Monday 18 August 2014

Simple Simon Struggles to Stonehenge

Simple Simon?
Simon Calder is the son of the late science writer Nigel Calder and the grandson of the late Lord Ritchie-Calder. He is the nephew of the late Scottish writer and critic, Angus Calder and educationalist Isla Calder (1946-2000). Calder became travel editor for The Independent in 1994.

He is often credited as being a "much respected travel expert."

On Saturday last he penned a piece for the "i" newspaper; a sort of expurgated version of the Independent for those who cannot be bothered reading a proper newspaper. fbb buys it routinely because it's only 30p and he enjoys doing the quick crossword.

Foreign tourists trying to reach Stonehenge
by public transport must put up with Stone Age
speeds, and a journey of four hours.

Britain’s “peculiar” transport system makes access from London to some leading tourist attractions exasperating. The journey to Wiltshire’s ancient stone circle begins with South West Trains from London Waterloo to Salisbury. Next, tourists must take a six-minute walk towards the city centre, followed by a half-hour bus ride to Shrewton. “Here, a wait of up to an hour can occur, until a Connect2Wiltshire bus continues on a 20-minute journey to Stonehenge,” say the researchers.

Certainly, if the researchers tried the poor quality of Traveline, they would get this result for a journey on a typical Monday.
All the features of Calder's article are there, including the unhelpful journey via Shrewton by Salisbury Red route 2 ...
... with a 58 minute wait for the TL7. What Calder does not tell us is that the TL7 is a pre-book service.
The 9.5-mile segment from Salisbury station to Stonehenge can take two hours, averaging below 5mph. The report calls it: “Public transport at its most fragmented and unhelpful."

Quite right Simple Simon. For daytime departures the Traveline route is slow, tedious and completely unnecessary! It even recommends an interchange here, at Fleming Farm ...
... in the middle of nowhere in particular.

No sane person would advise such a journey and "the researchers" referred to in the article clearly have no idea of travel opportunities in the UK. For a start they have believed Traveline!

And the journey is not four hours long, but a modest (?) 3 hours and 27 minutes!

Let non-resepcted travel non-expert, the fat bus bloke, put Simon Calder, the incompetent researchers and the readership of the "i" on the right track, on the right ley line indeed, from London to Salisbury.

A half hour frequency by Southwest Trains from London Waterloo is pretty good compared with the so-called good old days of steam. The journey will take you either 1 hour 22 minutes or 1 hour 30 minutes according to stopping pattern.
Eschew the unwise "i"s advice to tramp to the town centre; and walk all the way to the outside of the station.
There turn left (right as we view the exit) an you will see a bus stop a bit like this one ...
... possibly with a big black and red bus waiting (but see below).
That silhouette on stop and bus is a bit of a clue!

Reference to the Salisbury Reds web site reveals ...
... no buses to Stonehenge! Perhaps it is a tourist route?
No, they are routes run by a Salisbuty Red/Wilts and Dorset clone, namely ...
... Tourist Coaches; operating some rural services in the Salisbury area.
Silly name, if you are a tourist!

But if you are persistent and click on "Things to Do" ...
... and then "where our open top tours go" ... 
... you may chance upon "Stonehenge Tours", which isn't open top, hence the web page link!
And, at last, there is the timetable.
A bus every 30 minutes. And the bus is now orange and brown, not red and black; but the Stonehenge silhouette remains as telling evidence of the purpose of the service!
So a typical example of  a travel schedule from London is revealed as:-

That's two hours and 13 minutes, not 3 hours and 27 minutes; and certainly NOT four hours!

Simon Calder, is, of course, reporting on research done by a third party, research which is profoundly and utterly WRONG and he should always check his facts before putting fingers to keyboard and deceiving his loyal readership, BUT ...

... in one sense he is right. Why does this half hour frequency not appear on Traveline?

Answer, because it's not a bus service! It's a "tour". Unlike a typical bus service which runs, say, every half and hour, this "tour" only runs every half an hour. Unlike a bus service where you can turn up and pay the driver, on this tour you can always turn up and pay the driver. Unlike a bus service where you don't book a seat, on this tour you don't need to book a seat. But it's not a bus service, it's a tour; hence the difference.

