Thursday 16th February 2023
The train journey along the East Coast Main Line between Newcastle and Edinburgh is always a treat with some wonderful coastal views to savour. Although taking the bus for the 100 mile journey obviously takes much longer it offers equally fantastic scenery including castles and market towns.
It’s been many years since I took the bus from Newcastle to Berwick-upon-Tweed while the journey onward from there to Edinburgh was virgin bus territory for me, so a couple of weeks ago, I was ready and eager for the northbound journey to Scotland’s capital at Newcastle Upon Tyne’s Haymarket bus station.
Arriva runs a comprehensive network of inter-urban routes linking Newcastle with the Northumberland hinterland north of the city.
All numbered in an X series they were part of the MAX and Sapphire initiative in the days when Arriva saw the benefits of route branding. Now they’re a complete dog’s breakfast of mixed branding with an endemic of wrong buses on the wrong routes which will no doubt continue until the company’s all over light blue standard livery reigns supreme.
Longest of these bus routes are the X15 and X18 which both link Newcastle and Berwick-upon-Tweed with the latter taking the crown of being by far the longest with a journey time of just under four hours while the former takes a more spritely 2 hours and 22 minutes.
That’s because the X18 follows a more leisurely trajectory getting much closer to the Northumberland coast with its landmark castles while the X15 takes a more direct path.
The former was at one time marketed with an “Explore Coast & Castles” message on the sides of buses.
I saw one (but inevitably not on the X18) but I guess this idea has also been dropped too, although most of the bus stops along much of the route north of Morpeth carry this branding.
These bus stops look good but sadly quite a few plates are missing ….
… and there are a few timetable cases which need updating as they’re not giving a very helpful message if passengers are to be won back.
I found the same “don’t give a damn” attitude on Arriva’s website where there’s no map to explain which route goes where – how is a first timer supposed to know? – and the pdf timetable presentation is completely misleading showing through journeys as four separate entries across eight columns.
Obviously this reflects the split registrations for this long service but how is a passenger supposed to know that?
Bearing in mind the common sections over which both the X15 and X18 operate you’d think a joint timetable would be helpful too. I was initially fooled into thinking there were only three journeys to and from Berwick-upon-Tweed but there’s another seven on route X15.
I travelled on the 10:08 departure on route X18 from Newcastle’s Haymarket bus station. Arriva’s Travel Shop here has long been closed and now just provides facilities for drivers as well as a nostalgic reminder of the days when face coverings were a thing.
Nexus provide departure information including a helpful poster advising which bay to use for your destination with the X15 and X18 using bay Q which sadly had lost all its seating making for an uncomfortable wait. Still, I’d be sitting down for four hours on the bus, so standing to wait for it wasn’t too much of a hardship. Not so good for those unsteady on their feet.
The bus arrived into the bus station from its previous journey a little late at 10:03 with a good number alighting while 30 of us waiting got on board smartly and we left just a minute late at 10:09.
The X18 is a route in four quarters with the busy section to Morpeth coming first taking 40 minutes. There used to be a coordinated 15 minute frequency with routes X14, X15 and X16 but now, as far as I can tell, the X16 is no more so there’s a 15-15-30 frequency but as there’s no consolidated timetable I’m not absolutely sure. We picked up five more passengers as we passed through Gosforth and the Regent Centre Metro station. No one alighted until the outskirts of Morpeth.
At the bus station in Morpeth around 30 passengers alighted making only five travelling beyond. The timetable includes a five minute layover here.
The next section of route to Alnwick takes 75 minutes and serves the communities of Pegswood, Longhirst, Widdrington, Acklington, Bromhill, Amble, Warkwotth and Alnmouth picking up and/or dropping off ones and twos in each with Amble being the most popular losing four and gaining seven.
The X18 does a longish dog leg westward to serve Alnwick.
I timed it and it took half an hour from Lesbury to get to Alnwick and back again to Lesbury.
But it was worth doing as, aside from myself, all the other passengers alighted – and even I got off for a quick toilet stop (there’s another five minute layover here) while drivers changed over – and six new passengers got on board before we left with two more at the next stop.
Alnwick is a busy interchange every hour with buses on both the X15 and X18 in both directions all due at the same time.
