Public transport in the south west is pretty poor and in my corner of the SW – West Somerset – it’s even poorer. We used to have two bus companies that ran similar routes, except one was slightly cheaper, however one has now gone out of business leaving us a more limited service.
This one service operates a route from our town (Minehead) to the main county town (Taunton), which takes about 1hr 20mins! Yes, I know, that’s a long time to be stuck on a bus, empty or full, but the roads wind through the countryside, meeting other buses and heavy traffic in the opposite direction, not to mention farm machinery and the ever present cyclists. (It sometimes feels like cycling mecca round here).
We residents are used to this length of journey, it’s a good time to chill out listening to music, read a book or simply take a power nap, if the journey doesn’t make you travel sick. The problem lies in peak holiday season. The roads become jammed with holiday makers (or grockles as they are referred to locally – why I don’t know but there you go) who aren’t used to the slower pace of travel as many hail from cities in Wales and the West Midlands. None of us quite know why these two particular groups are so attracted to our town.
Also, we have a large holiday camp in the town, run by a very well known company. Many seasonal workers arrive from eastern europe, a favoured place for staff recruitment, as well as across the UK to work as Red Coats amongst many other roles. The holiday camp also provides much needed employment for the town; it has almost become a rite of passage to work there as it is to work at McDonalds.
Many tourists arrive by bus to the camp, and of course, leave the same way. This is where one of the many transport issues begins. Change over days are fridays and mondays when new guests arrive/leave which means that the bus from Minehead that begins it’s return journey to Taunton (and therefore train station) at the holiday camp, is overflowing with holiday makers and their copious luggage, leaving no room for anyone else getting on in the town centre!
Add to that the queues of cars blocking the outer ring road leading to the camp which was built to alleviate traffic to the camp but has, in fact, not done so at all. Instead the entrance to the hospital and major supermarkets are also blocked by all these cars.
How many people visit this camp in peak season you’re wondering? Well, when full, it can hold 10,000 holiday makers in camp provided accommodation which doesn’t include all those who keep caravans at the camp, those who visit with day passes and of course the very large staff contingent. Basically, in full peak season, the town doubles in size just from that. Take into account all the guest houses, B&B’s and hotels, as well as camping/caravan sites locally and you’ve got a LOT of extra traffic.
The reason I mention all this is that whilst waiting for a bus this morning, up trundled the bus from the camp, overflowing with luggage; the driver pulled up only to tell those wishing to get on that they’d have to wait for the next one as he had no room. The next one being half an hour. Not much consolation to the large existing queue or the gentleman in an electric wheelchair or the lady needing to catch a train in Taunton.
Such is life in a popular seaside town.