Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Day 8: Burnham-on-Sea to Barnstaple

Thursday, 11th November 2015

England's smallest pier. Was it built that way or did it have an accident?

My hotel didn't serve breakfast, claiming that there were a number of cafes in the town that did, which turned out to be true. So it meant that I was up and about in time for a walk around the town in daylight, which enabled me to see England's smallest pier, before making my way to the stop for the first bus of the day, the 09.50hrs service 21 to Bridgewater. As with all buses encountered since Bristol the card reader on this one - an elderly ex-London double-decker -  failed to recognise my pass and the driver wasn't bothered.
For the first time on this section of the trip the sun came out this morning, all the better to enjoy a straightforward run along the A38 across the Somerset Levels and past the massive sluice gates at Dunball, where powerful new pumps have been installed on the King's Sedgemoor Drain that drains much of the Levels that flooded badly in the winter of 2013/14.
My service 21 bus at Bridgewater

I sat outside the cafe in Bridgewater bus station watching the National Express coach to London loading until my next bus came along: Webberbus service 24 to Nether Stowey, where it would magically transform itself to a service 16 to Minehead. There were lots of narrow lanes on this route and on one of them an oncoming car hit a rock sticking out from the verge as it came past. The impact threw the vehicle across the road and almost into the side of the bus, but the car driver didn't slow down although he must have damaged a tyre or even the bodywork of his vehicle.

I didn't have time to go all the way to Minehead as I would have missed my connection on the very infrequent service 198 to Dulverton, so instead I changed at the side of the road near the turning to Dunster village. The 198, which had left Minehead five minutes before my previous bus arrived there, turned out to be a scenic but lonely run - over the moors at first with some grand views across the Bristol Channel and then along narrow tree-lined roads down the valley of the River Exe.

Birthplace of Ernest Bevin, Winsford, Somerset
The route was taking me a considerable distance away from the "edge", but since cutbacks last year there is now no bus service along the coast between Minehead and Lynton.

It was worth it however, if only for the surprise I received when we paused for a minute in the village of Winsford and I glanced through the bus window to find myself looking a the birthplace of Ernest Bevin!

Service 198 had run through to Tiverton until earlier this year, but now passengers must change at Dulverton - a pleasant enough village but the 18 minutes I had there between buses was long enough.

The 398 on to Tiverton was operated by Dartline - I was now very much in "local operator" country where the large bus groups fear to tread (for fear of losing money!). This bus had the first really chatty driver of the trip, who having seen my Lancashire County bus pass wanted to talk about the north of England and in particular Burnley football club of which he was a great fan. Fortunately I have a mate who is also a Burnley supporter so I could more or less hold my own in the conversation!

Last bus of the day: Service 155 at Tiverton
There was another tight connection at Tiverton (today was a moderate-risk day for low frequency services with tight connections and no "Plan B") and I would have liked to have spent longer in the town, which I had never been to before. But it was already mid-afternoon and if I wanted to complete the journey in daylight I'd have to get the next bus to Barnstaple.

I was now back in Stagecoach country and, as an added bonus, the service 155 bus turned out to be a double-decker, perfect for enjoying the view on the hilly route through South Molton and on to Barnstaple. For the first time since arriving in Bristol on Monday my  bus pass was accepted by the car reader as well.  We arrived in Barnstaple at 16.05. A little early to stop perhaps, with an hour of daylight remaining, but this was the end of this section of the journey Around the Edge and the last section in 2015. I was returning to Lancaster by train in the morning and Barnstaple is the only town for miles around that still has a station.  I celebrated the "end of part one" by treating myself to a night in the poshest hotel of the trip so far:
The Royal and Fortescue Hotel: Every bit as posh as it looks!

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