In the Campaign’s December 2012 newsletter (no.105) I wrote an article about routes from Cambridge to Wimpole Hall, finding the almost unknown Victoria Drive route from the Orwell turn (on the A603) to Wimpole – now on the Cyclestreets route planner (www.cyclestreets.net) and the National Trust’s website, I’m happy to say. There have been other changes, notably improvements to the cycle track beside the A10, giving easier access to Barrington and Orwell – but there’s still no easy and reasonably direct route.
Therefore it’s excellent to report that South Cambridgeshire District Council has sponsored the Bike-Bus Explorer, a bus with a bike trailer that runs on Sundays and bank holiday Mondays from Cambridge station (also picking up at the west end of Brooklands Avenue, by the Leys School on Trumpington Road and on Barton Road) to Wimpole and then in a loop via Gamlingay. Two services go via Hatley St George to Gamlingay, then to the Gransdens and Longstowe and back to Wimpole and Cambridge; two go the other way around – but in mid-April the last service (17.00 from Cambridge, 18.13 from Gamlingay, 18.37 from Wimpole) didn’t seem to be operating.
This is the only Sunday link to most of these villages; in fact this is the only bus of any kind to reach Wimpole Hall (renamed Wimpole Estate, it seems) at all – on weekdays and in winter you’ll have to walk a mile from Arrington or a mile and a half from Wimpole village.
When I sampled the service on a Sunday in mid-April there were a dozen other passengers on board and half a dozen bikes on the trailer – several with child seats. All but two of us (and all but two bikes) left at Wimpole – one couple, one parent and child, and a larger group of transatlantic origins, which may have pushed numbers up above the average. Some were clearly coming here to walk rather than cycle; others were presumably visiting the house and associated attractions. I went to Waresley and explored to the west, finishing up at Wimpole for the 16.07 bus back, which carried ten passengers and three bikes (two of which were already on board). All three cyclists disembarked on Barton Road, for what it’s worth – seeing the numbers boarding at Cambridge station does not give the full picture. In fact, by the standards of Sunday buses, I’d say this was fairly well patronised and has a decent chance of survival. Fares are reasonable: it’ll cost you £2 on top of your ticket for an adult bike, and £1 for a child’s bike, single or return.
The trailer has metal loops that are raised to hold the front and rear of the bikes, which seems reasonably secure but not as much as the racks on the front of many buses in North America [see photos] and elsewhere in Europe – it’s also quite a long walk for the driver every time a bike is loaded or unloaded! For a commuter service this wouldn’t really work, but for a weekend leisure service it’s fine.
All in all I was happy to see the bus being reasonably well used by walkers and other passengers as well as by cyclists; if this experiment is to become permanent it will need more promotion, I think. I was glad to see that it is listed in the regular journey planners and not ghettoised as a cycling service.