Saturday 10th December 2022
Welcome to my final A to Z fortnightly exploration of public transport provision in Britain’s mid sized towns which brings me to Somerset.
Yeovil is the county’s second largest town after Taunton, having a population of around 48,000 making it just a bit larger than Bridgewater and Frome. Its in the same ballpark size as Salisbury (my featured S) in nearby Wiltshire but as we’ll see, the extent of both towns’ bus networks couldn’t be more different.
Yeovil is surrounded by Glastonbury due north, then heading in a clockwise tour we reach Shepton Mallet, Wincanton, Shaftesbury, Dorchester, Chard and Taunton all roughly 15 to 20 miles away with Sherborne in neighbouring Dorset the nearest town six miles east.
All these locations, aside from Taunton, are relatively small which impacts the inter urban bus network serving Yeovil, limiting its extent and reflecting the relatively low demand for such travel.
Yeovil currently comes within the purview of South Somerset District Council but this is all set to change next April when Somerset County Council merges with its four District Councils to become a single tier Unitary Council.
For a town of its modest size it does well to have two rail stations on two different lines served by two different Train Operating Companies.
Yeovil Pen Mill (above and below) is more conveniently located of the two, being about a 12 minute walk from the town centre on the east side of the town.
It’s served by GWR on the line from Weymouth to Bath, Bristol and Gloucester with eight trains a day…
… as well as a smattering of trains provided by South Western Railway (SWR) on a circuit with most journeys originating in Waterloo then via Basingstoke and from Westbury via Frome, Bruton and Castle Cary to Pen Mill ….
….. then continuing on the connecting track to SWR’s main haunt in the town, Yeovil Junction station. Two trains run anti-clockwise and four run clockwise around this loop.
Yeovil Junction is much less conveniently located being almost two miles south of the town with a country road offering no footpath to and from the town centre making walking a very unattractive option. But Yeovil Junction has a better service being on SWR’s main line from Waterloo to Exeter now back to hourly after a few months of a reduced timetable east of Yeovil with only a two-hourly service beyond Yeovil to Exeter via Axminster and Honiton due to speed restrictions.
Towards Waterloo the hourly service serves Andover, Salisbury and Basingstoke as well as many other stations.
Both Pen Mill and Yeovil Unction stations are well looked after for provincial town stations offering a certain charm.
Somerset County Council runs an hourly bus link connecting the two stations and the town centre.
Route 68 was perviously contracted to South West Coaches but after a period of withdrawl during Covid returned in June this year being run directly by the Council with a 16 seat minibus.
At Pen Mill the bus stop is conveniently located right outside the station entrance/exit and is clearly marked while at Yeovil Junction there’s a small pavement build out and shelter by the Blue Badge bays in the car park.
The bus route also takes in a couple of Yeovil’s residential areas on its route including Barwick to the west of Yeovil Junction (where it has 10 minutes layover) and returns back to the station 25 minutes later and after the bus station (another 9 minutes layover) takes a circular route to Yeovil Pen Mill station via Highfield Road.
The timetable on display could really do with a map (like below) to explain the route.
It would also be helpful if the Onward Travel poster displayed at Yeovil Pen Mill could be updated to actually include the one route that serves the station – ie route 68….
…. but at least the poster at Yeovil Junction includes reference to it.
Aside from route 68, bus services in Yeovil are provided by Buses of Somerset (from First Bus) and South West Coaches.
Luckily Buses of Somerset produces an attractive timetable book for Somerset including not only a town map…
… but also an inter-urban map.
Sadly, there’s nothing available for the bus routes run by South West Coaches which is a shame as the county desperately needs co-ordinated information, Cornwall style, so passengers can see what’s available.
The town enjoys a rather extensive bus station with nine drive on/reverse out bays and three drive throughs.
First Bus closed their Travel Office a long time ago but drivers still have a relief point in the bus station and a small facility in the former Travel Office with a desk chair in its entrance, while passengers have a waiting room.
It’s all a bit grim with some of the bus shelters having seen better days.
As with so many similar cases around the country there’s obviously no maintenance budget and local authorities just leave infrastructure like this to deteriorate and become increasingly vandalised.
I found the same situation while riding around the town. One bus shelter on the way to Yeovil Pen Mill station was well past its best.
