S is for Salisbury

Saturday 1st October 2022

I’m sorry Scunthorpe, I was intending to feature you in my fortnightly AtoZ visits to mid size towns as suggested by a correspondent but Northern Trains’ incompetence at organising rail replacement buses last weekend coupled with TransPennine Express’s penchant for cancellations meant I had to give up on the idea for last Saturday’s planned trip. I’ll try and make it on another occasion soon as it’ll be interesting to make a north-south comparison with my selected alternative Salisbury,m; another suggestion from blog reader Ian.

The former Wiltshire County Council became a unitary council in 2009 with the old Districts including Salisbury disappearing but the city gained a ‘town/parish’ type council known appropriately enough as Salisbury City Council.

It’s a well placed city with good regional connections to Bournemouth due south, Southampton south eastwards, Winchester easterly and Swindon due north all about 40-45 miles away with Andover (north east), Warminster (north west) and Shaftesbury (west) a little closer around 30-35 miles away.

The first thing to observe regarding the city’s public transport is that for it’s size of around 40,000 population,Salisbury really does enjoy a splendid bus service with an amazing number of different bus routes serving the city itself as well as a good selection of inter-urban routes and destinations reached directly by train. It also has five Park & Ride sites.

Despite all this, largely due to there being no by-pass – either north to south or east to west – the city is famous for its traffic congestion around the inner city ring road, not only at peak times but also all day during the holiday season when the city is besieged by tourists visiting it’s renowned cathedral.

I reckon Salisbury’s got the most bus routes per head of population of any similar size town/city I’ve visited yet. The network is run by Go-Ahead owned Salisbury Reds part of the Go South Coast empire which stretches from Swindon to Shanklin and from Southampton to Shaftesbury and Swanage under the brilliant leadership of the much respected Andrew Wickham who despite the large geographic area covered ensures each area has a localised effectively managed unit in tune with the local market.

The only downer at the current time is Salisbury seems to be particularly badly hit with a shortage of drivers impacting reliability. When I was there on Tuesday last week there were a number of buses missing from the schedules and I picked up a sense of frustration among both staff and passengers that things were not as everyone would want. Things had got so bad the previous Thursday manager Alex Chutter posted a well written statement of apology on the company’s website which was good to see but obviously not something that’s desired.

Let’s hope the situation improves soon as it really is a great bus network for the population size of the city.

As you’d expect from a Go-Ahead Group company there’s a clear colourful network map online for both the city network and one showing bus routes extending further afield.

Bus stops in the city centre have some of the best information displays you’ll find anywhere. It’s a feature of the Go South Coast area. There are clear posters on the outsides of bus shelters advising which route stop there….

…. and on the inside a clear map showing “where to catch your bus”. It’s all colour coordinated.

There are fourteen city routes either using a prefix R for Reds or PR for Park and Ride. In timetables and maps a block capital letter R is used but on destination displays on the buses it’s a small r just to annoy us pedants, I guess.

Not surprisingly the R1 is the most frequent route running every 15 minutes across the city with double deck buses between the District Hospital to the south of the city and the Bemerton Heath area to the north west of the city. I took an enjoyable 78 minute rounder on the route which was a busy run especially as there’d been a long gap without a bus ahead of us. I can see why it’s the number one route.

Routes R2, R5 and R10 each run half hourly to Bishopdown, West Harnham and St Peter’s Place respectively while hourly routes are the R4 to Paul’s Dene and R6 to Laverstock both north of the city, and the R8 to Ditchampton west of the city but with no journeys before 10:10.

Routes R3, R7 and R11 are PR3, PR7 and PR11 on Mondays to Saturdays linking the city centre with three of its five Park and Ride sites every half hour at Bulbridge west of the city (PR3), Bishopdown Farm north east of the city (PR7) and Old Sarum north of the city (PR11). On Sundays the car parks are closed and the routes run as R3, R7 and R11 serving the residential areas nearby as they also do in the week. Route R3/PR3 also serves Wilton. The other two Park & Ride operations are PR9 to the Britford site to the south of the city centre and PR15 to Petersfinger to the south east of the city, both running half hourly.

