Can You Get From Westminster to Durham By Bus?

If you have any sense at this moment in time, the answer should be ‘No’

The list of places associated with disreputable goings-on with present and previous Conservative governments have grown in the last five years. There are now enough places to muster a Best of British coach tour. Till last week, we had a suitable coach operator with the hotels and pick up points to pitch a possible inclusive tour.

Day One could have started at your nearest pick up point before joining the coach in Warrington, Gretna Green or Scotch Corner. Then our coach would take the A1(M) or M6 before joining the M1 and arriving in London for 6pm. Day Two would include a trip to Salisbury with a lunchtime stop at a pizza restaurant in Woking.

Day Three could be a tour in itself. From all parts of the UK, you would have been happy to spend a ton or two on an all inclusive short break in Durham. One that might include a trip to the Beamish Open Air Museum and two nights digs at a hotel near Newcastle Airport or Middlesbrough.

Under normal circumstances, a trip to Barnard Castle would be a nice jolly in spring time. As well as the castle, there’s some nice buildings and (to quote the late Nikolaus Pevsner), “beautiful perambulation”. It should be a modest bus ride away from Durham city centre.

With part of the lockdown measures being relaxed to allow longer trips out, HM Government’s measures recommend that such journeys should be made locally. So long as you apply social distancing measures, there is nothing to stop you going to the next town. By bicycle, motor car or foot, but certainly not public transport (unless you wear a face mask). Therefore, there is nothing to stop you walking along the Huddersfield Narrow Canal from Stalybridge to Diggle.

Before the measures were relaxed a little, we found that a certain Special Advisor had been caught travelling a great distance to see his parents. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s SpAd no less, whilst suffering the symptoms of COVID-19. Where did he see his parents? Durham, County Durham. Quite a distance from London and more than an hour by train.

For everybody else on this collection of islands of ours, you are supposed to self-isolate for fourteen days. Non-essential travel is an absolute no-no. There has been stories of ‘normal folk’ being caught driving from Rochdale to Whitby – for the sole purpose of getting fish and chips. Though we know The Magpie Café is iconic, other fine local chippies are available in Gracie Fields’ birthplace.

As for Dominic Cummings’ trip (or alleged trips) to Durham and Barnard Castle, he has attracted the ire of the Daily Mail. The same publication that was one of the biggest cheerleaders of Brexit and, prior to 1973, the UK’s entry into the European Economic Community. If the Daily Mail is peed off with a Conservative Government, you know the Tories could be on to a loser.

In a nutshell, this is classic “do as I say, not do as I do” territory, so I shan’t elaborate any further on Dom’s comings or goings other than the fact he must go. More to the point, we run the risk of straying from the original premise of this post.

Can you get from Westminster to Durham by…

Before you decide to embark on these journeys, please wear a face covering if you can. Better still, postpone your journey till the lockdown has officially ceased. This leaves the buses, trains, trams and underground trains free for those who really need them.

All times are based on leaving the Houses of Parliament at 9.30 am on a weekday. Social distancing measures are in place on public transport and at railway stations, bus stations and stops.

Train and tube

Journey time: 3 hours 37 minutes

That’s the easy way on public transport. Just a case of walking from the Houses of Parliament to Westminster Underground station (Circle, Jubilee and District lines). Then:

  • 0933: Westminster – London Bridge: 5 minutes (TfL Jubilee Line);
  • 0942: London Bridge – King’s Cross St. Pancras: 10 minutes (TfL Northern Line);
  • 1000: King’s Cross – York: 1 hour 52 minutes (LNER (Mk. 2));
  • 1207: York – Durham: 47 minutes (Transpennine Express).

Bus and coach

Journey time: 8 hours 55 minutes

Under normal circumstances, the bus and coach only journey would take up to nine hours. The journey would have been as follows:

  • 1000: 211 Parliament Square – Victoria Coach Station: 9 minutes (TfL);
  • 1030: 561 Victoria Coach Station – Leeds [Bus and Coach Station]: 4 hours 30 minutes (National Express);
  • 1550: 332 Leeds [Bus and Coach Station] – Sunderland [Park Lane Interchange]: 2 hours (National Express);
  • 1812: X20 X-lines Sunderland [Park Lane Interchange] – Durham [Leazes Road/Millburngate Bridge]: 43 minutes (Go North East).

Buses only

With National Express not running any scheduled coach services due to the COVID-19 pandemic, attempting a journey from Westminster to Durham would be an epic trek. A most valid reason for staying at home and only travelling locally for essential journeys.

Seen below is how the itinerary would look on normal non-lockdown weekday operations. We dread to think what the itinerary would look like with emergency timetables in motion.

