Blackpool-20/10/18

My wife Lynn and I always like to pay a visit to Blackpool during the time of that excellently designed attraction which usefully extends the town’s summer season throughout the autumn until the beginning of November, the famous Illuminations which adorn the Promenade for the seven odd miles from Starr Gate-Bispham. The highlight of this is a ride on one of Blackpool Heritage Tramways Illumination Tours, which means planning for a relatively late return home, meaning that reaching the Resort by train isn’t really an option, therefore we drove up, parking on the car park next to the Pleasure Beach Tramway Loop (£8 for twelve hours!), from where the Illumination Tours start from, meaning we can leave straight after we’ve finished our Tour. The Heritage operation’s usual two car daytime tour also operates during the illumination period, although this doesn’t start until around 13.00, to enable the volunteer crews to be able to work an Illumination Tour duty as well.

So it wouldn’t have been necessary for us to get there particularly early except that all my jeans were wearing out! The only pair I have with functioning pockets (most essential for a transport enthusiast with various tickets and passes to keep in them!) also happen to have quite big tears in them, making it look as though I’m trying to be really trendy and “down with da kidz!” by wearing ripped jeans! My favourite place for buying jeans happens to be a store on Fleetwood Market, that traditional attraction for many Blackpool visitors over the years, providing a great deal of custom for the Blackpool Tramway, which has it’s Northern Terminus in that fishing town. Tuesday was traditionally the day everybody visited the market, that day once seeing one special (a tram operating to Inspector’s instructions rather than a scheduled time card) after another heading there full of bargain hunters. But the market is open everyday except Wednesday’s & Sunday’s, so a Saturday visit was no problem!

We caught Bombardier Flexity Car 006 from Pleasure Beach, managing to bag the front seats. These 78 seat modern articulated cars, with a large standing capacity, have been in charge of the Tramway since it’s 2012 modernisation. Sixteen were originally built (001-016), with another two (017 & 018) having been delivered late last year to enable the fleet to cover the upcoming extension to North Station along Talbot Road, which is currently under construction and is due to open in 2020. Although not having the charm of the traditional Blackpool Trams, they have the ability to move large numbers of people when needed (such as along the Golden Mile) but have nice big windows that enable one to enjoy the sea view and other sights on the eleven and three quarter mile journey between Starr Gate & Fleetwood.

We paid £11 each for a Heritage Day ticket, valid on both modern and Heritage trams (including the Illuminations Tour) as well as Blackpool Transport’s bus network. Readers of Part One of my Blackpool blog from last June will recall that I tried to buy one on a number 4 bus on that occasion but the driver said that they weren’t available from buses. I was subsequently told that he should have been able to sell me one but probably didn’t know how to (I’d suspected this to be the case.) The tram conductors probably get to issue such tickets more often, so I had no problem in getting our tickets today. It was an enjoyable run, trundling along the Golden Mile before heading onto the higher section of the line along the North Shore cliffs to Bispham, where the lights end and we head further along the coast, through Norbreck and Little Bispham, then turning inland to serve the town of Cleveleys, a popular shopping centre, where a lot of people got off. One of the advantages of the modernised tramway over what was there before, is the fact that all daytime scheduled trams go through to Fleetwood, meaning a regular ten minute service of high capacity vehicles, much superior to the twenty minute headway of the traditional tramway’s final years, often using trams with a mere 48 or 56 seating capacity! This means you can wait for a Fleetwood tram in confidence, no fear of a long wait for a full tram to pass you by!

We followed the reserved tracks across the Rossall Playing Fields, entering the town of Fleetwood at Broadwater, then heading towards the Town Centre, leaving the reserved tracks at Fishermans Walk (or Ash Street, if you’re an old timer like me!) for the trundle down the street tracks along Lord Street, towards the terminus at Fleetwood Ferry, although we got off at the stop before, Victoria Street, the nearest stop to the market…..where everyone else seemed to get off too! Obviously the market is still popular!

We found the jeans stall and I bought two pairs, we then had a little wander around the other stalls. We then walked down to the Ferry terminus, so as we could guarantee getting a seat on the tram back to Blackpool. Car 008 turned up and I noticed a giant plastic poppy situated in the corner of the cab, a feature most of the Flexity fleet currently have fitted to commemorate the centenary of the end of the First World War, so I took a photo of it, with MMC Enviro 400 City 438 alongside it on the 14 to Blackpool via Thornton;

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We rode 008 back to North Pier, getting there bang on time for the first heritage departure of the day, operated by Boat Car 600 which, as currently the only operational member of the three members of this popular, once twelve strong class of open top tramcar, to remain in Blackpool, has had a very busy summer this year, thanks to the very hot weather we’ve had, and the fact that it’s still rather mild means it’s been busy into the autumn as well, including today! We caught 600 to the Pleasure Beach, where we found Balloon Car 717 parked up whilst on Private Hire duties, so I photographed 600 & 717 together;

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We then put my new jeans into the boot of the car and then headed to the Woodhouse Café for lunch (this is Blackpool, so fish & chips are a prerequisite!) followed by a trip down to Waterloo Road for ice cream at Nottiarani’s. We walked there via Bond Street, where I managed to photograph ex Anglian Buses of Beccles Wright bodied Volvo B7 523 on the hourly 18 to Mereside via Marton & South Shore;

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After eating what is frankly the best ice cream in Blackpool, we made our way back to Pleasure Beach to ride on what was the other Heritage car out today, Standard 147;

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….which we took to North Pier;

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We then sat and took in the sea air for a bit before catching 600 again back to the Pleasure Beach;

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As the blind on the above photo says, 600’s next trip was to Cabin, high on the North Shore cliffs and this would be it’s last round trip of the day, so we decided to stay with the car for a blowy run onto my favourite section of the Tramway, high above the Cliffs from North Pier onwards and then back to Pleasure Beach, where we retreated into the funfairs new Costa Coffee (on the outside, so no Pleasure Beach admission tickets needed) to thaw out!

Warmed up, we went out into the rapidly cooling evening, with the Illuminations now shining and a big queue having already formed for the Illuminations Tours, the first of which was due off tonight at 18.30. Therefore, we bought a bag of doughnuts from the Pleasure Beach’s doughnut stall, to eat whilst we waited for a tram, and joined the back of the queue. First tram to arrive was Illumnated Frigate HMS Blackpool, aka Car 736;

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Once loaded, 736 left and the Western Train arrived;

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The third illuminated car, Fishermans Friend sponsored Trawler 737, was off the road requiring maintenance, this evening, so the remaining Tour cars were all Balloon Double Decker’s. Red & White liveried 701 arrived first, conducted by our friend Bradley Jones.

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We were far enough down the queue to be able to get on 701, so we did so, deciding to have a change by sitting downstairs. Our fellow passengers were all families with young children and it was fascinating seeing the awe and wonder in the faces and voices of the younger passengers, as we made our way through the greatest free show on Earth! The Tour’s run through the lights to Bispham, then head up to the loop at Little Bispham to turn around, this being a busy point on a Saturday night as short working Flexities also terminate there (these run onto Cleveleys during the week).

This was the first Saturday of the school’s Half Term holiday, so the Town was busy, with both the Flexities and the Heritage Tours carrying plenty of passengers! Seven cars were allocated to Tours, the three already mentioned plus Balloons 715, 700, 718 & 711. In addition, 717 & 723 were also out on Private Hire’s and, once these were finished, both cars also found themselves working Tours! So a grand total of nine cars were in use on Illumination Tours tonight!

When we got back to the Pleasure Beach, several of those Balloons were loading, arriving and departing, reminding me of the days up until 1989, when Balloons were allocated to Illuminations Tours from both Pleasure Beach & Tower, offering cheaper tours than the Illuminated Cars, which then started from Talbot Square (that stop now having been renamed North Pier.) Here’s some photo’s of them!

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715 & 701

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717 & 723

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701 & 723

And so it was time to head back to the car and begin the drive home, another happy visit to the Blackpool Illuminations having been completed!

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Riding The X7-19/10/18

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Thanks to my holiday in Paignton (see blogs “Adventures In Devon Part’s One-Nine”), I’ve not had a chance to ride on any of the new or renumbered routes introduced with National Express West Midlands Dudley & Sandwell service revisions introduced on Sunday 2nd September 2018 until today, when I decided to sample the new Wolverhampton-Birmingham Limited Stop Platinum standard service X7 which, with the X8, has replaced the long established 126 between these points, that service now only running between Birmingham & Dudley.

Precedents

Interestingly, this isn’t the first time a Limited Stop, or fastly timed service has ran between these two West Midlands Cities (although Wolverhampton was a town in those days!)  I say fastly timed because the first such service wasn’t actually Limited Stop but, for many years, was one of Midland Red’s minimum fare services, with a high local fare encouraging short distance passengers to use more local services where applicable, in this case the 126 and it’s earlier sister service, the 125. This service was the mammoth, three times daily X96 from Shrewsbury-Northampton. 1967 saw this service become Limited Stop between Wolverhampton & Coventry, when it was joined by new, one man operated (though the X96, operated then in the main by BMMO S21 & LS20 Leyland Leopard semi coaches, remained crew operated for the time being) X93 (Birmingham-Shrewsbury via Ironbridge) X94 (Coventry-Wellington via Ironbridge) and X95 (Coventry-Wellington Direct), which had been introduced to cater for demand from the developing Telford New Town  (see blog “Buses In Telford-Part One”) May 1974 would see the X93/X94/X95 withdrawn and the X96 rerouted via the M6 Motorway (being rerouted to Leicester in lieu of Northampton at the same time), leaving the Birmingham-Wolverhampton section to the 125/126. Subsequently, a Sunday only Limited Stop service over this route would be provided from November 1979 by Birmingham-Shrewsbury service 893 but, along with summer only Limited Stop services X80 (to Shugborough Hall) & X89 (to Bridgnorth) which would only run in the summers of 1984 & 1985 (see blog “Midland Red North Summer Sunday services”) , these services were unable to carry local passengers within the West Midlands County.