And there’s the customary Arriva closed Travel Shop but now with driver facilities.
We headed back to Lesbury to continue north along the coast and where the views and scenery become very attractive heading towards Craster, Seahouses and Bamburgh and its renowned castle.
Craster is another dog leg on the route, this one taking around 20 minutes and enabled us to drop two passengers off and pick one up.
The bus uses a ‘reverse-in’ bus stop to turn round in Craster but there was a car parked in the way when we arrived and the motorist reversed out of the way in a very cackhanded way.
It’s two hours between Alnwick and Berwick with Seahouses marking the exact half way point between the two as well as the third quarter of our journey and where the destination blind can finally be set with a display showing Berwick.
From here to Berwick is by far the quietest section with just five passengers boarding – and five alighting. Most alighted in the commercial retail centre of Berwick before the bus continued up the hill to terminate at the railway station where it was just me left on board.
It’s a lovely route to ride if you’ve ever got four hours to spare in Northumberland. You’ll enjoy glimpses of the coastline as well as plenty of castles. The route has so much potential, but it needs proper marketing which sadly seems to be woefully lacking.
Here are a few photographs from the journey with apologies for the dirty windscreen impacting the quality on some of them.
I decided to pause my journey to Edinburgh in Berwick so I could travel on one of Britain’s quirkiest bus routes – the 477 to Holy Island which only runs on Wednesdays and Saturdays and then only when the tide is out, as it crosses a tidal causeway to reach the island. I’ll tell you more about that and the second instalment of my journey on to Edinburgh in Part 2 in a future blog sometime soon.
Blogging timetable: 06:00 TThS
Your blog has reminded me of a conference I was fortunate to attend in Newcastle, in the early days of my career at Bristol Omnibus. It was organised by Tyne & Weir PTE, to showcase the newly opened metro. One sunny evening I took a return trip on a United, Bristol RE to Amble.
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How lovely Colin.
You have to despair that even stuff which wouldn’t cost money like taking down the old Covid posters doesn’t get done. It really does seem that everyone is either so disempowered or has so few ****s to give that its all just allowed to run down.
Councils and bus companies alike have cut low-level staff to the bone over the past decade or so, which means there’s nobody to do stuff like that most of the time. I suspect the only reason the Covid signs got put in bus stop timetable cases is because staff who would otherwise be working other jobs did it before being furloughed, and when they came back to work it was in their own jobs so there just isn’t anyone with the time to sort out those issues – and that’s assuming anyone even remembers that those posters are there…
Even on the railway with its guaranteed funding, it’s worrying how much is now dumped in the hands of volunteers like station adopters so that the train companies can cut the staff who used to do boring ‘unimportant’ things like station cleaning and basic maintenance. A few months back I got talking to a “station servicing technician” while I was waiting for a train, and he told me that they are each responsible for about 20 stations so can rarely get to them more often than once a week and often less than once a fortnight.
This brings back memories of a similar trip one Saturday morning after an overnight coach journey from London in 1975. Stayed in Berwick and went on to do the journey to Edinburgh too later in the week. Both return journeys were by train though!
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Like Phil Stubington, I really despair that Arriva, even when operating what should be excellent services in good bus territory and with amazing tourist potential, cannot even produce a proper timetable. Fine, we have to accept the “it’s all on line” mantra, but at least get the on-line version right. As noted, how on earth can we expect this type of shoddiness to attract a single extra person out of their beloved car if life-long transport Enthusiasts have problems working out what goes where. And what a contrast, in my experience, with operations north of Berwick run by a proper bus company.
Good article but maybe you could try harder on you’re spelling , Almouth, Askington , as well as others .
I don’t disagree with any of these sentiments. In any job, give it the dignity of doing it to the best of your ability.
But there is a larger issue. What are buses for? Maybe they are meeting the needs of their passengers, however badly we might think. If it’s right to use public money to subsidise tourism, then why not pubs, restaurants, shops and other entertainments, all of whom attract more punters than buses and contribute more to the local economy, and are often in need too?
Would we like to move to North Korea? The Dear Leader’s attitudes might be more to our taste.
