Great News! The Sunday Stagecoach 349 bus service between Hastings and Cranbrook, connecting there with Arriva 5 to Maidstone, is set to continue through winter 2018 and summer 2019 with 5 return services a day.

After a four year absence – and bucking a national trend – the service was restored in spring 2017 linking rural communities and major towns in East Sussex and West Kent to their mutual benefit. On the very first service, the bus helped to get people (two chefs) to their Sunday jobs. Food for thought!

Key to the start-up was a recognition that the growing annual visitor numbers at Bodiam Castle (200,000) and on Kent and East Sussex Railway (100,000) are mainly reliant on cars, putting pressure on local lanes and land for parking. Now there’s a 7 days a week public transport option, with rail connections at Hastings (for Stagecoach bus 349) and Staplehurst (for Arriva bus 5). These connections make ‘car free’ days out feasible to/from London/Brighton/Eastbourne.

Voluntary groups, organisations, parishes, the National Trust, 1066 Marketing and individuals raised sufficient funds to support summer Sunday/school holiday services. At this point, East Sussex and Kent County Councils began conversations with Stagecoach and Arriva resulting in recognition of the ‘cross border’ link and offering limited but crucial support, including for publicity.

Rother Voluntary Action helpfully held the funds raised and the idea was backed by Rother Transport Action Group. Commitment of the cross border Hawkhurst Transport Access Group – with Bodiam and Sandhurst parish members – was also notable and helpful, and the regular attendance of Stagecoach and Arriva at their meetings reflects the shared efforts of all to secure a high quality and comprehensive local and regional bus service. The fruits of this are certainly a great example of ‘partnership working’.

As well as serving attractive and growing village communities of Hawkhurst and Cranbrook, the Stagecoach bus 349 and Arriva 5 also make possible Sunday days out in the country to Sedlescombe organic vineyard, Sandhurst church and Hawkhurst Victorian walled nursery. For village dwellers, the riverside town of Maidstone, and Hastings seaside and medieval Old Town have their unique leisure, arts attractions and shopping opportunities. For walkers, the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty offers a network of footpaths across special landscapes of ridges and valleys, with a reward of good pub lunches in picturesque villages.

An e-mail from a young family with a new baby is telling: just moved back to Staplecross after some years in Hastings, they report their relief at having a 7 days a week service linking them to the services they need in the larger towns.

Derrick Coffee

(County Officer, Campaign for Better Transport – East Sussex)

The Stagecoach 349 and Arriva 5 routes and their passengers and linked communities in the High Weald  had a piece to cheer on Sunday last on the Politics Show – BBC South East

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