England: Trunk Services
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It might be because of its size, but England hasn’t got a solid express coach backbone to its bus network quite like Scotland or Éire. The shortfall has been made up by longer local bus services, of which quite a few are to be found listed here. All of these services have a local feel to them, yet they cover longer distances too and that’s one of the criteria that I use to decide what is and isn’t a trunk service. Nevertheless, it is a tricky distinction to apply in England, so this list is bound to alter if ever I change my mind on the classification of any entry.
1/X1 Liverpool - Birkenhead - Ellesmere Port - Cheshire Oaks - Chester
These combine to offer a service level that is frequent with one bus every twenty minutes during daytime hours and an hourly service during the evenings of those days. That the total travel time is nearly two hours makes it all the more impressive even if trains surely are the faster way to travel from major towns. With buses, what matters is getting to and from the places between these.
3: Hanley - Kidsgrove - Alsager - Crewe
There have been variations to this route over the years as well as a different route number. Even so, this retains an hourly frequency on Sundays while that increases to half-hourly on other days of the week, all with a morning to evening coverage of the day with a later start on Sundays. There are competing train services, yet this bus service continues to be a mainstay, which just goes to show that trains do not always trump buses.
16: Leek - Cheddleton - Werrington - Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent
18: Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent - Sneyd Green - Endon - Leek - Haregate
Because Leek has some fine hill country to its north and bus services to there from Macclesfield, these services are of some interest to me. Their frequencies are hourly, with service 16 running every day of the week and service 18 running from Monday to Saturday, and daily coverage extending from early morning to early evening.
25/25A: Chesterfield - New Whittington
50/50A: Chesterfield - New Whittington - Eckington - Sheffield
X17: Matlock - Chesterfield - Sheffield - Meadowhall - Barnsley
All of these are seven-day services and most connect Chesterfield with Sheffield, which is how I got to add them here. The X17 is even more interesting since it also extends as far as Matlock with a near hourly service frequency on all days of the week and the Sheffield to Chesterfield section becomes half-hourly every day apart from Sunday. The same sort of frequency doubling is seen in the other services when Sunday gets compared to other days of the week, and they all make up a useful network of bus services around East Derbyshire and South Yorkshire.
36: Ripon - Harrogate - Leeds
It was an article in <em>Discover Britain</em> magazine that brought to my attention the delights of Ripon. In so doing, it got me investigating possible routes there and away by public transport. That act reminded me of the frequent service 36 operated by Transdev Harrogate & District with their modern double-decker buses. So far, I have yet to sample these but a twice-hourly service on Sundays and thrice-hourly on other days is far from shabby at all.
37: Bath - Bitton - Longwell Green - Hanham - Lawrence Hill - Bristol
38: Bath - Newton St. Loe - Saltford - Keynsham - Brislington - Bristol
39: Bath - Newton St. Loe - Saltford - Keynsham - Brislington - Bristol
349: Keynsham - Brislington - Bristol
X39: Bath - Newton St. Loe - Saltford - Brislington - Bristol
Between all of these, Bath and Bristol should be well-connected by bus. Service 349 operates with a half-hourly frequency by Abus from Monday to Friday while the others are operated by First Bristol, Bath and the West. They all combine to offer five to six departures between the two cities and local towns and villages from Monday to Saturday while the frequency does drop markedly on Sundays and public holidays (37 becomes two-hourly while 38 and 39 are hourly, giving the semblance of a half-hourly frequency where they serve).
38: Macclesfield - Congleton - Sandbach - Crewe
Sadly, the recent pandemic meant the end of the Sunday service but the early until late up to hourly frequency on other days of the week is enough to get it onto this list. It has been one of those resilient stalwarts of the Cheshire bus network otherwise, and enable numerous walking day trips in years past.
45: York - Dunnington - Pocklington - Warter - Driffield - Bridlington
45A: York - Dunnington - Pocklington
46: York - Pocklington - Market Weighton - Driffield - Bridlington
46A: York - Pocklington - Market Weighton - Tibthorpe - Kirkburn - Driffield - Bridlington
This largely is an hourly service from York to Pocklington with most buses continuing across the Wolds to Driffield and running either via Market Weighton or Warter. Some buses continue as far as Bridlington too to supplement Transdev’s Coastliner services (see later on in the list). These routes get you into the overlooked Yorkshire Wolds 362 days of the year by providing a seven-day service (45A is Monday to Saturday and 46A is Monday to Friday though but the 45 and 46 compensate for these). That makes the services useful for anyone fancying a quiet walk for a few hours or a whole day.
65: Buxton - Tideswell - Sheffield
There was a time when I never would have missed out on including this service but any delay in adding them is down to my travel interests veering away from Tideswell and its surrounding area. Now that my attention again is turning towards the Peak District as a handy location for walking through what is appealing countryside. Handily, the service also goes via such places as Eyam and Foolow.