Thus, details are hard to find on the bus (and tour?) company web site and non-existent on Traveline.
See, all there is to help you is the dreaded and useless TL7!

Yes, Simon, the public transport network in the UK is diffuse, unco-ordinated and much of it is a closely guarded secret. However, with Sherlock Holmsian determination, unsurpassed intellect and low cunning it is just possible to find out how to get to Stonehenge; and you, much respected travel expert, should know about Stonehenge Tours anyway. Then you could have given the right answer in your newspaper, not a ludicrously wrong one.

Must try harder, 0/10. 

 Next tram blog : Tuesday 19th August 


  1. And also inconsistency from Traveline! Go to find a timetable and type in location Salisbury. Scroll down and you will find service STB

  2. Or Mr Calder could just have Googled "Stonehenge". This would offer him the relevant section of the English Heritage website. Under "Directions", he would learn that Salisbury is the railway station to use, and that "The Stonehenge Tour Bus is the public bus departing from Salisbury rail and bus stations". There's a link to the Stonehenge Tour Bus website, where he'd find the timetable you've shown. Pity about the reference to Salisbury bus station, eight months after it closed - but otherwise English Heritage seem to be on the ball.


  3. Yes, definite inconsistency from Traveline. STB shows up if you search by "Stonehenge Visitors Centre" but not by "Stonehenge (centre of)"; and can also be found under "Salisbury, Railway Station (Stop)" but not "Salisbury Rail Station".
    However, the Visitors Centre is to the west of the Stonehenge car park served by the TL7, at a point called Airman's Corner (which is the name of th e stop inthe opposite direction). It would appear to fall just outside the 2km circle that NaPTAN uses around a point defined as the centre of that location - which presumably is why it doesn't show up in the search for "Stonehenge (centre of)".
    And where is Airman's Corner, according to NaPTAN? Stonehenge....

  4. I bet it's a tour just so they don't have to accept OAP passes :)

  5. I don't think that English Heritage approve of people going inside the stone circle, so the thought of a bus stop at Stonehenge (centre of) is mind boggling !

    Knock a few stones out of the way, to allow the bus to get in !!

  6. It's worse than it appears, having had a look at Google maps the Stonehenge Car Park stop listed for the TL7 is where the old car park for Stonehenge was, this closed when the new visitor centre opened, at which time they closed & dug up the road going to it. It would be very interesting to try & book the TL7 to this stop as it appears to require driving down a farm track and across a field to now reach it.

    So not only does Traveline make it difficult to find the right service but the stop it is trying to use doesn't exist anymore (and hasn't for a couple of years) & if you did book the TL7 it would take you to the same stop as the Stonehenge Tour in any case. I presume this is the result of the TL7 being demand responsive with no fixed route and as such didn't need to be re-registered when they closed the road & moved the visitor centre so the person dealing with Traveline data didn't think to change it & remove the stop. A complete failing by the local authority/government run organisations who are supposed to make it easy to find out joined up transport information, though as FBB showed its not like W&D (or Salisbury Reds or whoever) are making it any easier to find the timetable themselves. South West Trains do also give the correct information if you look under "What To Do In Salisbury" though their link to the Stonehenge Tour website appears to be broken.

  7. Apart from the lazy research, I'm annoyed by the habitual assumption of national media that everyone starts from London!

    1. In this case a fairer assumption as they are referring to foreign tourists so London is where the vast majority would start from (some may come from Bath but in that case they would either use one of the heavily marketed coach tours that pick up near the open toppers or by train via Stonehenge so being affected in the same way just from a different origin).

      You could, however, take issue with the fact that he appears to assume that Brits would all use a car to travel to Stonehenge and that public transport is only of relevance to visiting tourists. Given the crux of the issue is the final link via bus to the site, or at least the useless Traveline version of it, that would be relevant to all visitors who don't want to drive not just foreign tourists.