Now You Know What I Did This Summer: Falmouth, 2016

A Look at the Public Transport Network in a Cornish harbour town

Grace boat Falmouth Harbour
If you love your boats, Falmouth is the place to be. As for buses, a fairly elusive beast for a town of its size. Especially after 7pm.

In the last month, the head honcho of East of the M60 has taken a well-deserved break in Falmouth. For the uninitiated, Falmouth is a busy Cornish harbour town with the third deepest natural harbour in the world (after Sydney and Rio de Janeiro). It is a popular place with sailors, whether your choice of craft is a modest dinghy, or a multi-million Pound yacht. The best way of exploring the resort is along the Carrick Roads on one of FalRiver’s or Enterprise’s ferries (to St. Mawes or Truro). Or on many boat trips exploring the area.

In spite of the resort’s popularity with sailors and holidaymakers, the town’s bus network leaves a lot to be desired. Most of its services finish after 6pm. Some of the town’s narrow streets restrict potential for expansion, and the use of double decker buses. As a consequence, there is a thriving marketplace for private hire minicab companies like Abacus and Bizzy Bee Cabs. Trains run till 11pm, courtesy of Great Western Railway (FirstGroup’s revival of the respected name).

Falmouth’s Buses

The centre of Falmouth’s bus operations is The Moor. This is a focal piazza and market ground with a collection of bus stands stretching from The Packet Station to Falmouth Art Gallery. The main bus operator in Falmouth is First Kernow. Some of their buses sport the Best Impressions branding, similar to FirstGroup’s Buses of Somerset.

Challenging FirstGroup’s near monopoly in the town is OTS Minibus and Coach Hire. The bulk of their vehicles are sixteen seat minibuses. Though barely adequate outside of the summer season, uncomfortable in the summer where the small buses are tested to their limits (yours truly tried and failed to wait for one of their vehicles). Falmouth’s only other operator is Williams Travel, operating from Camborne. They only run one service, the 442.

Bus Services:

  • 2: Falmouth – Helston – Penzance (First Kernow);
  • 35: Falmouth – Helford Passage (First Kernow);
  • 35A: Falmouth – Gweek – Helston (First Kernow);
  • 68: Falmouth Town Service (First Kernow);
  • 69: Falmouth – Penryn – Flushing (First Kernow);
  • 69A: Falmouth – Penryn – Mabe Burnthouse (First Kernow);
  • 363: Falmouth Town Service (via Old Hill and Sainsburys) (OTS Minibus and Coach Hire);
  • 366/366A: Falmouth Town Shuttle (OTS Minibus and Coach Hire);
  • 367: Falmouth Town Service (via Pendennis Castle and Swanpool) (OTS Minibus and Coach Hire);
  • 400: Falmouth Park and Ride (via Pendennis Castle and Swanpool) (First Kernow);
  • 442: Falmouth – Stithians – Camborne (Williams Travel);
  • U1: Falmouth – Penryn – Truro (First Kernow);
  • U2: Falmouth – Penryn – Redruth (First Kernow).

Falmouth only has two full time bus routes. For the purpose of this post, Full Time Bus Route refers to any service that continues after 7pm. These two are the U1 and U2 to Truro and Redruth. These are timed to cater for students at Penryn College and Falmouth Campus. Apart from that, they offer a spine route for local residents and an effective alternative to the train. From Falmouth, the first U1 departs at 0600 for Truro from The Moor, with the last bus along its full route leaving at 2350.

The core U1 service is every half hour from Falmouth (The Moor) to Truro with a daytime hourly extension to Falmouth Campus. Its sister route, the U2, is also half hourly at daytimes with all buses running to Redruth railway station. After 7pm, both the U1 and U2 are hourly. Therefore, buses between Falmouth and Penryn are every 15 minutes in the day, and every half hour in the evening. Its evening frequency is repeated on Sundays and Bank Holidays.

The 2 service takes one hour and fifty minutes to complete its journey from Falmouth to Penzance. Along its full length, the service is roughly every two hours. Between Helston (outside Tesco and for the Flambards amusement park) and Penzance, one bus an hour. Plus a two hourly evening service.

The 35 has a straightforward hourly service up to Helford Passage. The 35A continues to Helston (again, handy for Flambards). Though the 35A has a sparse frequency, they are (thankfully) in between the two hourly gaps of the full-fat 2 service. Which means, on a weekday, one bus an hour from Falmouth to Flambards.

