Saturday, 31 October 2015

Lake District, UK

The Lake District, in north west England, is England's largest National Park covering over 2,000 square kilometres.  It is sparsely populated, with around 40,000 people living within the boundary, but the number of visitors annually runs into tens of millions.  If you're interested in more facts and figures, these are on the Lake District National Park website.

Stagecoach operates a network of bus services around the Lake District.

Route 555

Route 555 is a trunk service, starting from the town of Keswick and heading southwards through Grasmere, Ambleside and Windermere.  It then leaves the National Park to head through Kendal and on to Lancaster.

Double-deck buses are used on the 555.  Travelling on the upper deck is a great way to admire and enjoy the Lake District scenery.

The buses carry dedicated branding for route 555.  The livery is in Stagecoach corporate style but with shades of green in place of Stagecoach's usual blues, orange and red.  This variant of Stagecoach livery is carried by a number of the buses which are operated in the Lake District.

In other parts of the UK, such as Manchester, the green variant of Stagecoach livery can identify buses which are hybrid powered.  The green-liveried buses in the Lake District are diesel-powered.

Like most buses in the UK (outside London), these double-deckers have just one set of doors.

I have commented in some of my previous posts about bus operators in the UK advertising longer bus routes in sections.  This legal technicality enables the operator to claim the service is two separate routes, both less than 50 kilometres in length.  This then enables them to take advantage of drivers' hours rules which are less stringent than those applying to routes more than 50 kilometres long.

Route 555 is one such example of this practice.  The end-to-end journey from Keswick to Lancaster takes nearly three hours.  However, on leaving Keswick, buses display "Kendal for Lancaster" as their destination, changing to "Lancaster" once they reach Kendal.

In almost cases, the same bus runs throughout the journey, although in one or two cases it may be necessary for passengers to change bus at Kendal.

Route 555 generally runs hourly, although on Sundays during the winter the frequency drops to every two hours.  The service increases to half-hourly, however, on Saturdays from early Spring until mid-autumn.  Buses also run half-hourly on Mondays to Fridays during the school summer holidays.  This requires extra buses to operate alongside the 555's dedicated fleet at those times.

Stagecoach in Keswick and the North Lakes

Keswick is also served by a trunk route running east-west across the northern Lake District.  Routes X4 and X5 run from the coastal town of Workington through Cockermouth and Keswick to Penrith.  Keswick is not served by rail, but the X4 and X5 provide connections to train services at Penrith.

When I visited the Lake District in April 2015, the X4 and X5 were generally operated with coaches.  These carried standard Stagecoach colours, but with dedicated transCumbria branding.

I did observe buses, both single-deck and double deck, operating alongside the coaches.

In October 2015, routes X4 and X5 were rebranded as Stagecoach Gold.  The Stagecoach Gold brand uses high-specification buses with features such as leather seating and wi-fi.

A mix of single-deck and double-deck Stagecoach Gold vehicles is used on the X4 and X5.

The X4 and X5 generally run half-hourly between Workington and Keswick, and hourly on to Penrith.  The Sunday service is generally every two hours, although this increases to hourly between Workington and Keswick during the summer months.

Like the 555, journeys running the full length of the X4 and X5 cover more than 50 kilometres.  They are advertised as running in two sections with guaranteed connections (on board the same bus) at Keswick.

A rather shorter route is the 78, which from Keswick along Borrowdale to Seatoller.  This service uses open-top double-deck buses (including through the winter on days when the weather is good enough).

Buses generally run hourly, rising to half-hourly during school holidays and through the month of September.

A more limited service is operated during winter months.

From late March until the end of October, route 78 is joined by the 77 and 77A.

The 77A runs from Keswick via Borrowdale to Seatoller, continuing in a loop over the Honister pass to Buttermere then returning to Keswick via Whinlatter.

Buses operating in the opposite direction are numbered 77.

Small single-deck buses are used on the 77 and 77A.

Six journeys a day operate in each direction, from Monday through to Sunday.

The 77 and 77A do not operate during the late autumn or winter months.  Honister, Buttermere and Whinlatter are not served by bus for that time of year.


A more limited service links Keswick with Ullswater and Patterdale.

