Beer and travel are the main themes of this blog, but this particular post is solely about the latter. Give its title it could have been written for
bus and train anoraks public transport enthusiasts, and as I count
myself amongst the latter category, perhaps I should not be so disparaging to
Those who have followed this blog over the years will know I am a regular visitor to Norfolk. This came about following the decision of my parents to retire to the county, about a quarter of a century ago. So there were regular visits to see them, and cheap holidays as well, especially when our son was small, but during the course of the last half dozen or so years, the trips became more and more fraught.
This was due to the deteriorating health of both parents; mum’s problem was physical, whilst dad’s was/is mental – specifically advancing Alzheimer’s. After mum’s passing in 2015, my sisters and I took the difficult decision to move dad into a care home, and after inspecting several without being overly impressed, we found him a place in a small and pleasant home, with high standards of care. The home is in the small village of Gressenhall, just a few miles to the north of Dereham and not too many miles from Swanton Morley; the village where mum and dad originally retired to.
I’ve found over the years, and certainly since my parent’s health started to decline, that a visit to Norfolk was best combined with an overnight stay. It is of course, quite possible to drive there and back in a day, from my home in west Kent, but even on a good run I’ve never managed the journey in less than two and three quarter hours, and that’s with the recent improvements to the A11.
So whilst it is dual carriageway all the way from Tonbridge, it's a tiring drive, which seems to get worse as the volume of traffic on our roads, continues to increase. I also find the journey repetitive and boring, as over the years I know exactly what lane I need to be in, the location of all the roundabouts and also which diversions to take, should the road get too busy or become blocked.
Public transport is the other option, and with fast and frequent trains between London and Norwich, completing the journey in under two hours, the train is increasingly the way to go. With cheap, “Saver” tickets, book-able in advance, the train is also competitive when you factor in the cost of fuel, plus wear and tear on the car. Getting to London from Tonbridge is also easy, with around three trains an hour, which just leaves the section at the other end i.e. getting from Norwich to Gressenhall.
Now this is where the real, bus geek stuff comes in, as Konect bus operate an express service from Norwich to Dereham, with buses every 20 minutes in both directions. I used this service last year, but it still left me the short journey from Dereham to Gressenhall. There is a busy B road which head north out of Dereham, but being narrow in places, and with fast moving traffic, they are not the sort of roads I wish to be walking on; even though the distance is only three miles.
I solved the problem last year, by pre-booking a taxi from Dereham, but this plan nearly came unstuck after my train was delayed for three quarters of an hour at Ipswich. So determined not to be faced with a similar problem I conducted a little more research and found that Konect bus also operate a convenient service between Dereham and Gressenhall.
Last Friday I put this combination train and bus route to the test, and set off to visit dad in his Gressenhall care home. I’d timed the various stages of my journey to include sufficient slack, so that if there were delays on the trains, they would not impact on the overall itinerary. The critical part was the buses to and from Gressenhall, as there was only one viable outward service coupled with a final return service at 14.21.
This was a new one on me, and unfortunately it did add unwanted and unnecessary inflexibility to my journey. What was worse was no-one bothered to check my ticket on either of those local, South Eastern trains. The other strange thing was my outward ticket to Norwich was designated from Stratford, rather than Liverpool Street.
There were no disruptions on this occasion, and I passed the journey either reading or listening to some downloaded music on my phone. I also enjoyed the scenery, especially the section where the line crosses the River Stour, close to Manningtree and just before the river widens to become an estuary. Looking out the window, it was possible to see the towering cranes of Harwich Port, in the distance, some twelve miles away.
Alzheimer’s is a cruel and debilitating condition, which not only robs sufferers of their memories, but also leaves them increasingly isolated form the outside world. It’s heart-breaking to think back at how intelligent and witty dad was in his prime, but as I’ve mentioned before he is being well cared for and doesn’t appear to be in any stress.
The No. 21 bus dropped me in Dereham town centre, allowing me to hop smartly cross the road and onto the 14.38 express service back to Norwich. I alighted at the city’s bus station, as I wanted to take a look around and also visit a pub or two.
After waiting at London Bridge, for my timed connection back to Tonbridge, I was picked up at the station by son Matthew, who was waiting in his car. The entire journey ran like clockwork and cost a total of £43.45, probably not much more than the cost of diesel, and significantly less when combined with the price of a overnight stay.