Bus improvements in the all new Westmorland & Furness

Tuesday 25th April 2023

Last Friday Rob Jones, managing director, Stagecoach in Cumbria and North Lancashire (that name is going to need an update now Cumberland and Westmorland & Furness councils have replaced Cumbria) kindly invited me to the launch of the company’s circa £3 million investment in nine smart new Alexander Dennis Enviro400 MMC buses destined for the ever popular route 555 running between Lancaster and Keswick.

Two buses were on display at the Low Wood hotel overlooking Lake Windermere alongside what Stagecoach reckon is Britain’s most scenic bus stop.

It certainly must be a contender.

The new buses are all you’d expect from a part of Stagecoach which thankfully still seems able to deliver first rate customer orientated services with excellent localised marketing befitting the importance of the Lake District as a tourist destination.

There’s no awful yellow school bus style livery to be seen here with the nine new vehicles all sporting the fantastic Best Impressions designed livery first seen on the last new batch of Enviro400 buses introduced on the 555 in 2016.

Rob has gone for the nice grey and blue e-leather seats with four tables on the upper deck which I’m sure will prove popular with groups travelling together.

There’s also a neat arrangement at the rear of the lower deck avoiding awkward rear facing seats over the nearside rear wheels, although oddly not on the offside.

Naturally this being an enlightened bus company you’d expect a timetable book dispenser with lots of booklets available for passengers to pick up and you wouldn’t be disappointed.

Rob had arranged a trip up to Grasmere and back with opportunities for photo stops for the professional photographers in the party including some featuring our driver, Eric, who was retiring on Friday after more than 30 years service with Stagecoach …

… and there were also a souvenir gift of a tin box of gingerbread for everyone brought to the bus from the famous Grasmere Gingerbread Shop – which “sells the World’s best gingerbread”.

Route 555

It was a great launch and I left Windermere (in the new Westmorland & Furness) to travel on a 555 to Keswick (over the border in the newly designated Cumberland) and enjoy the spectacular views from the top deck….

…. and it was good to see that same afternoon one of the launch buses had already entered service with all nine expected to be operating over the weekend releasing the existing vehicles to be transferred to Barrow to upgrade route 6 to Windermere.

Route 555 was proving as popular as ever on Friday afternoon and I’m sure these new buses will be much appreciated by the thousands of passengers who use the route each week.

Route 77/A Honister Rambler

Before leaving Keswick to head on to Penrith I squeezed in one of those “must do” bus journeys when you’re in the Lake District. It’s a rounder on the circular route 77 or 77A via Buttermere, marked in orange on the map below.

It had been four years since my last circuit and once again I thoroughly enjoyed the hour and three quarters journey along narrow twists and turns as well as spectacular views all around the route.

It’s operated by Optare Solos due to the narrow roads traversed and it was pleasing to see one of these is wearing the Lakes livery.

The daily timetable sees four journeys on the 77 and seven on the 77A leaving Keswick at 30 minutes past the hour with a journey in both directions at 10:30. Ten passengers left Keswick with me on the 15:30 with one also doing the complete circuit and we picked up four on the way round to come back into Keswick.

On busy days loadings can be very near to or exceeding the 28 seat capacity of the buses. It’s not surprising with the splendid views on offer.

After that it was back over the new council border to Penrith (in Westmorland & Furness) on the hourly route X4/X5 which links Workington, Cockermouth with Keswick and Penrith (half hourly west of Keswick) …

… to stay the night there ready for a ride on the newly introduced Saturday service on route 563 to Kirkby Stephen railway station.

Route 563

The new Saturday service was introduced on 1st April by Stagecoach on the formerly Monday to Friday only route 563 between Penrith and Appleby with the further great news the route has once again been extended via Brough to Kirkby Stephen including the railway station sited over one and a half miles (uphill) beyond the village on the footpath-less A685, making for an uninviting walk.