Deregulation would see the introduction of no less than three dedicated Birmingham-Wolverhampton Limited Stop services! Two (the X87 from Stafford and the X89 from Bridgnorth) would be operated by Midland Red North, run to Birmingham via the East Wolverhampton & Walsall suburbs, and would only last until April 1987 (see blog “Midland Red North Deregulated-Part One”) but the 979 Timesaver service, operated by West Midlands Travel and running via Smethwick, West Bromwich, Wednesbury & Bilston, would have a much more successful and longer life than the two Midland Red North services (see blog “Timesavers”) but would succumb to the largely parallel Midland Metro after it’s 1999 introduction, with the 979 being withdrawn in 2000. As for the corridor along the A4123 Birmingham-Wolverhampton Road, the only Timesaver service along here would be the peak 926/926A from Birmingham-Sedgley & Gornal Wood via Dudley respectively, with a Saturday only 926S to Priory Estate being added in 1988. All these would be withdrawn in 1989, with a new peak 126S to Sedgley partially replacing, this itself going around 1993.

But, otherwise, there have only been all stop bus services between Birmingham & Wolverhampton. The 125 ceased in 1980, with the 126 being increased in replacement, whilst the creation of the West Midlands Passenger Transport Executive enabled the creation of route 79 on 28th February 1971, running from Birmingham-Wolverhampton via Soho Road, West Bromwich, Wednesbury, Darlaston & Bilston, replacing former Birmingham & West Bromwich joint service 75 from Birmingham-Wednesbury (though peak & Saturday journeys remained until June 1976), West Bromwich & Wolverhampton service 90 between those two towns, Wolverhampton’s 2 & 7 from Whitmore Reans (which would be covered by changes to the 14 & 15 services) to Darlaston via Wolverhampton and even Walsall’s 51 Wednesbury-Bentley service between Wednesbury & Darlaston via Dangerfield Lane. The 79 would also have a long innings but the arrival of the Midland Metro reduced the need for a through service, enabling the service to be cutback to run Wolverhampton-West Bromwich in July 2011.

For the sake of completeness, I need to mention the fact that, until May 1967, hourly Birmingham-Wolverhampton journeys continued onto Stafford, originally following the 125’s Tipton Cross Roads route as 195 but then becoming a 196 once the more direct 126 route through Priory Estate started in the fifties. And how could I not mention the mammoth 258 that Travel West Midlands introduced in December 1993, running via Warley, Brandhall, Blackheath, Brickhouse Farm, Merry Hill, Brierley Hill & Wombourne, taking over two hours to make the Birmingham-Wolverhampton trip! The service was split at Merry Hill in 1996, with the Wolverhampton side becoming the 260.

But besides the Metro, a far faster way of travelling between the two Cities is the train, with a frequent service provided by various longer distance trains, running either non stop or with one or two calls (at either Coseley, Sandwell & Dudley or Smethwick Galton Bridge), in addition to the half hourly stopping service. So a through bus service between the two towns has serious competition, with the ever increasing traffic congestion of recent years meaning that a bus journey between the two has got slower and slower, particularly as the fifteen odd mile journey is consistently urban throughout! So much so that, when the initial consultation for these changes took place, one of the questions asked was whether the through service on the 126 should continue!

As I’ve already mentioned, the 126 has been shortened to run from Birmingham-Dudley (operated by Pensnett with standard MMC E400’s and the odd Dennis Trident) but the Wolverhampton side has been rather innovatively linked with two proposed Dudley-Birmingham Limited Stop services, maintaining the Wolverhampton-Birmingham link over two routes which hopefully will be less congested than the 126 route, with one route avoiding the traffic chaos of Burnt Tree, the other avoiding the frequently congested Hagley Road and both avoiding the absolute nightmare of  Birchley Crossing, an area that has seriously gone downhill since the January 1986 closure of Oldbury Garage!

Getting To Wolverhampton

The X8 basically replaces the 140 from Dudley-Birmingham via Blackheath, becoming Limited Stop along the Hagley Road but the X7 treads a new path through Oldbury & Smethwick, an innovative route that has never been covered in the same way before. So, being a former Smethwick resident, it was the X7 that I was most curious to sample.

Having finished a week of late nights the evening before, I was in no mood to get up particularly early, so I didn’t venture out of the house until around eleven! I had a quick errand to do first, having to pop to the bank to get some money out, so I caught NXWM 4262, one of my “beloved” ALX400 bodied Volvo B7’s that are increasingly dominating one of my local services, West Bromwich Garage’s 47, to my bank on West Bromwich High Street, doing what I’d gotta do, then walking to Lodge Road-West Bromwich Town Hall Metro stop and catching Midland Metro CAF 21 to Wolverhampton St Georges, from where I made my way down a recently reopened Pipers Row, complete with newly installed tram tracks for the extension of the Metro to Wolverhampton Railway Station, with a Pipers Row stop currently in construction conveniently next to the Bus Station, where I was heading.

The Journey 

An X8 was loading on the stop, so I had time to make a quick trip to the loo before the next X7 came, ten minutes latter (both routes running every twenty minutes Monday-Saturday Daytime, combining to every ten on the common section-the X7 not running evenings & Sundays), in the form of Platinum standard MMC Enviro 400 6789, a fleetnumber that is familiar to this corridor, as it once adorned a Dudley Garage based Leyland Fleetline that would have run on the 126! In fact, the new 6789 and it’s sisters were originally ordered for the 126, with 6789 originally being one of the branded examples. This branding has now been removed, with X7 & X8 branding gradually replacing it, though 6789 is currently awaiting this and thus, as the above photo shows, looks a bit on the plain side. Nevertheless, I boarded and settled down into one of the leather and mocquette trimmed high backed seats and took advantage of the generous legroom to stretch my legs in comfort for the hour and a half journey ahead!

As we left the City Centre, we soon caught up with the X8 in front, which must have been delayed by something and we both headed along Thompson Avenue, the beginning of the A4123 Birmingham-Wolverhampton Road, which was constructed in 1927 and Midland Red buses served the road from day one, this becoming the 125. Wolverhampton Corporation used to run a local service up Thompson Avenue (originally the cross town 14 to Claregate, latter the separate 97. WMPTE renumbered this the 597 in 1976 but 1978 saw the route absorbed into the new 581 to Dudley via Woodcross, which also took over the ex Midland Red 281 and 280, the former Dudley local service D2-Now covered by NXWM’s 81) but beyond was former Midland Red territory, as we passed from the City of Wolverhampton into the Metropolitan Borough of Dudley and heading into the Roseville area of Coseley. To be honest, I’ve always found this road rather boring to travel along, so have generally stayed away from the 126, the one exception being when the route was the last outpost of Dudley Garage’s much reduced Fleetline allocation in the early nineties, until the Garage closed in September 1993.

Because of the X8 in front, 6789 was fairly lightly loaded and we lost most of that load in Dudley, with the remainder getting off at the next stop, the Castle Hill Leisure Park (A cinema, restaurants, that sort of thing). We picked up a few at the Bus Station, unfortunately including one lad with a very loud personal stereo (does that sound very eighties?) playing incredibly naff music! Sadly one of the disadvantages of using public transport is that some of your travelling companions can be a right pain! The Limited Stop section had now started and we headed straight down Trindle Road, missing out the upper part of Castle Hill before reaching the aforementioned Castle Hill Leisure Park stop. The automatic announcements also stated that this was also the stop for the Black Country Museum, a five-ten minute walk down Tipton Road. The next stop was Burnt Tree Tesco’s where, fortunately, our hooded friend with the naff music got off!

Burnt Tree is a major junction, where the roads to West Bromwich (served by bus route 74 to Birmingham and, more recently, the 42 to West Bromwich via Tipton) and the Dudley-Birmingham Road in the Oldbury direction (served by the 87) divide and the A4123 Wolverhampton-Birmingham Road crosses over (the road itself by passing Dudley, a destination too important to be bypassed by any of the bus routes that have served this corridor). Consequently, this junction has become a traffic hotspot. Around nine years ago, the big roundabout that was at this location was replaced by a complex set of traffic lights to cure the high levels of congestion here. The result today is…..that it made very little difference! Today though, 6789 got through with very little delay and we headed along the Birmingham New Road, as it’s still known as by many some ninety one years after it’s construction! As the 126 serves all stops along here, the X7 can be more selective in it’s calling patterns, serving only a few strategically placed stops.

This is all part of the Tividale/Tividale Hall area, and the X7 was born out of proposals to give this area a faster service to Birmingham. Two possibilities were studied, with the idea of creating an X87 via the 87 route being one possibility, but another concerned serving the Dudley-Oldbury section of the 120, which takes a more winding route from Dudley-Birmingham, leaving Dudley via the Dixons Green and Oakham districts before descending the steep City Road to join Birmingham New Road for a short spell before turning off to head through Rounds Green into Oldbury and from there, heading to Birmingham through suburban Langley, Londonderry & Bearwood. The end result was to leave these services more or less unchanged (though the 120 was renumbered 12, with a new 12A variant serving nearby Tower Road instead of City Road) and the new X7 plots a course in between them, continuing down the A4123 past the 12/12A’s Rounds Green turn off to head into Oldbury at the nearby Newbury Lane Crossroads. This helps avoid the very busy Birchley Crossing further along the main road, where it is crossed by the Oldbury-Blackheath Road, as well as being close to Junction 2 of the M5, with an ASDA superstore adding to the traffic chaos. I think the main idea of routing the X7 this way is to offer the residents of this part of the A4123 a slightly faster route than the 126’s route into Birmingham along the Hagley Road. It will be interesting to see if this works!

