Last year, D&G Buses took over services 109 between Macclesfield and Leek and 108 between Leek and Ashbourne. When that happened, I was looking forward to the services being operated by a more mainstream operator and even travelled to Leek to commence hikes from there.
The first of those was in September of 2020 when I walked from Leek to Buxton and the experience was a satisfactory one apart from there being a group going to Leek for what appeared to be a day of drinking. The first period of lockdown had passed and things were opening up though coronavirus case numbers were rising. Social distancing was being observed and only one passenger was not wearing a face covering.
Several lockdowns later, I travelled again from Macclesfield to Leek in June of this year. That was not such a happy experience and reflects how cordiality on the part of a bus driver makes things feel much better. Using a card with the ticket machine did not go smoothly and even attracted a comment like “I could wait here all day…” before the ticket was issued. The bus was quieter and I got off at the same time as another passenger to leave only the driver on the bus; it felt better not to be braving a soul that had the air of being a grumpy old jobsworth who was putting down time until retirement. If anything, there is a need to be careful how you come across to others.
After that sour experience, I did not let it ruin my day as I hiked from Leek back to Macclesfield again. Though parts were busy because tier 3 restrictions remained in place, the glorious sunshine, the wonderful scenery and the occasional friendly soul all made it worthwhile.
What I was not to know was that D&G were to give up routes 108 and 109 at the start of September. Given my June experience, I now wonder if others were put off by driver attitude because I did overhear a conversation discussing that subject with regard to one of the D&G drivers on another of their routes in July 2020. There have been multiple lockdowns so it might not be just that but there was a break in service when things got complicated.
For one thing, Hulleys of Baslow decided to offer a limited stop service between Ashbourne and Manchester Airport. This was to be numbered X1 with calls at Waterhouses, Leek, Bosley and Macclesfield along the way. In the event, nothing came of it and D&G Buses won a contract for service 108. That left route 109 but Aimee’s Travel have stepped in there with a new contract so services between Macclesfield and Leek have been restored.
The outcome is what was wanted but execution felt clumsy. Communication was not what it should have been and changes continued until everything settled down again. It all is a reminder of what we lost when the original X1 between Derby and Manchester was broken up into different sections. Another point is that we need a national networks or a set of regional ones in England to do what TrawsCymru does in Wales. Leaving everything to local authorities does not make for joined-up thinking and you only have to look at the decline of route 130 that once extended from Macclesfield to Manchester to see what that means.