What are buses for? Perhaps the X15/X18 perform not only a day to day service for workers etc but also enable tourism that also brings important revenue to places such as Amble, Seahouses? Who is suggesting that these tourist routes are demanding subsidy – maybe the point that Roger is making is that they could be marketed more successfully and that this could safeguard those marginal journeys that would otherwise require subsidy.
As for the North Korea references… Take more water with it.
Tourism is by car nowadays, and has been since long before Covid. Like it or not, it’s true. To paraphrase a well-known sentiment, only losers use buses.
(Which I guess means I’m a loser. Oh dear, how sad, never mind.)
And as much as the commentators here hate Arriva (which I can well understand), precious few other operators in Northumbria are much better publicity-wise.
Whether it’s the absence of multi-operator timetables for the X18/418 serving the coastal tourist hotspots (a route which is shared between Arriva and Travelsure, who in fairness do have a multi-operator timetable if you know about it and hunt for it), the absence of information on the inter-available tickets for the route, or the supposedly all-operator Network One “All Zone plus” multi-county season ticket which isn’t actually valid on all operators (as I discovered last year), the whole lot is just a dog’s breakfast.
And that’s before you hit the national saga of £2 fares valid on some operators but not others, Traveline refusing to acknowledge the existence of certain services when offering journey plans, random cancellations due to staff shortages on both buses and trains (when they’re not on strike), the BBC happily implying that all buses in the country are on strike when it’s only Abellio London and all the other niggles about using public transport – which all together is why most people just get in their cars without thinking twice about alternatives. Why put yourself through the hassle?
There’s 2 practical was to do Newcastle to Edinburgh by service bus(excluding National Express and Mega Bus).The way you are going using Arriva NE and Borders Buses.The other way is much less frequent uses the one a day Hoggs service to Jedburgh and then Borders Buses to Edinburgh.The Newcastle to Berwick must be the longest ANE service with the Middlesbrough to Scarborough being a close contender and the Newcastle to Carlisle would have been up there too.The longest last year was the immense Middlesbrough to Preston (!) Yorkshire Dales National Park bus but who’ll run it this year if it runs?
Or another option is via Berwick and Galashiels; there’s two Borders routes from Berwick to Gala (60 & 67) which offer two buses every two hours and connect into the X62 every half hour from there to Edinburgh which is, or at least was, double-deckers rather than the X95 which is single-deck.
£9.25 for a 24-hour Borders ticket on the app is pretty good, especially considering that Scottish bus fares have historically been rather higher than English bus fares.
Seahaven?Is that actually Seahouses?
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Consulting an old Eastern Scottish timetable (obtained from their office just north of Oxford Circus where a complete set for the whole of Scotland – 7 SBG operators plus Macbrayne’s – could be bought) I see that in times past there were eight through buses from Edinburgh to Newcastle via Berwick daily as well as three via Kelso and one via Jedburgh. There were also a number of connecting journeys. All of these, plus a Glasgow to Newcastle service, were operated jointly with United Auto and had a journey time of over five hours. One wonders how many through journeys were made?
There was also a Whitley Bay to Glasgow bus,not sure which route it took, which was a joint service between United and I think Eastern Scottish but it might have been Central or Western.Buses went via 3 major routes to get to Scotland;via the East Coast,via Carter Bar(Otterburn) and via Carlisle.
Service 515 between Whitley Bay and Glasgow was jointly operated by Eastern Scottish and United and ran via Otterburn, Galashiels, Peebles, Biggar and Motherwell.
The cross-border England Scotland routes were until deregulation a strange hybrid between stage carriage bus services and long-distance coach services, offering local fares to walk up customers but also pre-booked seats, as were National Express routes between Plymouth and Cornwall, which provided local bus links along that stretch if they had seats available.
Can’t say that I would have wanted to be a resident in the Borders standing at the end of a farm track hoping that one of the coaches would have room for me to get on to go shopping in Hawick or Peebles or wherever, mind!
What is the point of Arriva? Does it not like buses? Imagine working for such an awful company where everything is so shoddy. The staff must be so demoralised.
I have a lot of sympathy for anyone working for Arriva and in my experience there are a lot of good people within its ranks. It is well known that DB would love to offload Arriva and seeing other transport groups being snapped-up must be very depressing for those on the DB board. Other than buying some new buses for North Wales and Luton, I do wonder whether there can be even a medium-term strategy with this uncertainty hanging over the company.