The 68 is an everyday Town Circular service. Operating once hourly during shopping hours, it offers a link with the houses on Pennance Hill with Falmouth town centre. The 69 and 69A combine to create an hourly frequency from Falmouth to Penryn. On even hours, the 69 leaves The Moor for Mylor Bridge (with limited journeys to Flushing); at odd hours, the 69A continues to Mabe Burnthouse. Like many of the local routes, they cease operation after 7pm.

The 363 is one of three town services operated by OTS Minibus and Coach Hire. Their small 16 seat minibuses are good for negotiating Falmouth’s narrow shopping streets, though a pain for passengers unable to board once the bus is full. The 363 stops at the resort’s Sainsburys store and has five journeys (or six during the summer holidays).

Their silver minibuses are also seen on the 366 Townlink, which offers unrivalled access to the town centre. With First Kernow’s wider buses unable to traverse Church Street and Arwenack Street, it is the only service that offers unrivalled access to Trago Mills from Prince of Wales Pier, without the need to walk. There is also a single journey on the 366A which runs along the 367’s route.

Its sister route with six to seven journeys (six on schooldays including the 366A, seven on school holidays) is the 367 Coastlink. This does exactly as it says on the tin, linking the town centre with Swanpool beach and Pendennis Castle.

Which is also true of First Kernow’s 400 service, a seafront service with an hourly frequency. From the Prince of Wales Pier it takes in The Moor and Pendennis Castle. Its open top buses have pink FirstGroup leather/vinyl seats and the green local look for First Kernow, distinct from the Barbie 1 and Olympia liveries seen on the company’s other service buses. It is the only service which doesn’t accept ENCTS passes at all.

There is also a Park and Ride shuttle from the Ponsharden Float and Ride car park. From 0940 to 1850, they run every 20 minutes.

Designed for shoppers heading to Falmouth is Williams Travel’s 442 service. There are only two return journeys from Camborne to Falmouth, departing from Camborne at 1015 and 1235 (returning at 1120 and 1345). This is augmented with two part-route workings from Stithians to Camborne with another (Saturdays only) in the opposite direction. There is also a schooldays only journey to Four Lanes Square that departs at 1450 (arriving at 1512).

In a nutshell, Falmouth’s buses are fine if you don’t mind being home early, or feel more inclined to take a taxi to The Front Bar (fantastic pub by the way). Unless you happen to live on the route of the U1 and U2 services, the only public transport alternative after 7pm is the train.

Ticket offers

FirstDay: £12.00/£18.00 (two days)/£24.00 (three days).

FirstDay group tickets (two adults, three children): £24.00/£36.00 (two days)/£48.00 (three days).

FirstWeek: £26.00/£52.00 (group ticket).

The above tickets grant you access to all First Kernow routes. From the company’s publicity material, they mention the single and return fares (one up on their fellows in Greater Manchester). The family seven day ticket is a fantastic idea, enabling family groups to explore Cornwall by bus at an affordable rate. All tickets can be bought on the bus.

OTS day ticket: £3.00 (child)/£4.00 (adult)/£10.00 (group).

OTS’ day ticket is a must if you wish to use all three of their services in Falmouth. Single and return fares are reasonably priced and cheaper than First Kernow’s over similar distances. At a flat rate of £2.00 on the Shorelink, or a £1.00 on the Townlink, each fare has been kept to round figures, which makes handling change a cinch for its drivers.

Falmouth by rail

The revived version of Great Western Railway operates local services from the town’s stations. Within Falmouth proper, there are three stations on what is known as the Maritime Line.

Falmouth Docks is the terminus, and is great for Pendennis Castle. The next stop, which for a short while was its terminus, is Falmouth Town. There is spacious car parking facilities. The next of the three stations is Penmere which serves the top end of the town. Truro is only a matter of minutes with services every half hour in the daytime and hourly after 7pm.

First Trains: (from Falmouth Docks) 0631, or 0935 on Sundays ; (from Truro) 0604, or 0901 on Sundays .

Last Trains: (from Falmouth Docks) 2306, or 2301 on Sundays ; (from Truro) 2208, or 2212 on Saturdays, 2204 on Sundays.

