10 years of retirement: Part 2

Sunday 26th March 2023

One of the best journeys is Britain’s longest bus route – Scottish Citylink’s 915/916 Glasgow to Uig where this photo was taken.

I had the best of times working in the bus industry throughout my career as I hope I conveyed in yesterday’s blog, but it’s also been a wonderful first decade of retirement.

Readers who’ve been with me since I began this BusAndTrainUser blog almost five years ago (in June 2018) will know pretty much everywhere I’ve been since then. The first five years were very much in a similar vein.

Penzance to Wick

One of my first exploits was to explore the UK’s entire rail network. I didn’t see this as meaning actually visiting very rail station as in ‘get off, look around and get back on again’ – I’m in awe of those who have the diligence and patience to make that their goal and indeed achieve it, not least those very awkward stations with hardly any trains – but for me, it meant taking a train on every passenger used section of railway including those very oddball pieces of track which may only have one train a week along them.

A station I made a special effort to visit was Sugar Loaf on the Heart of Wales line and the least used station in Wales.

It proved to be a fantastic travel odyssey enjoying some wonderful scenery, meeting lots of people and seeing the rail network at its best (and not quite so good).

The gorgeous end of the line at Kyle of Lochalsh.

Many people ask me what’s my favourite rail line. It’s almost impossible to say but when I’d completed the task I listed my top 100 favourite rail journeys (it was impossible to limit it to 10 or even 20 so I just kept going) and included them in a four part blog way back in December 2018 – I’ve now repeated the list as a permanent page on my website which can be accessed from the main menu on the home page.

I carried out a similar ‘every line exploration’ of London’s Underground network and thanks to the high frequencies serving every station I did extend my goal to actually visit every station by exiting the gateline to take in the surrounds before returning and continuing my journey to the next station.

An odd ball TfL bus route I travelled on was the least frequent two return journeys a week route 969 between Whitton and Roehampton.

Along with that project I also set about travelling along every road and bus stop served by a TfL bus thus exploring the Capital’s entire bus network, and after that adding a journey on routes I hadn’t travelled on while achieving that mission. In addition, in later years as a one day adventure, I travelled from the furthest eastern point (Brentwood) to the western most point (Slough) by bus and on another day from the network’s southern most point (Dorking) to the northern most point (at that time, Potters Bar Cranborne Road Industrial Estate, nowadays Potters Bar rail station).

Other more recent trips with former colleagues and friends from the industry in London have included taking TfL buses across every bridge over the River Thames in turn from Hampton Court to Tower Bridge in a day…

… travelling anti-clockwise around the extreme outskirts of the TfL network by TfL bus starting and ending in East Croydon …

…. and doing the same over four days around the former London Country operating area commencing in Gravesend and splitting at Dorking, Amersham and Bishops Stortford before ending again in Gravesend having used the Tilbury ferry.

My travels have taken me from Ham to Sandwich.

I travelled the length of the Victoria line by bus and with friends attempted the same on the Piccadilly line before coming unstuck, or more pertinently, stuck due to an Extinction Rebellion blockade at Piccadilly Circus.

Blackpool’s tram

I’ve travelled all over the Tyne & Wear Metro system (some of the stations – eg Tynemouth are superb and well worth stopping off at) and London’s DLR (which is always great to explore especially if you can get that coveted front seat) and Glasgow Subway as well as every tram network in Britain – Blackpool, Croydon, Edinburgh, Greater Manchester, Nottingham, Sheffield and West Midlands – and the wonderful Great Orme Tramway in Llandudno and Seaton trams in Seaton.

The Great Orme Tramway in Llandudno makes for a great visit.

I’ve commuted the full length of London’s River Thames with ThamesCliiper (aka Uber Boat) from Putney to Barking Riverside, and just recently ridden the brand new Luton Airport DART and the autonomous bus in Milton Park, Didcot.

I’ve taken hundreds of bus rides in every corner of the country in cities, towns (large and small) and through every county including remote rural routes including Britain’s least frequent – the Tavistock Country Bus service 112 to Dawlish which runs in the summer on the fifth Saturday of the month (ie two journeys per year).

