A bus ride along Norfolk’s coast

Thursday 27th October 2022

A couple of weeks ago I took a ride on three bus routes operated by Norfolk based Sanders Coaches, in particular the company’s route 34 which takes a delightful route hugging the coastline as it links North Walsham and Stalham. Thanks to Ray Wilkes who kindly got in touch to suggest it’s a good route to enjoy a ride on following one of his walks along the coastal path.

To get to North Walsham I took Sanders’ route 55 (yellow on the above map) from Norwich which takes 45 minutes to reach North Walsham via Coltishall.

There are around a dozen journeys a day with alternate journeys operating a slightly quicker route through Coltishall and numbered X55….

… and as you can see from the network map above, Sanders’ also operate a route 210 (grey) between the two destinations which takes just over an hour operating five southbound and six northbound journeys.

A Wright bodied Volvo on route 210 in North Walsham

The 10:33 from Norwich took 14 passengers out of the city picking another up in Horstead. It’s pretty much a straight route heading north on the B1150 including this very long straight section towards Colishall.

We arrived into North Walsham’s small but very functional Travel Hub not long after the scheduled 11:18.

The journey on route 34 I was aiming for was the 12:00 from North Walsham to Stalham.

It’s one of four daytime journeys aside from an early morning positioning run at 06:20. The route is a Monday to Friday only affair and each journey takes a slightly different route to ensure the small communities in this part of Norfolk are all served.

In general though, as the network route map on Sanders Coaches’ website shows, buses head north eastwards from North Walsham via Knapton before reaching the coast at Mundesley and following the narrow coastal road to Happisburgh with some journeys missing out Sea Palling and Sutton and taking a more direct route down to Stalham.

Four passengers boarded at North Walsham with three travelling to destinations along the coast and the fourth to Stalham while another boarded in Mundesley for a short ride down to Walcott and two boarded in Happisburgh – pronounced Haysbruh (thanks Dan) – and travelled to Stalham, making seven in all – about average I find for a rural route of this kind. All concessionary pass holders too.

The section of route that hugs the coastline is a lovely part of the ride…

… including some narrow sections of route.

The bus ends its journey at the “Old Railway Station” in Stalham ….

….. but the return journey begins on the Stalham by-pass by a Tesco store, as did my next journey on Sanders’ route X6 to take me down to Great Yarmouth.

Another Wright bodied Volvo in North Walsham having arrived from Great Yarmouth as an X6 and continuing to Cromer as a 6A.

There were six on board the 13:17 from the Tesco bus stop (which had come from Cromer as a 6A as far as North Walsham before turning into an X6) and we picked up three during the journey making for a total of nine.

As we travelled through Caister into Great Yarmouth we passed by the town’s former rather grand municipally owned bus garage which for the last 26 years has been in the ownership of First Bus…

….. and I alighted at the end of Northgate Street which is convenient as a setting down point …

…. for the nearby railway station via a short walk over the former Vauxhall road bridge.

The station is a shadow of its once grand presence…

…. but now has the benefit of nice new trains run by Greater Anglia on its network of routes.

Roger French

Blogging timetable: 06:00 TThS

24 thoughts on “A bus ride along Norfolk’s coast

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  1. Great to read about your travel experiences in this lovely part of the UK, and good to see that a local company is keeping at least some level of bus services going.

    Disappointing though to see yet again the general disconnectedness of public transport. Have Sanders tried running their buses from Norwich railway station at times to connect with trains, and found it to be pointless? – North Walsham has a ‘Travel Hub’, but on the east side town, but a ten minute walk from the railway station (in the south).

    As a person whose travel by bus and train would probably at least double if the operators concerned would just get their act together, it seems bizarre that the drive to get bus use increasing by just 10% (which you mentioned in another blog) has not considered the (to me) blindingly obvious idea that increasing travel opportunities by co-ordinating services better might just do that at a stroke! – at least, surely, a pilot scheme would be worthwhile.