The newly extended timetable gives the two communities of Kirkby Stephen and Brough a much needed boost to their otherwise very limited public transport offering. They now have four return journeys on Saturdays to Appleby and Penrith as well and the timetable also gives a new Saturday link for residents of Appleby to 17 miles distant Penrith.

John Carey, Volunteer Director at the Friends of the Settle Carlisle Line and a Director of the Dales and Bowland CIC (D&BCIC) which runs DalesBus, reminds me it was as far back as 2016 he and the late and much missed John Disney also of D&BCIC campaigned to save the original bus service 563 operated by Grand Prix Coaches which ran between Penrith and Kirkby Stephen. John C recalls it was carrying 1,000 passenger per week before being withdrawn in December 2016. A victim of Cumbria County Council’s policy of not subsidising any bus services (since November 2014) and the devastating floods that hit Appleby in winter 2015/16.

This latest initiative has been spearheaded by John (Carey) as well as an enthusiastic councillor on Kirkby Stephen Town Council who coincidentally boarded the bus near to Kirkby Stephen to travel to the station on Saturday and shared that part of the journey with me.

I won’t share the councillors name as its a sensitive time due to ‘purdah’ in the run up to next month’s local elections but he and John have done a fantastic job getting this service off the ground as well as producing an absolutely splendid leaflet for residents of Kirkby Stephen setting out their public transport options being the limited bus services offered by Western Dales Community Bus and Cumbrian Classic Coaches, trains on the Settle-Carlisle line and taxis.

The 563 Monday to Friday service runs off the back of a school contract which Stagecoach has just retained (which is good news). I recall when it was reintroduced between Penrith and Appleby in September 2017 as I took a ride on it that month …

Flashback to September 2017 at Penrith station with the 563 returns to the road.

… and even kept the timetable leaflet. Sadly it never reunited Penrith with Brough and Kirkby Stephen though.

Now, thanks to John and others, the Saturday service is back this month for an initial three month trial. It’s being revenue guaranteed to Stagecoach up to £400 each Saturday with funding from a consortium of all the Town and Parish Councils on the route except one which didn’t want to play ball.

Initial reaction to the new Saturday service has been very encouraging with 80-85 passengers travelling on recent Saturdays since 1st April while over Easter there was the added attraction of the Classic and Vintage Commercial Vehicle Rally at Kirkby Stephen.

As well as shopping opportunities in Appleby and Penrith the one bus operated timetable has been compiled with the best intentions of making connections with trains to and from Leeds on the Settle Carlisle line at Kirkby Stephen station but sadly there isn’t much slack to make this work for every journey so it’s really only the first and third journeys that work as you can see from the below extract from the helpful leaflet.

It’s great to see volunteers inspiring Parish and Town Councils to get together and work with Stagecoach to provide a service which I’m sure will be greatly valued by those who use it and many congratulations to all those involved in getting the service up and running.

A bespoke timetable for the 563 is on display in the bus shelter at Brough Clock Tower.

However, as this era of entrepreneurship in the bus industry seems to be coming to an end with more “control” moving to the non-risk taking public sector through Bus Service Improvement Plans, Enhanced Partnerships and even franchising I’m left wondering why we didn’t see more initiatives like this in years gone by, not least by companies like Stagecoach using buses for leisure and shopping journey opportunities that are otherwise sitting idle at weekends.

Thank goodness there are some keen volunteers and enlightened local politicians who actually get on and do something to facilitate initiatives of this kind. Well done to them.

Roger French

Blogging timetable: 06:00 TThS

39 thoughts on “Bus improvements in the all new Westmorland & Furness

Add yours

  1. Isn’t it sad that in 2023 we have come to see timetables, maps and provision of leaflets/information to intending passengers as something exceptional rather than the norm. And as for promoting your services on the OUTSIDE of the buses..? Don’t let the bosses know, it will never do!


