Back in the day, when Sheffield Wednesday were in the Premier League and everyone in the countryside wore red laces on their boots, I regularly used public transport to get to the Lake District. A student at Lancaster University, I would get the 555 service most weekends and be filled with the excitement of reaching the fells as the bus wound a steady way up the A6 stopping at all the villages on the way before rocking up at Windermere or, some ridiculous time later, Keswick. I loved the thrill of getting on that bus and heading up to the countryside. Similarly, on holiday as a student in North Wales, the coach journey to Llandudno, the train to Betws-y-Coed, the buses around Snowdonia – all on time and all conveniently getting us there – and back.
Nowadays, if I were to stand in the bus stop at Lancaster on a cold morning, wait for the service to turn up and then put up with all the stopping and starting, I think it would drive me crazy. Once you have a car and are used to going from door to door in comfort and with more convenience, there is rarely any going back. But that’s not really the way it should be, is it? This week I’ve written a feature about an inspirational guy who made it his mission to complete the climb to all 214 Wainwrights in the Lake District using only public transport. He did it, though did come across regular issues on trains from Preston and at Keswick bus station. Shouldn’t we all be doing this?
While the dream of a wonderful and cost effective public transport system is alluring and desirable as it would be better for the environment and cut down on the cars in our countryside, we are a long way away from it. For me, as a car owner, the reason is simple. If I were to drive my family of four to the Peak District or Lake District for a weekend of hiking, the private transport would be far, far cheaper than it would be on the bus and train. Get a railway fare from Sheffield to Windermere, times it by four and work out the time it’s going to take = you have one solid gold reason why not to buy. And, like everything else, public transport will only begin to be a viable alternative when it is cheaper. And it SHOULD be cheaper. We should be tempted to leave our cars at home and get ourselves on the train. It’s all a long way from the early 80s when my first bus journeys were subsidised and cost the astronomical figure of 2p.
What are your experiences of getting around national parks using buses and trains? Is it better than the car? Share your experiences here and on twitter. @peternaldrett