The Bristol Airport Bus to Bath: The Pied Wagtail, Nora the Explorer and the Unassuming Bus Stop

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(other 7 lessons coming soon – but in the meantime…)

Just Knowing

The other day I had been thinking that there are certain things that older people just seem to know: names for flowers, how to knit, the names of birds.

Then at Bristol Airport there it was, scurrying around outside the main terminal exit.

“It’s a Pied Wagtail”.

courtesy of nigeness blogspot

The older lady was walking very gingerly dragging a huge suitcase on wheels with one hand, and gripping her handbag and walking stick with the other.

“That’s clever.  How do you know it’s a Pied Wagtail?”

She confirmed all my preconceptions with her reply – “I just do”.

What we didn’t know

What she didn’t know was where the Airport to Bath bus left from, and when it would leave.

I had already been sniffing around inside the terminal to find out the same.  I knew from a friend that there was a direct bus from the Airport to Bath and that it would take about 45 minutes.  But when I called at the Information Booth the man was describing in great detail to a young woman what he would do if he had 6 hours to spare in Bath, so I got bored after 3 mins and retired with a leaflet.

The leaflet told me the bus’ name: A4 Bristol Airport Service.  I also learned very quickly from the leaflet that: It is good.  It is quick.  It is owned by the RATP (the public transport operator for Paris).  It is green. It has a website.  Useful? Not really

I followed the signs to “buses” and went outside the Airport in search.  I wandered around before I saw the bus stop post about 50 metres away: Airport Bus Stop.  Great.  (Not to be confused with the Bristol Flyer Express bus, and its “party” bus stop – a hive of activity: manned ticket booth, information everywhere – party on!)

Found it – but I wasn’t sure when it left though – no timetable.  But looking back over my shoulder I saw a real time display  – it would be here in 10 minutes at 0930.  Sorted.

I summarised the above somewhat more succinctly to the lady who introduced herself as Nora.

I also pointed out that the bus was sat in the distance (about 100m away over the busy  main entry road) just waiting to come across at the right time.  Nora headed off.

“Stop!” (The Wagtail flew off in fright)  “Best to wait”… at the rather unassuming bus stop.

What we knew and thought we knew

Nora knew about the bus from her grandchildren she was going to meet in Bath.

Nora knew she could use her Northumberland Concessionary bus card.

Nora knew she was doing well at 81, three years after major heart surgery, to do this trip again.  It had knocked her confidence, she said.

Nora didn’t think she’d get over the surgery to travel again. Just like she hadn’t got over her daughter dying at the age of 48 from cancer.  She cried a little when she told me that. But she had managed to do both.

Nora had been shocked when she got on the plane and tried to sit at the front of the Easyjet plane: No – you have a seat allocated now -to sit at the front you should have paid an extra £8

It had been quite a morning for her.

And I didn’t know was how light her huge bag would be as we boarded the bus.  I estimate that it carried 1 toothbrush.

Did her pass work on the bus? – No

Did the lovely driver let her on?  -Yes (well done driver – YOU could have turned this into a nightmare day for Nora))

Did the journey take 45 mins? – No. 1hr 20 mins.  Nora said as we got off “It’s not exactly Express is it!”. Trundle trundle trundle through Keynsham…Brislington…Bishopsworth.

What is an Express journey from Bristol to Bath, really?

The journey time really threw Nora.  Real fear set in about her return journey – how long should she leave for the journey?  She had to leave early for the return anyway as her return flight was v early  - now she would have to leave even earlier.  WHEN?

When we alighted the bus she was mightily relieved that we only had to walk 20 metres to the taxi rank – integrated transport thanks to the design of the Bath bus/rail/taxi hub. Excellent.

The taxi driver for the final leg of her journey nearly fell over as he picked up her bag with the full force needed to shift a bag of at least 30kg.  “Travelling light, luv?!”

“No” said Nora.

What I know

Bus stops don’t have to be shy.  Transport and travel information – yes.  But they can be so much more.


Confidence is a big thing for anyone keeping mobile.  Keeping mobile is a big thing in keeping your physical and mental health. Well done Nora.

And well done 90 year old Frederick from Dundee who sat next to me on the plane back from Toronto the other week.  He’d been to celebrate his 90th  with his little sister (82) who emigrated years ago and had picked him up from the airport.

And well done my 88 year old Dad.  He has not sounded as happy for ages as he did today on the phone.  Why?  He walked to the Dr – the furthest he’s walked for a year since my Mum died. He’s still got it.

How do we keep that confidence up?  Information – safety-nets – interaction – confidence – connectons

Blimey – you have to be confident to use public transport


Pied Wagtail:A delightful small, long-tailed and rather sprightly black and white bird. When not standing and frantically wagging its tail up and down it can be seen dashing about over lawns or car parks (courtesy RSPB). 

Keep sprightly

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