It’s a short journey from here into Oldbury, a busy shopping centre now dominated by Sandwell Council House and the Sainsburys store that, when it opened in 1980, was a joint venture between Sainsburys & British Home Stores, known as SavaCentre, which it still tends to be called by locals. Sacrificed to make way for this edifice of consumerism was the original concrete shelter filled Oldbury Bus Station but a replacement opened shortly afterwards on the other side of Halesowen Street, though this now is a Health Centre, a victim of bus deregulation seeing less bus services actually terminating in the town, it’s bus routes now serving a group of stops on either side of Halesowen Street.

The fastest way to Birmingham is provided by train from the nearby Sandwell & Dudley Railway Station, with four trains an hour heading to Birmingham New Street (though they’re not that well spaced out) consisting of the half hourly stopping service calling at Smethwick Galton Bridge & Smethwick Rolfe Street and an hourly Virgin train to London Euston, which is proceeded around ten minutes before by an hourly Shrewsbury-Birmingham train. The station also has a large car park. This area as a whole though, has relatively low car ownership, as well as not being that prosperous, something that the gradual decline in industry since the eighties has contributed to. The Railway offers useful commuting for job opportunities in Birmingham but is slightly awkward to reach (though the 3 & 4 group of bus routes serve it) for those without a car. Also, a Transport for West Midlands Network Card (or even the Rail only version) is more expensive than an NXWM Travelcard, so using the X7 to commute could be a more attractive option for those with a tight budget.

We left Oldbury along the A457 Birmingham Dual Carriageway, keeping our Limited Stop status with the 87 serving all stops. We crossed the boundary between the towns of Oldbury & Smethwick (all part of Sandwell now but once separately administered towns) by the quaintly named Tram Way, where the West Smethwick Tram Depot that once operated the 87 was located (more on this in my blog “The Dudley Road-Part One”). We served the stop by the small West Cross shopping precinct that mainly provides facilities for what is known locally as the concrete jungle. This is more correctly known as the Galton Valley Council Estate. The nickname is now something of a misnomer, as it referred to the estate’s original, rather baroque housing which someone must have once thought was stylish when they were built in the late sixties (I vaguely remember visiting one house there when my Grandparents-whom my Mom and me lived with at the time-were offered one to replace their top floor maisonette on Bearwood Road-They didn’t accept it!) which were demolished in the nineties to make way for newer, more aesthetically pleasing housing! But the name lives on!

This estate run’s alongside the Main Road (known as Oldbury Road on this stretch) with the X7 now serving the first and last stops along this stretch alongside the 87 and the 80/80A West Bromwich-Birmingham services, the last stop being adjacent to Smethwick Galton Bridge Railway Station, opened in 1995 to replace Smethwick West Station on the opposite side of the road, and providing platforms on both the then newly reopened line into Birmingham Snow Hill from Stourbridge and beyond (now featuring a ten minute service), as well as the Birmingham-Wolverhampton line below it. A car park over the road see’s this facility well used but again, some of the Concrete Jungles residents live on tight budgets so a cheaper bus service is a desirable alternative!

Just beyond Galton Bridge Station, is the beginning of Tollhouse Way, a dual carriageway that was constructed in 1982 and sited between the Birmingham-Wolverhampton Railway Line and Smethwick High Street, which Tollhouse Way was designed to relieve. Unfortunately, this meant the demolition of the shops on that side of the High Street but the High Street had become a real bottleneck. Of course, such has been the growth in traffic since then that the High Street is still congested, which causes problems for the bus routes 80, 80A, 87 & 89 which use various parts of it! Therefore, the X7 heads straight down Tollhouse Way to avoid the worst part of it. However, the desire to serve Smethwick Town Centre see’s the route turning off Tollhouse Way just past the junction with Rolfe Street, enabling the route to serve the Regent Street Bus Stop on the High Street. I know this stop incredibly well, as the house my Grandparents eventually moved into from that maisonette on Bearwood Road, in 1971, was directly opposite this stop, on the Metric Estate.

The route then heads to the next set of traffic lights and turns into Crocketts Lane, where there is another stop, also served by the 80A. Crocketts Lane (where my first school was located) didn’t receive a bus service until 1980 when the 43 was extended from it’s previous Soho terminus to Londonderry, and it was another bus stop that I was to become familiar with because, after my Mom remarried in 1976 and we left our Grandparents home, they moved to a slightly smaller house on the St Michaels Estate at the other end of Crocketts Lane. Then, in 1985, I moved back in with them! At the end of Crocketts Lane, we join Soho Way, a road that is the continuation of Tollhouse Way but built earlier, in the mid seventies. We then headed down here to the Soho district, former terminus of route 83 (B83 before June 1968) from Birmingham (and the 31 tram before that), which was replaced by the 43 in May 1978.  I think NXWM have missed a trick here by not including a stop to serve the housing around here, though placing one on Soho Way might have been an issue.

The dual carriageway continues down Grove Lane to the City Boundary but a quicker route towards Birmingham City Centre can be had by taking the 83’s former route down Cranford Street & Heath Street, which the X7 does. Bus & Coach operator Tandhi once had a yard at the top of here but this has been replaced by new housing (Tandhi’s having moved to a yard by The Hawthorns), again justifying a stop that isn’t there! On the other side of the road lies an unfinished Hospital, which would make an excellent traffic source for the X7 but, unfortunately, it’s construction has fallen foul of the failure of the Carillion Group , which has left it’s completion in limbo, with no foreseeable date for building to recommence! So it’s unfinished state forms an interesting contrast with the empty remains of the former Guest Keen & Nettlefold factory, including the bridge across the street that marks the boundary between Sandwell and the City of Birmingham.

On the Birmingham side, old terraced housing was swept away in the seventies, leaving barren wasteland which didn’t help the 83’s viability, and it’s replacement by the 43 fared little better and was rerouted via Grove Lane at the same time as it’s Londonderry extension. Ironically, around a year latter, new houses were built there! Heath Street would not get another bus service until Midland Red West rerouted it’s 443 service down there in January 1988. This survived several years until the routes next operator Birmingham Coach Company would reroute the 443 via Grove Lane (the 43 having gone by this time, and the 443 would be replaced by the short lived 83-more details in my blogs “The Dudley Road-Part’s Three & Four”) and the road has been unserved ever since. Interestingly, although the timetable states that there are no stops along Heath Street, this being confirmed by the automatic announcement, two temporary stops are sited along Heath Street! Surely these extra stops would help make the service more viable!

At the end of Heath Street, dominated by the former building of the Lee Bridge Tavern, now a rather good chip shop, we re-joined Dudley Road, where we stopped to serve the City Hospital. Then there were calls at Spring Hill Tesco and Charlotte Street, right on the edge of the City Centre, before we headed into the City down Great Charles Street (another two stops) and Snow Hill (another stop) before turning into Colmore Row where the X7 is one of many routes to terminate outside St Phillips Cathedral.

Conclusion

The interesting thing about the Dudley-Birmingham section of the X7 is that it’s totally new, not replacing any other service but providing a totally new facility. This is a risky strategy, as there’s no regular passenger flow to transfer to the route, meaning it has to create a flow of it’s own, something which can take some time, so loadings are bound to be low for a while.

As I’ve said, there’s a potential market there. The route serves an area where money is tight and unemployment high, meaning a faster bus service linking the area with the jobs market of Birmingham City Centre, charging cheaper fares (in the form of season tickets especially) than the train, could be quite a boon to local residents. Interestingly, the Stagecoach Group have recently introduced similar services from similar areas elsewhere, introducing new Limited Stop services from Barnsley (the X10 to Leeds and the X17 to Sheffield) as well as the new X5 from Widnes-Liverpool. So NXWM aren’t alone in it’s thinking!

But it’s a risky strategy! The bus industry’s greatest enemy, traffic congestion, can still play havoc with timetables. The fact is that, because of this, neither the X7 or X8 are that much quicker than the previous 126, meaning there’s little chance of attracting all but the most frugal of through passenger. So, unlike the X51 Express service from Walsall-Birmingham, a shorter route through slightly less populated territory and blessed with a reasonable amount of bus priority, intermediate traffic is going to be the life or death of the X7. So this is going to be an interesting story to watch!

Update-2019

Sadly, the X7 has proved to be a failure and will cease to run on Saturday 1st June 2019. Despite it’s Limited Stop nature, traffic is still very heavy along the route, so speed is very difficult to attain. Coupled with this, the fact that it’s surrounded by so many all stop services that aren’t that much slower, mostly on a higher frequency, means that most passengers have remained with these.

I initially thought that, should the service prove unviable in this form, then a rerouting to replace part of either the 12 or 87 between Dudley & Oldbury, with those two routes being reduced in frequency on this section, could have helped save the X7 but instead, I think the 87 in particular, is so profitable that NXWM don’t want to take the risk of changing it, which I think is a wise decision! (If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, as they say!) In addition, the 87 is currently in the process of being converted to Platinum, so the locals can continue to enjoy the comfort that this offers.

The 126 is to be increased from every fifteen to every twelve minutes, the same frequency it was when it ran through to Wolverhampton, whilst short journeys on the X8 will replace the X7 between Wolverhampton and Dudley.

As some of my blogs have shown, NXWM is being quite an innovative operator at the moment, with several new or extended services being introduced but, if an operator is going to be innovative, then it has to risk the odd failure and sadly, the X7 has proved to be one such failure. But here’s to NXWM for taking the risk!

RIP the X7.

,

North & East London-9/10/18

 

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Probably London’s rudest sounding Tube Station! Cockfosters, the eastern terminus of the Piccadilly line, a good example of the elegance of the Frank Pick era of London Transport design.