Route 208 operates twice a day on Saturdays only, from early Spring until mid-autumn.

There is no service on any other day, and no service at all during the late autumn or winter months.

The main bus route serving Patterdale and Ullswater is the 508.  I will return to describe the 508 further on in this post.

Heading north from Keswick, route 554 operates three to four times a day to and from the Carlisle, a city which I have covered in a previous post.

I found a double-decker in use, carrying dedicated branding for the 554.

The 554 is another route which is advertised as two services, connecting at Wigton.

At Wigton passengers remain on the same bus, as does the driver.  All that happens is the driver resets the destination display, then continues with the journey.

Route 86, from Keswick to the nearby village of Portinscale, comprises a single journey each way during the late afternoon.
These are operated by the bus and driver from route 554, in between trips from and to Carlisle.

A second link from and to Carlisle is provided by routes 73 and 73A.  These operate one journey per day (two on Saturdays), from early Spring until mid-autumn.  There is no service through the winter.

Buses leave Carlisle in the morning, returning from Keswick in the late afternoon.

The 73 and 73A are yet another example of a route being advertised in sections, to take advantage of less stringent regulations governing drivers' hours.

At Caldbeck, the driver will reset the destination display then continue the journey to Carlisle.

One further route to serve Keswick is the X9.  This service runs once a day during university term times only, to and from a campus near Penrith.

I found a single-deck bus with limited branding for Carlisle services on the X9.  The X9 doesn't serve Carlisle, however.

Although there is only a small number of journeys between Carlisle and Keswick on the 554 and 73/73A, the journey can also be made by changing bus at Penrith.

On Mondays to Saturdays, route 104 runs twice per hour between Carlisle and Penrith, from where routes X4/X5 run hourly to Keswick.

Stagecoach in Windermere and the Central Lakes

Head south on the 555 from Keswick, you will pass through the village of Grasmere, followed by the small towns of Ambleside and Windermere.  Stagecoach operate several other services in and around this area.

From early spring to mid-autumn, route 599 complements the 555 between Grasmere, Ambleside and Windermere, then continues to Bowness-on-Windermere.

Buses generally run every 20 minutes, although the service is half-hourly on school term days in April, May and October.

At weekends during the summer, and every day during school holidays, one bus per hour carries on beyond Bowness to Lakeside, at Lake Windermere's southern tip.

Open-top double-deckers operate the 599.  Most carry dedicated branding for the service.

Although the buses have only one set of doors, many of them were built with two.  These were originally closed-top buses, built for operation in London.

The buses were converted to single-door and open-top after being transferred away from the capital city. 

It is unusual for buses in the UK to carry bicycles.  However, cycling is a popular leisure activity in the Lake District.  Buses on route 599 carry up to four bicycles each.  Cycles are not carried on other services.


I did find one bus which was not branded for route 599.

There was also one carrying advertising for a local visitor attraction.

The Lakes Aquarium at Lakeside is served by the 599 during summer weekends and school holidays.

The 599 continues to operate seven days a week through the winter, but only between Ambleside, Windermere and Bowness-on-Windermere, at an hourly frequency.  It does not serve Grasmere during the late autumn and winter months.

Open-top double-deckers continue to operate through the winter, on days when the weather is good enough.

In the UK, public transport services close down over Christmas and, in some areas, New Year.  The Stagecoach network in the Lake District does not operate on Christmas Day, Boxing Day or New Year's Day.

Route 599 is an exception.  Although it doesn't run on Christmas Day, it does operate on Boxing Day and New Year's Day.

Route 599 was described in detail on the Great British Bus Routes blog in 2013, although some of the details have changed since then.

Route 505 links Windermere and Ambleside with Hawkshead and Coniston.  Buses generally run hourly, except in the late autumn and winter months when is reduces to a bus every 2 hours.

I found single-deck vehicles operating on the 505.  These carried the green variation of Stagecoach livery along with "Lakes" branding, although the branding is not specific to the 505. 

A link from Ambleside to Langdale is route 516, which terminates at Dungeon Ghyll.  The destination was mis-spelled on this vehicle.