    Almost all fellow passengers I talk to seem to feel the same – it is just bus and train managers (probably mainly car-drivers) who do not… At a meeting of the excellent Sevenoaks Rail Travellers Associaton, I asked the representatives of SE rail, Arriva and Go-Coach Hire (all invited speakers) how often they talked to one another (other than at SRTA meetings): answer – sheepish looks, and ‘probably not often enough’.

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    1. The Bus Back Better was supposed to address that issue but to fate little sign of any bus service improvements at all. The bus cuts are just continuing and no sign of the promised rail/bus hubs

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    2. I think again the devil is in the detail.

      Certainly a good initiative by Essex First in Chelmsford was extra commuter buses from most of the local housing estates to and from the railway station at either end of the day. Though competing with Park and Ride, and bus mayhem at the railway station bus layby. With rush hour traffic, reliability could leave something to be desired too.

      The result has been that in recent cutbacks these commuter services have probably suffered disproportionately. But in fairness they gave it several years trial.

      Good ideas, but sometimes the road to hell is paved with good intentions. I suspect, as usual, resources constrain everything. Balancing trying to satisfy everyone is the hard bit.

      Of course individually we’d all use the bus more if it did what we want, or does the bus go for the maximum area coverage?We can’t do everything, not usually. If someone has to lose out, who? It’s a difficult judgement. But my experience is that railway links often aren’t as well used as we’d expect them to be. Why not, I don’t know.

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      1. If they’re tendered routes too, who has the final say, the operator or the council. Local politics may not favour the non-voting tourists, perhaps?

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  2. Yarmouth originally had three stations. The other two being Yarmouth Beach. Closed in 1959 and Yarmouth South Town, Closed in 1970

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  3. Have you looked at Sanders’ website? In my view it is superlatively good and could many other operators a lesson (or three)!

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    1. Just had a look, and I agree. Clear, professional looking, and easy to use. Together with a nice livery this appears to be a well run independent. Operators of this nature are intrinsically connected to their local area (much like an urban municipal is) and are usually well appreciated by their passengers and LTAs.

      As mentioned in other comments, there really should be coordination with local rail services to grow usage.

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  4. It’s a tribute to the management of the Eastern Counties of a dozen years (and more) ago, that the areas where they gracefully withdrew in favour of local independents- North Norfolk (Saunders and Lynx), North Suffolk (Borderbus), central Norfolk (County), West Norfolk, and south Suffolk (Ipswich and Chambers) now have more stable and, yes, better bus services, and improving. To concentrate on what they do best, and doing it well, the Norwich Network, Coastal Reds and the X1; even the Ipswich Reds, they do well.

    It’s a grown up attitude, being replicated after some provarication in Stagecoach East, with the first signs of green shoots, though it’s early days yet.

    What a pity then that the juveniles of First Essex, in their short trousers, are still scrabbling around in playground bun fights with everyone. In contrast to stability, a malign and disruptive influence on the local public transport network who, in the view of most passengers, would be better to clear off altogether, leaving the job to the grown ups.

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    1. There are a whole raft of cuts by First Essex in Chelmsford & Colchester and Basildon from the end of this month

      I don’t think you can say the Chambers services are improved nd better. They axed a lot of routes

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      1. I’m not sure which is worse, timetable reductions on lesser used services or constant ad hoc cancellations across the network due to a lack of resources? Poor management, in either case.

        Chambers have re-organised their network, but with how much detriment to their actual passenger journeys it’s harder to say.

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  5. This bring back some memories. As a boy I used to spend nearly all my summer holidays at my grandmother’s house in Bacton (now apparently on Sanders 34 service but back then served – albeit occasionally – by Eastern Counties FLFs, if I remember correctly) so I know the area fairly well. Bacton is the site of one of the UK North Sea gas terminals, built in the late 1960s which changed the area considerably. A much widened road was built, although as compensation It did bring mains gas and sewerage to the village.

    You are right about the pronunciation of Happisburgh. One of those English settlement spellings designed to catch out the unwary!

    On a small point the Sanders map looks very good except I think that a typo has crept in – “Hickling” appears as “Hicking”.

