Funday in Furness

Monday 29th April 2019

Today’s been a fascinating day visiting three tiny islands off England’s north west coast alongside Barrow in Furness.

Until a few months ago when planning this adventure I had no idea they even existed!

The Borough of Barrow, including neighbouring Dalton, has a population of around 57,000 and is Cumbria’s second most populated town after Carlisle. It sits in the south western corner of the county close to the Lancashire border over Morecambe Bay.

IMG_E5192.jpgInterestingly Barrow had its own municipally owned bus company (Barrow Borough Transport) until it went bust thirty years ago since when Stagecoach have run a neat network of local town routes as well as the X6 to Ulverston and Kendal and the less frequent 6 to Windermere – both lovely double deck operated routes to travel on.

IMG_5195.jpgBarrow is synonymous with ship building but the town is now dominated by a huge BAE Systems presence who also own the airport on Walney Island and from he recruitment centre I spotted are obviously big in submarines.

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I’d never been on Walney Island which is the small piece of land that juts out in the shape of a two-prong tap handle.

IMG_5201.jpgIt’s connected to the mainland by a lovely looking road bridge so this morning I took an early ride on routes 1 to Biggar Bank in South Walney and route 2 to West Shore, Earnse Bay in North Walney.

IMG_5205.jpgBoth turned out to be delightful terminal spots right on the coast and it was lovely to see dog walkers and joggers out enjoying the early morning sunshine even before 8am this morning.

IMG_5209.jpgRoute 1 stops outside an unusually shaped Chinese restaurant while route 2 stops alongside the West Shore holiday-cum-permanent home park complex.

IMG_5214.jpgBarrow’s town routes are mainly operated by Optare Solos but my journey on the 2 had an Enviro 300 which I understand had previously operated in Carlisle. Loadings were average for pre 8am travelling in a small-size town and it was noticeable that many passengers were using Stagecoach smartcards including a few topping them up on board for the week ahead.

IMG_5213.jpgAfter that island foray I could have got the X6 from Barrow over to Ulverston for my second island visit but I’d preplanned using the train as I wanted to get off and admire the town’s station which previously I’d only travelled through but got an inkling how gorgeous it is.

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IMG_5331.jpgI’m really pleased I did as it really is a lovely station with ‘three’ platforms although only Lancaster bound trains use the island platform 3 with platform 2 effectively disused as Barrow bound trains use the main ‘station building’ platform 1.

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IMG_5329.jpgAfter a late breakfast break in Ulverston I headed down to the town’s main bus stops intrigued to see what would arrive for my next journey on bus route 11 which I was taking via the coast road back towards Barrow but alighting on Roa Island.

IMG_5344.jpgRoute 11 is operated by Blueworks – which must be the only bus company to be running a regular timetabled bus service without an O licence. Instead the owner, Phil, is valiantly keeping this route and his other routes (the X12 from Ulverston to Coniston and the Ulverston local X70) going using his taxi licence until 30th May when a Public Inquiry being held by the Traffic Commissioner determines whether his O licence will be reinstated.

IMG_5340.jpgI’m not an expert on taxi licensing but was intrigued to see four eight-seater taxis draw up for the 1015 departure to Barrow and Phil and the drivers organising the passengers to board the appropriate vehicles in the most efficient way depending on their alighting bus stop as well as taking the individual ‘bus’ fares or swiping concessionary passes, presumably for reimbursement from Cumbria County Council.

IMG_5343.jpgCumbria are renowned for not providing any funding whatsoever for bus routes across the county and Phil confirmed to me he receives no subsidy for running these routes so I have to admire his perseverance at keeping these three services going on what must be a very costly arrangement. Presumably he’s concerned Stagecoach might step in if he gave up.

IMG_5354.jpgIt’s obviously much appreciated by all the regular passengers who’ve got used to the new arrangements (which seem to have been in place since January) despite the awkwardness of getting in and out of an eight seater taxi, especially from the back three seats when passengers are occupying the middle set of three seats blocking the exit doors!

IMG_5347.jpgIt was quite a business but everyone took it in great spirit.

Such is the support for Phil and Blueworks there’s a ‘Friends of the X112X70’ help group. I’m sure some members will be at the Public Inquiry rooting for Phil.