The 516 operates up to seven times a day.  During the late autumn and winter months, fewer journeys operate.  During those months, some journeys run to and from Windermere.  Otherwise, passengers from Windermere can use route 505, 555 or 599 to Ambleside to change onto the 516.

Heading south from Windermere, route 6 runs three or four times a day through Bowness and onwards to the town of Barrow-in-Furness, outside the National Park.

The service runs all year round on Mondays to Saturdays but on Sundays, buses only run from late May until September.

I found double-deck buses operating on route 6.

Route 755 is a less-frequent relative of the 555.  The 755 starts from the coastal town of Morecambe, running via Kendal to Windermere then to Bowness.

Buses reach Windermere and Bowness three times a day, all year round.

The 755 is another route which is more than 50 kilometres long, and is therefore advertised as running in sections to take advantage of drivers' hours regulations.

Leaving Bowness and Windermere, buses display "Carnforth for Morecambe".  The driver changes the display at Carnforth.

At least, that's what is meant to happen.

I found this bus leaving Bowness, already displaying Morecambe as its destination.

The bus was carrying branding for route 2, a local route in the Lancaster and Morecambe area.  A bonus for passengers, however, is that the bus is equipped with wi-fi.

I mentioned earlier that route 508 is the main bus service to Ullswater.  The core service runs around every 2 hours between Penrith and Patterdale.

In previous years, the Sunday service has operated only from late March until October.  However, a limited Sunday service will continue to run through the coming winter.

At weekends (and daily during school holidays) from early spring until mid-autumn, route 508 extends beyond Patterdale over Kirkstone Pass to Bowness and Windermere.

On weekdays during school term time, and during the winter months, there is no service over Kirkstone Pass.

During the summer season, open-top double-deck buses provide additional journeys on the 508 as far as Patterdale, bringing the service frequency up to hourly between Penrith and Ullswater.  The open-top buses don't operate on the section of route 508 beyond Patterdale.

When I visited the Lake District in October 2015, I was in for a surprise.

Almost all of the buses operated by Stagecoach were low-floor and wheelchair-accessible.  But there was an exception.

This step-entrance bus was operating on route 508 - but not for much longer.

From 1st January 2016, all single-deck buses operating scheduled bus services in Great Britain will be required by law to comply with accessibility standards.  These include being accessible to wheelchair users (either with an entrance ramp providing step-free access, or with a wheelchair lift).

This vehicle doesn't meet the accessibility standards, therefore it will no longer be able to operate on scheduled services.

Similar accessibility requirements for all double-deck buses operating in Great Britain will follow from the beginning of 2017.

Fares, tickets and timetables

It is worth noting that the entire Stagecoach network in the Lake District operates without direct subsidy.  That they are able to operate a reasonably comprehensive network all-year round in a sparsely-populated area, and do so profitably, is an achievement.  However, fares on Stagecoach buses in the Lake District aren't cheap.

A single journey from Windermere to Bowness, a distance of less than 3 kilometres, costs £2.20.  The 7-kilometre journey from Windermere to Ambleside costs £4.20.  But then, the Stagecoach bus network in the Lake District isn't aimed particularly at casual travellers making occasional single journeys.  There is more money to be made from visitors using the network for days out.

dayrider tickets allowing unlimited travel for one day within a defined zone are available for £8.  The zones are Keswick & Honister or the Central Lakes (in and around Windermere).  A third dayrider zone, Penrith & Ullswater,  will be introduced from November 2015.

Family versions of the dayrider tickets are available for £20, while there are also tickets for groups of up to five adults for £22.

Group Rambler tickets for any single journey within the dayrider zones are also available for up to five people travelling together.  These are priced at £12 for the Keswick & Honister zone, and £17 for the Central Lakes or (from November 2015) Penrith & Ullswater zones.

For unlimited travel on Stagecoach buses throughout the whole of the Lake District, an Explorer ticket is available for £10.80.  Family and group tickets are also available, while there is also a 3-day ticket.  The Explorer ticket is valid not only throughout the Lake District, but on Stagecoach services across all of North West England and into southern Scotland.

Weekly and longer period tickets are also available.  Further details of fares are given on the Stagecoach website.

Tickets for up to a week's validity can be bought from bus drivers.  To reduce delays to buses, Stagecoach staff acting as roving ticket vendors are positioned at busy times at the busiest stops.