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  6. First Eastern Counties X2/22 and Excel D services can hardly be classed as a grown up attitude with far to many buses on a corridor that two other operators work also . It is good to see Sanders and Lynx giving North Norfolk a good service after others withdrew and thankfully it hasn’t become a wilderness like East Suffolk has become .

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  7. I wonder what the 66 is doing in Great Yarmouth station.Looks like EWS livery therefore a DB one but hard to tell at the angle.I suppose that it could even be a 59?

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    1. My best guess is that it’s on the back of a railhead treatment train.
      (Realtime trains shows one booked into Yarmouth early afternoon).

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    2. I specifically didn’t mention X2 and D for that reason. We have to, but it’s the problem in dealing in generalities. There is always an exception. It shows how we have to be so alert and careful. Operators should learn.
      They too can’t take anything (or anyone) for granted. There are no shortcuts to good service. It’s the oldest problem with too much data; less judgement and over-confidence. The temptation to fiddle excessively, a hard lesson we’ve all had to learn.

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  8. Thank you for a very informative report Roger around the Norfolk Coast.

    In August a Multi- operator Bus ticket was launched valid for 15 operators in Norfolk.

    However there is very little information on the validity of the ticket and the operators taking part,(unless you are local),there are a few examples below the ticket prices of where one could go but that’s it.

    Such a shame as I’m sure these tickets would be very popular.

    https://www.norfolk.gov.uk/news/2022/08/travel-norfolk-launches-new-multi-operator-bus-ticket

    https://www.norfolk.gov.uk/roads-and-transport/public-transport/buses/fusion

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    1. With the limited amount of information available.I see the Fusion ticket is valid on FEC Excel between Norwich and Peterborough (which takes you into Cambridgeshire) and one of the other journey example takes you from Harleston (Norfolk) to Carlton Colville which is in Suffolk.
      So still not sure what area it covers.

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      1. According to the First Norfolk and Suffolk website, Norfolk Fusion Day Tickets are available for purchase and valid on the full length of First Eastern Counties services that cross into other counties: Excel, Charcoal Line 40|41|X41, Coastlink X1|X11 & X2|X21|X22, Coastal Clipper 1|1A.

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  9. There has been far to many cuts in the Coastal Reds area local services thanks to the need to over bus the Coastal Links and Coastal Clipper routes . Seeing empty buses following each other on the mentioned services while those who need a short hop local service for shopping , doctors and hospital visits is hardly inspiring . Well done to Sanders for trying to cover areas even if it is once daily , that’s the whole point of providing a service and back in NBC days the area had some “market day” routes that proved to help the rural passengers .

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    1. Running “short” journeys seems to be a relatively recent development that the local First are particularly fond of. Presumably they find it an efficient use of resources.

      But perhaps predicting need is a bit harder than we would like? On my perambulations with the dog, I notice it often seems the same bus on different days can either be empty or half (or more) full. And potential customers complain the bus doesn’t do the journeys they want to make. Clearly in these days, particularly, any commercial operation wants (and needs) to concentrate on what makes the most money.

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      1. I notice too that First Essex say in justifying their latest “tweaks” that individual journeys have been reviewed at depot level. All well and good, but any successful business needs to grow and adapt, and a strategy to direct the process. Where is that coming from?

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  10. This article brought back memories of a day in about 1963 when I was on holiday at Mundesley with my parents. On this day I had a day in Norwich bus watching. I spent most of the time in the busy bus station in Surrey Street, but did venture out to the main street a few times to watch the local buses, all Eastern Counties of course. I also looked into the garage in the bus station where I thought I has seen everything present,

    When it became time to return to the holiday camp I was at the stop in good time but no bus appeared for Mundesley. I was thinking something had gone wrong and was worrying I would be back late for dinner. Eventually an elderly lowbridge Leyland PD 1? crept out of the garage and onto the stand. This bus had obviously not been used for a long time as it was full of cobwebs! I had never seen anything quite like it. Despite its appearance, when it got to the long straight road it had a good turn of speed and I was back with my parents in good time for grub!

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