6th April 2017
I must admit to being surprised that I could get all the way from Sunderland to Berwick in one day, but a combination of frequent services at the start of the day and some very long routes at the end eliminated a lot of the waiting time that has generally slown me down on previous days.
Making an early start helped. I was away from Sunderland at 0850 on the E1, the most coastal of a number of services that link the two towns. Despite being in the morning peak it was very quiet, at least until we reached the outskirts of South Shields at 0930, when passengers equipped with concessionary passes appeared at every bus stop.
|Market and former bus terminus at South Shields|
If I'd known - or bothered to research - the quickest route from the bus stop I would have been at the ferry terminal in time to catch the 0945 boat across the Tyne. The last time I'd visited South Shields buses had terminated in the square containing the market house, which is only a two minute walk from the river, but they've now been banished to a long string of bus stops along the road that bypasses the main shopping street. But by catching the 1015 ferry I was still on schedule, having realised that this was the last of the thirteen ferries I'll have used on this journey.
There then followed a series of very short trips from the ferry terminal at North Shields through the town itself and on to Whitley Bay, Blyth and Ashington, former coal mining areas but with now just the occasional winding wheel set in concrete as a memorial to times gone by. I have to say that none of them was anywhere I wanted to spend more time in than was necessary to wait for my next bus, although I did build in a short meal break at Blyth bus station!
It's possible to travel from Ashington to Berwick upon Tweed on one bus, but it doesn't follow the most coastal route. But I was still in an area where bus services were frequent and where alternatives presented themselves. One such alternative was to catch an X21 to Newbiggin on Sea instead of a 35. It was more direct and also a double-decker, unlike the 35 I'd originally planned. Also, as I'd reduced my lunch stop in Blyth to the absolute minimum I was running ahead of my planned schedule and realised I could spend some time in Newbiggin, rather than just passing through on the bus.
I was glad I did. You couldn't exactly call it a seaside "resort", but it does have a seafront, some boats and some very interesting statues.
|These two are on the seafront at Newbiggin|
|A larger version stands out to sea|
|Woodhorn Crossroads Terminus|
I was a bit worried about my next bus. The 35 from Newbiggin, which has come through from Blyth, terminates at "Woodhorn Crossroads". Woodhorn itself is a tiny settlement with just a church and a few farms and the "crossroads" are just that and situated about 2km outside the "village". There appeared to be no obvious place for the bus to turn round and to make matters worse the return journeys all started not from the crossroads but back at the church! With the 35 running every 20 minutes and the service 1 that was changing on to being only hourly I made a point of getting the bus before the bus I needed to give myself time to sort it all out. However on arrival it all became clear: buses only go to Woodhorn crossroads in the first place because they can't turn round easily in Newbiggin. They run out-of-service to a roundabout about 750 metres away but on their return, as the bus stop for northbound buses is situated a little too close to the junction for the right-hand turn they need to make, they ignore it and continue out-of-service to the church.
But now I had another problem to contend with and one which would, for the only the second time in this whole exercise, lead to an involuntary change of route and to missing out at least one coastal section of route.
The service 1, due at 1406, was scheduled to run through Lynemouth, then out to the coast at Cresswell before returning inland to drop me at "Widdrington Station", which has become the name of the community that has grown up around the railway station for the village of Widdrington, which itself is 3km away. It was due to arrive at 1430 and I would then connect into service X20 which follows the 1 through Woodhorn and Lynemouth but then takes the more direct and inland route to Widdrington Station arriving at 1442. All well and good, although these intermediate timings on lengthy routes tend not to be over-accurate so I wasn't surprised when the first bus didn't arrive exactly on time.
However, as time went on I began to realise that if it was 12 or more minutes late I riskedmissing the connection with the X21 and as I was now in an area where buses were much less frequent that would have resulted in my arriving in Berwick not only two hours later than planned, but having missed out the most scenic part of the Northumberland coast to boot.
So when the number 1 arrived exactly 12 minutes late I felt I had no option but to let it go by - a plan vindicated by the X21 arriving promptly at 1426 and we never saw service 1 again. The X21 took me to Alnwick where I could have done with more than the 35 minutes available to me for a good look round and which is one of those places I've discovered that I'll revisit.
Alnwick. I'd have like more than 35 minutes here
Every other hour, two buses leave Alnwick Bus Station for Berwick almost simultaneously. The X15 takes an hour and runs direct, mostly via the A1 Great North Road, whereas service 18 follows the coast through Craster, Beadnell, Seahouses and Bamburgh, taking an hour longer. This was the bus for me - although I nearly blew it by getting on the X15 by mistake - something I realised just in time.
The X18 must be one of the most scenic bus routes in England and can particularly be enjoyed on a double-decker. As an added bonus, one bus a day - the one I was on - diverts out to the seaside village of Boulmer, which fans of the Shipping Forecast's "Reports from Coastal Stations" will recognise ("one thousand and ten, falling slowly, rain, good!")
So, after two hours of scenic bliss I crossed the Tweed over the 1925-built Royal TweedBridge looking down on its 17th-Century predecessor that formed part of the main road between London and Scotland until that date.
Anyone following my route closely will realise that I have missed a bit out - and a very significant bit at that. But buses to Holy Island run only twice a week at this time of year and had I stuck strictly to my route I would have had to wait two days at Beal Crossroads, which has just a pub and a filling station to keep one entertained. I'll be back in May to do that bit properly.