Saturday, 10 March 2018

Lancashire, Westmorland and Cumberland

Tuesday, 6th March 2018
My previous tour Around the Edge of England involved 257 bus journeys and covered 5,000 kilometres. Reliability (buses turning up and connections kept) was 97% and punctuality (no more than 5 minutes late) was 77% so I was fairly confident that today's journey, being the start of my new adventure (see the Introduction page)  would go to plan. Little did I know. . . . .!

Today was also unusual in that I visited no fewer than three counties and three county towns. I don't expect this to be the norm as I intend to try and spend a bit of time in the towns themselves, particularly those I don't know very well. But I live in Lancaster, Appleby-in-Westmorland is a small town difficult to reach and Carlisle was convenient for a train home at the end of day.



LANCASHIRE -  County Town: Lancaster.
Lancashire and its county town of Lancaster were easy enough and an obvious place to start given that I live here!  I didn't need to catch a bus as I can walk into the city centre in twenty minutes, which I do on most days for one reason or another.
For the purposes of this project however Lancaster was visited on 6th March 2018 as I started the journey around the other 38 towns and counties of England.



For administrative purposes the county of Westmorland and that of Cumberland, which follows were combined along with parts of Lancashire and Yorkshire to form "Cumbria", one of the more successful entities created by the 1974 re-organisation of local government. But this project is concerned with the "historic" or "geographical" counties so it was "Westmorland" (and "Cumberland") that I visited, rather than "Cumbria".

I left Lancaster at the very early time of 07.15 on Tuesday, 6th March, the day and time being dictated by the infrequent nature of the area's bus services. Stagecoach service 555 runs frequently enough, but my onward connections from Kendal were sparse indeed and necessitated the early start.  07.15 is far earlier than I would normally begin a day's bus riding and of course I could not use my concessionary bus pass at such an early hour. Instead I paid £8 for a concessionary "Explorer" ticket that I would at least be able to use for the rest of the day, as all the buses I planned to use were Stagecoach ones.

The 555 at Kendal's bus station
The 555 was busier than I expected with a good load of students for the college at Kendal and some shop and office workers also travelling to the town. We entered Westmorland at the village of Burton-in-Lonsdale and arrived on time at Kendal's small bus station - just three stands with another three on the pavement opposite, but with access to toilets in the adjacent car park and, most importantly, a snack bar for a much-needed delayed breakfast.

Stagecoach service 106 on to Penrith runs only twice a day and thenonly on three days a week. Since Cumbria County Council stopped all spending on bus services a couple of years ago it has been supported by parish councils along the route. It left at 09.10 - still before the bus pass watershed. There had been heavy snow in the days before my trip and much was still lying in the fields north of Kendal and through Greyrigg, Tebay and Shap making for a  remote and desolate atmosphere for the journey north. After the village of Orton a road closure saw us diverted down a road that was little more than a track (white with dashed lines on the OS map), over some rickety bridges and through very narrow gateways and then
Aboard service 106 through snow-covered Westmorland
along a private road into the car park of a hotel, through their car park and out the other side on to an equally narrow track with a ridge of lying snow where the grass should be; possibly the most obscure route I've ever taken on a bus. Eventually we emerged onto the A6 to the south of Shap village, by now running 15 minutes late - a delay made worse by having to stop to pick up almost a full load of passengers and having to negotiate several sets of roadworks. At Eamont Bridge we crossed the border into Cumberland, although my stay there would be brief -  merely a change of bus (or so I thought) to head towards Westmorland's county town.

We were twenty minutes behind time at Penrith railway station where my onward connection - the 563 to Appleby - was just about to depart. A further delay whilst we waited for a gap in the traffic to turn into the station forecourt meant that as we pulled up behind it, it pulled away. I shouted and waved, but of course the driver was concentrating on his offside mirror as he pulled out into the traffic!

Appleby town centre.
Although nobody's fault, this was a disaster as the next bus to Appleby wasn't for another three hours and it would come straight back as the last bus of the day, giving me no time to see the town. I opted for a taxi, easily obtained from a nearby rank although if I had known (or had thought to ask) that it was going to cost me £35 I might have had second thoughts.

Appleby (the "-in-Westmorland" was added only in 1974) is a small place (pop. 3,000), more like a village than a town but I spent my time there pleasantly enough with a coffee, a walk up the main street to the castle (closed to visitors) and then lunch in the town's main (only?) hotel after which I had only half-an-hour to wait for the 563 back to Penrith.


