I don’t know many, if any, mountaineering instructors who go to work on the bus. I can’t imagine many, or any, who are in a position to do so. We have kit to carry, we need early starts and we work off the beaten track. On the other hand I do know many mountaineering instructors and mountain leaders that have suggested others try the bus. We recommend that they can walk over Yr Wyddfa, then get the bus back to their car, some of us have used the Sherpa bus up the Llanberis Pass and I’m sure some of you have explored similar opportunities on your home patches too. It’s probably easier for ‘them’ to catch the bus rather than us. There is also a lot of hearsay around catching the bus and its unreliability. I needed to see if it was possible for me to catch to the bus from Nant Conwy for a typical days’ work at Capel Curig or in the Ogwen Valley.
As I write this I have now gone to work, in Cwm Idwal, on the bus twice. Both times it’s worked, there are, however, a few buts and a few challenges.
I think the first issue is trust. Will the bus turn up? Will it turn up on time? Will it make the connections?
Many of us will not have caught a bus for quite some time and indeed, you may have to mix with school children, how will that be? Will they be nice?
In your car you are in your own space, it’s your radio or music, it’s your thoughts, it’s quiet ‘me’ time to visualise the day ahead, to reflect on the day gone by, how would this work on a bus?
Will it be nice meeting and chatting to strangers? Will the journey be ruined if I meet someone I know and need to make polite conversation that I am not in the mood for? Will I meet people whom I do not wish to talk too?
Will it be clean? Will I get a seat? Do I need small change to pay? Will the driver stop at my stop? Can I take my rucksack on board? I need to pack exactly right for the day as everything I take will need be carried, by me, all day.
So many worries. I had to give it a go. I chose my day with care. I had a friend staying and she’d be attending that day’s workshop. She would drive there. She would take my extra resources in her van, but best of all, she’d be there to pick me up if it didn’t work, if the bus was late, or it broke down or it was cancelled due to driver shortages or if it didn’t make the connection. I had a plan B, a car following my bus!
Google suggested that I should Ieave my house at 08.24 and allow four minutes to walk to the bus stop to catch the 08.28 to Betws y Coed. I was at the bus stop at 08.15, taking no chances.
It wasn't raining, robins were singing loudly, two girls sat on a wall swinging their legs, in the weak morning sun. I heard a chiff chaff as I waited, with a good 8 minutes in hand.
More youngsters arrived, slowly, as if by simple habit rather than inclination. Out to meet mates rather the serious business of going to school. A dog walker shuffles passed. Cars hurry through the village wishing that'd they'd left home 5 minutes earlier.
The cool dudes arrived with 2 minutes to spare, careful not to rush. Uniform hidden by hoodies. A jackdaw checks for crisps. A small boy relocates as the big ones arrive.
This is the school bus. It’s a service bus but it takes children from the valley to the school in Llanrwst. The bus was full, there was only one other adult on board, plus the driver. The children knew their places, they chatted together quietly; they were not at all threatening. I didn’t have a seat, but I knew it wasn’t far to the school
We drove along the country lanes lined with daffodils and discarded Red Bull cans. Crows breakfasted on worms in roadside fields and a buzzard circled overhead. Blackthorn blossomed and hawthorn was fringed with green. The children chatted amicably and the driver drove gently, giving space in the road on corners and taking care for his standing passengers.
The bus emptied at the school; most of the youngsters thanking the driver as they disembarked. That left two of us on the bus. Two more people got on in Llanrwst and we sped south on the A470, cruising now, but I’m nervous. I’m used to being in control. Will I arrive? Will I arrive on time? I tell myself I’m in the hands of another pro and all will be well, trust the driver he’s taking care of me as I’ll take care of others throughout the day ahead.
As we pass the garage, closed for a delivery I worry about going to the toilet I don’t need to, but what if I did?
We arrive in Betws y Coed. All is quiet, my next bus isn’t waiting for me. There is only one bus stop, but I still check it’s the right one. I ask the driver. The driver looks around then back to me, I know he wants to issue a sarcastic, what you do you think? He resists, and simply replies yes, his customer service skills getting the better of his natural instincts.
I wait, with the other bloke from the bus. He’s heading further south so needs a different bus to me. He’s travelled over night from Poland. He up to dates me on life in Poland, on the deficiencies of our government and issues a damning assessment of the British public transport system (it’s rather like a live social media post!). A bus arrives, I’m excited, this must be mine, but that’s not what it says on the front, I want a T10 this is an S2. I still check. The driver is friendly, lights a fag and gets off for a chat. I nervously wait for the T10. It arrives, 6 minutes late, the pressure is on.
