Thursday, 20 April 2017

Day 46 Whitby to Sunderland

5th April 2017

North Yorkshire County Council allows the use of bus passes from 0900, half-an-hour earlier than most authorities so I was away from Whitby on the 0907 service X4 and heading for Middlesbrough. This was another highly-scenic route over the moors dropping down to sea level at a couple of places.
At the first of these, Sandsend where the bus comes right down to the beach and then immediately goes back up a very steep hill with sharp bends - on the worst of which we met a heavy goods vehicle - I was reminded that it was on a previous ride on the service in 2014 that I decided that I would make an effort to complete a circuit of the country by bus, an idea I'd first had over twenty years ago!

Approaching Teesside the route steadily became more urban and the passenger numbers increased to a full seated load at times. Fortunately perhaps we weren't quite full at Saltburn, where the bus climbs up from the beach to the town via a series of alpine hairpin bends. The steepest of these requires the driver to stop the bus on a 25% gradient, check that the road ahead is clear, then pull over to the wrong side of the road and execute a very sharp turn onto another equally steep section of road. Difficult enough with a modern bus, but what must it have been like in the days of crash gearboxes and no power steering?

Here are some photos I took on my previous visit in 2014

.....then the second

The first hairpin.....
Made it! (Just)

The really steep and sharp turn. . . .

A journey highlight

Crossing the Tees
Despite Middlesbrough not being somewhere I know well there was no time for a look around because I had to get to the highlight of the journey before it closed for lunch!  The Tees Transporter Bridge is unique in England and almost in Europe. (There is one in Wales and another at Bilbao in Spain). As the lowest crossing point on the Tees it was certainly on my route although as no bus service uses it I had to cross as a foot passenger.
Although some of the other users looked like locals (including "white van man") some, like me, were clearly just along for the ride and after extensive (and expensive!) refurbishment the Transporter is now very much a tourist attraction (albeit one with a lengthy lunchbreak). There were four vehicles, two cyclists and three foot passengers on the crossing I made and the fare collector had just enough time to get around everyone and collect the fares, although he didn't seem to be able to find time to actually issue me a ticket. (As an ex-bus conductor I knew that trick well enough!)

Reliability Issues

With the exception of the afternoon peak buses have generally been reliable throughout my trip, but today proved to be an exception. I knew I had about 15 minutes to wait for the Hartlepool bus at Port Clarence, but that turned into a 30 minute wait leaving me kicking my heels at a location that consisted of a bus stop pole alongside a busy main road and not much else!
We were even later on arrival at Hartlepool - a rather depressing town with a 1970s indoor shopping arcade dominating the town centre. Fortunately the bus services in this part of the world were frequent enough to allow me to continue my journey and I made up the time at Hartlepool headland, where I was able to get a bus straight back to Hartlepool town rather than having 10 minutes to wait.  Although this was an "out-and-back" I wanted to include it as the settlement now described as "The Headland" by Stagecoach was the original port of "Hartlepool", with the newer and much bigger town was "West Hartlepool". Up until the 1960s each had its own municipal authority and even its own bus operator, although "Hartlepool" had just four buses!

Soldiering: The reality rather than the glory at Seaham
I was now back on time, although at the expense of a delayed lunch break, and now travelled north on Arriva's 23 service through the old mining villages around Peterlee. The 23 goes through to Sunderland, my destination for the night, but it omits Seaham. To reach the coast there I had to change in the middle of the urban sprawl outside Sunderland, but again buses are frequent in such places so it was no problem.

Seaham turned out to be more interesting than expected. The old coal harbour is now a marina and some efforts have been made to create an attractive environment on the seafront. The shopping area, however, looked almost deserted, with most shops closed and shuttered in mid afternoon.

Another highlight

The stop I needed to continue my journey to Sunderland was "Seaham Intercahnge". I'd assumed
The gas bus at Sunderland.
that this would be somewhere in the vicinity of the railway station, but this is Britain so it turned out to be a couple of bus stops in the town centre and nowhere near the station!  But my last bus of the day did produce a surprise. It was gas-powered and the first such bus I've ever ridden one. Significantly quieter than a diesel but with a strange "whooshing" noise that I took to be the LPG moving about in the rooftop tanks as the vehicle accelerated and braked!

1 comment:

  1. I'm not surprised that Saltburn was such a high spot on the route. It's quite spectacular with those hairpin bends. We rented a house on the clifftop a few years ago, well worth seeking out if only to read the forbidding notices in every room (e.g., "no boots to be worn in the bath").

    Further north, pobably the buses never got quite as close to the Durham coast to reveal the dramatic changes wrought over the last two decades, as nature restored itself from all the pit waste tipped into the sea.

    Sunderland was always a mecca for observing bus operations with so many different company names, even though many were just a sham - it was the same few national companies pretending to be local upstarts. Remember VFM?