The network is heavily promoted with free timetable booklets issued twice a year.  These are available from tourist information offices, shops and hotels throughout the Lake District and the surrounding area.

Rather unusual is this dispenser which I found at Bowness Pier, well stocked with timetable booklets.

Other operators

Although Stagecoach operate almost the entire bus network in the Lake District, a small number of services is provided by other companies.

Mountain Goat operates route 525, a minibus service linking Hawkshead with a ferry which crosses Lake Windermere to Bowness.  The service runs from early spring until mid-autumn, but does not operate in winter.

The 525 serves a number of places of interest, including the former home of the author Beatrix Potter.

Unusually for a bus service in the UK, the 525 participates in through ticketing, not only with the ferry from and to Bowness but also onto Stagecoach route 505 from Hawkshead on to Coniston.

As well as Mountain Goat's 525 in the Hawkshead area, there is also a service from Coniston to Ulverston operated by Blueworks Taxis.  In Windermere, meanwhile, a local town service operates three days a week during the mornings only, with support from a local community group.

Since Stagecoach doesn't operate these services, it makes no mention of them in its timetable booklets.  Timetables for all bus services in the Lake District, regardless of which company operates them, are available on Cumbria County Council's website.

Longer distance coach services to and from the Lake District are fairly limited.  National Express operate a daily coach from London, which calls at Windermere, Ambleside, Grasmere and Keswick.  During the summer months, there is a daily coach service from Newcastle to Keswick operated by Wright Brothers.

More frequent long distance links to the Lake District are provided by rail.  The West Coast Main Line skirts to the east of the Lake District, with stations at Oxenholme and Penrith.  These stations are served by trains from London, Birmingham and Manchester which continue northwards to Carlisle, Glasgow and Edinburgh.

Neither Oxenholme nor Penrith station is within the Lake District National Park.

A branch line provides connections from Oxenholme to Windermere.  Onward connections to other places within the Lake District are provided by Stagecoach buses.

Although through ticketing from train to bus is not widely available, a PlusBus ticket can be bought with a rail ticket to Windermere, allowing onward travel to Bowness, Ambleside and Grasmere (and unlimited travel between these points for the day) for £7.

Note that the PlusBus ticket is more expensive than the single bus fare from Windermere to any of these destinations.  PlusBus is not available from Windermere to places such as Hawkshead, Coniston or Keswick, nor is it available for any bus connections from Penrith.

Train service information and tickets are available from the UK's National Rail website

Services for tourists

Since the Stagecoach network is strongly geared towards visitors to the Lake District, there is no sightseeing tour as such.

There are, however, a couple of "novelty" services.

At Bowness-on-Windermere, a road train links the pier and tourist office with a nearby car park.

More unusual is Ambleside's "eco-bus".  This vehicle is a battery-powered former milk float converted to carry passengers.  It runs between Ambleside town centre and Waterhead Pier, at the head of lake Windermere, a distance of around 2 kilometres.

Stagecoach buses from Ambleside to Windermere also pass Waterhead Pier.

Mountain Goat is one of several companies operating half-day and full-day guided tours of the Lake District.



The Lake District is a popular destination for coach holidays.

Day tours of the Lake District will usually form part of the holiday itinerary.

On the water

Lake Windermere is long but narrow.  A ferry carries pedestrians, cyclists, cars and other light vehicles from a slipway near Bowness-on-Windermere across the lake to Ferry House.

For foot passengers using this ferry, the single fare is 50p.

A number of other passenger vessels operate on Lake Windermere, offering a range of cruises along and across the lake.

These are operated by Windermere Lake Cruises from a number of piers, including those at Waterhead (near Ambleside) and Bowness.

A wide range of vessels operates.

Amongst the routes operated by Windermere Lake Cruises is one from Bowness across to Ferry House.  The fare for this crossing is £2.75, compared to 50p for foot passengers using the car-carrying ferry.

The images above were taken on Windermere.  Cruises also operate on Ullswater, Derwent Water and Coniston Water.

Stagecoach offer combined bus-and-boat tickets which allow one or more cruises on one of the lakes as well as a day's travel on Stagecoach buses.