Exmoor Coaster excels as happiness hits the heights of Porlock Hill!
It was a matter of time!
Well no surprises there! Yes, it was kind of inevitable that the Exmoor Coaster won the “Outstanding Customer Experience” accolade at this month’s “Route One Awards” in Birmingham.
It’s long been no secret that the customer service is great on this incredible route, as good as the amazing scenery too and we at Great Scenic Journeys have spent some time over the past couple of years reviewing the experience and chatting to customers.
“Top notch customer care” was how one regular hiker across Exmoor described it to us on our most recent trip in October. The drivers certainly are attentive to their needs and pride themselves in the way they have developed this amazing route over the past few years and treat customers as guests as if they are visiting their home! At Great Scenic Journeys, they also have benefited from our ‘Delight the Customer’ training – though they were the easiest ever to train because they are obsessed with customer service!
The Exmoor Coaster is a fabulous open top bus experience that blows the cobwebs away as it navigates its way up to the top of incredible cliffs, across the remarkable Exmoor, then back down again for a blissful seaside retreat. The breeze whips in from the coast and the air is always fresh as the journey showcases the best of British scenery with friendly drivers, always keen to regale a tale or two about past adventures and the fascination of this particular corner of lovely Devon. Don’t worry, as you can see, there’s some seats at the front of the bus upstairs to shelter from the breeze and rain too, if the weather takes a turn for the worse!
It’s convenient to get to the Exmoor Coaster – a train to Taunton (served by quick directs to/from London, The Midlands and the North or Megabus) then a charming trip on the 28 bus from First which stops outside the station. Stay on board to Minehead and the Exmoor Coaster scenic sojourn starts outside the high jinks japery of Butlins in Minehead, right outside a delightful ice-cream booth and the wonderful West Somerset Steam Railway. There’s a nice tea room on the corner too!
The bus makes it’s way down the promenade past upmarket coffee shops before venturing through tree-lined roads towards Porlock.
Porlock’s a pretty place – perfectly manicured, fastidiously kept gardens, thatched cottages and neat looking independent shops and tea rooms, steeped in history.
But, it’s also home to the most insanely and arduous of hills between coast and moor (Porlock Hill) – so vertical (at a 1 in 4 gradient – yikes!) that a film ‘Britain’s Steepest Bus Route’ was recently produced and narrated by our Great Scenic Journeys team. You can check out the link for it here, but it’s not for the faint hearted and how the drivers make it up there so calmly, remains a bit of a trade secret and worthy of an award in itself – never mind the customer service! Britains Steepest Bus Route FullVersion Youtube – YouTube
Left, right, left, then right, the bus swerves its way up Porlock Hill, being careful not to drive into the front garden of a very pretty cottage staring it in the face halfway up. It’s almost a relief to finally make it to the top and there’s a ‘Wow Factor’ and slightly eyebrow raising view of the cliffs and sea below as the road, criss-crosses before the bus nestles atop, way above sea level and deep in the bracken, heather and foliage of the amazing Exmoor with its wildlife and ambient mist swirling in from the Bristol Channel on a foggy day.
The Exmoor Coaster is a bit like it’s ‘sister route’ from First’s ‘Adventures by Bus’ collection, The Dartmoor Explorer, in that there’s a different vibe on every single trip, with the vagaries of the weather and season casting a unique, sometimes moody, but always alluring spell on the experience, be it cloudless or with the sun rising or setting. It’s certainly an incredibly atmospheric journey on each occasion.
The bus goes right in the heart of the Valley of Rocks, which has some fascinating rock formations and is a stunning dry valley with incredible views of the sea and further inland and across Exmoor, giving a glimpse of what is in store beyond the naked eye.
There’s plenty of amazing walks to be enjoyed from the stops on this journey and many a hiker can be seen, stick in hand boarding a bus before the journey comes to a gripping climax, with more awesome views of the sea before winding its way down to the charming village of Lynmouth, home to a fabulous free model railway exhibition yards from the final stop.
The bus also stops a short walk to the Lynmouth and Lynton Cliff Railway up to the bustling small town of Lynton. This adventure on the Exmoor Coaster might not be great for those who don’t like heights as the Cliff Railway is the steepest water powered steam railway in the world – to go with the steepest Britain’s steepest bus journey that’s just preceded it!
Lynton is also the smallest town in the UK to have it’s own cinema (a 68-seater too)! It’s a cherished destination with a real quaint and nostalgic feel to it, like stepping back into a bygone era when life was simpler – even if it shows contemporary films as well as those from yesteryear!
Meanwhile, the lovely Glen Lyn Gorge – also a few yards from the bus stop in Lynmouth – is worth a visit too with its lovely water-falls, made easy to enjoy because there’s also steep-free access too! It’s a paradisical setting beside the blissful West Lyn River.
Be sure to venture down to the Exmoor National Park Visitor Centre overlooking the seafront in Lynmouth and enjoy some fish and chips a few yards away. The chirpy team at the Visitor Centre, led by the charming Dan James, really know their stuff and all the intricacies of this amazing region. They are like the Siri of Somerset and North Devon and will regale you of all the sights and places to visit, as well as the copious walks to be enjoyed in and around Exmoor!
It’s a lovely feeling sitting and eating outside, gazing onto the sea and the pretty harbour and maybe taking a photo of the Rhenish Tower (see above and below), which was originally built to store salt water for indoor bathing but was later given an additional remit as a beacon. Apparently, it took its name from a ‘similar’ tower on the Rhine in Germany.
In Spring and Summer, the bus continues to Ilfracombe and a real fun tour can be had of Stagecoach’s lovely services to Barnstaple and Croyde Bay for more breezy open top seaside sprays and simply stunning views and then a train or bus down to Exeter. 21C Barnstaple – Georgeham David’s Hill – Great Scenic Journeys
Or, there’s enough to do in Lynmouth to last a day or a staycation before joining the Exmoor Coaster fan club to get the bus back to Minehead for another gripping instalment.
Not only did Carol Sim, the Head of Operations responsible for this great service scoop a prize at the Route One Awards in Birmingham, but the Exmoor Coaster also reinforced its reputation as a muti-award winner, by also receiving “Premium Customer Service Rating” by our team of expert Customer Experience Reviewers at “Great Scenic Journeys”. “Stunning scenery, brilliant customer service and fascination with every twist and turn – all for only £2“, was how one of our team described the experience in her assessment! Whatever the time of year, this is a memorable, possibly a bit eccentric but always jaw-dropping, trip to be had!
There’s always a warm welcome to be had, whatever the weather, so come and join the fun….
To find out more, check out Exmoor Coaster – Great Scenic Journeys