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Brits may not always be the first to appreciate it, but Great Britain has Europe’s densest network of local bus routes – one that stretches well beyond urban areas to spread a fine mesh over the entire country. And “local” does not always mean short. Some local routes may extend to several hours traveling.
Services may not always be quite so perfectly coordinated as in Switzerland, where rail and road public transport mix seamlessly. But local bus services in Britain reach to even the remotest communities and are a credible option for budget-conscious travelers keen to see a lot of the countryside.
Live in Wales? Travel for free
Let’s take Wales as an example. Residents of the Principality aged 60 and over can ride for free on bus services throughout Wales – and they can also travel free on selected cross-border services into England, such as the X4 from Cardiff to Hereford and the X14 from Cwmbran to Bristol.
200 miles for £6
Lucky them. But travel on local buses in Wales is economical, even for those who need to pay their way. For example, we have friends who last month traveled by bus from Aberystwyth to Liverpool in a day, taking time to explore parts of the beautiful Snowdonia National Park on the way.
“It was a bit of an epic,” they reported. “But we saw mountains aplenty, spent an hour visiting Conwy Castle and stopped off in Chester too.”
The one-way fare per person was just £6 for a journey of some 200 miles. No need to book in advance, just buy a North West and Wales Day Saver on the first bus from Aberystwyth, and you can hop on and off Arriva buses within a designated area for a whole day (and that permitted area extends east to Manchester).
Longer routes with TrawsCymru
The successful TrawsCambria network provides relatively long-distance services through more rural parts of the Principality. The network will be relaunched in early 2012 as TrawsCymru. Network Manager David Hall says that travelers can look forward to better links from Snowdonia and Mid-Wales to Cardiff and better facilities on buses, such as on-board Wi-Fi and seating arranged around tables.
“Explore Wales” travel pass
To really get to know Wales by public transport, you might consider one of the Explore Wales family of passes. The standard one-week pass, costing £84, gives unlimited bus travel in Wales for eight consecutive days. On four of those eight days (any four you choose) you can use trains in Wales for free, and make cross-border excursions by train from Wales to some 20 stations in England (including the cities of Hereford, Shrewsbury and Chester).
And Wales is not as small as you might think. The one-way fare for the eight-hour train journey from Fishguard (in Pembrokeshire) to Holyhead is £75 (though book in advance, even just a couple of days, and you’ll snap up a ticket at just one third of that full fare). But if spontaneity is your game, and you expect to travel a lot by train in Wales, then the Explore Wales pass looks very attractive. A couple of long journeys and you’ve more than covered the cost of the pass.
But budget-conscious, truly dedicated slow travelers may prefer the bus option. Three changes of bus along the way, a ten-hour journey, and you could travel from Pembrokeshire to Holyhead for £11.25. No need to book. Just turn up and ride. The local bus has its advantages. And with cheap fares, and a fine range of local and regional day passes (all purchased from the driver as you board your first bus of the day), the Explore Wales pass may not be the best deal for dedicated bus travelers.
And, in our view, Wales was made for buses. Rural routes in the Teifi Valley, scenic tours on the Snowdon Sherpa network and some dramatic coastal journeys around Cardigan Bay. All this and more besides—all at prices that won’t break the bank.