    1. Quite why the roll our of E[paper displays is so poor who knows?
      Replacing paper displays is slow and expensive so the e ink displays must save money

      They do not need to have a main supply which can be expensive to provide
      They can be powered by batteries for about 3 years and can also have a small solar panel removing the need to change the batteries

      The timetables are always up to date, they can show real time information an can even show if a bus is on diversion

      It must also make buses more attractive and would win more passengers as well

      Bus companies are not good at market research. I have not found any quantitative data to back up my claim that it would gain more passengers but simple logic says it will


    2. Please can articles be spellchecked – Westmorland has been spelt incorrectly several times, also Windermere.
      Thank you.


  2. Nice to see Westmoreland and Furness giving public transport a high priority. I dont have such high expectations from Cumberland as the history of Stagecoach here is the oppopsite. Services are cut back, eun at inconveniant times, etc. Take a ride on the 600 from Cockermouth to Carlisle for a days shopping. First bus after 0930 is 1030 so no real chance of a morning in Carlisle. In the past it used to run at 0930. Problem is that it is operated by Carlisle depot rather than Workington so the service is run for Carlisle residents. And Workington depot is known by drivers as the bus graveyard! – only othe depots castoffs arrive here. Try a day in Workington and Whitehaven but dont even think about going to Barrow on the bus from Whitehaven!


    1. There is a morning journey at 07:23 into Carlisle for commuters, and is 1030 really so bad? You can have 5 hours in the city before getting a trip back and home for your tea.

      As for Stagecoach’s record in Cumbria, going from Whitehaven to Barrow has never been “a thing”. Back in the 1970s, the service south of Thornhill was very limited and only 3 journeys ran all the way to Millom (and they necessitated a change of vehicle).

      Stagecoach knows where the money is made and investment is made accordingly. Routes like Honister Pass, Seatoller, Keswick to Penrith, Bowness to Grasmere are massively more frequent than in the past as Stagecoach targeted the tourist market. It isn’t in West Cumbria and certainly not in Eden and not helped by the former county council axing subsidies in 2014.

      Easy to blame Stagecoach but they’ve been pretty decent with little or no support from the county council


  3. Pity the company name change cannot be to just “Stagecoach in the Lakes”, then all vehicles might carry a proper livery again instead of a feast of school bus/dealer stock/disparate messes.


    1. Except that most of its operations are not in the Lakes; it has depots in Carlisle (not in the Lakes and has few routes that do reach), Lillyhall (near Workington), and Barrow (not in the Lakes), and Morecambe….

      Instead, you have this Lakes livery that is applied almost exclusively to those vehicles allocated to Kendal depot for those services that serve the Lakes; there are just a few exceptions such as those vehicles for the X4/X5, the 77/77A Solos, and the Borrowdale open toppers, and the 508. Stagecoach is actually very good at putting the right vehicles on the right services.


  4. Thanks Roger, an interesting read as ever. Yes those new buses on the 555 certainly do look inviting. Perhaps I need to plan a trip.

    That 563 Saturday timetable does look a bit tight. I think I can guess where the driver is having their lunch break.

    There’s a tiny trypo/ autocorrect mixup where the text says Penrith (Windermere and Furness)


  5. Just a nit-pick – if the operator runs a circular route then the A suffix should be applied to the anti-clockwise route, not the other way round, as with the 77 and 77A above. I’m from Durban, which had arguably the longest circular trolleybus route in the world – the 17 km Ridge Road circular, numbered 21 (circular) and 18 (counter-clock). I’m in Warrington right now, and before returning to SA next week, I’m off to do the 9/9A to Northwich. Wonder if my £2 will cover me for the whole trip….


    1. Having spent my formative years in the West Midlands where the PTE had a policy, albeit never completely implemented, of A=Anticlockwise, C=Clockwise, E=Exception (usually but not always a short working), S=School journey and W=Works journey, I get a tad confused when a circular service has A for clockwise rather than anticlockwise.