82: Chester - Northwich
It was only when pondering a southbound stretch along the Sandstone Trail that I got to consider the possibility of using this service from Kelsall as an option in case I needed to stop my hike early. In the event, there was a strike that day, so the option was not there for me anyway, and it was just as well that I didn’t need it. Since it is a near-hourly Monday to Saturday daytime travel option, it is just as well that trains operate to a seven-day timetable.
84: Crewe - Nantwich - Tarporley - Tarvin - Chester
84X: Crewe - Nantwich
Following Arriva’s departure from Cheshire, both Stagecoach and D&G Bus registered replacement services, numbered 84 for the former and 84X for the latter. Route 84 extends the whole way between Crewe and Chester, operating seven days with an hourly frequency. That increases to half-hourly between Crewe and Nantwich from Monday to Saturday. Service 84X echoes the same frequency between Crewe and Nantwich, so I wonder at the service duplication and ask how long it will last, even if there are different timings.
100: Manchester - Salford - Eccles - intu Trafford Centre - Irlam - Warrington
There may be regular train services between Manchester and Warrington, but that does not remove the need for a bus service like this one. The frequencies vary not only by the day of the week but also according to where your journey begins, so the timetable needs careful consultation. Even so, there are decent service frequencies and coverage of most parts of any given day is good too. Journey times can be long so that remains a consideration and trains do not have to contend with the vagaries of road traffic either.
128: Scarborough - Pickering - Helmsley
This is another staple of the North Yorkshire walker’s transport itinerary and complements Transdev’s Coastliner services. From Scarborough, it heads along the southern edge of the North York Moors to Thornton-le-Dale, Pickering, Kirkbymoorside and Helmsley with summer Sunday journeys being extended to Sutton Bank Visitor Centre. On winter Sundays and bank holidays, the service gets reduced to two-hourly between Scarborough and Pickering only. Apart from that, it’s about hourly for 7 days a week.
130: Macclesfield - Wilmslow - Handforth - Wythenshawe - Manchester Airport
This once was a service linking Macclesfield with Manchester seven days a week and from morning until night. That sadly is no longer the case, and we have this remnant operating six days a week and from morning until early evening. That means that there is no Sunday service and does not make it as useful for commuters as it might be even though there is an hourly frequency at times. In short, it is a classic example of what has happened to numerous interurban bus services over the last ten years.
218: Bakewell - Baslow - Sheffield
There was a time when 218 offered a direct connection from Buxton to Sheffield that itself met the 118 from Stoke-on-Trent and Leek. That’s no more, and we now have a seven-day service starting from Bakewell. The weekday frequency is very usable, and the Sunday one varies according to season. Even with these changes, it’s good to know that it’s possible to get to Baslow Edge and surrounding hills without needing a car.
280/X80: Preston - Whalley - Clitheroe - Barnoldswick - Skipton
Pairing these services together will get you from Preston to Skipton and back since destination displays get changed at Clitheroe without any passengers needing to change buses for a through-journey. There are four journeys in each direction on Sundays with other days seeing a largely hourly frequency though you need to watch the times since departures do not operate always at the same minutes past the hour. Still, it remains as useful a travel option for anyone wishing to explore Lancashire and Yorkshire countryside as it is for generally getting about the area and that is enough to get it added here.
376: Bristol - Wells - Glastonbury - Street
This service is also branded as the Mendip Explorer and a place name like Glastonbury should be known to many because of its regular music festival. Wells has a cathedral that is admired by many too so that is another attraction. It also helps that we are talking about a daily service that runs from early in the morning until late into the evening with a half-hourly frequency for most of that.
391 Macclesfield — Kerridge — Bollington — Poynton — Stockport
392 Macclesfield — Bollington — Poynton — Stockport
393 Macclesfield — Adlington — Poynton — Stockport
These routes have gone through a selection of operators over the years and now are in the hands of Belle Vue. No Sunday service is on offer, but there is early morning to early evening coverage on other days of the week. Route 393 appears to make use of what otherwise would be empty vehicle movements while the others are the mainstay of the offering. Timetabling is not clock face in basis, so the service time need careful consultation as a result.
500 Liverpool John Lennon Airport - Speke - Liverpool
Arriva operates this express service from early until late every day of the week. The general half-hourly frequency is respectable, so there can be no complaints about that. If I ever was to fly from Liverpool, then this service would have more than a use.