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Roa Island is connected to the mainland by a causeway and is a micro community centred around the rather impressive Barrow lifeboat station.

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My good friend and renowned expert on all things Cumbria and the Lake District, Roger Davies, had recommended my taking a trip from there to Piel Island last year and I was delighted to have arrived on such a beautiful sunny and calm sea day to take the small ferry from the jetty at the south end of Roa Island over to explore this incredible island.

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IMG_5420.jpgThe Duke of Buccleuch gifted the 50 acre island to the people of Barrow in 1920 and as well as the landlord of the pub/restaurant/cafe on the island (and being designated King of Piel) there reportedly are three other permanent family residents occupying the little row of five terraced houses.

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IMG_5396.jpgThe only other building on the island is the ruins of Piel Castle built in the early 14th Century to protect the harbour from Scottish raids.

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John runs the ferry as needed between the jetty on Roa Island and Piel Island. It takes about five minutes to make the crossing and he keeps an eye out across the water to see if anyone is waiting.

IMG_5410.jpgAround a dozen people travelled during the two hours I spent on Piel which was enough time to wander all around and sit and have refreshments in the cafe and chat to the locals who are all friendly and welcoming including the regulars who take the crossing to soak up the peaceful and convivial atmosphere.

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I headed back to Roa Island in good time for the 1419 (the second and the day’s last) journey on the 11 back to Ulverston from where the same ‘bus’ continues through to Coniston as an X12. It’s a bit of a complicated timetable but the locals seem to understand it!

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Despite their lack of interest in funding bus routes Cumbria do a decent job at listing departures at bus stops all over the county but it was a bit disconcerting to find the sparsely served stop at Roa Island timetable-less.

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IMG_5423.jpgI needn’t have worried as precisely at 1419 my eight seater arrived with two passengers already on board in the rearmost seats heading home with shopping from Barrow having caught one of the flotilla of taxis which had left Ulverston earlier at 1015 for the town.

IMG_5426.jpgAt Ulverston we had a brief pause along with the second (slightly larger) taxi which was also heading for Coniston and had a few passengers already on board.

IMG_5435.jpgIMG_5433.jpgI stayed on my taxi and was joined by one passenger heading home for a ride about half way along the route, otherwise we didn’t pick anyone else up.

IMG_5432.jpgArriving in Coniston and time for another break before catching the 1640 Stagecoach route 505 over to Ambleside (from where this particular journey continues south to Kendal).

IMG_5537.jpgThis is a lovely route along the twisty and hilly B5285 via Hawkshead Hill and Hawkshead rather than the more direct A593.

IMG_5538.jpgAt Ambleside I switched to the Lake District’s main spine bus route the famous 555 heading north to Keswick to end my day’s travels.

IMG_5647.jpgEvery time I travel on this route I drool at the amazing and spectacular scenery whether it be the serenity of the water the bus drives alongside …

IMG_5635.jpg…. or the magnificence of the mountains which tower up in contrast.

IMG_5639.jpgOpen top route 599 supplements the 555 as far north as Grasmere (and south to Windermere – and Bowness – from Ambleside) at an impressive 20 minute frequency and the livery of buses used on both routes is simply Best Impressions’ best.

IMG_5622.jpgIt’s also always great to see timetables available on board buses throughout the Lake District and earlier in the day I spotted a local guide for Barrow buses. Well done Stagecoach in Cumbria.

An excellent day.

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Roger French

Three Counties Circular

There’s a great bus ride to be had in that part of England where Lancashire meets Cumbria meets North Yorkshire.

I recently took a circular trip from Lancaster (Lancashire) taking in Kirkby Lonsdale (Cumbria) and Ingleton (North Yorkshire). I highly recommend it.

The bottom right corner of Cumbria’s bus map showing a protrusion in the Lancashire boundary placing Ingleton and Kirby Lonsdale in two other counties.

Stagecoach run the 80/81 from Lancaster to Ingleton (80) and Kirkby Lonsdale (81). While Kirkby Lonsdale Coach Hire run the 581 filling in the gap on the map between the two towns.  In fact these 581 journeys continue on to Lancaster (confusingly numbered 582) via a slightly different route having started way back south in Skipton (as a 580). Three numbers, three counties, one bus route!