Least frequent of the city routes are the R12 with just six off peak journeys to Stratford Bridge north of the city and the R14 to Harnham Hill south of the city running roughly every 65 minutes in the off peak with an afternoon school journey.

I hope that snapshot of routes and frequencies together with the map gives an idea of the impressive comprehensive bus network the city enjoys. I also took a ride up and back on route PR7 to the Bishopdown Farm residential area as well as the Park & Ride car park served on the way up and back. The 11:25 deoparture from the city centre carried an impressive 17 passengers with nine alighting at the Park & Ride site with 11 travelling back into the city on the return journey.

Observations of other routes indicated similar numbers travelling.

As already mentioned Salisbury also enjoys an impressive array of inter-urban routes, including some with high profile branding and an X prefix.

Route X3 runs half hourly south via Fordingbridge to Bournemouth taking 75 minutes for the journey. This is a long standing and popular route and well worth a ride. I didn’t have time on my most recent visit but have enjoyed a ride on this in the past.

An old livery for an old bus

Route X4 also runs half hourly but heads north to Amesbury before continuing to Larkhill while sister route X5 runs similarly to Amesbury then heads further north to Pewsey, Marlborough and Swindon taking 2 hours for the complete run; another route I’ve travelled on in the past, and very much enjoyed. It currently operates every 90 minutes.

Route X7 and X7R run hourly to Southampton with the former via West Wellow and the latter via Romsey ….

…. and the oddly branded Activ8 runs half hourly jointly with Stagecoach South to Tidworth and Andover as featured in my very first AtoZ visit in January as well as being one of eight jointly operated routes in Britain (see my recently updated compendium page of such routes).

Then there’s a whole host of other routes at varying frequencies including route 2 running hourly to Devizes; route 20 with four journeys to Blandford (operated by sister company Damory); route ls25/26/27 to Tisbury (seven journeys) and Zeals (three journeys with one continuing to Gillingham) and East Knoyle (two journeys); …

….route 29 running seven journeys to Shaftesbury; route 37 with four journeys to Lockerley, route 44 has nine journeys to Woodfalls; …

…. routes 66/67 running hourly to Idmiston; …

…. and routes 87/88 with four journeys to Winterslow Gunville with one continuing to Middle Wallop. Phew, quite a selection.

They all look to be enticing rural routes and I only had time on a one-day visit to sample one so I picked route 37 as it looked an interesting circular ride. There are three inbound journeys from the villages at around 07:00, 09:15 and 13:00 with return journeys leaving Salisbury at 12:10, 14:00, 16:20 and 18:05. I caught the 12:10 departure which returns at around 13:00 from its circular foray serving the villages of West Grimstead, East Grimstead, Farley, West Dean, West Tytherley, East Tytherley, Lockerley and East Dean.

It really was a lovely 90 minute ride but sadly not many passengers. We left Salisbury with six of whom four alighted within the first fifteen minutes by Alderbury and one more at West Grimstead leaving one who travelled all; the way to Lockerley.

As we headed back we picked one up in West Dean and another in Alderbury.

Salisbury has a rather splendid railway station about an eight to ten minute walk from the city centre. It has four platforms (numbered 2, 3, 4 and 6) and sees trains operated by both South Western Railway (SWR) and Great Western Railway (GWR).

The former run hourly trains between Waterloo and Exeter via Basingstoke, Andover, Salisbury, Yeovil and Axminster among many other stations. Currently there’s a restricted service west of Yeovil due to track issues. Indeed this ‘West of England’ line has become something of a ‘Cinderella service’ in recent years which is a great shame.

SWR also run ‘shorts’ between Salisbury and Basingstoke calling at all stations between the two every hour and an hourly stopper to Chandlers Ford via Romsey and Southampton.

GWR operate an hourly train between Portsmouth Harbour and Cardiff calling at Southampton, Romsey, Warminster, Bath Spa, Bristol Temple Meads and Newport as well as other stations along the route.

Immediately outside the station visitors will find the Salisbury Reds operated bus for The Stonehenge Tour which is hugely popular with tourists. The route includes the city centre, Stonehenge itself (from where there’s a land train or a walk to the actual Stones) returning via Old Sarum.