I’ve especially enjoyed travelling on Britain’s most scenic bus routes (some multiple times – they’re so compelling). It’s an exhaustive list with just some of the highlights being: the 555 Lancaster to Keswick through the glorious Lake District as well as all the other bus routes in that wonderful National Park; Coastliner 840 from Leeds to Whitby particularly across the North York Moors as well as the splendid Moors Bus network…

Moors Bus and Dales Bus

…. only matched by the equally fantastic nearby Dales Bus network through the Yorkshire Dales with favourites being Leeds to Hawes and Darlington/Richmond to Hawes and across to Ribblehead and Ingleton; many routes through the Peak District perhaps two of the best being the 441 from Buxton to Ashbourne and 65 from Buxton to Sheffield; over in Wales the entire TrawsCymru network is a ‘must travel on’ for varied Welsh scenery as are the routes through Snowdonia as well as those on Anglesey, Gower and down in Pembrokeshire …

Sad news from Pembrokeshire is the delightful Puffin Shuttle, Strumble Shuttle and Poppit Rocket coastal routes won’t be operating this summer. They’ll be much missed.

…; bus routes serving the Forest of Dean and down in the south west the newly branded and revitalised routes operated by First Kernow are simply wonderful not least the Exmoor Coaster and the Dartmoor Explorer and around the coast from Penzance to St Ives as well as to Padstow; while the south coast offers the Jurassic Coaster between Axminster and Weymouth and the Coastliner 12 between Brighton and Eastbourne as two of many stand outs. Other counties including Devon, Hampshire, Rutland, Norfolk and Suffolk, Northumberland and many more offer some fantastic bus journeys to enjoy.

A ride on “Britain’s Oldest Bus Still In Regular Use” operated by Buckland Omnibus Ltd on route 250 between Aldeburgh and Thorpeness was a highlight of 2019’s travels.

I’ve also visited many heritage and preserved railways all over the country and enjoyed rides on steam trains, DMUs and diesel hauled trains with a highlight being a steam train driving experience on the Watercress Line (many thanks to former colleagues at Brighton & Hove) and the Sherwood Forest Steam Railway (thanks Jessica and Owen).

Not a preserved railway but a scheduled train running between Princes Risborough and Aylesbury – for the last time.

Lines ticked off have included the Bluebell, Bodmin & Wenford, Bure Valley, Chinnor & Princes Risborough, Dartmoor, Dart Valley, Devon Railway, East Lancs, Ecclesbourne Valley, Epping & Ongar, Fairbourne, Ffestiniog, Helston, Isfield. Isle of Wight Steam, Keighley & Worth Valley, Kent & East Sussex, Launceston Steam, Llanberis Lake, Llangollen, Midland Railway, Nene Valley, North Norfolk, North York Moors, Ravenglass & Eskdale, Sherwood Forest Steam, Sittingbourne & Kemsley, Snowdon Mountain, Strathspey, South Tyneside, Swanage, Tallyllyn, Vale of Rheidol, Wells & Wallsingham…

…. Wensleydale, West Highland, West Somerset, Yorkshire Railway as well as the Southend Pier railway (three times), Ruislip Lido, Romney Hythe & Dymchurch and the West Coast Railway operated Jacobite from Fort William to Mallaig and back; not forgetting Mail Rail in London and the wonderful Sea Tractor between Bigbury-on-Sea and Burgh Island.

As blog readers will know I’ve visited Britain’s most extreme bus stops served by scheduled bus routes including last year’s jaunt to Barra with the wonderful Geoff Marshall for the western most bus stop at Caolis on Vatersay (ignoring the informal arrangements for bus stopping on the Isles of Scilly) with the eastern most bus stop in Lowestoft, the southern in Lizard Point and the northern most at Valsgarth on Unst on Shetland also achieved.

A beautiful day on Barra to visit Britain’s westernmost bus stop.

The most exciting adventure reaching extreme bus stops was my journey to Cape Wrath which beats John O’Groats as the most northerly bus terminus on mainland Britain albeit not with a regular year round scheduled bus but a bespoke minibus running summer only for those who venture across the loch on an infrequent small passenger only ferry boat and then take the 11 mile rough track at 11 mph for an hour’s ride to the end of the road at Cape Wrath.

A highly recommended adventure but choose a date when the army aren’t doing artillery practice which closes the area to the public and the tide is favourable for the ferry.