Sample Fares from Falmouth Docks to Truro

  • Off-Peak Return: £4.30;
  • Anytime Return: £6.00.

Falmouth ferries

The easiest way of getting across the Penryn River and the Carrack Roads and to St. Mawes is by passenger ferry. From Falmouth, ferries call at the Prince of Wales Pier and the Custom House Quay.

Ferry Sailings

  • Falmouth (Prince of Wales Pier/Custom House Quay) – St. Mawes Quay;
  • Falmouth (Prince of Wales Pier) – St. Mawes Quay – Trelissick Garden – Truro (Town Quay);
  • Falmouth (Prince of Wales Pier) – Flushing;
  • Falmouth (Prince of Wales Pier) – Ponsharden.

In addition to scheduled services, there is a number of pleasure cruises. For example, Enterprise Boats have a number of sailings to Helford Landing, taking in the western part of Falmouth’s coastline. At Prince of Wales pier, each set of steps are numbered, like a bus station.

Shortly after the first buses arrive at the Float and Ride facility, boats from Ponsharden connect with the buses and offer an alternative way into Falmouth. The first boats leave Ponsharden at 1000 and arrive at Custom House Quay twenty minutes later. Besides offering another way to the southerly of the two piers, it is also good for finding your friend’s boat in the nearby marina.

For many holidaymakers, getting to St. Mawes entails the ferry. You could either get one of the Truro ferries that calls at St. Mawes quay, or board one of the more frequent ferry services. These leave on a once hourly basis (quarter past the hour from Prince of Wales Pier, quarter to the hour from Custom House Quay). Outside of the summer months, from Prince of Wales Pier only.

The Truro ferry, the less frequent of the town’s scheduled ferry services takes you further up the Carrack Roads. Enterprise’s service is a seasonal one aimed at holidaymakers. At the other end of the scale in distance and with providing a public service, is the Flushing ferry. Flushing is a village on the opposite side of Falmouth and Penryn. Without it, only accessible by an infrequent bus service.

Ticket offers

The most obvious rover ticket for exploring Falmouth by boat (and other modes of transport) is the Fal Mussel card. This covers all the buses, the Truro to Falmouth train, and the ferries within the Penryn River and the Carrack Roads. Greater savings are made if you purchase the six-day card with adult, child, and family versions available.

Fal Mussel Card Visitor (Child): £14.00 (one day)/£18.00 (two days)/£20.00 (three days)/£30.00 (six days).

Fal Mussel Card Visitor (Adult): £19.00 (one day)/£24.00 (two days)/£28.00 (three days)/£43.00 (six days).

Fal Mussel Card Visitor (Family, 2 + 3): £47.00 (one day)/£64.00 (two days)/£73.00 (three days)/£120.00 (six days).

Tickets can be bought at the Fal River Visitor Information Centre on Prince of Wales Pier, at the Park and Float/Ride facility, and at Custom House Quay ticket hut.

There is also a sister version of the Fal Mussel Card Visitor pass: that of the Fal River Attraction Pass. This allows unlimited entry to a number of attractions.

Conclusion

Falmouth, and ultimately Cornwall, are well and truly in my Top Ten for places I must return to in the near future. There is a fantastic vibe among its streets and some of its public houses. If you love your castles, sandcastles, and seeing merchant shipping through the window of your hotel or guest house, it is well worth the best part of a week.

The one drawback I have is the lack of buses after 7pm. I have complained about the shortcomings of Greater Manchester’s bus network – in written and verbal forms – and was amazed to find how superior Greater Manchester’s buses. (At least at this time of writing).

Stuart (along with his equally nomadic old man) stayed at the Madeira Hotel between the 09 and the 16 July as part of an Alfa Travel coach holiday with a number of included excursions. Part of this blog post was drafted in the sun lounge over a pint of porter brewed in Penryn, a few miles from the hotel.

References:

  • Your Guide to Cornwall’s Public Transport: June 2016 edition (Cornwall Council, Truro, 2016);
  • First Kernow Local Bus Guide: 29 May to 17 September 2016 (FirstGroup, Aberdeen, 2016);
  • Cornwall FalRiver: 2016 Guide (Fal River Limited, Falmouth, 2016);
  • OTS Minibus and Coach Hire: website advertising bus and coach services by the aforementioned company.

S.V., 01 August 2016.

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