Travelling by bus may conjure up images of traffic jams on the daily commute, yet that’s not always the case. Throughout the UK there are dozens of scenic bus routes which take you through stunning landscapes, past sleepy villages and across national parks.
There’s one bus route which has been named the ‘most scenic’ in Wales. The TrawsCymru T4 service takes you from Cardiff, through the pretty town of Pontypridd, historic Merthyr and onto the Brecon Beacons.
Passengers who stay on board for the full journey will travel through the spa towns of Builth Wells and Llandrindod Wells before finally ending up in Newton, Powys. It’s a journey which takes four hours in total, but it takes you through the gorgeous Welsh countryside.
Our colleague John Jones at WalesOnline decided to embark on the journey and see if it lived up to its reputation as “Wales’ most scenic bus route”. Read on to find out about his experience - which ended up being rather surprising.
How John found it
My journey began on Greyfriars Road, Cardiff, shortly after 10am on Wednesday morning. The first bus from Cardiff to Newtown leaves at 8.10am every morning from Monday to Saturday and runs five times a day, every two hours, with the last bus leaving the capital at 4.10pm. It also runs three times a day on Sundays, running every two hours between 9.05am and 1.05pm.
With the timetable duly noted, I climbed aboard my home for the next three-and-three-quarter hours and purchased a single ticket to journey's end. £9 was the fee which, for a total journey of over 100 miles, didn't seem too shabby at all.
Although the bus wasn't exactly travelling in luxury, it was clean, light and airy and didn't have that musty, sweaty smell that you can often find on city buses. Most importantly, the seats were amply cushioned and forgiving of someone who would spend the next few hours sat firmly on their backside, while the huge windows promised to bring the outside inside.
As more people shuffled their way onto to 30+ capacity bus to take their seats, I looked out the window and watched a polystyrene tray once containing last night's chips dance enchantingly in the wind as a gang of pigeons splashed in a murky puddle at the side of the road. At this point, I wondered if we really needed to venture north to experience Wales' true beauty.
But it was too late for these deep thoughts as we were off, with Pontypridd the first major stop on our journey. And I didn't have to wait too long for some more scenic delights, as the route took us past two Tesco Express(es), a five-a-side centre and Talybont student halls within the first few minutes.
We soon hit the open road, however, and the first genuinely nice view was fast approaching in the shape of Castell Coch, a stunning Gothic castle which rises up from the ancient woods of Fforest Fawr. It looks like something from a fairytale - unfortunately, I was sitting on the wrong side of the bus, so I didn't see any of that.
If that less than ideal start wasn't enough, the sky was rapidly changing a calm milky grey to a stormy charcoal and, heading into the misty valleys, rain was the last thing I needed if I was to take in the spectacular views as planned. Trust me, we'll revisit this a bit later.
We arrived in Pontypridd after half an hour and gently rolled our way through the quiet town centre, past the old stone bridge and the futuristic spaceship-like library. It was quaint, but nothing to write home about just yet.
Then it was onto sunny Merthyr. I kid, of course, as the clouds grew thicker and the heavens opened with streaks of rain starting to roll down the giant windows of the bus.It was becoming increasingly hard to feel inspired, or even optimistic.
Admittedly, I was being harsh and I knew really that the true showstoppers were still ahead of us. The famed 'route with a view' has earned its title largely from the stunning panoramic vistas it offers as it snakes its way through the middle of the Brecon Beacons National Park, with the views of Pen y Fan and the breathtaking surrounding landscape some of the most beautiful in all of Wales.
But after we’d left Merthyr and passed the silvery, shimmering Llwyn-onn Reservoir, all hope of seeing these views as planned quickly began to fade. As we started snaking through the Brecon Beacons, we ventured further and further into the mist, which enveloped the bus and clouded the windows.
Put simply, I couldn’t see a thing. We stopped at the Storey Arms, hoping to catch at least a glimpse of the magnificent peak of Pen y Fan. Some of my fellow passengers, a few of whom were tourists, had their cameras ready and waiting, but were met instead with a smudged grey and brown abstract scene, with a green portable building and a few dozen cars its only distinguishable features.
Perhaps the only comfort came from spotting a few hi-vis blobs making their way up towards the peak. Rather them than me, I thought, as I spread out over my padded leather seat and enjoyed the sheer dryness of the bus. But, aside from that, it was clear that this trip and the very basis on which it was formed was turning into a bit of a disaster.
I’d have loved to tell you tales of the sweeping valleys, imposing hillsides and craggy outcrops that ran alongside our route. Of the sheep grazing in the lush green fields and the birds soaring overhead before swooping down into the River Ithon with a splash. Of how insignificant it all felt when I was confronted with the vast, unconquerable landscape that lay before my eyes. But I couldn't see a thing.
Regrettably, for a good hour and a half of my journey, all I could see, and all I could capture on camera for that matter, was amorphous blobs of different shades of grey, brown and green. Rain-soaked, smudged images of what promised to be spectacular vistas.
With no real view to look at, I instead had plenty of time to sit back and listen to the patter of rain against the window and think about how, back in Cardiff, those who had encouraged me to take this journey were now laughing themselves silly at my trip not at all going to plan.
There was to be some sunshine, however, albeit too late. As we weaved our way ever closer towards Newtown, the clouds began to clear and there was the first blue sky of the day, providing a backdrop to the blurry green expanse that rolled out as far as the eye could see from the road above.
By the time we arrived in Newtown, the sun was in full beam, providing a literal warm welcome for me as I stepped off the bus for the first time in four hours. And what a place to end up in - sure it was sleepy on a Wednesday afternoon, but Newtown had a real charm about it and I enjoyed pottering around the town centre as I stretched my legs and tried to work out how I'd get home again.
Despite the obvious hiccups, I wouldn't say my journey was a wasted trip at all. From what I could make out, on a sunnier, drier day, those who decide to take the route themselves are treated to a spectacular array of scenery from the stunning peaks and valleys of the Brecon Beacons to picturesque lakes and quaint towns and villages.
And, at less than £10 for a ticket, you could do far worse in terms of value too. So if you feel like getting away from it all but don't want to splash out on a holiday, why not consider taking the bus? Just make sure you check the forecast first.
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