CUMBERLAND - County Town: Carlisle
Penrith is just within Cumberland, but Carlisle is the county town and the administrative centre for modern-day Cumbria as well as being the biggest town (or "city") for miles around. Stagecoach's 104 arrived at Penrith's rather bleak bus station in good time for its departure at 15.30, but there was a problem! The driver, with a colleague, disappeared round the back of the bus and came back shaking his head. Low oil pressure apparently (a warning buzzer would have been sounding in his cab) and, after a phone call to the garage he was told to bring the (empty) bus back so that someone could have a look.
The next scheduled departure to Carlisle wasn't for another hour and none of the dozen or so
The 104 about to leave Penrith 35 minutes late.
passengers looked pleased at the prospect of a long wait in the cold. Some contemplated getting on the 104 heading in the opposite direction and riding to the southern terminus on the basis that sitting in a warm bus was a better bet than standing in a cold bus station, even though the driver warned them that they would be sat at Centre Parcs for 15 minutes before beginning the journey back to Carlisle.




The Courts, Carlisle 




Our bus returned after half-an-hour and, after loading up, eventually left 35 minutes late for a fast run up the A6 to Carlisle. After 257 virtually trouble-free bus rides "around the edge of England" I had now suffered one missed connection and a breakdown on Day 1 of the follow-up! But we got to Carlisle in time for a quick look round the centre and I didn't really plan on spending much time here having visited it on my previous tour and also having lived here for a year in the 1970s. I'd had a big lunch in Appleby, so after a few pints I headed to the railway station and got a train back to Lancaster with the cheap advance fare meaning a big saving over the cost of an overnight stay (not that anybody bothered to check whether I had a ticket in the first place).


Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Introduction

In 2017 I completed a tour by bus "Around the Edge of England" in which I travelled 5,000 kilometres on 257 buses over 51 days of travel, spread over a two year period. This is the sequel.
It is based on the "historic" or "geographical" counties of England. Those which most people would recognise as "proper" counties, rather than the administrative or ceremonial counties, which serve a different purpose.

Counties
Counties have been part of England's history since mediaeval times and are the basis of many people's identities. In 1889 the system of local government in England was changed to establish "county councils" as the first tier of local governance. "Counties" and "County Councils" thus became syonymous. However, a series of re-organisations of local government followed, with a particularly damaging one in 1974 that broke the link whilst confusing things further by retaining some county names and creating new ones.
My own county of Lancashire is a good example. The south-east of the county, around Manchester, was transferred administratively to the new "county" of Greater Manchester, whilst the south-west around Liverpool became part of Merseyside. (Both these county councils were abolished in 1986,altough the areas they covered were not returned to "Lancashire").  In the north, the Furness District was transferred to the new county of Cumbria. Subsequently, both Blackburn and Blackpool have gained independence from the administrative control of Lancashire County Council, although local residents still consider themselves Lancastrians.
You will not be surprised to learn that my tour will not recognise any of this. As far as I am concerned the 1974 re-organisation never happened and I will not be travelling through Greater Manchester or Cumbria or, for that matter, "Avon", "Cleveland" or "Hereford & Worcester" nor any other abominations created by misguided legislation!
Instead I will be visiting all 39 of the historic counties of England and calling-in at all 39 of the "county towns".

County Towns
The concept of a town is ill-defined and unofficial. Following the establishment of county councils in 1889 many such bodies based themselves in the county towns, but the county towns themselves date back much further than that. They were often the places where the county members of parliament were elected (before the electoral reforms of the 19th Century) or where certain adminstrative or judicial functions were carried out. So, for example, my tour will begin in Lancaster - the county town of Lancashire - and not Preston, which is merely the administrative centre and the base of Lancashire County Council.

Travelling  by bus
I shall complete the journey by bus, although I reserve the right to incorporate trains, ferries or even taxis if no suitable bus service exists for any particular stage of the journey.  It will be made as a servies of short trips, spanning just a few days at a time, but it will be a continuous journey "geographically", with each stage commencing where the previous one finished.  I have no idea of the distance I will cover, the number of buses I will use or how long it will take.  Unlike my Around the Edge tour, where  I kept as close to the coast as was feasible, I am free to vary my route to take in interesting places or interesting routes  -"interesting" to me that is, it's my trip after all.  In many cases I hope to spend some time in the county towns themselves, particulatrly those I don't know very well and, of course, depending on the distance between them not every overnight stop will necessarily be in a county town, although where possible, that is the aim.
The journey started on 6th March 2018 at Lancaster - heading north.