Having a day off with a late start for work the following day, I decided to have a trip down to London. But, wishing to conserve financial resources, (slightly low due to having just been on holiday-see the “Adventures In Devon 2018” blogs) I decided to do things a little differently getting down there. Normally, I’d have headed to Birmingham Moor Street and buy a Chiltern Super Off Peak return to London Marylebone for £31, then catching the first train that this would be valid on, the 09.55. But the Birmingham-London corridor is one of very few in the UK to have competition between three rail operators. Chiltern is a cheaper alternative to Virgin’s faster service down the West Coast Main Line to Euston from New Street but there’s another, slower alternative over that route, in the form of London North Western’s semi fast service via Northampton. An Off Peak Return on here costs £29.50  (yeah, hardly a saving compared to Chiltern!) but, to get an even better bargain, I took a look on line and found a single ticket (advanced tickets are only sold as singles) down there available for £6! So I bought it!

Now, I haven’t used this service since previous franchise holder London Midland used to run it’s “Great Escape” days, where the whole London Midland network could be travelled on for £15. I love the journey down there, with it’s opportunity to watch the busy West Coast Main Line in all it’s glory but coming back, after a long day’s London bus riding, you arrive back at Euston around 19.00 (the Off Peak Return not being valid earlier) a little tired and see a fast Virgin Birmingham service on the departure boards which looks so enticing but you’re forced to board a full, less glamourous (though I personally prefer a Class 350 to a Pendolino) Electric Multiple Unit for a slower trundle via Northampton. So I did a quick flip to Chiltern’s website and bought a single on the 20.10 from Marylebone for £9! So I’d managed to arrange a return trip to London via two different routes for quite a bit less than a return bought on the day for either route, that would be restricted to that route in both directions!

So I found myself strap hanging on the Midland Metro (CAF 21) into Grand Central, then stepping into New Street Station ready for the off. As I had to be on a specific train (at 08.14), I’d given myself sufficient time to allow for any delays on the Metro but I’d had a smooth tram journey in, so had around forty minutes to chill before getting my train. I made my way down to the Platform and stood on the end to watch trains come and go! Although the upper part of New Street was rebuilt a few years back, the platforms are very much as I’ve always known them! Standing nearby was Virgin Pendolino 390 101, waiting to make a peak journey to London, full of those with large budgets or expense accounts!100_1516.JPG

Soon, my train appeared in the form of 350 122;100_1517.JPG

The present day LNWR service has it’s origins from the hourly Birmingham New Street-London Euston semi fast service introduced with the West Coast Mainline electrification when it reached Birmingham in 1967. Operated by Class 310 EMU’s, my earliest memories of this semi fast service is of using it between Birmingham & Coventry in the early eighties, when it was advertised at New Street as terminating at Watford Junction, to encourage London passengers to use the then half hourly Inter City service that was the ancestor to today’s Virgin service. 1988 would see the Class 310s replaced by Class 317s displaced from the Bedford-St Pancras/Moorgate service that was then becoming the new Thameslink service through the reopened London Snow Hill tunnel and onto Brighton using new, dual voltage Class 319s. The 317s were only allocated to the Euston service for around a year, being replaced by new, Network South East branded Class 321s in 1989.

Railway privatisation saw the service pass to Silver Link, run by National Express, who would increase it to half hourly (initially only as far as Birmingham International before a path could be found for the extra train per hour into New Street) as well as the introduction of cheaper fares to attract people who weren’t too bothered about journey time. This made the service attractive to passengers considering the coach, as well as the other two train companies. New Class 350’s replaced the 321’s from 2005 onwards, these being initially jointly owned by Silver Link and fellow National Express subsidiary Central Trains (being used on their Birmingham-Liverpool service) before the franchise map was redrawn in December 2007 when both the Liverpool & London service become part of the new London Midland franchise. the service then being integrated with the Birmingham-Coventry local service, resulting in a complex calling pattern with a degree of “skip stops” being initiated on this busy section, allowing more trains to be fitted in. Although this made the London service a bit slower, it also increased the frequency to three trains per hour.

Recent timetable changes have seen one of these trains split into two at Northampton, and it was this service that my cheap ticket had been booked on, so I had to change trains at Northampton. No big deal, I thought! As a member of the original, 2005 350/1 fleet, I noticed that the original mocquette is beginning to look a bit worn. New trains are due to add to the fleet (which will see the newer, high density 350/2’s returned to the leasing company) and hopefully, the 350/1’s will then enjoy a much needed refurbishment. They’re still pretty much my favourite EMUs on the network but are beginning to look a bit tired!

Heading out of the New Street tunnels, I noticed a sign pinpointing the site of the upcoming HS2 Station at Birmingham Curzon Street (the City’s first Railway Station, before New Street replaced it). On the local news section of BBC Breakfast today, they’d mentioned that the designs for both Curzon Street and the new HS2 Station by the NEC had been released. This means even more choice for Birmingham-London passengers in years to come!

I’ve used this service fairly regularly over the past few years, mostly to reach Coventry to start Stagecoach Warwickshire bashes but those journeys were usually a bit earlier (between 7 & 8) when the trains were incredibly busy, particularly as far as Birmingham International, full of workers heading for the various businesses based around the National Exhibition Centre and Birmingham Airport but, although our train had discharged a standing load upon it’s arrival, loadings heading outward were altogether lighter! So it was a comfortable run out, with more people joining us at our first stop, Stechford (the only stop before this, inner city Adderley Park, is only served once an hour). We then called at all stations to Coventry, with countryside replacing suburbia once we’d left Birmingham International behind. After Coventry, it was a fast run to Rugby, there being no intermediate stations on this stretch. Rugby’s a station that I feel looks odd without it’s original overhead roof, which was demolished as part of the West Coast modernisation back in 2008. Reminding me of the past however, was a preserved Class 86 electric loco (86 259?),  one of the classes replaced on the West Coast by the Virgin Pendolino fleet in 2003, which was parked in one of the bay platforms, looking resplendent in it’s original electric blue livery!

The Guard came around to check tickets between Coventry & Rugby and explained very professionally that the train was now running around six minutes late. He also explained that my five minute connection at Northampton would be on an adjacent platform, so a quick change could be made. He also said that we would possibly make up time but that he would contact control at Northampton to see if they could hold the train. As we pulled into Northampton’s bay platform 4, I saw the station clock say that it had just turned 09.25, the time of the London train’s departure and, sure enough, there was 350 118 waiting alongside on Platform One. As soon as we slowed for the final stop, 350 118 pulled out! Now, I know a lot of trains have to be fitted into the West Coast Main Line timetable, meaning holding trains willy nilly isn’t practical but by just a minute? Ohh well, at least it gave me another chance to photograph 350 122;100_1518.JPG

Fortunately, the next train was only twenty five minutes away, at 09.50, which would get me to Euston for 10.46, still earlier than my usual Chiltern 09.55 off Birmingham Moor Street would have, thus still giving me more time in London! I’d not been to Northampton for a while and I noticed that the ticket office had been totally rebuilt, obviously some time ago, as it possessed old London Midland style signage. Looking into the nearby Kings Heath Depot, built by Siemens as the main base for the Class 350’s, I saw that several 350’s were wearing the new London North Western livery, mostly 350/3’s which must be due their first repaint. Soon, 350 125 turned up on a through service from Birmingham;100_1519.JPG

The train was a lot fuller than 350 122 had been but I found a seat with ease. I was unworried about the fact that my train ticket was specifically only valid on the 09.25 train, as the fact that I missed it was down to my proceeding train’s late running meant that it was the Railway’s fault that I had done so. Therefore, as my ticket was specified for both trains, I was able to take the next train. Don’t think that works if you’ve purchased split tickets (a popular thing at the moment, where many savings can be made!) so my advice for those doing this is to leave yourself a large amount of connection time. As it turned out, it was irrelevant, as my ticket wasn’t checked on this journey!

Soon, we left the Northampton loop, which becomes the slow lines of the West Coast Mainline. This is an exciting bit of Railway, with Virgin Pendolinos & Voyagers thundering past on the fast lines. The three trains an hour from Northampton-Euston have varied stopping patterns and this was the fastest of the three, calling at just Milton Keynes Central, where a Southern Railway Class 377 was waiting on an adjacent platform on the hourly Milton Keynes-East Croydon service, a relic of an early post privatisation rail service that ran from Rugby-Gatwick Airport. It uses the West London line to get around London.

Just after, we joined the Fast lines for the rest of the route. And so it was a fast run to Watford Junction, a busy station with the Class 319 operated St Albans Abbey branch on one side of the station and the London Overground all stop service to Euston on the other, with LNWR and the occasional Virgin train (an hourly Birmingham train) calling at the platforms in the middle, with many more Virgin trains hurtling through non stop! We left Watford behind and headed to Bushey, where the Overground line joins us after serving Watford High Street Station. From here, there are six tracks heading into Euston, with the Overground tracks being electrified with third rail DC many years (1917) before the West Coast Mainline was electrified with overhead wires at 25 KV AC in 1966. At Harrow & Wealdstone, Bakerloo Line tube trains join the Overground on their lines. with Willesden Depot and sidings coming up, there’s plenty for Railway Enthusiasts to see!

Soon, we arrived in a platform at the far western side of Euston;100_1521.JPG

Unlike Birmingham New Street, Euston is still recognisable from it’s sixties electrification rebuild but that will all change in the coming years, as it’s rebuilt to accommodate HS2.

Another reason I chose  to use LNWR was that it bought me a fraction closer to my first planned move of the day. So I found myself walking across Euston’s vast concourse (in his 1979 “Great Railway Journey Of The World” from Euston-Kyle Of Localsh, Monty Python star Michael Palin said that the “new” Euston always reminded him of a giant bath!) passed the built in Underground station that contained the Victoria & Northern Lines, then passed the Bus Station that lies right outside, and then down Euston Road to Euston Square Underground Station. Here, I checked the balance on my Oyster Card, which was £5, so I decided to top this up with another £10, which I felt should be sufficient for today’s needs (it was. By the end of the day, I had just over £7 left on the card.) and then went down onto the platform of what was part of the worlds first Underground Railway!