John O”Groats has had a few visits but most memorable was the 24 hour trip with Geoff and Vicki from Lands End which included a delayed First Kernow bus, trains by GWR, Cross Country, Virgin, Caledonian Sleeper and two Stagecoach buses.

The Scottish Islands hold a special place in my heart. I love visiting them all. As well as Shetland and Orkney I’ve travelled the length and breath of the Western Isles – the Outer Hebrides – a few times as well as many of the Inner Hebrides including Arran, Mull and Iona, the latter doesn’t have any buses but it’s a great little haven of an island to visit.

A wonderful Scottish trip is down to Campbletown with Citylink and then West Coast Motors 444 to Southend.

The Isle of Man is a wonderful potpourri of iconic public transport modes including the Steam Railway, the electric tram, the Snaefell Mountain Railway and the seafront horse tram …

…. but it’s also always great to visit the Isle of Wight too with its fantastic bus service and Steam Railway and hopefully it won’t be long before it has trains running regularly on the complete line from Ryde Pier Head to Shanklin once again.

I’ve City Sightseen (or other brands) a number of Citys including Belfast, Dundee, Edinburgh, London, Newcastle and York as well as Windsor and Seven Sisters Bus & Coach’s wonderful Eastbourne sightseeing bus to Beachy Head and the East Sussex coast, all three fantastic New Forest Tours and the Isle of Wight open tops including its outstanding Neddles Breezer as well as other open top services all over the country and not forgetting the quirky visit to Foulness including a sightseeing tour on a tractor pulled trailer.

As readers will know I’ve tried out very DRT that’s come (and gone) as well as the long standing Call Connect, Connect-2-Wiltshire and Compass Travel’s route 99 which know how to do demand responsive in addition to the established Essex DaRT services.

I’ve track tested all Britain’s new trains as well as road tested new bus models and new bus routes together with visiting the surprising number of new bus stations introduced over the last decade.

It’s been fascinating to see new stations open all over the country as well as new Underground stations in London and more recently the Elizabeth line.

Other innovative try outs which I’ve given the once over have included in London, CityMapper’s CMX1 circular from Blackfriars to Aldwych and Waterloo…

… it’s CM2 night bus from Aldgate to Highbury & Islington …

… and the short lived Ultrabus route 705 from Muswell Hill to Canary Wharf in 2016 …

… while elsewhere the still operational Leeds Dock Taxi from Leeds to Leeds Dock …

…. and for a dose of nostalgia Go Coach Hire’s Routemaster operated route 7 from Sevenoaks to Knoll House …

…. and the lovely route RP1 which circumnavigated Richmond Park on Wednesdays in the summer and sadly now seems to have ceased.

The lovely Richmond Park route RP1

Imber and the Ensignbus running days have been great events as have been a whole host of rallies and running days over the last decade and all the Hidden London tours plus a visit to many Transport museums all over the country.

Odd ball ferry trips have included the Cremyll ferry, Hayling Island ferry, Cowes Chain; Tilbury/Gravesend, Piel ferry, Starcross ferry, Barmouth ferry, Pink ferry (Hamble to Warsash) and of course the Woolwich free ferry and Hythe Ferry as well as many of CalMac’s ferries in Scotland.

The Gravesend to Tilbury ferry.

An overnight stay at the wonderful Corrour station signal box was a fantastic experience and really has to be a must for anyone who likes trains, the West Highlands and peace and quiet.

Corrour rail station with its signal box.

Surprisingly I’ve only taken two National Express coach journeys (Leeds to Manchester and Heathrow to Victoria) but have also tried ember (three journeys), Flixbus (two), Snap (one) and the short lived CJJ Coaches Bracknell Express to Heathrow but have travelled on almost all Scottish Citylink’s network.

The wonderful Cumbria Classic Coaches took me to Barnard Castle (eyesight turned out fine).

An annual visit to Dublin each Spring has included rail journeys across the Irish network (including Silgo, Galway Limerick https://busandtrainuser.com/2023/03/26/10-years-of-retirement-part-2/#more-42918and Cork) and some coach journeys including Limerick to Dublin and the tram network in Dublin while over in Northern Ireland that nation’s rail network and visits to Belfast for Glider and the rail service to Dublin have been experienced. “Overseas trips” have included Jersey and Alderney where there’s the brilliant former Northern line train giving a truly quirky and nostalgic ride but not Guernsey which remains on the ‘to do’ list.

