When Londoners need to get from one place to another they have a variety of tools at their fingertips. A flick through the A-Z, perhaps, or a glance at the tube map. For more complicated journeys there's the Journey Planner website, a clever online tool (if a little on the dumb side). It may not always give you the quickest route but it'll give you times, connections, maps, fares and alternative options, and it's extremely useful if you ever want to know roughly how long it might take to reach somewhere unfamiliar on the other side of town.
Planning journeys further afield within the UK hasn't always been so easy. You've had to consult a roadatlas, request a route plan from the AA, pick up a local bus timetable, log into the ropey National Rail timetable site or use Google to try to uncover exactly which ferry operator it is that sails to the Scottish islands. Well, now all that information and more has been brought together on a new website called Transport Direct. Not only can you plan journeys across the whole of Great Britain but you can also see a map of where you're going and check out where the delays are likely to be along the way. I am impressed. Again it's not perfect, and it's only in beta-testing mode at the moment, but it's a fascinating tool that can help you to explore the country or just find the next bus down to the shops.
I thought I'd test the site out on a variety of journeys, all departing at 7am this morning: Bow to Stonehenge: If I left now I could be admiring the stones before 11am (via the number 3 bus from Salisbury station)
Northampton to Southampton: Either 3 hours by train or 2½ hours by car (47-stage road journey provided)
Newcastle Upon Tyne to Newcastle Under Lyme: That's four trains and a bus, via York and Manchester, arriving by 11:15am
My parents' house to the nearest library: Apparently this can't be done by public transport, which isn't true, so there's at least one Norfolk bus route that isn't in the database.
St David's (Wales) to St Andrew's (Scotland): A bizarre (and impossible) route which involves walking across the Irish Sea in five minutes flat, twice.
(so, that's 3 passes and 2 fails)
And here's one ultimate end-to-end journey to test the system to breaking point: 07:00 Land's End: extremely long wait for next bus
14:20 Land's End: number 345 bus to Penzance, (arrives 15:30, plenty of time to go shopping)
17:30 Penzance: train to Bristol (arrives 21:32)
21:46 Bristol Temple Meads: train to Birmingham, (arrives 23:39)
00:10 (tomorrow) Birmingham New Street: train to Coventry (arrives 00:33)
01:05 Coventry: coach 240 to Sheffield (arrives 03:20, time for quick nap on bench)
05:29 Sheffield: train to Doncaster (arrives 06:07, followed by a very tight change)
06:15 Doncaster: train to Edinburgh (arrives 09:17)
09:30 Edinburgh: coach 997 to Inverness (arrives 13:50)
14:00 Inverness: coach 958 to Wick (arrives 16:55)
17:30 Wick: bus 73 to John O'Groats(arrives 18:10 Friday)
It's good to that know it's actually possible to get from the tip of Cornwall to the top of Scotland by public transport, even if it takes a day and a half to do so. However, the website doesn't seem to have chosen a very sensible route (the first half in particular) and I hate to think how much the whole journey would cost too. It's almost certainly cheaper (and 12 hours quicker) to buy a car and drive from Land's End to John O'Groats instead. Alas, it seems that computers still aren't very good at finding the perfect solution to an extremely complicated problem involving time and space. But they're getting there... and now so can you.