Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Random Route: Breezer 50

Sometimes, we all need a break from our hometown. When the number 50 turned up on the random number generator, instead of dismissing it and trying again (I haven't ridden the London route 50 yet), I thought about writing a review of the number 50 bus service I have ridden end to end. Advertised as the Purbeck Breezer, the 50 is managed by MoreBus using convertible EvoSeti's, running from Bournemouth Station-Swanage. It is timetabled to take around 70 minutes, but some serious rescheduling needs to be done before next summer, especially after my experience riding this route. It does provide some brilliant views, but definitely avoid the "tourist rush hour", as your journey could be painful!

A convertible EvoSeti stands at Swanage Bus Station, whilst the driver takes a well-deserved break.
I knew very well that the 50 would be a busy service, especially on a glorious summer day. I made my way up to Bournemouth Station just in time to catch the 11:20 service up to Swanage and there was already a fairly large crowd at the bus stop. As most people still pay cash in Dorset, the loading times are significantly longer than in London and the bus didn't actually depart until 11:25. Most of the seats upstairs were taken by the time I joined the bus, but I managed to find some inside the sheltered part of the bus. The EvoSeti turned out of the Bournemouth Station forecourt and took a right turn down Holdenhurst Road, a small parade of shops including Sprinkles Gelato and a sweet Italian place which is always at capacity.

A few more people joined the bus at Gervis Road, a road full of hotels as there is no room in the city centre to build any, apart from a massive Premier Inn, but large chains always get their own way. The 50 then heads straight down the traffic-filled Bath Road, but instead of serving the beach directly the 50 takes a right turn down Westover Road, a street with a couple of restaurants and nothing much else. Bournemouth is a very unique city, mainly because of its structure. As there are cliffs right by the seaside, there are no actual shops along the seafront, instead you have to climb uphill to reach the city centre, until you're basically on top of the cliffs.

The next major stop for the 50 was Bournemouth Square, although I didn't expect many people to board here, seeing as there were only about three or four spare seats upstairs by this point. However, the crowd of 50 people at the bus stop were all heading to Swanage and the bus sat at the stop for a whole twenty minutes loading up. That's 18 minutes longer than the timetable suggests. Many young children were gutted that there were no seats anywhere and people were standing upstairs and down the staircase too. The bus was definitely over capacity by the time it left Bournemouth Square, with people standing right next to the driver in horrid, cramped conditions, which really aren't ideal for a tourist service.

The sheer amount of people on board meant that the bus was struggling when on the road; anything above 15mph was too much. For some odd reason, the 50 does not take the most direct route to Westbourne, instead serving lots of residential streets and taking much longer than routes like the m1 and m2. Just as I thought the bus was at capacity, the MCV EvoSeti picked up even more people at in Westbourne, home to a number of restaurants and expensive homes.

The journey after Westbourne really wasn't interesting, with nothing to see apart from trees and some residential streets. After about 20 minutes of boredom the 50 finally reached somewhere noteworthy. Sandbanks is well-known for it's extremely high property value and the coastline area has been labelled as "Britain's Palm Beach" by the media. The view is stunning and is a popular holiday destination for families, with the water in the sea being incredibly shallow there.

A few people alighted here, but most of us wanted to continue the journey up to Swanage. Sandbanks is a noteworthy location on the 50, because this is where it crosses Shell Bay. However, there is no bridge here and the 50 uses a ferry to cross the water. It was a very interesting experience, being on a double decker bus being powered by something other than itself. The movement was barely noticeable as this particular ferry is one where a rope is used to pull it across the river, so it came as a surprise when it was already time to disembark, when I wasn't even aware the bus had left!

The next stop on the 50 is Studland, which looks like a failed attempt at an upmarket beach and some bushes, where ramblers go rambling... The bus was sailing along quite nicely, not picking up or dropping off anyone, until a quiet country road, where the bus ground to a halt behind a line of cars. Thirty minutes later, the bus still hadn't moved. I blame the National Trust, as their car park seemed to be full and no one could be bothered to divert the cars wanting to get to it elsewhere, so the bus just sat there while all of the passengers listened to cars honking their horns. There was no footpath and I had absolutely no idea how long was left, but I imagined it would be quite a while as all I could see other than car lights were trees. Eventually a steward showed up and some of the cars in front did a 3-point turn and started to head back to Studland. After 40 minutes of doing nothing, the bus was finally back on the move, through more trees and eventually a small village.

Unfortunately, people do live in these villages and our bus was at capacity, so when the bus did show up after 90 minutes it sailed straight past all of the bus stops there. After staring at some more cottages and a nice view of the horizon, some shops and a beach started to appear. Lots of people alighted at the beach and I later found out that the EvoSeti had finally reached Swanage. Most of the standees who wanted to get out at Swanage Bus Station came upstairs for a whole two minutes, before the bus terminated outside the miniature railway station, 70 minutes late. Two minutes later, an Olympus and another EvoSeti turned up, creating a triple bunching on a route that runs every half an hour. Oh dear.

Swanage is a sweet little town with a beach that isn't as heaving or hectic as Bournemouth or Sandbanks and it seems like a nice place to stay in. It's a shame that my journey there really wasn't as nice as it should've been, but I've learned my lesson now, and it's an important one. Whenever I'm riding a tourist route, I will never ride it at hotel chucking-out time again. The 50 does provide a very unique experience, given that there is only one other bus route in the country that uses a ferry (the number 477 from Berwick Upon-Tweed to Holy Island) and it has some pretty amazing views on offer. I do recommend you ride it if you ever find yourself in Dorset, but avoid the 11:20 Bournemouth-Swanage journey at all costs!

Thanks for reading!