They are in Durham which has the scruffiest fleet in my area
From personal experience inside, all of the big three bus groups (Arriva, First & Stagecoach) are shoddy. There’s a reason staff turnover is so high and people leave the bus industry to go to jobs with less job security and lower pay.
Check spelling of villages. For instance it’s Pegswood
The Northumberland Coast AONB website is still referring to the Coast and Castles branding for the X18. Sadly the timetable on their website is dated for 11th April 2022 which is now out of date.
The X18 is coordinated between Alnwick and Belford with Travelsure 418 giving a total of seven journeys each way over this section of the route. One journey on the 418 extends to/from Berwick in the afternoon.
With regard to the post by James Bunting, as far as I recall, all through journeys between Edinburgh and Newcastle ceased after Borders area Scotmap changes on 7th September 1981, though service 515 which ran on Saturdays between Glasgow and Newcastle or Whitley Bay continued beyond that date, possibly up to deregulation in 1986. And yes passengers were carried the full distance, though in diminishing numbers of late.
The Summer 1967 Scottish Bus Group Long Distance Services conveniently has single and return fares for the three different routes. For these journeys return fares were – via Berwick £1/16/3 (£42.26 in 2023), via Jedburgh £1/14/- (£39.48 in 2023) and via Kelso £1/17/3 (£43.43 in 2023).
Another idea for day route, Chester to Chester through North Wales using the 1Bws day ticket you could do
T8 Chester to Corwen, or Arriva 1 Chester to Wrexham then T3 Wrexham to Corwen
T10 Corwen to Betws Y Coed
S1 Betws Y Cowed to Caernarfon
5C Caernarfon to Llandudno, 5C changes to 5/5D at Bangor
12 Llandudno to Rhyl
11C/11M Rhyl to Chester, 11C/11M change to 11 at Holywell
I did this route a few weeks ago but on the T8 first [T8 had started that week], it was a crisp day with sunny intervals & Mount Snowdon, & Mountains around it looked spectacular with snow on the mountain tops, S1 goes via Pen Y Pass, which is one of the main car parks at the start of the climb up Mount Snowdon.
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That would be a lovely round trip. I had a ride on the T8 yesterday.
Only thing is, it can be a long day out as the routes on the North Wales Coast take anything from 90 minutes to 2 & a half hours.
To make the connections later in the day, you need to get the first T8 from Chester, or the 1 from Chester to Wrexham before 8am, but well it’s worth it particularly on a nice day
Best to start & finish the trip in Chester though, timmings work well from their
Also to note Arriva Bangor depot have new buses, which i think are for the 5/5C/5D group
Thank you. Excellent post. Really makes me want to take this journey!
Shame about Arriva’s ongoing inability to market itself. Must be demoralizing for drivers and other staff on the ground, who do not have an easy job.
I discovered your blog from the videos you did with Geoff in Scotland. I agree this route is lovely but I can tell your frustration with Arriva. I used this bus route quite a lot on this part of my coast walk and I agree with you about the poor information. Craster remains the only place I had to resort to a taxi because I waited at that “reverse in” bus stop only for the bus to fail to arrive, instead it turned around by the public toilets further up the road. I did complain to Arriva they told me the bus stop was closed owing to road works (I didn’t see any), but that it was the Councils responsibility to maintain the bus stop so it wasn’t there fault there was nothing to tell me this. The Council told me that they did maintain the bus stop, but Arriva were responsible for the timetable board. I don’t know which is true, I was just frustrated that in the usual style when there are two organisations involved both blame the other!
I can recall using this route a few years ago and they had TV screens on the buses to provide some “tourist information” at many of the stops. I assume along with the branding that is something else that has ceased. I also took the bus out to Holy Island so looking forward to your report of that too.
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Thanks very much for sharing your experience.
Seen Arriva have invested in some nice new buses for the Northumberland routes. That seems like a big investment for a route that probably doesn’t make much money
The X15 and X18 are actually quite well used services. The Morpeth to Newcastle corridor is lucrative and there are several other flows that are cash generative – perhaps less evident on a winter’s day but there’s the obvious tourist spots. Moreover, there are other important flows such as visitors to Acklington Prison, whilst there are those larger villages such as Amble and Warkworth.