Part of the Metropolitan Railway’s original 1863 line from Paddington-Farringdon, this section is now served by three lines. The Metropolitan Line still sends trains beyond Baker Street onto it’s London City terminus at Aldgate East, whilst the Hammersmith & City line, originally part of the Metropolitan Line that gained it’s own identity in 1990, runs through from Hammersmith-Barking. Finally, there’s the Circle Line, and it was one of these that turned up first, not that it makes much difference these days, as all three lines use modern S stock, although the Metropolitan’s stock features some forward facing seating for those making longer journeys on that line, whilst the stock on the other two lines features longitudinal seating throughout. I still find it odd to see Underground stock where you’re able to walk through all the carriages!

Just after calling at Kings Cross St Pancras, the line is joined by National Rail’s Thameslink line, which runs alongside as far as Farringdon. This was originally part of what was known as the widened Lines, which allowed access from both St Pancras & Kings Cross (and originally Paddington too!) onto the Metropolitan Lines route as far as Moorgate. Trains from the Kings Cross direction ceased to use the Widened Lines in 1976 (more on their replacements latter) whilst electrification of the Bedford-St Pancras Line in 1982 actually spread onto the Widened Lines, encouraging more through services to Moorgate. Thameslink, starting in 1988, saw most Bedford services move out of St Pancras’s majestic train shed and head along the Widened Lines as far as Farringdon, from where they headed under the City through the reopened (closed to passenger trains in 1916) Snow Hill Tunnel. Trains to Moorgate continued to run in the peaks for many years, until the increase in the size of platforms at Farringdon to take twelve coach trains, as part of the laughably named “Thameslink 2000” plans (laughable because they’re only coming to fruition now, many years after 2000!) project which has seen the reopening of the Kings Cross connection onto the Widened Lines, caused the need to sever the Widened Lines beyond Farringdon due to extended platforms needing to cut across the tracks.

We carried onto Moorgate, where I got off.

Class 313

At Moorgate, I made my way from the cut & cover underground line of the Metropolitan Line and it’s sisters and down to the deep level tubes which contain the Northern Line’s City Branch, as well as a somewhat surprising outpost of the National Rail network. Built in 1904, the Great Northern & City Line ran from Moorgate-Finsbury Park, where it connected with the Great Northern Railway Main Line (London North Eastern Railway from the creation of the Big Four Railway Companies in 1923), the line uniquely featured tunnels large enough to contain full size railway stock, unlike the other Tube lines, which use trains with a smaller outer circumference to this day. The original aim was obviously to cater for an eventual through service onto the East Coast Mainline but, possibly due to a lack of interest in electrification by the GNR and latter LNER, this never happened, the line becoming a self contained branch of the Northern Line……until 1976! That year saw the start of electrification of the East Coast Main Line, with the by now British Rail standard overhead 25KV AC method being used, with the initial Inner Suburban services (the Class 312 operated Outer Suburban service from Kings Cross-Royston, on the Cambridge Branch, wouldn’t start until 1978) heading from Finsbury Park down a rebuilt Great Northern & City line, replacing the London Transport Underground service.

With insufficient room in the tunnels to erect overhead wires, third rail electrification (replacing London Transport’s standard fourth rail system) needed to be used, meaning that the new trains built for the line needed to be dually equipped for both third rail and overhead operation, a first for Great Britain’s Railways! These new units were classed as the Class 313, and were the first of BR’s new design of EMU, complete with sliding doors, then only found on the Glasgow Blue Train network, as far as BR were concerned. Over the following few years, more variants of this type of unit would appear, with overhead powered Class 314s joining those earlier sliding door trains (Class 303) in Glasgow and Class 315’s taking over suburban services out of Liverpool Street. Meanwhile, the third rail powered Class 508’s would be introduced on Southern Region Inner Suburban services out of Waterloo, though there time here would be short, being replaced from 1980 by the latter designed Class 510’s (soon to be renamed Class 455’s) with the 508’s then heading to Merseyside, to run alongside the similar Class 507’s that had been introduced onto the rebuilt Merseyrail network in 1977.

Alongside the Inter City High Speed Trains, these units are now the oldest trains in regular service on the UK Main Line network and are in the process of being replaced, with the Class 313s due to be replaced shortly by new Class 717 units. Therefore, I’d decided to ride on one, probably for the last time, today.

I made my way down the steps to the lower levels (as directed by the National Rail signs, if I followed them correctly…which I probably didn’t!) and obeyed the instructions by the yellow, onward travel Oyster reader for National Rail passengers to touch in. Not sure if this added to my fare (I spent around £2.60 to reach Finsbury Park, in Zone 2,) more, I suspect, to do with the correct level of revenue being apportioned to the line’s operator, Great Northern. I reached the platform and found 313 026 ready to depart for Welwyn Garden City, so I quickly boarded. Off peak, there’s a ten minute service along the stretch to Finsbury Park, consisting of a twenty minute service up the East Coast Mainline to Welwyn Garden City and a twenty minute service that branches off onto the Hertford Loop, two trains an hour terminating at Hertford North and one train per hour completing the loop and heading a bit further up the East Coast before turning onto the Cambridge Branch and terminating at Letchworth. In the late eighties, the line to Moorgate was closed at weekends, with all trains heading into Kings Cross at that time. Recently though, the fact that there is now more life in the City Of London at weekends (I remember Routemaster riding around there on Saturdays in the eighties, hardly a soul about, in contrast to today when the bars and restaurants keep the area buzzing seven days a week!)

It was shortly after this reduction (which resulted in a large number 313’s transferring to the North London Line and the Euston-Watford DC service, these being replaced by Class 378s when converted to the London Overground. Several of those 313’s are now running Coastway local services for Southern Railway around the Brighton area) that I first travelled on the line, back in 1990, when my old mate John Batchelor & I made a trip in a car John had hired down to Potters Bar, with the intention of riding on an ex West Midlands Volvo Ailsa. Sadly, we were too late for this, as they were in the process of being sold but we bought Travelcard Add On’s (Potters Bar is outside what was then the London Regional Transport area, correspondent to the abolished in 1986 Greater London Council and today’s Transport for London area, as now covered by the Mayor Of London’s powers) and caught a train into London. As a Moorgate train was due first, we caught that, followed by a trip on the travellator between Moorgate & Bank, then a trip on the original stock on the one stop Waterloo & City Line, still run by BR then (LT taking over in 1994), to Waterloo, where John tried….and failed to get his final remaining Class 50 (50 002) in the book for the short run to Clapham Junction (they were on Waterloo-Exeter services at the time). It didn’t turn up, so we made our way back to Kings Cross on a Routemaster on the 73, then getting a Class 317 back to the car.

The second time I would travel on the line would be in early 2005, in the final days of regular Routemaster operation in London. I’d travelled on the 36 all the way from Queens Park-New Cross, just before the route was one manned, then taking the East London line (then still part of the Underground system-it’s now much extended and part of the Overground-and operated by Metropolitan line A stock, quite my favourite Underground trains!) From Whitechapel, I caught a Hammersmith & City train to Moorgate, then getting a 313 to Finsbury Park to catch a Routemaster on the 19 all the way through to Battersea Bridge. So it was a line that I hadn’t travelled on much and the impending demise of the 313’s was a good reason for doing so!

Although the seats were refurbished in First’s corporate style mocquette during the period when the franchise was run by First Capital Connect, the 313’s still feel very seventies, particularly the bright yellow formica around the door areas;100_1522.JPG

More evidence of the line’s tendency to stick in a time warp is the fact that the station signs still date from the BR Network South East era (1986 onwards);43440987_1513478262129234_4605396627232915456_o

After here, the line comes out of the tunnel, with the Emirates Stadium of Arsenal Football Club peering down from above. Soon, we had joined the East Coast Mainline at Finsbury Park, where I got off;100_1525.JPG

Although not as busy as the West Coast Mainline, this is still busy Railway territory, with Great Northern and London North Eastern Railway services charging through the station, whilst Great Northern stopping services call. Several bus services connect into the station but I decided to head north by Tube. Finsbury Park is served by two tube lines, the Victoria Line and the one I wanted to travel on, the Piccadilly Line. I’d travelled to the line’s northern extremity, at Cockfosters only once before, around 2006 when, following the Routemaster’s demise (aside from the Heritage operation) in December 2005, I’d switched my attention to getting London’s Railways in the book (which I more or less succeeded in doing, only a few rarely used spurs and cross boundary lines yet to get in the book, though I’ve got all the Underground system done) and had gone to Cockfosters as part of this. I simply went there and back on that occasion but this time, I wanted to ride on one of the bus routes that passed Cockfosters Station.

As I made my way onto the platform, a train was just pulling out but, as it was a short to Arnos Grove, that wasn’t a problem, with the next train indicator stating that the next Cockfosters train was seven minutes away. So I sat and waited until that train appeared, then I boarded and found a seat with ease. Finsbury Park was the original terminus of what would become the Piccadilly Line and had made a busy interchange with many passengers transferring onto onwards tram & bus services, this prompting the Underground Group to extend the line northwards, reaching Arnos Grove in 1932 and Cockfosters in 1933, the year that the Underground Group (which included all the Underground lines except the previously separate Metropolitan Railway. It also included the London United & Metropolitan Tramways and the London General Bus Company) and all Bus, Underground, (including the Metropolitan) Tram & Trolleybus services (just the London United Kingston network at that point, though it would soon grow into the largest Trolleybus system in the world) within an approximate thirty mile radius of Charing Cross would be merged into the new London Transport Board.

As most of the extensions route was already fully built up, the section as far as Arnos Grove was in tube tunnels, only coming into the open at that point. The section is renowned for the excellently designed Art Deco stations that were a feature of Frank Pick’s (the influential manager who moved from the Underground Group onto London Transport, being responsible for the LT Bullseye logo-again inherited from the Underground Group-amongst much else and had a firm belief that only the very best in contemporary design was good enough for Londoners) vision for London Transport, although these are mostly notable from the outside! From Arnos Grove, the line continues in the open, through leafy, semi detached house clad suburbs that are so typical of the thirties expansion of London. Soon, we trundled into Cockfosters;100_1527.JPG

I love the globe shaped lights that lit up this stylish, concrete terminus! Cockfosters isn’t the grandest of the Piccadilly Line extension stations but it’s design is certainly pleasant;

KODAK Digital Still Camera

I investigated my options for onward bus travel and decided to wait for the twenty minute headway 298 to Potters Bar, which soon turned up in the form of Sulivans Buses Enviro 200 AE 15.