554: Keswick - Wigton - Carlisle
555: Lancaster - Kendal - Keswick
Because of its route and frequency, this service can be seen as part of the backbone of the Lake District’s bus network. For this year’s English summer school holiday season, that frequency is being upped to half-hourly between Kendal and Keswick on weekdays (Monday to Friday), which can have lots of uses if you could escape the crowds. For the latter purpose, Windermere, Ambleside and Grasmere can all be seen as gateways to the nearby fells and the bus passes by a goodly number of footpaths and other rights way leading to the likes of Helvellyn, Fairfield and many more fells, some less populated than those listed. Views from the top deck should be good too, so long as any route branding doesn’t get in the way.
724: Harlow - Hertford - Welwyn Garden City - Hatfield - St. Albans - Watford - Heathrow Airport
There was one occasion when work often took me to Hatfield and I seem to remember occasional sightings of buses plying this route back then. My more recent interest in the service stems from wanting to make use of Heathrow Airport for international travels now that Manchester does not seem to have as many options as it once did. An ongoing period of industrial unrest means that other options are explored beyond the railways and this is one of those.
The Sunday service frequency may be around two hourly, but it is next to hourly on other days of the week. In many ways the service is a round the clock operation though there is a big gap during the night hours. The end to end running time is around two hours, so you do need to check how long it takes from your starting point because rail may make a quicker option. Even so, it is good to have this because we need alternative modes of travel at the moment.
840: Leeds - York - Whitby
843: Leeds - York - Scarborough
845: Leeds - York - Bridlington
All of these are operated by Transdev York under the Coastliner brand using high-quality double-decker buses for 362 days of the year. Of these, the 843 service is hourly and the 840 is a firm favourite with walkers with its regular calls to Pickering and Thornton-le-Dale. Whitby and Bridlington are served much less frequently than other places, so you need to check the timetable carefully. Even so, services 843 and 845 are popular with walkers since they shadow the Wolds Way beyond Malton. The whole set makes for regular bus connections between Leeds and York via Tadcaster even if the total journey time of around an hour is three times longer than that of the corresponding train journey.
M4: Burnley - Colne - Keighley
This is part of Transdev Blazefield’s Mainline route network and goes through South Pennines walking country, offering access to the Pennine Way, so that is why it attracts my interest. Sunday service frequency is at least two hourly and at most half-hourly on weekdays. Weekday evenings see a sparser frequency with a better service available between Burnley and Colne than on the rest of the route. That comment also applies to Sunday services though it remains a useful service for getting around these parts of Lancashire and Yorkshire.
Skyline 199: Buxton - Stockport - Manchester Airport
Perhaps amazingly, Buxton gets a direct bus link to Manchester Airport and Macclesfield doesn’t. That may be a consequence of Derbyshire folk making more use of buses than their Cheshire counterparts, but that is not to take from the usefulness of High Peak’s offering. Incidentally, it also serves Disley in Cheshire along with places across the Derbyshire boundary like New Mills, Whaley Bridge and Chapel-en-le-Frith. It may not stop at as many places in Greater Manchester though I have seen Hazel Grove and High Lane gaining a mention. While I know that there always is the option of going by train for this travel corridor, buses offer a little extra in terms of convenience and there can be railway engineering works.
Swift: Derby - Ashbourne - Mayfield - Uttoxeter
It struck me as strange that one of the predecessors to this service, the One (Mayfield - Ashbourne - Derby), was a Monday to Saturday service without bank holiday running given the numbers of people that I saw using it on two Saturday visits to Ashbourne. Since then, it’s been combined with a 409 service between Uttoxeter and Ashbourne to give a new service with many of the features of the older ones, though Uttoxeter now sees more buses than it did. This looks like the hallmark of a company that cares about its services so the surprise regarding Sunday services grows. Maybe I should go there on a Sunday to see if there is an obvious reason for this but the non-Sunday service seems a good way to get around anyway. Be warned though that evening services are run by Arriva rather than Trent Barton, to my mind a consequence of council support. They also are less frequent than their daytime counterparts with no service to Mayfield or Uttoxeter either.
The Witch Way: Manchester - Prestwich - Rawtenstall - Burnley (- Nelson) - Skipton
The route number may be X43, yet the branding has to be more memorable. For over thirty years, there were no direct trains between Manchester and Burnley until the Todmorden Curve was reinstated, so bus services did better as a result. The attractions of comfortable seating and other amenities aboard frequent express double-decker services still mean that buses can be an alternative to what is an hourly direct train service. The demotion of Nelson in favour of Skipton or Grassington as a terminus is a more recent development which means a change of bus is needed in Burnley outside of peak travel times or late evenings. The extension to Yorkshire Dales may surprise some, but it again is more than feasible given how far Skipton is west of Leeds. With that in mind, it is not hard to see why some are campaigning for the restoration of the rail link between Skipton and Burnley. Whether it happens is uncertain at the time of writing.