      I guess I’m just old.


  6. A great read, as always. Was great to see you at the Stagecoach event on Friday, Roger – it’s great to have you reporting on some real ‘good news’ stories for bus transport in the area.

    Pleased to see you are happy with the new fleet and enjoyed the rest of your travels in Cumbria.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. That Furness part was Lancashire prior to 1974 so the Lancastrians would need to get it back plus the northern parts of Merseyside and Gt Manchester although strangely part of the West Riding of Yorkshire came across the Pennines ending somewhere not far east of Manchester.Seems pretty pointless restoring ‘the old counties ‘as the modern old counties don’t reflect the old boundaries look at North East Lincolnshire pretty much divorced from Lincolnshire and even, despite being in the East Midlands,comes in the government Yorkshire economic area.


      1. Cumbria hasn’t gone anywhere. Cumbria is still a ceremonial country. The new councils are merely unitary authorities within the country of Cumbria.


    1. North East Lincolnshire is neither economically nor culturally part of the East Midlands, and never has been.

      The territorial region is titled ‘Yorkshire and the Humber’, not Yorkshire, for that very reason.


  8. The Lakes Connection livery and the new buses interior spec look superb. There’s an article on Stagecoach in the Lakes in the latest edition of Buses Magazine. Plenty of room for improvement in the provision of information and bus stop condition. Interesting point about lack of real time information and comparison with Post Auto in Switzerland.

    Given that the national park is overrun by motorists in the summer one would hope the national park authority should be much more proactive in supporting and promoting the bus network in an enhanced partnership arrangement with the LTAs and Stagecoach.


    1. I’m afraid the public transport provided by non risk public sector organisations in Switzerland knocks the spots off entrepreneurs in the U.K. As in much of Europe.


      1. This looks like one of those operations that seem to be all shop front.

        On my last visit to the area there were short notice cancellations due to staff shortages, but the vehicles were well presented.

        Ironic that the Lakes livery has a green lower area and sky blue higher area, meaning no lakes are shown.

        Looks like a good initiative though.


  9. There is no need to change the brand: Cumbria still exists — it is only the single county administration, and the district councils, which have gone. I’m sure everyone in Cumbria still knows where Cumbria is.


    1. Cumbria is not a county. It is fake and is now dead, didn’t even make it to 50. Cumberland and Westmorland are real counties. Let “Cumbria” die off, no one up here wants it, it is gone for ever. Oh and Barrow and Ulverston are in Lancashire, don’t ever tell anyone there they are not Lancastrians. No one ever called the defunct “Cumbria” by the name “Cumbria” before it was invented in 1974. Kind regards


      1. You may think it a fake county. The law of this land says otherwise. It is a Ceremonial Country and still exists. Neither of the new councils have county status. They are merely unitary authorities within the county of Cumbria.

        You may disagree with the status they have been given. But that does not make them counties!

        And given we are talking about a change that happened in 1974, the reality is that the people who know Cumbria as a county is only ever going to increase, whilst the number that remember the world before is going to decrease. It’s a change made, after all, 49 years ago. And counting.


        1. “Cumbria” is not a county Andrew. It was invented in 1974, prior to that no one ever referred to Cumberland, Westmorland, Lancashire over the sands and that little bit of Yorkshire called Sedbergh as “Cumbria”. The only Cumbria was the ancient Kingdom which did not correspond with the fake “Cumbria” of today anyway. You will know that the ancient Kingdom of Cumbria ran from Dumbarton down to Lakeland but did not include the Lancashire Furness area.
          The “Cumbria” you refer to is not legal on road signs or maps since it’s aboiltion on the last day of March this present year. It should flicker out gradually as the new unitary authorities will focus on promoting themselves which of course they should.
          Only propaganda about plastic “Cumbria” and the woeful policies of the 49 year old defunct administrative body to not retain or promote the real counties it swallowed managed to brainwash the public into thinking post 1974 “Cumbria” was a ‘thing’.