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Potters Bar Station

I liked the mocquette, which was similar to that in various operators Enviro 400 Citys and featured the LT Bullseye;43289635_1513521452124915_4775750174246961152_o

…..as well as the posters that gave the history of the routes that these buses operate. There was a poster further down the bus with the history of pioneer minibus route W9 but here’s a photo of the poster for the 298;43659276_1513522965458097_7630248149986050048_o

As the poster says, the 298 started in 1968 to replace the northern section of route 29 from Victoria. It also states that Sulivans Buses are proud to be the only independent operator of Transport for London services. They also operate some services outside the TfL area, as well as having a lot of work with film companies, with one of their Routemasters coming under attack from Autons (shop window mannequins that came to life) in the 2005 debut of the revived “Doctor Who” amongst many other appearances!

The bus soon left suburbia behind and headed out into open country, which symbolised that we were heading out of the TfL area, into the county of Hertfordshire. For Potters Bar was one of only two places outside of what became the Greater London Council area(which was abolished in 1986, now being the area covered by the London Mayor’s jurisdiction, and hence Transport for London’s influence) that London Transport had a red bus garage (as opposed to the green buses of London Transport’s Country Department, that passed to the National Bus Company as London Country in 1970), the other being Loughton, which closed in 1986.  Potters Bar however, against the odds, still survives and is owned by Metroline.

Potters Bar

We soon hit the town of Potters Bar itself, which is a very typical South East dormitory town, not that different from the suburbia served by the Piccadilly Line, full of semi detached and detached houses and mock Tudor rows of shops, one of which, I noticed, contained an appetising looking Chip shop so, as this was just around the corner from the main Railway Station Bus Terminus, I decided to walk back towards it for lunch! There was actually two chippies present but I chose the first I’d seen, the Seaway Fish Bar, as my chippy sense tingled that it looked the nicer. Don’t know what the other one was like but the Seaway was most satisfactory! I ate Cod & Chips on a nearby bench and then headed back to the Railway Station bus terminus.

Being outside of the TfL area means that Potters Bar is subject to the same, deregulated rules that applies to the rest of the UK, outside of London. Not that an area as affluent as this, with it’s consequent high car ownership, would be much of an attraction for the competitive bus market, something that would cause much of the former London Country network (which was split into four separate NBC subsidiaries in 1986 before these were privatised) to disintegrate, the remainder being very much a shadow of it’s former self. One of the operators that covers some of the gaps that this has left is Uno, an operator that evolved from the University Of Hertford’s own bus service, and these operate into Potters Bar on services 610 & 611, from Cockfosters & Enfield respectively, out of the TfL area through Potters Bar and onto Hertford. These are operated by Mercedes Benz Citaros like 361 here;100_1530.JPG

As the current owners of Potters Bar Garage, Metroline has adopted a special livery for it’s non TfL services, this being shown here on two Enviro 200s;

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DEL 857 on the 84 to St Albans & DEL 798 on local service PB1

The long established 84 appears to have been split into two in recent years, as I’d spotted a Metroline Enviro 400 double decker heading towards Arnos Grove when I entered the town. Obviously, this side was a full TfL service, one of three which step their toes out of the TfL area to reach the town. As well as the 298 (which also terminates at Arnos Grove), the other was the 313 to Chingford, which was the first to arrive after I’d got back to the terminus so I decided to board Arriva Enviro 200 ENX 2;100_1532.JPG

Arriva’s operation of the 313 dates back from when Cowie owned Grey Green won the tender for the route in the early days of London Regional Transport, taking it over from original winner London Country North East following a damaging strike.

The 313 heads out of town along the same route as the 298 but splits away on the edge to serve more green fields. Other than the red bus, the only clue to our proximity to the Capital was the view of Canary Wharf and The Shard, both buildings which stood out in the view looking towards London. Soon, we entered the London Borough Of Enfield. We passed a road called Lavender Hill, causing me to wonder whether this was the road that influenced the title of the classic Ealing comedy, “The Lavender Hill Mob”. One can imagine the meek, mild character that Alec Guinness played in that film setting off from here every morning, heading to his job of accompanying the bank notes that are set to be destroyed by the Royal Mint and concocting an intricate heist!

As we entered Enfield, I was pleased to see that the tree lined bus terminus where I’d twice caught Routemaster’s on the 29,  was still there. This was after the 29’s Potters Bar section had been replaced by the 298, with the route latter extended from Wood Green-Enfield to replace what was originally a Trolleybus service. The first occasion I’d caught a 29 from here was with John Batchelor in 1987, when we caught RM 5, the second occasion being with another friend,  Joe Moriarty, a year latter when it had been announced that the 29 was to be one manned. Not long after that, the 29 was cutback to terminate at Wood Green again, with Enfield now being served by the 329 to Turnpike Lane.

We passed through Enfield Town Centre, including Enfield Town Railway Station, from which point I’d actually been on the 313 before, using the service to link the Enfield Town and Chingford lines out of Liverpool Street. This section of the route is dominated by a reservoir that the bus runs alongside, although the water can’t be seen as the road is lower than the reservoir. Soon, we arrived at the Bus Station that was built in front of Chingford Station in 1968, replacing the former Royal Forest Hotel Terminus, just around the corner on the edge of Epping Forest. In fact, the first time I’d passed the Bus Station was way back in 1978, during my brief time in the Cubs! We’d made the long coach journey from Telford to the Scout owned Gillwell Park, which was nearby. No M25 then, so the journey also took in Enfield, so we must have followed the 313 route between the two. For me, it was a then rare opportunity to view London buses, which then included a lot of Routemasters!

I now had several routes to choose from for my next move, the decision being made by the sight of what must now be one of the oldest buses still working in London today!

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18460 next to E400 10179 on the 179 to Ilford

A Dennis Trident

Whilst very much the leading model in the early days of low floor double decker production and operation, the Dennis Trident is beginning to get a little thin on the ground these days, particularly in London, where TfL are always pushing for newer buses to be introduced on it’s tenders, with particular regard now to hybrid or any other technology that helps to reduce emissions. Therefore, when I spotted that route 97, from Chingford Station-Stratford City Bus Station was still being largely operated by Stagecoach Alexander bodied Dennis Tridents, I decided that this would be my next route. I say largely because the next bus to arrive at Chingford was a 2008 vintage Scania, of which several more appeared as I travelled the route, indicating that these are being cascaded from elsewhere onto the route to ultimately replace the Tridents.

Fortunately, as seen in the photo, 2005 vintage Trident 18460 was waiting time to become the next 97 to leave, so when it pulled onto the stand, I boarded. The route headed out of Chingford, briefly giving a good view of the reservoir that the 313 passed alongside. We then headed towards the neighbouring suburb of Chingford Mount, the whole area being typical outer London suburbia. The 97 heads in a general South Westerly direction, with the suburbs gradually getting a little older and, dare I say it, shabbier, the further in we got! We passed Stagecoach’s Leyton Garage, where the Borismaster operated 55 from Oxford Circus terminates (and also, I believe, the 97’s home). Then it was onwards towards the new development around Stratford.

I’d not been to Stratford since before the London Olympics were held there in 2012, so it was interesting to see how the place had changed, with lots of new housing being evident as we approached. One thing I didn’t realise was that Stratford now has two Bus stations! I was expecting us to terminate at the main Bus Station, alongside the Railway Station that contains a large collection of various train services, with the Great Eastern Main line out to Norwich, with various branches, as well as hosting the Liverpool Street-Shenfield stopping service which should have become part of the new Crossrail (or as officially called, the Elizabeth Line) from December but it’s recently been announced that it’s opening is to be delayed until sometime late in 2019. Nevertheless, the new Class 345 EMUs delivered for Crossrail have largely replaced Class 315s from the line. As well as this, Stratford is served by two Tube Lines, the Central & Jubilee Lines, and two Docklands Light Railway lines, as well as being the terminus of the London Overground North London line.

But the City Bus Station, where the 97 terminates, is the other side of the Railway from the station entrance and is really only suitable for serving one of the many entrances to the huge Westfield Shopping Centre. Several other routes also terminate here, including the 388 to Elephant & Castle.

An MMC Enviro 400 City on the 388.100_1534.JPG

The MMC Enviro 400 City was originally developed as Alexander Dennis Limited’s (ADL) great rival to Wright’s New Routemaster, which that company had developed as a result of previous London Mayor Boris Johnson’s desire to create a new, iconic London bus to take that mantle from the original Routemaster. Interestingly, whilst a small number have entered London service with Arriva and HCT, most have sold to Provincial operators such as Blackpool & Nottingham amongst other places!

The 388 is operated by HCT, standing for Hackney Community Transport, a community interest company that, in addition to running minibuses for those who can’t use normal public transport, have gained several TfL tenders in East London. 2515 was my stead, and we set off out of Stratford around the Queen Elizabeth Park that had been built as part of the Olympic developments, all in the shadow of the main Olympic Stadium;100_1536.JPG

…..as well as views of the office blocks on the Isle Of Dogs;100_1535.JPG

I’d noticed several Wright Streetlites wandering around the Stratford area with “HereEast” fleetnames and the 388 is the only bus route that passes this office complex on the edge of the redeveloped area. Then, we headed into older Hackney, followed by Bethnal Green & Shoreditch, all traditional East End communities full of street markets and a sadly declining number of pie & mash shops! Shoreditch is almost cheek by jowell with the beginning of the City Of London, which was it’s usual bustling self, with the first of the commuters from the financial district heading from their offices towards the various Railway Stations, or maybe heading towards a pub or restaurant to spend the first part of the evening. I got off the 388 by St Pauls Cathedral.