The current timetable (for the winter) sees hourly departures from the rail station from 10:00 to 14:00 with the last bus back from Stonehenge at 17:00. Later buses run in the summer. There’s a range of tickets including admission to various attractions including the Cathedral and Old Sarum as well as the bus ride. A bus only ticket starts at £11.50 for online purchases.

All in all, Salisbury has an impressive public transport offer.

Roger French

Previous AtoZ blogs: Andover; Bracknell; Carlisle; Durham, Evesham, Folkestone, Grantham, Harrogate, Inverness, Jarrow, King’s Lynn, Leamington Spa, Maidenhead, Neath, Oswestry, Potters Bar, Queensferry, Runcorn.

Blogging timetable: 06:00 TThS with occasional Su specials, but not tomorrow.

41 thoughts on “S is for Salisbury

Add yours

  1. The word you’re looking is pedants – “a person who is excessively concerned with minor details and rules or with displaying academic learning”.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. While I’m sure that Scunthorpe would have been interesting, I’m pleased that Roger was able to visit one of my suggestions. It’s good to hear that the experience was largely positive, though I do lament the passing of the quirky Endless Street bus station, which means that country routes have to pick up on various (endless?) streets around the city centre. I suggest that Salisbury has set the gold standard for passenger information in mid-size towns (though there’s no mention of real-time detail) against which others can be judged – and there are lessons for bigger places too.


  3. Well, I have managed to find one problem. On some routes they only server part of the route on request to the driver but you really have to search hard to find this information. There appears to inconsistences, possibly timetable information has not been properly updated as well

    If you look at the online timetable you will not even find this information. You have to look at the PDF timetable

    If you go to the R2 timetable for example online, you do not see the information other than if you scroll down to the fine print at the bottom you find a note saying the following routes have sections of “On Request” journeys so please check PDF timetables carefully:
    Red 2, 14, 25, 26, 27, 29, 37, 66, 217

    The R2 is one of the inconsistencies it does not show any request stop on the PDF

    The 25 is perhaps a better example no mention of Request stops on the online timetable but they are on the PDF

    It is pretty confusing


    1. Bob – not certain what this issue is with the 25. It says on the footer of the page: The following routes have sections of “On Request” journeys so please check PDF timetables carefully:

      Red 2, 14, 25, 26, 27, 29, 37, 66, 217

      Which is also what you have copied down. Then the PDF shows the journeys that have the relevant “by request”

      Not wishing to make this a pile-on but if you’re scrolling through looking for the tiniest of errors, then even in the best firms (and GSC is one of those) then you will always find something.

      It certainly is in no way equivalent to a TV not working.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The use of “by request” timing points is really a Wiltshire Council thing. Whilst it can be frustrating for enthusiasts like me, who like to do the full route, it makes an awful lot of sense. Through passengers are not put off by unnecessary diversions on their homeward journeys. In some cases these are places that some drivers would probably not bother serving anyway, so better to be honest and run what is advertised. I agree it is frustrating that such info seems unable to be included on computer generated timetables, one would think that it would be a simple matter to put in a command to replace the time with an R, but I am not a computer programmer.


  4. It’s good to see an operator who still manages their bus stop displays. Many have made false economies by relying on underfunded local authorities to carry out this important aspect of their publicity.


  5. Hello Roger Many thanks for another interesting blog on a city I know quite well. Salisbury used to have a travel shop, but that disappeared a few years ago. There is a tourist information centre near the market square, but obtaining printed timetables from them has often been problematic and I have never seen high quality timetables booklets covering all local routes like those produced by other companies in the Go-Ahead group. How about T is for Taunton? Kind regards Ian

    Sent from Yahoo Mail on Android


  6. It’s a great pity that Salisbury Reds are suffering from staff shortages and absences, the other Go Head South fleets seem to be coping far better. Witness what was achieved in Bournemouth recently.