We have a jolly driver, a rotund chap who informs me he’s driven busses and coaches for 41 years, he’s 63 and close to retirement. He’s late because he’s done an extra school run to cover for younger colleagues, down with Covid, ‘Convenient Covid’ he calls it. Later, on our journey, he confesses to a sneaky ten minute break, he’d lost his official break on the extra school run so thought he deserved ten minutes with a coffee. Fair enough I suppose, but that doesn’t help with my nervousness about trusting the bus and its timetable.
We head up to Capel Curig, probably as fast I drive. I peer over the wall at the river, I spot the house in the trees above the tennis court, I spy out a boulder I’d not seen before. I tried to enjoy the vantage point, but the clock ticks.
The driver is keen to chat now, I sense he doesn’t get many passengers. I’m the only one on board this morning. It’s an awkward chat, I’m not interested really I just want to gaze out of the window, and I will him to concentrate on the road ahead. I need to make eye contact and agree with him. He’s OK, I don’t really mind. He tells me he’s picking up a lady to go to the train station, he knows he’ll make the train, he’s knows he’ll claw the lost minutes back, he’s knows he’ll get me to Ogwen Cottage, close to, on time. I don’t. On our next meeting he’ll update me on his family and the discovery of a long lost niece, but that is all still to come. I clutch my rucksack, stay polite and sway with the corners.
We do arrive a couple of minutes late and I scurry from the bus. The driver calls me back. He’s my new best mate and wants to give me something. He delves into a bag behind his seat and gives me a shiny new leaflet all about the T10, where it goes, the connections it makes and things to see along the way. I thank him and leave him to help the lady on, with her bags, nice chap. In fact these little interactions have all been pleasant. We ‘re not alone in this world and it’s not quite as bad a place as Nick Robinson and his cronies on the Today programme appear to make it seem.
As I walk towards my group waiting at the designated spot I feel like raising my arms, I feel like punching the air. I made it, I got to work on the bus, let the virtue signalling begin….
I tried to catch the bus home from work
Catching the bus to work only works if you match your work starting time to that of the buses. I couldn’t get to Idwal or even Capel Curig for 9.00 a.m. I can get there for 09.30. If it’s within your power to plan around the bus timetable then you might just be able to make it work.
Unfortunately going to work on the bus means coming home from work on the bus. Now things got difficult. If I caught the bus back at 14:52 I’d get home in an hour with a reversal of my morning route. If I left work on the 15:52 bus I’d have to go north to Bangor, catch a train to Conwy then get the bus down Nant Conwy, a two hour journey. If I caught the bus at 16.52 I’d end up in Betws y Coed 15 minutes after the last bus up the valley to my village. I could wait 46 minutes, then catch the train to Llanrwst, then walk home from Llanrwst, about 25 minutes, giving me at return home time of around two hours. The conclusion might be to drive to Betws y Coed, park there and catch the bus to Capel Curig or Ogwen Cottage. But, once you are in the car, you might as well carry on, it’s only another ten minutes. Given the numbers of people on the bus, who without the school kids, were less than a handful clearly the bus doesn’t work for most people. Quite how you go about creating a bus timetable, especially when a profit is required I have no idea. I suspect bus timetables are a nightmare for the arithmophobics amongst us too.
On my first return journey my ‘support’ car took me home. On my second return journey I grabbed a lift to Betws and managed to catch the bus up the valley back to my village.
So, what do we do? It might be possible to catch the bus to and from work. It might be possible to adjust your daily timings to suit the bus. Most of our fears should be overcome with practice and familiarity, but I still can’t help thinking we’ll just be waiting the for the day the bus is late or even doesn’t arrive at all. You could avoid talking to strangers, but you might gain more from those chance interactions, who knows? For me the bus is free (over 60’s in Wales) which is a great incentive to use it. On some days I need extra resources, then the bus will be less appealing. On a weekend when parking is tight, do I just head out early to get a parking place? Or do I wrestle with the bus timetable and fit the day around those timings?
What is clear is that to travel to places like Idwal, Pen y Pass, Seathwaite and Langdale we need to look at different approaches. We also need to recognise we are part of the problem. Just one of my workshops can bring nine extra cars to wherever I run the workshop from, and I’m not the only one relying on car based visitors for custom. The distances we travel to work, the kit we carry, the weather and the infrastructure usually conspire against cycling to work. Maybe an electric bike, even a cargo bike, might make this easier, may be more so if there was a cycle way. Do we move our workshops away from the honeypots, can we do better at car sharing or do we catch the bus?
I do think we need to think about these issues and we need to raise them with the people with whom we work. Bus reliability and timings will vary enormously over our working patches, but catching the bus is not necessarily something for ‘them,’ it’s something we all need to consider.