A Heritage Routemaster

Almost immediately, I spotted an Open Top Routemaster running on a Sightseeing Tour, which must have been quite cooling on this unusually warm day for October. But of course, I was after an RM which my Oyster Card could be used on. So I made my way to a 15 bus stop and, almost immediately, RM 2017 appeared, one of the ten RMs that are owned by TfL but leased to Stagecoach, as operator of the Heritage Routemaster route 15, which runs over the Trafalgar Square-Tower Hill section of the New Routemaster (or Borismaster) operated 15 to Blackwall. It’s recently been proposed to reduce the Heritage operation to summer weekends only, one of those proposals that look destined to be fulfilled as TfL struggles to reduce it’s large deficit! Therefore, I’d decided to get a ride on one. It was only a short run to Tower Hill but it took over fifteen minutes due to the high level of traffic. RM 2071 was reasonably well loaded but I couldn’t help thinking that the Heritage routes economics might have been more viable had the Conductor bothered to have come upstairs to scan my Oyster Card. At Tower Hill, I got off and, taking care not to get mown down by cyclists in the adjacent cycle line, managed to take this photo;100_1537.JPG

I crossed over the road to await RM 2071’s return, buying a rather expensive ice cream (£3 for one scoop!) as I did so. I then sat down on a bench to eat it and watch the comings and goings of the various Commuter coaches owned by firms like National Express subsidiaries Kings Ferry & Clarkes, as well as firms like Redwings and Centaur, all operating commuter services out to Kent.

Also passing were regular Borismaster’s on the 15, one of which was loading when RM 2071 returned, so I took this photo;100_1538.JPG

…..whilst sticking my hand out to stop the bus……which the driver totally ignored and carried on past the Borismaster! So much for any attempts to keep the Heritage service going! The overtaken Borismaster departed before I’d got my breath back (and indignation under control!) but another, LT390, appeared a few minutes latter. It had now turned five and, having a specific train to catch, I decided it was too risky to wait twenty minutes for the next Heritage bus, so I boarded LT 390. I managed to grab the front seat and, as we headed towards St Pauls, I spotted a Borismaster in the special livery used for East London Link services EL1 & EL2 heading towards me on the 15, so I took a photo of it;

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LT 953

And so it was a slow crawl through the peak hour crowds along Fleet Street and The Strand, before reaching the terminus outside Charing Cross Station, where I picked up an Evening Standard to read on the train home, then catching Wright Gemini/Volvo B5 VH 4512 on the 139, which took me through Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly Circus, up Regent Street to Oxford Circus, then along Oxford Street. This well bussed thoroughfare is destined to lose quite a few routes when Crossrail eventually opens, which will seem very strange! We then headed up towards the Marylebone Road and I got off after we’d crossed this, then walking to Marylebone Station. I had an hour before the 20.10 train that I’d been booked on (with London’s unpredictable traffic, there’s no way I’d have left it to the last minute!) so I “forced” myself to have a couple of pints of Greene King’s Barmy Army IPA (slightly stronger than the standard Greene King IPA) in the Victoria & Albert before heading to catch 168 005 for a relaxing journey back to Birmingham for just £9! A chilling end to an excellent day!

 

 

Adventures In Devon 2018-Part Nine-North Devon & Gold 57-20/9/18

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Typical of the 2018 North Devon bus scene are these three buses in Barnstaple Bus Station-Fillers Wright Streetlite SC16 YPF & Stagecoach E400 Scania’s 15434 & 15432

Originally, my wife Lynn & I were going to visit the Devon Railway Centre on this Thursday but a hurricane over in America had other ideas! For whilst listening to the weather forecast on Tuesday night, it said that the after effects of said hurricane would create unsettled weather from Wednesday night onwards, reaching extremes on Thursday evening. Therefore, as featured in Part Eight, we visited the Devon Railway Centre on the Wednesday and agreed to split up for the day on the Thursday! So whilst Lynn had a little lie in before heading on the 12 into Torquay to have a wander around the shops, I left the flat early in drizzly morning twilight, for one last major wander around Devon using my Megarider Gold!

My aim was to get to Exeter in good time for the 10.00 155 to Barnstaple, for which a number of options presented itself. I could have repeated the start of our trip to Seaton (see Part Six) by getting up really early and catching the 06.45 46 to Exeter, but I felt like doing something different, as well as wanting a bit more of a lie in! I checked the possibility of using the 12 to Newton Abbott but this would have required an earlier start than getting the 46! The first 22 of the day wouldn’t get me across to Teignmouth in time to connect with a suitable number 2, so I looked at my rail options. The first train to have off peak fare validity, the 09.12, wouldn’t get me into Exeter until too late, whilst earlier trains would be more expensive. So I decided to take the train for a short distance, getting the 07.10 Exmouth train. I first thought of Teignmouth as a destination but in the end decided upon a single to Dawlish (around £5) so as to have another opportunity to travel along some of the seawall. So I got down to Paignton station and boarded 150 216;

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And so I began a trundle along the Riviera branch, with commuters taking the place of the leisure travellers that I’d encountered on previous trips along this line. Up to Newton Abbott and then it was onto the Mainline, alongside the River Teign to Teignmouth, then the earliest journey I’ve ever taken along the Dawlish sea wall, with daylight struggling to break through the clouds;

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All too soon, it was time to get off at Dawlish;

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I had just under half an hour to wait for the 08.11 number 2 to Exeter, so I went and sat down on a bench by the side of the town’s pleasant gardens. Unlike last time though, (see Part Three) it was too early for an ice cream! In consolation, I noticed that one of the stream’s famous Black Swans was asleep on a nest;

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Soon, it was time to get my bus, which was branded 15899;

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As I mentioned briefly in Part Four, the 2 was one of the first two routes that the fledgling Devon General started at the company’s birth in 1919. Alongside the inland route 1 via Chudleigh, the 2 initially provided a through Exeter-Torquay service (must have been quite an adventurous run on the rather primitive buses of the era) via Dawlish & Teignmouth before the Newton Abbott-Torquay section was hived off as the separate route 28 (merging with the Torquay-Brixham 12 in 1954). Whilst the 1 would remain quite a rural backwater (more details on it’s demise in Part Four) the 2 would become popular with Exeter residents seeking days out at the seaside, as well as serving the visitors to the two small seaside towns that the route served. All year round traffic was helped by the suburbanisation of both towns, with most of the new housing being away from the two town’s Railway Stations.

By the seventies, various variants had formed, with a Summer Saturday & Sunday 2A from Exeter-Dawlish Warren, a seasonal Open Top 2D from Teignmouth-Dawlish Warren and an irregular 2B from Newton Abbott-Teignmouth via Bishopsteignton, which was renumbered 184 on 4th May 1975 and today is operated by Dartline. That same large scale renumbering of Devon General services (to avoid duplication with those of Western National, with the latter having took control of the former as a result of both becoming part of the new National Bus Company) saw the 2 renumbered 186 & 187. The 186 took the original route of the 2 through Alphington, with the 187 being a new variant via Countess Wear (possibly introduced to replace an ex Exeter City Transport service) which is the present route of the 2 today. The 2D would become the 185.

By the time of my first visit to Dawlish in 1990 (only for a weekend, with no time for bus riding) Devon General had become an independent company, the basis for manager Harry Blundred’s Transit Holdings empire, with it’s emphasis on minibus operation. This saw the corridor served by route 85 from Exeter-Newton Abbott and 85A from Exeter-Torquay via Shaldon (Originally covered by Devon General route 13 through to Dawlish Warren, renumbered 125 in 1975. Today covered by the 22.) Where as Mr Blundred favoured 16 seat Ford Transits for local urban work, interurban services used larger Mercedes Benz minibuses, which operated the 85 & 85A, each route running half hourly, providing a record breaking quarter hourly service between Exeter & Teignmouth. The routes also used some quite narrow roads to serve Dawlish Warren. The downside was that the open top 185 had now gone.

Come the time of my Torquay holiday in 2005 (after the 1996 Stagecoach takeover of Devon General), the 85 & 85A were now operated by Dennis Darts that featured Stagecoach’s standard Alexander midibus bodywork. I remember travelling from Torquay-Exeter on a fully seated example, taking Torquay holidaymakers for a trip to Teignmouth or Dawlish, with the bus only emptying out at these towns.

Then in 2007, Stagecoach converted the routes back to double deck operation, using nearly new Enviro 400’s cascaded from Stagecoach Manchester, with the number 2 returning to the route. The larger buses couldn’t serve the narrow road accessing Dawlish Warren from the Exeter side, so buses did a double run down the hill from the Dawlish side. Torquay was served by a new double deck 11 terminating at Teignmouth that maintained the half hourly frequency of the 85A, whilst the 2’s frequency was every fifteen minutes from Exeter-Teignmouth and half hourly through to Newton Abbott. Subsequent years would see the 2 run throughout on a twenty minute frequency and the Dawlish Warren double run taken out to make the service a little faster. Dawlish Warren would be served by an extension of the 11, reduced to hourly but with half hourly shorts between Dawlish & Dawlish Warren. A through link to Exeter continued to be provided on summer Sundays and Bank Holidays by route 2A and at other times, by the extension of an hourly journey on Exeter city service B (with that routes other hourly journey heading to Dawlish.) Neither lasted long, with today’s B terminating at Exminster. An early morning 2B combines both routes, running from Teignmouth across Exeter to EDF Energy near Pinhoe.

The 11 has now been replaced by the 22 running through to Paignton, though the half hourly short from Dawlish Warren-Dawlish have gone. Increasing congestion levels have also seen the need to increase the running time of the 2, causing the frequency reduced to every half hour, but the service remains strong and now features newer branded E400 Scanias such as 15899, which did a fine job of getting me into Exeter.

