I’ve got a rather smart model bus in my collection in the livery of Celtic Travel, the Llanidloes-based coach operator, which also operates a couple of bus services. One of the routes crosses into England – the X75 – running into Shrewsbury.
So what better on an autumnal day off to go border-hopping into the Welsh heartlands?
The X75 has it’s origins in Crosville’s D75. The erstwhile Welsh giant – which eventually morphed into Arriva Wales – ran the service from Shrewsbury, across the border into Welshpool, Newtown, and then Llanidloes. The same occurs today with Celtic’s X75, although a couple of trips extend to Llangurig and Rhayader.
Guess Your Bus Times…
I’m here for the 0930 departure from Amwythig (Welsh for “Shrewsbury”). I spy a Celtic Travel single decker parked up in the layover area, across the road from the bus station. It isn’t one of the smart vehicles I have the model of. Instead, it’s an 11 year old Enviro 300. There is no on-stand timetable, seemingly the result of vandalism – or it has simply fell off….
Spot-on 0930 it rolls out of its slumber and on to the stand. There are a handful of other takers, including a lady with an excitable dog. Predictably, I am the only one to offer cash.
After much punching of the ticket machine buttons, a Shrewsbury – Llanidloes return comes out at £12 for the 2-hours and a bit journey (although once across the border in Powys it becomes £8 for a day ticket).
We set off 5 minutes down, looping around some of Shrewsbury’s houses before we hit the open road. Our semi-old girl copes admirably with the speeds of the fast road. The excitable hound descends into a slumber under its owner’s seat.
We acquire a few more takers, but this is a huge mass of green fields, until, after three quarters of an hour, we arrive into Welshpool (or “Y Trallwng” in the native’s language). We’re running continuously around 5-7 minutes late, but this doesn’t seem to bother anyone. After a loop around the Town’s one-way system, we’ve lost some travellers and gained a few new ones, as we again run out through the gorgeous countryside, with mist covering the distant Welsh hills and fields of cows chewing the cud, watching us fly past with seemingly little interest.
We divert occasionally from the main drag to serve small settlements such as Berriew (Aberriw) where our driver obviously knows the location of the public conveniences, as he temporarily bolts out of the cab, returning moments later looking a much happier man.
The Orange Brigade…
Then it’s back to the main drag of the A483 and Newtown (“Y Drenewydd”), where our approach is delayed into the tiny bus station by a gaggle of tabarded officials which show “GB Rally”. A quick conversation takes place between one such oranged-up official and our man at the wheel, before we serve our stand. Here, we gain 10 new folk.
There is a timetabled 10-minute recovery here, but we’re straight out and thus back on time.
Then we divert again from the main road into Caersws, where the streets are narrow, the parked cars are plentiful, and progress is, well, “demanding”. Our man has obviously done it plenty of times before, but there is much reversing from oncoming cars to avoid stalemate, especially at the picturesque bridge into the town, where there ain’t room in this town for our bus and anything else. Two fishermen, almost waist-deep in the River Severn with rods observe our progress.
We’re more or less on time into Llanidloes, where our service has a 6-minute layover, before carrying on for another 10 minutes to it’s ultimate destination of Llangurig. I bail out here for a few hours exploring, which inevitably ends up in a pub and faggots for lunch.
Austerity Hits – with gaffer-tape…
Back on the opposite side of the road, my return journey appears a couple of minutes down, but is one of the much posher Volvo/Wrights single-deckers, which my model depicts. It’s the same driver from earlier, whom I presume has also been suitably fed and watered for his over-4 hour round trip across the border. The at-stop information is held together by good old gaffer-tape.
The vehicle has nicely-finished leather green and white seating and a screen that tells us that the next stop is Newtown bus station – which patently isn’t the case.
The X75 is very scenic in parts, as hillsides, mountains and still-not-cleared mist is observed. Back in Caersws, we again do battle with motorists. The fishermen have disappeared.
As we approach Newtown, the traffic congestion becomes horrendous. Whether this is a direct result of the “GB Rally” is not clear, but after 9 users have joined us at the bus station, we’re 15 minutes down. The “next stop” info screen fails to change.
“Next Stop” fail…
We fail to make up much time on the approach into Welshpool, where, if anything, the congestion issue is even worse. As we sit in stationary traffic, the X75 running in the opposite direction passes us, running 40 minutes late. It’s driver looks beyond fed up and throws his hands up in despair at our man as some form of greeting. We perform another loop of the town, by which time we’re 30 minutes late ourselves. Our “next stop” screen still doggedly shows “Newtown”.
Then a man boards with a sack which is the size of a small child. He tells the driver it’s dog feed, and wrestles it to the nearest seat. The driver doesn’t bat an eyelid, the rest of us are mildly bemused.
Back on the A483 we’re not really making back any time, and our progress is delayed further by a load of cows being crossed over the road, just past the English border. We eventually arrive back into Shrewsbury bus station 25 minutes down, where we pull on to the stand, I take pictures of the bus and it’s somewhat surprised new passengers, and our man makes a bolt for the bus station loo.
I presume that this service is subsidised by Powys Council, and it is indeed a lifeline to it’s users. The vehicles are decent, but the evening peak timetable – if my journey is typical – is a disaster. There is a bypass being built around Newtown, so maybe that will help when it finally opens.
The Good (“da”)
- Smart buses
- Friendly drivers
- Lifeline service
The not-so-good (“ddim mor dda”)
- No at-stop information in Shrewsbury bus station
- Congestion in Newtown and Welshpool means the timetable goes to pot
- Celtic Travel website has no fares information