The timetable display doesn’t exactly encouraging bus travel either, even if you could work out what it’s telling you, you’d have no confidence the information was up to date.
Another shelter and timetable display at a popular sub district retail centre in the town called The Forum …
…. was equally grim…
…. but at least it had a timetable display for both the town routes, 11 and 51, which serve the stop, as well as a rather ironic notice advising “it is against the law to smoke in this bus shelter”.
No wonder passengers were sensibly giving it a wide berth.
Routes 11 and 51 are Yeovil’s two town bus routes. The former operated by South West Coaches and the latter by Buses of Somerset. Both run half hourly to Abbey Manor Park and Houndstone on the north western side of town and an Asda (although the 11 reduces to hourly on Saturdays) …
…. with the 51 also providing a cross town link with three buses as you can see on the map above.
You might notice from the maps both routes travel along a similar stretch of road – Larkhill Road – and while I travelled around the town during my visit on a recent Saturday – I noticed departure times for the two routes heading into town have a six minute gap between the 11 and 51 and then a 30 minute gap until the next 51 followed by a 24 minute gap until the 11 comes round again as it’s hourly that day.
Inevitably the route 11 I was on picked up a good number of passengers being just six minutes ahead of the 51 and we arrived into Yeovil with a good load on board. It’s a shame the timetable can’t be tweaked to provide an even 15 minute gap between buses, especially on Mondays to Fridays when both routes are half hourly.
It was also a bit odd to see First Bus (not Buses of Somerset, note) bus stop flags around the route (as above and below) …
but only a timetable below for South West Coaches route 11.
The main Buses of Somerset inter-urban bus route serving Yeovil is hourly route 77 to and from Glastonbury and Wells. This provides connections in Somerton with hourly route 54 to Taunton and was by far the busiest route I saw during my visit.
Routes 58 to Wincanton and X10 to Blandford Forum both run two-hourly but are coordinated to provide a combined hourly timetable as far as Henstridge. Route 6 provides three journeys a day to Bridport.
South West Coaches operates two hourly routes: the 52 to West Coker 25 minutes to south west of the town and the 81 to South Petherton 45 minutes to the west …
… as well as route 96 to Chard on a five journeys a day timetable (three on Saturdays).
The company also runs route 52 seven times a day to Martock with three continuing to Bower Hinton, route 1 to Castle Cary and Shepton Mallet with five journeys a day (three on Saturdays) and route X11 (renumbered to 5 from last weekend) to Dorchester (an 86 minute journey) six times a day on Mondays to Fridays.
Finally, Somerset County Council operates a number of one journey a week routes for shoppers including route 5 to Babcary (Wednesdays), route 8 to Pilton (Thursdays), route 39 to Bruton (Fridays). I haven’t been able to track down whether a couple of other routes run on Mondays and Tuesdays. If so, they’re fairly secret ones.
There was talk about replacing Yeovil’s town bus routes with DRT a couple of years ago and I was approached to contribute to the discussions as to whether this would be a good idea. So far it looks as though the idea hasn’t come to anything, and fingers crossed it won’t, as routes 11, 51 and 68 seem to do the job fairly well. And although the inter-urban routes and those to neighbouring villages are relatively sparse (compared to Salisbury, for example), they do seem to satisfy the demand that I noticed.
Yeovil’s shopping centre is undergoing one of those public realm improvement schemes which is welcome ….
…. but Glovers Walk by the Quedam shopping centre immediately adjacent to the bus station, like the bus station itself, has definitely seen better days and doesn’t convey a very positive image.
Which is a sad image to end my A to Z odyssey around Britain’s mid sized towns over the last twelve months, but then you can’t sugar coat what is in many cases a very challenging situation. However, more positively here’s one from Harrogate in April.
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, Salisbury, Tunbridge Wells. Uttoxeter, Ventnor, Weston-super-Mare, Yeovil.
Blogging timetable: 06:00 TThS and occasional Su specials but not tomorrow.
A great read as ever. The postcode lottery very much applies between Yeovil and Salisbury! Last time I was in Yeovil there were no evening or Sunday buses at all.
A small error in your populations ….. Salisbury is around 147000 souls ….. a missing “1” in your researches, perhaps?