Journey time: 2 days 4 hours 31 minutes

Tuesday

  • 0937: 88 Parliament Square [Stop A] – Kentish Town Post Office [Stop KE]: 27 minutes (Clarkes of London);
  • 1022: 134 Kentish Town Post Office [Stop KE] – Muswell Hill [Stop F]: 22 minutes (TfL);
  • 1048: 234 Muswell Hill [Stop F] – High Barnet [Stop Q]: 34 minutes (TfL);
  • 1128: 84 High Barnet [Stop Q] – St. Alban’s City Railway Station [Stop C]: 54 minutes (TfL);
  • 1305: 321 Sapphire St. Albans [St. Peter’s Street, Stop 10] – Luton Station Interchange [Stand LS8]: 35 minutes (Arriva in Herts and Essex);
  • 1442: 99 Luton [Galaxy Centre, Stop G1] – Milton Keynes [The Point, Stop H4]: 48 minutes (Stagecoach East);
  • 1621: X6 Milton Keynes [Theatre District] – Northampton [Bus Interchange Bay 18]: 53 minutes (Stagecoach Midlands);
  • 1735: X4 Gold Northampton [Bus Interchange Bay 12] – Corby [George Street]: 1 hour 26 minutes (Stagecoach Midlands).

With the buses finishing early, this would mean finding somewhere to pitch a tent! Under normal conditions, a taxi from the town centre and an overnight stay at the Hampton by Hilton would have sufficed.

Wednesday

  • 0954: RF1 Rutland Flier Corby [George Street, Stop F] – Oakham [Bus Station]: 46 minutes (Centrebus);
  • 1045: RF1 Rutland Flier Oakham [Bus Station] – Melton Mowbray [Windsor Street, Stand W4]: 34 minutes (Centrebus);
  • 1145: 19 Melton Mowbray [St. Mary’s Way, Stand S1] – Nottingham [Crown Court, Stop C12]: 45 minutes (Centrebus);
  • 1308: X1 Nottingham [Cathedral, Stop Y1] – Chesterfield [New Beetwell Street, Stop B14]: 1 hour 16 minutes (Stagecoach in Chesterfield);
  • 1520: X17 Chesterfield [Coach Station, Bay C] – Barnsley [Interchange]: 1 hour 52 minutes (Stagecoach in Chesterfield);
  • 1820: X10 Barnsley [Interchange, Stand A21] – Leeds Bus and Coach Station [Dyer Street]: 45 minutes (Stagecoach in Yorkshire);
  • 1915: 36 Leeds Bus and Coach Station [Dyer Street] – Ripon [Bus Station, Stand 3]: 1 hour 20 minutes (Transdev in Harrogate).

Under normal conditions, there would have been enough time for a chippy tea between the X17 and X10 buses. One more thing: where does one pitch a tent in the city of Ripon?

Thursday

  • 1140: 159 Ripon [Bus Station, Stand 3] – Richmond [Market Place]: 1 hour 37 minutes (Dales and District);
  • 1339: X27 MAX Richmond [Market Place] – Darlington [Town Hall, Stand M]: 36 minutes (Arriva North East);
  • 1509: 7 Sapphire Darlington [Tubwell Row] – Durham [North Road, Stand A]: 1 hour 2 minutes (Arriva North East).

As soon as we leave more urban territory, the state of our rural bus routes is more apparent in North Yorkshire than in Northamptonshire. A bus journey from Ripon to Richmond is a meandering affair via Masham and Leyburn. Plus it seems the first bus after 9.30 am in Ripon, doesn’t leave till 11.20 am!

What about getting from Durham to Barnard Castle by bus?

By car, Durham to Barnard Castle is a straightforward run along the A688. The journey varies from 50 minutes to an hour over its 25 mile length and takes in Spennymoor, Bishop Auckland, West Auckland, and Staindrop.

By bus, the journey time could vary from 1 hour 33 minutes to 2 hours 4 minutes. Plus you need to change at Bishop Auckland or West Auckland en route.

Based on leaving after 9.30 am on a weekday. The most effective way (under normal operating conditions) is by means of Go North East’s X21 X-lines bus to Bishop Auckland bus station. You could also get Arriva North East’s 6 Sapphire bus which leaves at 1018, but connections could be touch and go with the bus to Barnard Castle. This is all the more important as under normal non-COVID-19 operating, there are only six return journeys on the 85 route.

Scarlet Band Bus and Coach Ltd is the sole operator of the Durham County Council tendered route. It takes in West Auckland and Staindrop, with a slight diversion from the A688 into Evenwood and Cockfield. Once the lockdown has ceased, this could be one for the East of the M60 bus hopping bucket list. Not least for its scenic run and the fact it passes Raby Castle (of George Allan’s Raby contest march fame).

Finally…

If you think you can get from Westminster to Durham by service buses alone, the answer is a resounding ‘no’ if you tried to do it over a single day. The journey would include two overnight stays and a few comfort stops along the way.

Perhaps the marathon bus journey should be attempted after the lockdown. Maybe as part of a fundraiser for our key workers. As for Barnard Castle, it is one place I wouldn’t mind going to, despite being tainted by the presence of Boris Johnson’s Special Adviser.

With recent events, Dominic Cummings’ deviance may give carte blanche for some people to think the lockdown is over. If I were you, I would stick to the previous message of Stay At Home, Protect The NHS, Save Lives.

If you do need to get the bus, train or tram, wear a face covering, make sure your journey is necessary. On no account should you try to get from Westminster Abbey to Durham Cathedral by bus. Ashton to Stalybridge is fine; Huddersfield to Halifax is too. Ripon to Richmond is, as is Durham to Barnard Castle, so long as your journey is necessary. Most importantly, take heed of the social distancing rules.

S.V., 25 May 2020.

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