How possible is it to adventure by public transport in the UK?

When did you last opt for public transport instead of the car?

Over the last couple of years the statistics for public transport use have made interesting reading. In 2019 84% we in Great Britain travelled 873 billion passenger kilometres (that’s 22 million times around the world). 84% of these kilometres were in cars, vans or taxis.

Journeys for work, leisure and adventure.

Some of these journeys will have been for work but many will also have been for leisure. For those of us who love outdoor adventures, access to our favourite outdoor spaces has become synonymous with jumping in the car (or more recently the camper van).

In 2019 we only made 7.9 million passenger journeys on public transport.

Of course, how we use public transport has been massively affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. As an example, at the height of restrictions train passenger numbers fell to 5% of normal levels. By September 2020 timetables had returned to near normal but were reduced again as the winter lockdown began.

With ongoing reduced capacity, and low consumer confidence, it seems likely that public transport journeys are going to continue to be reduced for some time to come.

This means that while roads in popular outdoor destinations like the Southwest and the Lake District are jammed with road traffic, trains (and some buses) currently have more available space.

What better time to have a public transport adventure?

Suddenly, using more public transport makes sense. Traffic levels have increased significantly here in the Southwest. Along our seafront we’re already experiencing August-level traffic jams, and the school holidays are still a long way off.

Which is why we at Fi Darby Freelance have recently started to research a series of adventures by public transport. One of my job roles is to run navigation and wild camping workshops on Dartmoor. Clients, especially clients travelling from London, often ask how they can get to these events by public transport. My efforts to help have led me to a clear conclusion.

It’s not easy to get into the countryside without a car.

Closed routes, reduced capacity buses and trains, and limited destination choices all render car free walks, and other public transport adventures more difficult. So, if we’re looking at making the countryside more accessible, we have a couple of options:

Build better public transport networks to popular countryside destinations.

Investigate adventure opportunities where public transport already exists.

Hopefully the former is already on the agenda so we’ll leave that one alone for now. The latter however is a really tempting option, and might offer solutions to some of the issues sometimes presented by increased visitor numbers.

So is travelling by public transport better for the countryside?

Visitors, and the money they spend, are really important to many rural communities but vast visitor numbers can be difficult to manage. We’ve been thinking about how mode of transport can affect this. Let’s imagine a family arriving at a destination by train instead of by car.

Solution 1 – their car won’t block the country lanes

Solution 2 – their car won’t be parked in a gateway

Solution 3 – the station will have a toilet

Solution 4 – they won’t be carrying a barbecue or fire pit

Solution 5 – they won’t be heading for THAT selfie spot

But what if I want to get to THAT selfie spot?

Okay, whether it’s the top of a mountain or a white sand beach, for lots of us being able to say, ‘I’ve been there’ is really important. Oh the irony of the ‘secret place’ culture. We’re all seeking the wild, secret places but most of us want them to be the exactly same wild, secret places we’ve seen on Instagram.

What is most scandalous in all of this is that the destination culture we all feed into is fooling us into thinking that ‘there’ is the only place we’ll be able to see ‘that thing’.

This just isn’t true.

In the UK we’re surrounded by beautiful Instagrammable locations.  For every Blue Lagoon, there are many hidden river pools. For every mountain summit, there are many lonely trig points. For every Dark Hedge, there are many dappled woodland glades.

All we need to do is start exploring.

Which brings us back to public transport. Because they can’t usually take us directly to those Instagram favourites, trains and buses encourage us to explore. I’m not suggesting we all abandon our much-loved cars and vans. I’m off in mine very soon. Just that for some of our adventures we try a different type of exploration. Over the next month or so we at Fi Darby Freelance are planning to do just that. We’re going to try:

  • Train rides to wild camping locations
  • Public transport outdoor wild swimming
  • Public transport walks that are easy from London
  • Car free walks in the Southwest

Watch this space to find out how we get on!

Should we be applying permaculture principles to our outdoor writing?

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