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Now that explains it!! Thanks for spotting that – I was indeed 100,000 out! Have deleted reference to Salisbury. Thanks again.
Roger – as per the discussion on your post about Salisbury (Wilts), the Salisbury with 147000 people is not the one in Wiltshire – it’s in Australia. According to Wikipedia, the population of Salisbury (Wilts) was 40,302 at the 2011 Census – so you were right the first time!
Ah; thanks Nigel. I’ve been puzzling over that.
The shopping area next to the bus station and shown in the photo is Glover’s Walk, not Quedam, which is up the escalator from Glover’s Walk. There is virtually nothing left open in Glover’s Walk, but the Quedam has lots of big names on it.
If ever there was a “managing decline” situation, Somerset would be the showcase. If only the Council, who in fairness, have an ever-increasing role in providing replacement bus services themselves, would produce a County map and attempt to integrate ticketing/co-ordination once more, buses may have a chance of survival. So much for £so little.
And before we get too hooked up on the wonders of Transdev, a Union Official has recently disclosed (at his peril no doubt) an ever-worsening financial situation which may even cause a reshuffle of “Britain’s most scenic bus route” list. But perhaps DRT will come to the rescue, as what could be better than crossing the North Yorkshire moors to Whitby in a bread van?
Roger, a Yeovil Unction makes an appearance .
An excellent series of reports, thank you. What’s next?
Thanks for spotting that – now updated.
Hoping to start a new theme in the New Year.
A better explanation of the areas bus situation, set up after by a local lady after the recernt sudden withdrawal of the 53.
None of the councils appear interested in the bus shelters despite many comments, it’s a good job you didn’t photograph the ‘posh’ one in the Borough as that has a plywood panel in place of the broken glass. I’ve been told that the shortage of Perspex is why panels haven’t been replaced. First did put some ‘Buses of Somerset’ flags up, but the whole town is littered with stops/shelters with no bus services.
Yeovil bus station is not a very pleasant place to be dropped off the Berry’s London coach late on a dark evening compared to arriving at either station! The Taunton connection at Somerton makes a journey to Taunton difficult due to the continual missed connections. At the last count there’s over 50 empty shops in the town centre, but there are out of town shopping centres plus supermarkets. There’re also two major employment sites (each around 4000) one in the town and one 6 miles away, neither served by public transport! Taunton appears to be getting most of the Bus improvement money!
Other internet sources do give a population of 47,000 for Salisbury. I wonder if 147,000 is the poulation of the erstwhile Salisbury District Council area? (WiltsHire is single tier now0.
Oh dear …. apologies for setting the hare running in the first place!!!
If the two towns are around the same size, that makes the bus service discrepancy even more difficult to understand.
Perhaps Yeovil ‘s town centre has something to do with it??
I was last in Yeovil in approximately 1999 and sadly it looks as though the bus station has not been renovated since then. It already looked grim back then, and even more sadly the overall town centre gave that impression too. Even then. Nice post though.
Just to say that (as you probably know) there was a much more convenient railway station at Yeovil Town which had convenient shuttle connections to the other two. Sadly it basically on the GW line to Taunton and closed in 1966 or thereabouts.
Yeovil is one of those places I have yet to visit. I was fairly close last spring when exploring the Buses of Somerset and was actually heading towards Yeovil on the 54 bus from Taunton. But time constraints meant that I had to ‘turn short’ at Somerton to head back towards Street and Bristol. Thanks for filling in the blanks!
The A-Z series has been really interesting and informative, and I look forward as always to seeing what you’re going to cover next. Thank you Roger, and have a Happy Christmas.
Thanks very much and hope you get there one day soon.
Thanks for a meaty blog… Dear, oh, dear! First run all of the trains, and most of the buses – a near monopoly, not to mince words – but what the public end up with is all of the bad bits of centralisation, and none of the potentially good bits. Why can’t this nation-wide ‘mobility’ company get its act together? Why don’t they run the 68 themselves? If the bus shelters are run down due to government cuts, it shouldn’t be beyond the wit of the management of this ‘big beast’ to sort that out; likewise proper passenger information on times and routes. In fact, one would hope that they’d have worked out that it would bring in more revenue! And what was it we were told, when privatisation was introduced? – commercial companies are enterprising, innovative, efficient, and customer friendly?