I’m grateful to all those who get in touch with news of upcoming developments and recommendations for future trips. They’re much appreciated.

During all these travels I’ve seen the best and worst of Britain’s buses and trains. Both sectors have been facing huge challenges over the last five or so years with the pandemic coming on top of structural changes (ie ownership and control) and continued uncertainty over funding. I’ll be commenting on this in a talk at 11:30 next Saturday (1st April) at the South East Bus Festival at the Kent County Showground at Detling, near Maidstone, (if any readers are in the area, it’ll be lovely to meet you) as well as in future blogs.

Retirement hasn’t all been about bus and train journeys. I’ve also had the pleasure of continuing my involvement as Patron of the Young Bus Managers Network and secretary of the Ten Per Cent Club of bus directors and a Trustee of the Foundation of Integrated Transport but it’s certainly been a wonderful decade of travels. Oh, and I do have interests and activities outside of transport too!

Here’s to the next ten years.

Roger French

Blogging timetable: 06:00 TThS

23 thoughts on “10 years of retirement: Part 2

Add yours

  1. Hi Roger
    I would advise that your last two blogs have landed in my inbox with no photos included in the narrative


  2. Thanks for the blog. Enjoy travelling vicariously with you. Here’s to the next 10 years!

    PS no photos in the email this morning


      1. No worries. Actually they are all there now (no need to forward). Wonder if there is something in the links in the email that is not causing the pictures not to be served correctly. Will report back on the next blog email


  3. Photos all looking fine to me.

    Many thanks for the ongoing blog. While not being regular bus users, yesterday we were inspired by your blog to take advantage of the £2 charge currently being charged by many operators. We travelled from Clapham (just north of Bedford) to Burton Latimer (where we had an explore) and back on Stagecoach’s number 50 and enjoyed it immensely.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. RP1 in Richmond Park will be back on the 5th April according to their web site – 4 trips a day on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.


  5. Roger, I have been following your journeys from the start and feel breathless after reading your account!

    One ‘operator’ that you don’t mention is King Alfred. So, if you are able to get to Winchester on 1st May, the Friends of King Alfred Buses will be sure to welcome you to their Running Day and, if you’re lucky, you may get a chance to ride on their newly acquired pre-war Leyland Lion.


  6. Really interesting Roger and many thanks. I wish I had been on more of your routes myself, but have done a good number.
    It is Knole House at Sevenoaks. We went on the Routemaster from Sevenoaks station with two grandchildren and could never understand why the National Trust stopped it.


  7. I’ve enjoyed your blog, Roger, and have been impressed by your diligence in following up every new DRT service. And I’ve been impressed by your comments on them!

    I was impressed too by the boots you wore at Inverness Airport station when there with Geoff Marshall. Did you arrive there on horseback?

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Have really enjoyed these last two posts, Roger. Given your career, and subsequent efforts with this blog, I think you’ve secured the right to be a little self-indulgent over a weekend.

    I do applaud your energy and diligence in sampling all these many delights (and disappointments) and providing these for our enjoyment. Here’s to the next 10 years!


  9. Thank you for the blogs always interesting but you never mentioned Beamish Locomotion or Weardale Railway in the North East–all worth a visit and all served by buses-also Churnet Valley Railway is lovely Good luck in the future


  10. re 555. The SN16 reg E400MMCs will be replaced this year by new E400s (diesel) according to the latest “The Lake by bus” Summer 2023 edition just published. This is a free 64 page booklet (21cm x 10cm) with timetables for all services through Bowness, Windermere, Ambleside, Grasmere and Keswick, with a fold out map, fares info etc. There are Summer and Winter editions and has been going for many years originally supported by a tourism body but now Stagecoach wholly fund the booklet. No doubt some similarities to you Bus Times.
    Pdf dpownload available online at https://tiscon-maps-stagecoachbus.s3.amazonaws.com/Timetables/Cumbria/Lakes%20Connection/Summer%202023/CNL%20Summer%2023%20Lakes%20Guide%20WEB%20V2.pdf


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