In the meantime, buses do what the rail network cannot with the service frequency to Skipton being half-hourly from Monday to Saturday and hourly on Sundays. The frequency is higher between Burnley and Manchester with a half-hourly Sunday service and up to four buses per hour on other days of the week. It is the sort of high-quality service that commuters and those wishing to explore Lancashire or Yorkshire countryside need, so any patronage is well deserved.
Transpeak: Derby - Matlock - Bakewell - Buxton
Guidebooks aren’t usually so forthcoming when it comes to learning about bus routes, but that’s how I first found this route. Then, it was an offering from Trent Barton and is operated by High Peak nowadays. That was more than twenty years ago, so it should come as no surprise that there have been big changes along the way.
Once, mid-engined coach style vehicles plied the route between Manchester and Derby. The Manchester to Buxton section is no more, and we get low-floor buses these days. The service frequency is next to two-hourly on Sundays and this doubles on other days of the week.
Despite the route truncation, the route remains a useful one to know when getting about the Derbyshire Dales with visitor honeypots like Matlock and Bakewell being on the route. These places can get busy with motorised traffic so anything that reduces that has to help even if busy roads can mean late buses at times.
X4: Middlesbrough - Redcar - Saltburn - Loftus - Whitby
While Yorkshire’s coastline has yet to see my giving it a visit, I thought that I would add this anyway since there are walking opportunities around Whitby. The frequency largely is half-hourly too, and the service has been given the Sapphire treatment by Arriva.
X4/X5: Workington - Cockermouth - Keswick - Penrith
There was a time when Keswick had a railway link in the form of the Cockermouth and Keswick Railway but that sadly no longer exists, and this bus service is its modern-day equivalent. On weekdays (Monday to Saturday), the frequency is hourly and buses run from early to late too. In addition, Sundays see a two-hourly timetable that covers less of the day. Without this service, getting to those hills in the north of the Lake District wouldn’t be as easy, and it would be a pity to miss them because of a lack of connectivity. In any event, the A66 is busy around these parts so giving the car a rest would seem sensible too.
X12: Ulverston - Coniston
Ulverston may not be uppermost on a list of access points for the Lakeland fells, but this bus service makes it one of them. Ulverston’s having a railway station makes the X12 a good link for someone coming in from outside the area and bus timings are not bad for that day of exploring the fells either and even might make it a better alternative to the 505 too.
X17: Coventry - Kenilworth - Royal Leamington Spa - Wellesbourne - Warwick
X18: Coventry - Royal Leamington Spa - Myton Warwick - Stratford-upon-Avon - Bidford - Evesham
Between all of these, there should be a decent bus network connecting many of Warwickshire’s towns. Services are expectedly less regular on Sunday but frequencies of several journeys per hour prevail on most routes on other days of the week. With the attractions of Warwick and Stratford-upon-Avon, that only can be a good thing.
X15: Newcastle - Morpeth - Alnwick - Belford - Berwick (via Great North Road or A1)
Northumberland may be one of England’s forgotten counties in some respects, but it does have an attractive coastline and good empty hill country surrounding the Cheviots. It takes 45 minutes to traverse by train and the bus running times that you see for this service, though better than the X18 below, will cause some pause for thought (travelling non-stop by coach from Newcastle to Berwick takes around 75 minutes anyway).
X18: Newcastle - Morpeth - Amble - Warkworth - Alnmouth - Alnwick - The Coast - Berwick
This route has been created by merging the previous 518 and 501 services to give one with journey times between Newcastle and Berwick of nearly four hours! The 518 was never a speedy affair anyway since it goes around by the coast to serve places like Amble, Warkworth and Alnmouth. These places though are worth visiting, Warkworth comes especially recommended, as are those north of Alnwick.
You do need to remember that not all services go the whole way, with many starting from and ending at Alnwick like the 518 used to do. There are useful connections to and from Alnmouth’s train station too though you do need to watch your timings. That said, they offer a way to shorten overall journey times that cannot be discounted.
X84: Leeds - Otley - Ilkley - Addingham - Skipton
As a means of getting between Leeds and the likes of Ilkley or Skipton, it probably doesn’t hold a candle to its rail counterpart. Nevertheless, trains can and do malfunction sometimes, so it’s good to have alternatives and being able to swap between the Airedale and Wharfedale lines has its place when chaos descends on the railways. Of course, buses always matter more for the shorter journeys along part of their route as opposed to their full extent.
X93 Middlesbrough - Guisborough - Whitby - Scarborough
With a paucity of rail connections to Whitby these days, it is easy how bus services need to increase their service frequency for the summer season and this is one of those. It plies the coastline seven days a week and offers an hourly service in the low season and a half-hourly one when the sun is likely to draw more to this part of Yorkshire. There is a good portion of the day covered too, always a bonus when services finish in the late afternoon in so many places.