Sorry to be a pedant, Roger but I can’t help myself! There is only one E in Bridgwater.
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Thanks; post updated.
Both spellings appear to be in use
No they’re not Bob. The town in Somerset is Bridgwater. The Great Street in Manchester is Bridgewater.
Surely the opportunity to close off the A-Z with Ashby-de-la-Zouch couldn’t be passed up?
This has been a fantastic series, thank you for your efforts and insight, which continue to be incisive and clear-sighted. Here’s to further travels, good health, and paper timetablea in 2023.
Thanks very much.
It’s around 45 years since I paid my one and only visit to Yeovil Bus Station and I don’t think it looks much different now. I remember taking a photo of a Hutchings & Cornelius bus which was parked there. Although they ceased bus operations circa 1979, the company was only dissolved as recently as 2010 when the Vincent group collapsed. Is anybody else going to admit to being old enough to have read the article in “Buses Extra” about H & C? It was written by some chap called Ray Stenning, I wonder what ever happened to him?
I too Nigel have taken pictures of Hutchings and Cornelius Buses at Yeovil including their Bristol VR.
I suspect that Yeovil has always been difficult bus operating territory. Southern National always seemed to allocate older members of their fleet to the town. It was an interesting town in that so many rural services were provided by independent companies. The aforementioned Hutchings and Cornelius, Safeway Services both of South Petherton, Wakes of Sparkford and Pearce, Darch and Wilcox from Dorchester among others.
A few years ago I stayed near South Petherton. There appeared to be almost no bus stop infrastructure in what is a very sizeable village. I suspect as with many places historically served by smaller concerns that they had a loyal customer base who knew where to wait and that timetables did not vary much from one year to another. Unfortunately such local knowledge has for the most part been lost and a concerted effort now needs to be made by Councils and operators to promote routes through marked stops with current timetables displayed and the provision of clean attractive bus shelters where appropriate.
There are still several bus stops around Yeovil and South Somerset that have no indication that they exist, other than on Google, Bustimes etc. Past operators Brutonian and Ray Cuff come to mind as well, also mentioned in Buses Extra. South West have recently made an effort to update their stops with timetables, First largely haven’t, a lot have been done by campaigners. “Its all on line!!”
I tried to tell Chippenham (Wiltshire) Town Council that as they were responsible for cleaning the bus shelters, they were part of a public transport service and should be ensuring an attractive environment for their residents who use buses. It was like talking to a brick wall, complete disinterest, or incomprehension.
Normally it is the LTA that is responsible for bus stop and shelters. It is unlikely to be the town council
Bob, the one town Councillor (Green) who replied of the three I emailed (two LibDem) made some enquiries. The shelters are owned by unitary Wiltshire Council but they devolved cleaning responsibility to the Town Council who do it at most twice per year. So we have Wiltshire not maintaining the shelters, and the Town Council rarely cleaning them. At least Faresaver post up to date timetable displays. Faresaver have replaced the bus stop flags with smart new ones on their main routes.
Thank you very much, Roger. I have really enjoyed your A to Z explorations; they have been very informative and a great read.
It looks like when it comes to bus services, Yeovil is just like many other A to Z towns. There are significant elements that could and should be better, times have never been tougher, and yet there are bus operators having a go at providing services.
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I think that Burton should be Bruton.
Thanks; I’ve updated these now.
A very interesting blog, as ever, from Roger. Both Yeovil and Salisbury are places I know very well, so let me provide a bit of context behind the significant differences in bus service provision in places that, outwardly, would appear similar in terms of population or otherwise.
First of all, whilst people will focus on the presence of First Group etc, the places have always had very different in terms of provision. Even in the halcyon days of the National Bus Company, Western/Southern National routinely allocated the oldest vehicles to Yeovil depot; elderly Bristol LSs still running in the mid 1970s as an example.