A Kirkby Lonsdale 581 arrives in Kirkby Lonsdale already screened for the next leg to Lancaster as a 582

You have to choose your travel times carefully for the circuit as the 581/2 is only two-hourly and there are only four journeys a day on the 80 with the last departure from Ingleton inconveniently early at 1325 (although see suggestions below). But it’s certainly worth the ride as the journeys offer splendid scenery and Ingleton is full of charm and delight while Kirkby Lonsdale’s well worth a stroll round.

The gorgeous Ingleton dominated by the long disused railway viaduct

I made a morning of it and went clockwise round taking the 0840 (81) from Lancaster to Kirkby Lonsdale, but if you want to make more of a day of it after a lie-in I’d recommend an anti-clockwise circuit with Ingleton visited first on the 1010 (80) from Lancaster.

Stagecoach 81 links Lancaster with Kirkby Lonsdale while…..
…. the less frequent 80 links Lancaster with Ingleton, but the last journey back is at 1325

Here are some suggestions for the bus companies and local authorities on what works and what could be improved. Consider it a free bit of consultancy to grow the market and earn a bit more revenue.

Hats off to Lancashire County Council for reinstating the Kirkby Lonsdale Coach Hire 582 journeys beyond Kirkby Lonsdale to Lancaster earlier this year in March. Quite contrary to the cuts happening elsewhere. It brought buses back to the villages of Arkholme and Gressingham (and every 2 hours at that). I travelled that route earlier in the year and especially remember the narrow Loyn Bridge crossing over the River Lune – it’s a definite ‘driver of the year moment’.

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I mention this as point no 1 is there’s scope for some joined up promotion of the 80/81 with the 581/582 rather than the two separate leaflets produced by Stagecoach and Kirkby Lonsdale Coach Hire. It just seems obvious to me to cross reference these publicly funded bus routes and show a combined route map. Without this, and without a network map of either Lancashire or North Yorkshire prospective passengers will be oblivious to the possibilities.

The missing link in the Stagecoach 80/81 leaflet

Whch brings me to point no 2. Leaflets for the 80/81 and 580/581/582 (called the Craven Connection) are impressively available but only one place had both – well done Lancaster Visitor Information Centre (VIC). The 80/81 leaflet was available in the lovely Stagecoach Travel Shop in Lancaster bus station (and its very helpful staff member, Ann) but nothing for the 581/2 while the 581/2 leaflet was available in both Kirkby Lonsdale and Ingleton VICs but nothing for the 80/81.

A well stocked Lancaster VIC
A not so well stocked Ingleton VIC – no Stagecoach timetables, nor in Kirkby Lonsdale either

Thirdly the timetable case outside Ingleton Community Centre/VIC only has the 580/1/2 timetable displayed (as well as the Sunday Dalesbus 881) but crucially not the 80. I expect this might be because the former is a NYCC matter and the latter is funded by LCC.

The NYCC Ingleton bus stop missing the LCC funded 80

It’s good to see timetables stuck up in the window of the Ingleton VIC for every service – I’m sure that being an initiative of the very friendly and helpful lady who looks after the shop there.

Fourthly is the old chestnut of not having an all operator day ticket. Come on Lancashire/North Yorkshire if it can be done in the south east of England I’m sure you can organise something too. Stagecoach Cumbria and North Lancs have various Dayrider/Explorer options for their routes and Kirkby Lonsdale Coach Hire has a day ticket for its routes so it shouldn’t be beyond the considerable skills of those highly regarded companies to get together to make it easy for passengers.

My fifth suggestion is to Lancashire County Council and Stagecoach regarding that rather unhelpful early last journey from Ingleton on the 80 at 1325. There’s a Stagecoach bus arriving Ingleton at 1521 which appears to go dead to Kirkby Lonsdale for one of the two schoolday 81 departures at 1541/1545 or just the one on non schooldays. Why not run this in service from Ingleton at 1525? Also promote the later journeys on the 581/2 at 1558, 1758, 1858 and 1958 in the 80/81 leaflet making it clear there are other options.

Finally I’d suggest promoting the 5/6 journey a day Stagecoach route 567 from Kirkby Lonsdale to Kendal in the mix as this, with the more frequent and infamous 555 (Kendal to Lancaster part) offers extended circular journey opportunities.

It’s all about making it easy for potential passengers and growing the market for leisure travel.

Roger French           6th September 2018