  10. Very good idea to have the new vehicles on the Lancaster to Keswick route.
    I attempted to travel on the 555 route but unfortunately I only saw one of the new vehicles in action and one parked outside Kendal Bus .
    I did hear.one passenger praising the new buses as she had travelled on one earlier in the day.

    My only concern is the possibility of some passengers sitting on the tables as they do on Northern Trains in.the area.

    Must try the reinstated 563 soon


  11. More deserved promotion of services in the Lakes. Comprehensive review of buses in the Lakes in the May issue of Buses magazine 😀


  12. Cumbria is not a county. It is fake and is now dead, didn’t even make it to 50. Cumberland and Westmorland are real counties. Let “Cumbria” die off, no one up here wants it, it is gone for ever. Kind regards


    1. Not quite correct. It still exists for ceremonial purposes

      The counties for the purposes of the lieutenancies in England also referred to as the lieutenancy areas of England and informally known as ceremonial counties, are areas of England to which lords-lieutenant are appointed.


      1. Before the middle of the 12th Century, much of Cumbria was in Scotland and prior to that the ancient kingdom of Strathclyde. The Furness area was not. Was this the reason for this area being Lancashire?


    2. Given that the median age of the population is 40, more people know it as Cumbria than by any other name. Few would have any inkling that Barrow was once in Lancashire.


  13. I think Stagecoach could learn some good practice branding and information provision tips from Morebus Purbeck Breezer. The Lakeland bus stop infrastructure is criticised in the latest edition of Buses Magazine. Something similar to this would be excellent.


    1. As an occassional user (half a dozen times a year) I find the Breezer stop signs incredibly confusing. They pick one route which goes on the main stop sign and then it’s missed out from the “e-plates”. So you never have a consistent presentation of which routes stop at every stop. Also as the example you’ve shown illustrates, the route numbers on the stop signs fail any test for the colour contrast or legibility from a distance


  14. Stagecoach have monopoly on the area. Which is kind of bad now that Reays coaches have almost vanished. Kirby Lonsdales coaches are too small to challenge Hence expensive fares.


    1. Very expensive fares in the Lake District until the £2 cap but even if there was competition it wouldn’t make any difference as the companies would secretly agree to change similar fares .One might be say 10p cheaper to give the good old Thatcherite illusion of competition but it would then create a disjointed network at no real saving to the passenger.


      1. Do you have any examples of these expensive fares and what do you think the fares should be and why -£2 cap excluded?


  15. “Shake, Rattle and Slide”…….Alexander Dennis double deck buses:
    Seeing Alexander Dennis double deck buses mentioned in this article, I am reminded to write about their design. Having been a passenger frequently using this make and model lately, in my opinion I can only comment about them as follows:
    Whilst their external appearance is modern and attractive, for passengers their NHR (Noise, Harshness, Ride) quality is very poor and seemingly much inferior to earlier double deck buses. NHR assessment is used for modern cars, which usually qualify as very good but, sadly, the Alexander Dennis buses seem very uncomfortable in comparison.
    Their suspension feels extremely hard, as every little bump in the road is jolted through to the passenger compartment. Anyone with spinal problems or false teeth would find this highly disturbing.
    The seats are hard and covered in a plastic material that is slippery. Hence jolts from the poor suspension are transmitted in a harsh way to the posteriors of the passengers and sharp turns result in passengers sliding across the seats.
    Internal ventilation and heating are poor, with wind whistling through the interior if a window is opened in summer and very cold conditions internally in winter time.
    I realise that buses were originally designed for the transport of tough coal miners and mill workers, but surely we have moved on since then? Why then is modern bus design so inferior to modern coach design and so uncomfortably unattractive to the traveling public? Perhaps their designers only use their luxury cars and have not had the doubtful pleasure of being a bus passenger on our wonderful pot-holed roads?


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