So why the difference? Yeovil is surrounded by a large rural hinterland with a few small towns, and has two rail lines on different axes. Salisbury isn’t like that. It has fewer rail lines, which helps in some respect. However, there’s more than just that. For a start, Salisbury is a vibrant tourist attraction (and not just for itinerant Russians). More importantly, the 47k doesn’t include the town of Wilton and the large council estate at Bulbridge – that’s a major corridor. There is also the major population centres of Amesbury and the military bases around Larkhill, Bulford and Durrington – that’s another 30k inhabitants just 7/8 miles north of the city. Then you have the geography, bounded by two rivers and key arterial routes that concentrate bus routes and residential areas into corridors. Salisbury is simply much better bus territory.
Those differences are exacerbated by the approaches of respective operators and councils. Wiltshire has been pro-public transport for 30+ years, supporting tendered services etc. Somerset CC has been tepid at best and since the early days of austerity in the 2010s, has been much more discerning about supporting any bus services. Therefore, the idea of managing bus shelters seems fanciful.
Then you have the operators. First took over Cawlett and then removed local management from Taunton – it was run from Bristol, then it was placed under the control of Southampton. Very much the weakest depot in those empires. Even whilst things have improved under control from South West, it is still very challenging territory and it doesn’t get that much investment; indeed, the signage is a new development and you could have gone to Yeovil in 2020 and hardly seen a Buses of Somerset sign. Services have been pared back by First – the town routes have been slashed recently, halving their PVR, and the routes north to Somerton (to Wells and Taunton) have also been cut so before people indulge in whataboutery with Transdev, the cuts in Somerset have already come and you fear for the future despite some BSIP crumbs. In contrast, Salisbury has always had strong local management in independent and Go Ahead days. It hasn’t been immune to cuts – the P&R services were rationalised and some wrapped into local services. The routes out to Porton are a shadow of once they were but overall, service delivery and quality has always been better than in Yeovil.
Sorry to waffle on but thought I’d add a bit in for context to Roger’s superb blog.
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Excellent points; many thanks.
Back in the 1980s Badgerline thought they could move in on Wilts & Dorset in Salisbury with a batch of Transits. They thought the newly privatised W&D would be a weak target. However W&D fought back with a new fleet of Metroriders and the badgers withdrew. W&D worked with Optare when they were developing the Solo, and these replaced the Metroriders on Salisbury city services.
BW2: thanks … all very interesting and useful in putting Salisbury and Yeovil in context.
It all comes down to the destination towns, doesn’t it … if the town is attractive to visit, then the passengers will travel; if not, then however good the bus offering, there will be fewer passengers.
Something for planners and bus campaigners to contemplate??
Was York to far to come – First York, East Yorkshire, Connextions, Reliance, York Pullman, York and County and Transdev. A lot to look at and choose to ride on!
Lovely city but at the top end of “mid size”. Generally was looking for towns around 50,000.
Just one minor point: South West Coaches service 1 doesn’t go to Glastonbury. I think you probably meant “… Castle Cary and Shepton Mallet”
Thanks Michael- I did indeed mean Castle Cary – post updated.
Geography and history both play a part with Yeovil. Its location means that it is not connected to major towns with villages en route, an example being the road south to Dorchester. Southern National, in whose territory the town was, never seemed to go for regular interval interurban services. Their only major route was the hourly joint service with Western National to Taunton. Northwards was Bristol Tramways/Bristol Omnibus Territory and the two only met at Somerton where SN/WN service met the 155 from Wells, although there was no attempt connections. It was almost as if the SN and BOC maps had “there be dragons” over that part. Apart from that there were only two north/south links. One was BOC route 157, one was on, I think, Tuesdays and Fridays only via as many villages as possible from Wells to Yeovil. However, this had disappeared by the end of the 1950s. The other was Wakes’ (who became South West Coaches) route 1 from Shepton Mallet to Yeovil and still exists today.
After BOC was broken up and Badgerline was created the hourly 376 Bristol/Wells/Glastonbury/Street was extended every two hours to Yeovil (being extended every other hour to Bridgwater). This also gave extra evening journeys to Bristol. Although now split again the link from Yeovil to Wells remains.
In the days of Somerset County Council area booklets were produced for the whole county, together with a separate map. They were widely available and regularly updated. With the split of authorities such things become relatively more expensive and different areas have different policies and priorities. Why the idea of investing in publicity for local public transport to provide something useful is so ignored I cannot understand.
What do think about towns/citys that have more then one train station?