It should be noted that whilst people are wistfully looking at the past (with routes that disappeared in 1981), it is also worth remembering that these routes were traditionally single decked, with only selected journeys having deckers. It was ENCTS that generated additional custom that demands deckers are now allocated to the routes. The Coast and Castles branding has appeared twice, with Max branding also appearing. It really is crying out for a proper marketing strategy; something that was evident under the tenure of Nigel Featham. Sadly, Arriva is in a state of paralysis as they (DB) decide what they wish to do and that is evident with the confused, apathetic approach that Roger sadly experienced.
City to make public transport free from December 2023
It will apply to buses and trams
Why city? Any why would that be relevant for a four hour rural service?
Seems odd that so few of the arriva subsidiaries have been sold off. First have had luck of selling loss making companies up to now
Do you mean Montpelier Bob?
I undertook this journey many years ago aboard a step entrance Olympian. I even received an appreciative response for feedback given to Arriva that sticking route branding on the front upstairs windscreen was hardly appropriate for travellers to see the wonderful views on the journey. I also did Holy Island the following morning before carrying on to Edinburgh.
Arrivas buses have lovely comfortable seats so I’m tempted to do the route again but obviously it’s not going to be £2 from Newcastle to Berwick.
I appreciate light is limited at this time of year probably precluding you from catching Eves bus from Dunbar to North Berwick to remain close to the coast but I look forward to your future blog even if you just catch a Borders 253 to traverse East Lothian.
It is £2 from Newcastle to Berwick if you do it all in one go.
£2 fare cap is to be extended until the end of June, giving us all more chance to make interesting journeys…
But sadly,well if the government website is correct,Borders Buses aren’t doing the £2 bus fare for their services within the very north of England for example the Holy Island Berwick and Wooler Berwick.Travelsure are doing the £2 ticket.More obscure ones like Peter Hogg and the one that runs the Newcastle Otterburn, can’t remember what they are called, and the Newcastle to Wooler don’t seem to be doing it either.Plus a bit further down I couldn’t see Dales and District although it’s parent company trades under various names.Dales and District and Borders Buses are quite a gap as they run quite extensive bits of United’s former routes in Northumberland and the North Riding.
Peter Hogg are offering the £2.00 fare on their Newcastle route.
Dales & District are included in the £2 single fare offer, as are all operators in North Yorkshire as far as I am aware
I offered to design & produce a leaflet for the Coast & Castles routes a few years ago. Arriva weren’t interested. Nor had they much interest in the ‘Most Scenic Route in Britain’ survey. Lack of imagination or just not interested in their product? And their owners, Deutsche Bahn, are so good at providing information in Germany. Utterly bizarre.
“Deutsche Bahn, are so good at providing information in Germany.”
Are they? I don’t think I ever saw a DB information leaflet or publicity leaflet for their bus services on any of my visits since around 2010; they left it for the local authorities to do everything. DB train timetable leaflets were impossible to find when I was last there in 2019 (pre-Covid), and it’s almost 15 years since the national Kursbuch was last produced; again, for local trains you’re looking for local authority produced publications, but for long-distance trains “it’s all online at bahn.de”.
They did still produce the ‘Ihr Reiseplan’ train guide leaflets for IC/ICE trains then but no longer; they’re officially a victim of Covid although I suspect that in reality it’s as much about cost-cutting.
That last time I was there I was subjected to a twenty minute rant from a German bloke about how bad DB were in all respects and how they should learn from the British railways which were so much better and how in Britain we wouldn’t put up with the poor service that DB provides. I thought that discretion was the better part of valour and didn’t argue!
On becoming the proud owner of a senior bus pass issued by Northumberland council a couple of years ago, I tried some of the services mentioned in this article. Perhaps I was unlucky on the days I travelled, but I encountered cancellations, terminations short of the destination and long delays.
Recently, after waiting for some time at a stop just outside Morpeth centre, another passenger asked me if I knew when a bus might arrive. Based on my previous experiences, I said that the timetable appeared to be rather aspirational. Later, a passer-by confirmed to the queue that there was a problem, at which point those heading for Newcastle headed for the nearby railway station, but that option wasn’t available to people waiting for other services.
