Following on from the two-part Exeter to Norwich trip on £2 fares in previous issues, CHRISTOPHER CARTER analyses North Norfolk services before a bargain £24 day four ride home to Devon on newly extended crosscountry Megabus m37 and SW Falcon coaches

Sanders Coaches Volvo B5TL/Wright Eclipse Gemini 3 126 (LL71 SHA) after alighting in the tiny Cromer Bus Station, where many buses pick up on the road outside.

Former Tilling Group and National Bus Company subsidiary Eastern Counties in Norfolk and Suffolk was privatised by a management buyout in 1987. It was bought by the GRT Bus Group one year before its merger with Badgerline, creating First, in 1995. Stretching from Ipswich to King's Lynn, it had over 400 buses – still including 143 Bristol VRTs – across much thin territory with many independents. Whilst it acquired some smaller operators and achieved initial growth, today it has under 300 buses, with none in Bury St Edmunds or on the north Norfolk coast, aside from the Excel route in King's Lynn. The Ipswich fleet is now isolated.

Some commentators even doubted First's long-term commitment to Eastern Counties, but at its heart it is still the dominant operator in Norwich where it has its head office, two depots and a strong city network with recent extensions radiating further afield. This is despite a Go-Ahead presence since 2010 – when it perhaps sensed a weakened First – through its acquisition of two large independents; Konectbus of Dereham and two years later Anglian Bus of Beccles, with a combined fleet of over 140 vehicles. Their integration did not go well, with Anglian closed in 2017 and its remnants merged into Konectbus, which itself only has 47 buses today. Its Dereham office is the hub of Go East Anglia, which includes depots in Suffolk and Essex. Amongst rural and urban services and a Rackheath sub depot near Norwich, it runs the ex-First contracted Norwich park-&-ride network, managing six sites. It also has the county council contract to run and staff Norwich Bus Station.

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