most easily, or school journeys and Council subsidies if they’re really hard up. DRT is a side issue, if anything at all. Also a sideline as a vehicle dealership or in private hire, might help too. It really is very much back to “the old days”!

      Like

  8. Hello Roger

    Thanks for the recent articles on imminent changes in Cornwall. I the past I have run bus services throughout Devon & Cornwall for several operators small and large and also worked on the local authority side locally as well as on Merseyside. My current role is at National PTI (Traveline SW) hosting data systems, pushing out data via Traveline and the dreaded BODS and helping smaller operators in particular find their way through that minefield.

    But I write about the splendid, if lonely, ride you took on 235. At least the driver had some company and someone to witness his driving skills! I’m not going to challenge the “narrowest bus route” tag, although we’ve all driven some 7’6” vehicles around some “challenging” infrastructure and please don’t start me on holidaymakers driving with caravans on our country roads. You are spot on about 235 not being attractive to through Launceston – Callington passengers, but that is currently catered for with Go Ahead’s 12 Bude – Plymouth route – to be fair this is the best timetable on that road for links between towns and into Plymouth ever (and the 11 to Liskeard, Bodmin & Padstow is “ditto”). So Cornwall had clearly aimed it at the local passengers in the villages, of which there have proven to be few. Hopefully more will use the 236/237 that will exist from next week.

    Historically, Callington/Liskeard to Launceston has always been tricky and service provision has fallen between the two stools of a direct link for through passengers and diverting to serve the many rural and ex-mining communities in the area. Looking at a map, you can see the population is dotted around and could easily visit Liskeard (traditional shopping/market day Monday and Saturday), Callington (Wednesday and Saturday) or Launceston (Tuesday and Saturday) so routes have been diluted, indirect and have seen a lot of change as the “right mix” has been pursued – with little success. Maders and Golberdon traditionally had a link to Callington on market days, but this went a while back, with “Western National” and successors tending to concentrate on the “B” roads between Liskeard, Callington and Launceston via Upton Cross, Coads Green Congdons Shop and South Petherwin to pick up villagers and give a through service – rather unsuccessfully – until the 76 was extended to Launceston via A388 and morphed into the 12 over the last 10 to 15 years.

    The deep rural villages of South Hill, Linkinhorne and Lewannick were left to the independent or community sector largely, as were Golberdon and Maders latterly. Basically, the traffic is so thin, it must be very difficult to serve on a collective basis with a scheduled bus. Maybe the dreaded and expensive DRT is the right option? I don’t know.

    The Bodmin and Launceston link on the 76 is a shame. As you found, there is some traffic on the villages along the old A38 but little between the two towns. There was no great historical bus links, but Bodmin has grown as an employment and education site. It must be very difficult to provide a “works bus” due to the geographical spread of industrial estates in Bodmin and shift patterns, and I would say there is no tradition of shopping visits between the two towns. So 76 looks like a very useful line on the map, but little demand. Again, very frustrating for Cornwall that there is no time to develop the link.

    There is one more line on the map disappearing over the weekend, with the brave 75A experiment being withdrawn. This runs Torpoint – St Germans – Saltash – Plymouth as a variant on the 75 Torpoint – St Germans – Liskeard. Together they provide a fantastic frequency to the area, compared with the historical provision of perhaps one return shopping trip per day Torpoint to Liskeard. When I arrived in Plymouth in 1978 and was exploring the Rame peninsula (routes 70/70A/70B highly recommended), I couldn’t believe there was no direct link Saltach to Torpoint. I now know both towns are Plymouth focussed and also that it is quicker to travel from Saltash to western Plymouth then over the ferry to Torpoint than to travel around (and vice versa). But perhaps a second bus over the Torpoint Ferry to Plymouth on 75/75A wouldn’t have been a bad idea, now 70 is mostly hourly (previously 2 to 4 per hour).

    Sorry if that’s longer than intended, hope it adds a little to the picture

    Kind regards

    Ian

    Ian Miller

    General Manager

    National Public Transport Information (National PTI)

    101a Plymouth Science Park

    Davy Road, Derriford

    Plymouth PL6 8BX

    T: 01752 225464

    M: 07557 782168

    E: ian.miller@nationalpti.co.uk ian.miller@nationalpti.co.uk

    Company website: http://www.swpti.co.uk/ http://www.nationalpti.co.uk

    Public website: http://www.travelinesw.com/ http://www.travelinesw.com

    Like

  9. One of my favourite scenic routes unfortunately finishes tomorrow in the Peak Districts western edge with the 16 from Buxton to Leek being withdrawn by D&G .

    Like

  10. For a very short while some years ago there was a local route in Lewes which, after passing through the High Street bottleneck, forked left into Rotten Row. The only buses which would fit between the buildings were the first generation Mercedes minbuses. The later models wouldn;t fit, so that was the end of that route.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: