Haud the Bus

August 20, 2022

Back in July I shared a petition about the planned axing of the only direct link between Bigtown and Edinburgh – the bus service. I was happy to see that, after a spirited campaign from Stand Up for Our Buses, the bus has been reprieved for now, with the hope that it can be funded on a more permanent basis after March.

Pleased as I was, I was also slightly guiltily aware that I personally have only used the bus once, when I was trying to get to Edinburgh on a Sunday (when no trains in the region shall move until After Kirk). Otherwise, I take the bus to Lockerbie and the train from there, a two-hour journey (allowing for connection times) in contrast to three hours on the bus. Signing petitions was all well and good but if I wasn’t willing to use the bus myself, then was it just sentiment to support it? Then again, the train service has become increasingly unreliable in recent months, and if you’re going to end up on a bus replacement service anyway, you might as well cut out the waiting around (and save a few quid) by going straight to the bus, especially with train strikes adding to the fun. So yesterday, with lunch in town with two old pals planned, I decided to put my money where my mouth was and take the bus.

I’ll confess now, that of all forms of public transport, rural bus services give me the most anxiety. In London, you catch a bus, and if one doesn’t show up as advertised, then there literally will be another one along in a minute. Out here, you catch the bus and, in the case of the 101/102, the next one will be along in three hours, so the stakes are quite high. There are no helpful announcements letting you know what’s going on (Bigtown did experiment for a while with electronic bus timetables in some of the bus stops in town but it turned out these were just showing you the schedule, not any sort of live information, and now they’ve all stopped working anyway). If you don’t have an app, then you’re stuck standing in a bus shelter (if you’re lucky), pondering the improbability of any sort of rural bus until it either arrives or it doesn’t.

On the other hand, the truth is that in all my time living up here and taking the bus on various occasions, it’s never not turned up, and barely ever even be late. And so it proved yesterday. Having arrived ridiculously early at the start of the route, the bus (and it very much is a bus; the service to Glasgow is a coach and has an actual toilet on board, as well as space for bikes, but this is pretty basic) arrived a few minutes before schedule. After a little puzzlement from the driver that I was attempting to pay cash (what can I say, I haven’t been on a bus since the Before Times), myself and several young people* were soon sailing north, past several other bus stops nearer our house that I could have used had I had the courage to do so.

Bus passing through the Dalveen pass

This bus takes the scenic route through the Dalveen Pass (and also, crucially, stops at the motorway services along the way for a strategic comfort break for those of us without three-hour bladders). It wasn’t the emptiest bus I’ve been on by a long way, and once it got to Biggar it filled up nicely (and it was soon standing room only on the bus back). Three hours on a bus seat is, it turns out, about half an hour too long for my back and, unlike a train, it’s not possible to do any work on one, so the chances are I’ll be reverting to the train for future Edinburgh visits, unless I’m making the beginner’s error of trying to get there on a Sunday. But the experience has encouraged me to widen my travel horizons a little and try out more rural bus routes, especially out west where there are no trains anyway.

View from the bus windows

As for the Edinburgh service, I’m not that well versed in the economics of bus routes but it does seem strange that a bus that leaves the city with no spare seats (and with a good dozen folk still on board by the time we reached Bigtown) should be so unviable that it needs to be axed, when most bus routes around here are much less well used. It could be better advertised (it doesn’t help that at the Bigtown end the timetable in the bus stop gives no hint that the bus actually goes to Edinburgh at all, while at the Edinburgh end the timetable was out of date and the bus doesn’t appear on the live bus display), and it would be much more useful and less stressful if it ran a bit more frequently, as it used to do before the pandemic. Surely in these times of climate change, we should be encouraging people to take the bus, and supporting a service that is actually being used? But then again, we should also be enabling people to walk and cycle safely and look how well that’s going …

* Disappointingly, they were all wearing headphones and sat in silence for the entire journey. Normally on a local bus service the conversation quickly becomes general and some good stories are usually had en route.

I’m Not Convinced…

June 20, 2016

X95: where every journey is an adventure

…That as bus route straplines go (and since when did bus routes start having their own straplines?), ‘Where every journey is an adventure’ is precisely what I want out of a bus journey, but that may be why I’m not in bus marketing.

brompton on bus

Fortunately there were no unexpected adventures for the Brompton and me as we made our way multimodally from Duns to home. By car this is a 2.5 hour drive, 3 hours if you stop for coffee in Moffat. By public transport this meant a 45 minute drive to Galashiels, 2 hour bus ride to Carlisle, 40 minute wait, 45 minute train journey to Bigtown and a 45 minute cycle home (OK, so maybe that was a bit of an adventure).

Still it made for excellent progress on my sock, which has been sadly hampered by my failure to get selected for jury service earlier this month.

sock progress

Knitting: Turning every inconvenience into a sock


February 3, 2016

Berwick's bridges

In a change from our usual programme of moaning about the weather, the Brompton and I have been gadding about again

There are no trains to Edinburgh at the moment because storm Andrea or Billy or Fred or whoever damaged a key viaduct on the West Coast Mainline* so that meant taking a three-hour bus trip from Bigtown, which is not my favourite way to travel although I have to admit it is scenic in parts

Dalveen Pass

The bus stopped half way at a service station in case anybody needed a comfort break, and also so that the bus driver could emerge from her cab and reminisce with the other passengers (clearly regulars) about the night they all got stuck in the snow going over the Dalveen Pass.

Dalveen Pass

the Dalveen Pass

Once in Edinburgh, there were other, rather more civilised conveyances on offer, although I decided to stick to the Brompton.

Urban Arrow cargo bike

Then it was on to the East Coast Mainline to Berwick. I had half an hour to kill before an appointment and spent it enjoying the winter sunshine.

Berwick Viaduct

Hopefully Storm Ignatius or Jason or Xerxes or whoever is next will leave this viaduct intact.

* and can I just pause here to have a small moan about the fact that when the Forth Road Bridge was closed for a couple of weeks before Christmas you would have thought that civilisation was on the verge of collapse as Scotland’s entire transport network was severed at a blow, whereas we’ve now been without a train connection except for the scenic but not exactly speedy single track line up to Glasgow since 2015 and where are our emergency debates in Parliament? Not sure whether it’s because it’s just trains and everyone knows that important people go around in cars, or because it’s Bigtownshire and nobody else in Scotland has noticed, but either way…


November 1, 2013

Today I:

– cycled eight miles to Bigtown station

– took the train from Bigtown to Carlisle

– took the bus from Carlisle to the place which really is known as the Muckle Toon (or ‘Bigtown’ for those not fluent in Scots), possibly ironically.

– drove with the other half from the Muckle Toon to Duns

All of which took approximately 2 hours longer than if I’d done it in a car like a normal person. All this talk of HS2 makes me wonder when we’re going to get a FWS* rail line up this way. With maybe trains that run more frequently than once every two hours. And connect with buses that don’t leave from 100 yards down the road exactly 1 minute after the train comes in, with not another bus for 40 minutes. Just a thought… Still, it did at least allow the Brompton to make some new friends, as it always seems to wherever it goes.

Thus commences as week of fairly intensive gadding about, so tweeting and blogging may be light, although I’ll be at this, which I expect will generate a lot that will be tweet- and blog-worthy and this, which will possibly not (although I notice they have at least managed to dig out a few women to speak – their exciting original line up consisted entirely of men in suits).

* Faster than Walking Speed

Two Cultures

September 9, 2011

Speaking on the phone last night to my sister, who has recently done a similar ‘town mouse’ move to mine but in France (and with better weather…), she told me about how the parents were holding a sit in at her daughter’s school because they felt the pupil teacher ratio was too high. Even though an official had been sent to explain that there weren’t enough spare teachers to go round, and other schools had a greater need (which my sister, in her non-confrontational/spineless (delete as appropriate) British way thought was fair enough), the parents were having none of it and went ahead and barricaded themselves into a classroom all the same.

This puts the response of Nearest Village to the imminent withdrawal of our school bus into some perspective. The bus is a thorny issue because the school is tiny and the catchment area large, and only four pupils are actually entitled to free transport to school. The others were only allowed to use the bus as a favour because they either lived too far from the school, or too close – anyone over the age of eight being deemed able to walk or cycle three miles to school, or two miles for the younger kids. The four kids who are entitled will get a taxi (you have to wonder at the savings that will provide), the rest will have to hoof it, or – more likely – get driven to school by their parents. Or – even more likely for some of the more far flung ones – move to a school in Bigtown as that’s where their parents will generally be driving anyway.* Now I, personally, obviously think that the answer is for everyone to cycle to school but I’m aware that I’m in a minority of one on that issue. So I, like everyone else in the area, has done the decent British thing and signed a petition against the idea. You can imagine how effective that was. Sometimes I think we could stand to be a little more French…

*And anyone who thinks that that’s exactly the reason the bus service is being withdrawn from the smaller village schools so they’re forced to close down is clearly some sort of a conspiracy theorist. Personally, when it comes to Bigtownshire council, I’m more inclined towards cockup…

There’s No Accounting for Folk

May 25, 2011

I’ve long wondered why it is that Nearest Village doesn’t have a proper bus shelter when Intervening Village has the full-on rural style timber-panelled half shed affair beloved by smoking teenagers everywhere. It’s not as if we’ve got so much better weather or less rain (or, indeed, fewer teenagers) than Intervening Village that we don’t need one. So when I happened to be sitting next to someone on the community council at the plant sale tea, I took the opportunity to bend his ear about my idea for an Integrated Transport Hub for the village, aka a bus shelter with built in bike racks so that on miserable days I can ride down for the bus and leave my bike in comfort and relative security (everyone knows my bike now well enough in the village that it will be kept an eye on) for the day.

‘That’s a good idea,’ he said, not backing away much at all. ‘I don’t know why the bus shelter has gone. We used to have one once next to the phone box. We could try and get it back.’

‘Maybe it was stolen,’ I suggested.

‘I don’t think so – it was a great big concrete thing. Do you know what happened to the bus stop that used to be there?’ he asked the Oldest Inhabitant.

‘Och weel, that was outside old Jock McPloppy’s* house and he complained to the council it was attracting the wrong element and so they came wi’ a big lorry and took it away.’

*Not his actual name.

Rural Bus Timetables…

June 24, 2009

… and other great works of fiction.

I was in Bigtown today trying to concentrate in the library through the endless loud wittering of the library staff (where this myth arose about librarians saying ‘shhh!’ I don’t know. Not here, anyway, where they never shut themselves up, let alone the punters). I decided to take the last bus home to Nearest Village, which leaves from the train station at twenty to six. Fearing – for some reason which now escapes me – that the bus might be full if I tried to catch it from my normal stop at the bus stands, I went up to the station to see if it really did leave from there, or if this was just some mad flight of fancy dreamed up by a transport official who believed in the myth of integrated public transport. The timetable said it did, but I’ve been caught that way before so I went into the train station and asked there. ‘I don’t know anything about the buses’ the woman behind the ticket office said, as though I’d asked her about unicorns, or metaphysics, or dogging. ‘There’s a bus out there, ask the driver.’

‘I havenae the least idea, I’m not frae here,’ said the driver of the bus, but he helpfully got out and looked at the timetable with me. As his bus was leaving after the one I was hoping to catch he said he could take me to the roadend for Nearest Village if my bus never came. Thus assured that I could at least get to within walking distance of home I accosted the driver of the next bus ‘Aye, Nearest Village, the bus comes in here, but it’s no me, it’s a wee white one,’ he said. ‘You’ll be best to stand out there and wave at it for it comes by this way but it doesnae always stop.’ So I stood out there ready to wave, and ready too to sprint for my backup bus should it show signs of leaving. And finally – just as I was about to give up hope, the ‘wee white bus’ arrived, bearing a destination board for somewhere else entirely and the driver stopped at my anxious waving and admitted she was headed for Nearest Village. She didn’t seem to have a ticket machine, and my money went into a rather unofficial looking purse, but she was undoubtedly driving a bus, and I decided to go with the flow and see where she might take me.

After a tour of the bus stops of Bigtown, she took me off in solitary splendour towards my destination. But she didn’t take the route the bus normally takes, through the back roads and the other village on the way – she went straight for the big A road, put her foot down, and drove me direct to Nearest Village without passing go and without stopping to collect any more passengers. As I got off, I asked her about her route. ‘does it not normally go through Intervening Village?’ I asked. ‘Oh well, normally. But if there’s only one passenger I just go direct. It’s quicker that way.’

I wonder what happens if she gets none?

Because if the rest of the internet jumped off a cliff I would too

February 7, 2009

And besides I wanted to

theres probably no busBus slogan generator from Rule the Web, via Non Timeo Sed Caveo, and pretty much everyone else on the web too.

More Bus Mysteries

October 9, 2008

Why is it, that with just five buses from Big Town to Nearest Village a day, they start at four different locations? Are they trying to shake us off?

And why is it that even if I get the bus from its supposed starting point, there’s always another passenger already on board? Is there a secret bus terminus we incomers are not to know about? Or is riding the bus back and forth on your free pensioner bus pass the way to keep warm?

Come back TfL, all is forgiven. Still, at least I’m guaranteed a seat.


September 18, 2008

You know, I really think more people would take the bus round here if the bus actually left from the stand that the sign said it would. Just a thought…

Fortunately, I noticed in time and caught it. Unfortunately so did all the schoolkids. I now know more about the circumstances of Elvis’s death (filtered through the particular obsessions of the adolescent mind) than I really ever wanted.

*Secret Bus Service