Consequently I only now use these services when I don’t need to arrive or return by a particular time.
For what it’s worth, I use the Arriva services on the Newcastle/Morpeth to Alnwick corridor on an almost daily basis to commute, so I’ve had a fair bit of exposure to how they operate it.
The buses tend to turn up close to time, though the Arriva app and bustimes.org come in handy to double check before leaving home/work. The main issues seem to stem from the single carriageway stretch of A1 between Morpeth and Alnwick for the X15, while the X18 seems to be hit more by high passenger loadings and rural traffic (tractors etc., but also cyclists on windy stretches of NSL road where passing can be tricky). My assumption is that it can be tricky to allow for this in the timetable, as for majority of the year the current schedule works absolutely fine, and putting an extra bus into the pattern for the sake of say 25 days a year would almost certainly ruin the viability of the services.
There have only been a few times my bus has not appeared, always due to a breakdown as far as I know, and notably there hasn’t been a single no show for me since the new vehicle influx. The vehicles themselves tend to be clean, have USB chargers available, and are reasonably comfortable. I’ve been told they opted against headrests on this new order due to the amount of vandalism to the headrests on older stock, and the costs of replacement. Personally I don’t mind the lack of headrests – the cream leather opted for by other operators shows just how dirty they get – but I can understand why people may view it as a downgrade.
Overall, as a bus service, I find it hard to massively fault the operation. I find it good value for money, convenient, and reliable.
The X15 was certainly operating ok yesterday when I was in Berwick. New bus and remarkably clean given the road conditions. It was just a shame there were not more passengers. The same though could be said for other operators services and indeed Berwick town centre itself.
Hi I’m looking to be enlightened by this one, as Peter Hogg’s Facebook kept citing the £2 cap for 131 (they also confirmed it applies to the whole route), but still can’t find them on the government website. Of course they can decide to pay it out of their own pocket but since now they cited the scheme extension, which makes it seem like they’re covered by the English £2 cap scheme (of course the gov website says otherwise)
Same with Little White Bus there weren’t on the HM Government website but I caught the bus from Richmond to Reeth this week and was charged £2 and the ticket says ‘fare cap’on it.Plus I saw a sign on a bus stop in Richmond saying all fares are £2 in North Yorkshire.I spend a fair time in Northumberland too and can’t see Hoggs,Borders Buses or,I think that they are called Phoenix, the one who runs the Newcastle to Otterburn service around 1730.Then there’s a few other ones too.The only way to find out is to go on the bus and see how much you get charged!
My understanding is that Peter Hogg has been encouraged to take part in the £2 trial by Northumberland County Council who let the contract for the 131, after the Government list was published. Interestingly the £2 fare appears to apply whether you board at Jedburgh or Newcastle. My experience when travelling on this route is that roughly 75% passengers travel to/from Scotland with the remainder boarding or alighting at Otterburn.
I do it once a year normally in autumn to go hiking and I get off at Bryness but in my experience about 50 percent get off at Otterburn and the rest presumably go to Scotland.I, apart from myself, have never seen anyone get off or on anywhere else.In the mid 1980’s I used the equivalent route to go to Belsay and it was run by a company called Vassey’s which is presumably defunct now? There’s a late afternoon bus at 1720 hrs , the 808,run by an outfit called Phoenix Coaches which I’ve never done.It terminates at Otterburn but I haven’t been on that one perhaps if I go in Spring or Summer it might work if I hike east to Rothbury but the military ranges make going east tricky on foot.
When I travelled last Autumn, a passenger alighted at Knowesgate and was met by someone in a car. I have also previously stopped at Byrness.
Vasey has long since gone. The open air barn where redundant coaches were kept has also been demolished.
Couple of ideas for trips
You can do Wrexham to Orkney all on Stagecoach, then having to use the ferry to Orkney
Another idea, how long would it take going to the most Southerly, Westerley, Easterly & Northerly places that are served buses on the UK mainland, but only using the bus.
I remember when the X15 was known as route 505 and the X18 was known as route 501. Used the 505 from Newcastle to Berwick on a few occasions.