  7. Quite a lot of money has been spent on the Exeter Waterloo line over the years but there’s still something about the old rolling stock and the constant stops that makes a journey on that route less than enjoyable. Thankfully, if you’re well organised it’s often possible to get an advance ticket out of Paddington that is not that much more expensive.


  8. I understand that the major problem with the Southern route has been the dry summer which has caused embankment movement. That won’t be easy to rectify.


  9. That number 8 livery looks like Arriva’s livery although I don’t think that they run into Salisbury.An alternative to have got to Scunthorpe would have been to go to Hull and bus over the bridge although obviously it’s dependant on being able to reach Hull and enough bus drivers to drive the buses.As far as I know Scunthorpe is only served by Northern and TPE and despite being in the East Midlands .


    1. An alternative to visit Scunthorpe would have been to tie it into the trip to east Notts DRT which serves Gainsborough just down the road from sunny Scunny and is linked by the hourly route 100 bus.

      Roger’s made it clear in previous postings that he doesn’t like the “Activ8” brand, although he’s previously given the impression that he dislikes it because it was created internally by Stagecoach – and not by his chum Ray Stenning – rather than for any real reason.
      Strange that he doesn’t comment on the rather strange X7R route number, but then it’s a GoAhead route and we all know that Roger won’t criticise his former employer.


  10. Just to clarify the reference to the Ditchampton service not starting until 1010,, some country services also call at that estate and provide the Peak hour service into town.

    Salisbury is also served by Stagecoach rural services 67/X67 from Tidworth and 87 from Winterslow, and by Beeline service 24 which now covers the Warminster-Salisbury section of the previous long-standing Bath-Salisbury service operated by First.

    Since the Travel shop closed a few months ago, a greater emphasis has been put on ensuring that the Tourist Information Centre is stocked with appropriate bus service publicity.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. X & Z will present a challange. May have to settle for X or Z in the towns name

      V is limited Ventnor seems the obvious one


  11. Roger a great summary of the public transport available in salisbury. I do hope that the use of the battery buses is eventually rolled out to more inner city routes with more buses and funding and support from Wiltshire County Council.
    We also hope eventually to an uplift in service levels once driver availability is restored. Salisbury Reds do try hard against such an infrastructure. It really needs more support from all


  12. X7R . . . the R denotes “Romsey”, and is the minority share of the timetabled journeys, so . . . strange, but also understandable.

    It is disappointing that the X5 variant has been reduced to every 90 minutes . . . I accept it is largely rural, but it would’ve been nice for Wilts CC to chuck a few quid into the pot to keep it hourly.

    I suspect that the automatic timetable compiler can’t cope with R timing points (a programming issue?) . . . but at least they do note the issue and advise passengers to check further. IMV their website (in common with other Go . . . operators, and Intalink) is clear and explicit to use for 99% of all journeys . . . I know it is “bought in” from an outside developer, but it is still amongst the very best of them . . . Arriva take note!!

    I too am looking forward to the comparison between Salisbury and Yeovil . . . I had no idea they were comparable in population . . . yikes!!

    And Bob . . . try not always looking for the bad, please . . . it does get a wee bit tedious . . .

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am just pointing out there is a problem and it should be fixed

      If you purchased a TV and something did not work you would take it back. There is no reason as to why lower standards should be acceptable in the bus industry


      1. Bob wrote: “If you purchased a TV and something did not work you would take it back.”

        This is true, but you wouldn’t be looking at every brand of TV in every store nationwide and critiquing it to the ‘n’th degree for years to come, which is what you are doing with the buses.

        Liked by 1 person

  13. Thanks to Roger for visiting Salisbury – one of my favourite places and I’m not even a Russian vitamin salesman!

    Whilst Go South Coast do a sterling job, it must be mentioned that this was on good foundations from when they purchased Wilts and Dorset; they did a good job of protecting the city network. They have also developed routes like the X3. Also, there have AFAIK, never been timetable books for the area – even in W&D days, whilst Poole had a booklet, Wiltshire had individual leaflets and I can’t recall that changing in the interim.

    To be balanced, there have been some downsides. The bus station closure and the pre-Covid closure of the replacement bus shop are regrettable though the former was done with professionalism – as the bus shelters demonstrate. The routes out to Porton Down are a shadow of their previous scale too and north of Amesbury, things aren’t as good as they were. However, compared to many places, Salisbury is very lucky to have a firm as good as GSC.

    Wiltshire Council have also done their bit in supporting local services and routes like the hourly service to Devizes are testimony to their work – 30 years ago, it was only hourly. They have maintained the services out to Shaftesbury and other places, as much as their budgets have allowed. That has necessitated some of the P&R routes being amalgamated into regular services.

    That’s what is required – all parties to do their bit and things become greater than the sum of the parts!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. In response to Richard’s comment, whilst GA has done a very good job in the aftermath of Yellow Bus’ demise in Bournemouth and Poole and deserves great credit, sadly in Southampton, Bluestar is struggling for drivers (not helped by a recent puzzling increase in frequency when they didn’t have the drivers to run the previous service……).

    As a daily Bluestar customer, I am very unimpressed


  15. Having driven around rural Wiltshire earlier this week, I was quite pleased to see the number of Salisbury Reds bus stops I saw out in the villages. I have also used the Park and Ride in the past (just when it went onto half price after its period being free to attract people back into Salisbury) and have also used the Stonehenge Tour Bus as well; I am not sure £11.50 is a competitive fare for that distance or not compared to other similar length journeys (and it is a shame a local service does not go close which you could catch as an alternative (Larkhill, Shrewton or Amesbury are too far for most to walk)


  16. Just a thought: Only a 1/2 hourly frequency on those park and rides? Hardly turn up and go is it?

    I’d be driving into town if I pulled up and found I had 20 mins or more to wait for the bus link!


    1. Cardiff East P&R went to half-hourly when Covid slashed demand. Although most other services have returned to pre-pandemic levels P&R hasn’t. Usage is fairly low, I suspect mostly by “regulars” who know the timetable – a 30 minute frequency is hardl attractive to “casuals”.

      There is also a free P&R (supported by a charity but run by Cardiff Bus) from the same site to the Hospital. Again that went from 10 minutes to 20 minutes during the pandemic but hasn’t returned. I suspect demand is lower as there may be fewer visits to the hosital in general. The car parks there are free anyway as this is Wales.


      1. Bedford’s P&R site is only served hourly !! Was on fairly local route 2, but believe is now provided on the very hopefully timed MK1 (on which late running up to 2 hours has been noted, no doubt due to traffic problems on the M1 motorway)


  17. Wilts and Dorset did have timetable books once upon a time, all NBC subsidiaries did. Perhaps they were discontinued when the company was merged with Hants and Dorset?


  18. All though the use of a lower case r for the Reds is used on the Salisbury fleet you can make it out unlike First Eastern Counties . They use a small lower case r ( you can hardly see it) for their Costal and Ipswich eds fleet .


  19. Too late as I was away. Many thanks.
    I only found a few timetables in the Tourist Office last month and had to ask
    Why not have them on the buses?
    The station was wrecked when the barriers were put in as there is now insufficient space for all the tourists.. OK when not in tourist season


  20. The fare for the Stonehenge Tour is very high, but it makes sense for Salisbury Reds to make a good profit on this, after all it is not used by locals for essential journeys at all. I was unaware of the land train at Stonenge, but there is a Solo operated shuttle service at the Visitor Centre that I assumed took you to the stones, but maybe it is more of a Park & Ride. Unsure if still the case, but was operated by Salisbury Reds.


    1. You can get a local bus to Amesbury, it’s not that far, and walk to Stonehenge but you can’t get into the stones anyhow.Perhaps they’ll bulldoze it and build a park n ride there!


  21. I have never liked the Active8 branding, just always seemed unnecessarily confusing. Initially the operator of each journey was not shown, which was awkward as certain day tickets were not interavailable, guess that has been sorted since. There was also, unlike the previous route numbes, no distinction between the two different routeings in Tidworth, although the routeing has now been standardised. However I note that on bustimes it is only referred to as route 8, and a separate timetable is provided for each of Salisbury Reds and Stagecoach journeys, which can be a bit confusing.


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