Exeter-Barnstaple

There are currently two routes between Exeter & Barnstaple. The longest established of these is now numbered 5B but was originally the 315, running via Crediton & Bideford. Originally, this was Western National route 346 from Exeter-Bideford, the only Western National service into Exeter which wasn’t joint with Devon General (those being the 47 to Weymouth via Axminster, the 129 to Plymouth and the 217 to Minehead via Tiverton), the 346 being renumbered 315 on 4th May 1975.

Western National would be split up in 1983, with the North Devon Garages passing to a new company called…..logically enough…..North Devon! The new company changed it’s livery from green to red and hence, decided to call itself Red Bus. Of course, it would take some time to repaint the whole fleet and the company received a degree of national notoriety when a clip appeared on BBC1 consumer show “That’s Life” showing a photo sent in by a viewer of a green bus (a Bristol VR) proudly proclaiming on it’s side “I’m now a Red Bus!” Well, apparently it was funnier than the shows usual collection of rude shaped vegetables! Privatisation saw a joint management buyout with neighbouring company Southern National (also created from the Western National split in 1983, taking over garages at Taunton, Yeovil & Weymouth) to form the Cawlett Holdings group.

The two companies continued with their separate identities, adopting similar green and red based liveries but this was a difficult part of the world to run buses profitably, so an offer from First Group in 1998 was probably too good for the management to refuse, so they sold out, and the separate green and red liveries and identities were all subsumed into First’s corporate image. This meant that First were the main bus company all the way down from Bristol into Cornwall, with only Stagecoach in the former Devon General territory around Exeter & Torbay, and Plymouth Citybus in that fair city, providing any major variation to the scene. Interestingly, this provided an almost exact parallel to the pre NBC era, with the virtually identical green liveried Tilling companies Bristol Omnibus and Western National dominating the West Country (the main difference back then being that Bristol went much further north into Gloucestershire, this section being hived off as the Cheltenham & Gloucester company when Bristol had a similar split to Western National in 1983. This latter became part of Stagecoach), with only British Electric Traction subsidiary Devon General and Plymouth City Transport providing relief from Tilling green.

But this parallel from the past wouldn’t last, as the region failed to provide the high profit margins that First then sought. The start of this decline began in North Devon from late 2006, when First cut some of the less viable routes in the area, prompting Stagecoach to open a small garage in Barnstaple to operate tendered replacements, including the 315, which at some point had been extended to Barnstaple from Bideford. To make this garage more viable, Stagecoach introduced a competitive route 21 & 21A from Ilfracombe, via Barnstaple onto Bideford and Westward Ho! & Appledore, competing with First’s 1, 2 & 3 which were soon merged into through services 1 & 2, replacing the 3 to Ilfracombe (restoring the through service that had originally been Western National’s 301 from Ilfracombe-Westward Ho!). This caused a major battle to break out between the two groups throughout Devon. Although the Devon wide attacks ceased after one season (in 2007) competition in North Devon continued, with First introducing open top route 8 to Croyde, competing with Stagecoach’s 308, which paralleled the Ilfracombe corridor as far as Braunton. I travelled on this in 2010, on an ex Badgerline Volvo Citybus.

I was staying at Lynn’s Girls Brigade (joint with the Boys Brigade) camp at Widecombe (served then by First’s 31, which is now run by local independent Filers) that year and I took advantage of the ridiculously low prices that both operators had dropped their respective day tickets to! (Around £2 each, as I recall!) so I could travel on both operators for a mere £4! Absolute bargain but such low fares couldn’t last in such an area! By 2012, First as a whole were facing financial problems, so sold off several subsidiaries. One of these was supposed to be North Devon, with Stagecoach poised to buy but investigations by the Office Of Fair Trading as to the effects on competition in the area caused Stagecoach to withdraw. With no other buyer willing to take over an operation crippled by Stagecoach competition, First’s only option was to deregister the entire network! Funnily enough, the bus industry has barely heard off the Office Of Fair Trading since!

I travelled on the 315 in 2009, on a Northern Counties bodied Volvo Olympian, so I decided to leave the 5B in favour of the other Exeter-Barnstaple service, the 155. So I found myself at the Paris Street stop in Exeter in good time for the 10.00 departure on this two hourly service, with Barnstaple based Enviro 400 19095 doing the honours;

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I won’t describe the first section of the 155, as I did so in Part Seven, when Lynn & I visited the Devon Railway Centre. Soon after this point, we entered the town of Tiverton, calling at the small, rather quaint Bus Station. Here, we left the half hourly trunk route 55 and it’s variants behind and heading into quite sparsely populated territory, heading quite close to Exmoor’s southern extremities. The views around here are again, best appreciated from the top deck of a double decker bus;

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South Molton is the largest community on this stretch of the route, a pleasant little market town which publicises it’s proximity to Exmoor. Loadings on the route are really low around here and it’s very sensible of Stagecoach to link the service in with the Exeter-Tiverton route, just as the 315 has become the 5B as part of the Exeter-Crediton corridor, these busier trunks help support the more remote sections of the route. Finally, after a stunning run, we arrived at Barnstaple Bus Station;

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19105 on the left, with Wave branded 15891 on the 21 to the right.

I decided next to travel on the 21 to Ilfracombe. This is very much the main trunk route of the area, heading in the other direction to Westward Ho! via Bideford. Sister service 21A to Appledore now only runs evenings & Sundays with Appledore served at other times by local service 13. Stagecoach celebrated getting dominance of North Devon by investing in a batch of Enviro 400 bodied Scania’s for the 21, these being branded “North Devon Wave”. The 21 runs every half hour through to Ilfracombe, with a quarter hourly service running as far as Braunton, one journey of which terminates there, whilst the other follows the old 308 route to Croyde. Fortunately, I was at the right time for an Ilfracombe journey, operated by Wave branded 15891.

The 21’s quite a varied route, serving a marine barracks, suburban Braunton, as well as more rural climes. Soon, we were at Ilfracombe;

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Ilfracombe

The town used to have a Bus Station but, when I first visited the town, as part of that Woolacombe stay in 2010, it was incredibly rundown and looking rather sorry for itself! I next visited the town in 2014 and found the Bus Station abandoned, with the 21 terminating at it’s present terminus next to the Cliffs that separate the town from the beach, the two being linked by a tunnel! Now, the Bus Station has become a car park! A sign of the times perhaps but I can’t help comparing the fate of this former First owned facility with that in Paignton, which Stagecoach have used to publicise it’s network to the full.

I’ve a confession to make! The main reason I wanted to visit Ilfracombe wasn’t transport related! Therefore, I found myself heading towards the quaint, olde worlde Harbour, which contains two excellent fish & chip shops next door to one another! I chose the Dolphin, sitting down on a bench beside the harbour to eat my purchase;

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I followed this up with an ice cream before heading back to the 21 stop for the next bus, which turned out to be E400 Scania 15890, allowing me to take this near identical photograph to the shot of 15891 above!

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Then, it was off back to Barnstaple, which I was planning to leave by train, fairly easy, as the 21 is one of several routes to call at Barnstaple station on the way out towards Bideford. But as I had some time to p]pp]pkill before a train was due, I got off 15890 at the Bus Station and hung about for a bit, watching the comings and goings of Stagecoach and local independent Filers, who fill in the gaps that Stagecoach don’t cover, including reaching the only part of Devon that I’ve not got around to exploring yet, the extreme North Eastern Devon coastal towns of Coombe Martin and Lynton & Lynmouth, these last two being linked by a Cliff Railway! Maybe someday!

I then decided to catch the next 21 for the short run to the Railway Station, on bus 15889! So I first went on 15891, then 15890, now 15889! I’m going backwards!

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Barnstaple Station

The Tarka & Avocet Lines

Barnstaple is served by a roughly hourly train service to Exeter, which mostly runs through to Exmouth and, as I hadn’t had the chance to travel on either line this holiday, I decided to travel throughout. I put in Exmouth on the station ticket machine and it gave me a single fare at around £10, only £2 short of a Devon Day Ranger so, just in case I decided to head back to Paignton by train, I decided to buy one. The machine couldn’t sell one, so I headed to a nearby ticket window but that was closed. Never mind, I could buy on the train. I then decided to have a look around the station building, only then noticing the “Tickets & Enquiries sign pointing off to one side, so I wandered this way…..and found a chap selling tickets! So I bought my £12 Day Ranger off him.

Once upon a time, Barnstaple was a major Railway junction, with former London South Western (latter Southern Railway) lines to Bideford, Ilfracombe and the narrow gauge Barnstaple & Lynton Railway, which would have been a marvellous tourist attraction had it survived but the Southern Railway in the thirties were far more interested in South East electrification than running this quaint backwater, so it closed. Part of the line has now been restored, though not the section into Barnstaple. Last year, in North Wales, I even found one of the Barnstaple & Lynton’s old locos in service on the Ffestiniog Railway;

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Porthmadog

The LSWR’s great rival, the Great Western Railway, was not to be outdone, Barnstaple being the terminus of a long, tottering Branch Line over Exmoor to Taunton. Today, only the former LSWR line to Exeter remains, though Barnstaple station shows clear signs of when it was larger;

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Soon, my train turned up, in the form of 143 612 & 143 621;

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143 621

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143 612

I chose to travel on board 143 612 and was particularly glad that this train was a Class 143 Pacer unit, as these will be gone by 2020, due to more stringent disabled access regulations being introduced, which the Pacers don’t comply with. Marketed as the Tarka Line, after local author Henry Williamson’s novel “Tarka The Otter”, the line is a fine example of a surviving rural Branch Line, serving quite remote communities (some of which are only served by a few trains a day.), being single line with passing loops for the most part. Obviously a lifeline for these communities, the largest town served on the line is Crediton where, as mentioned in Part Four, the Railway faces competition from the twenty minute frequency 5 group bus services into Exeter, so local commuters here have the choice of frequency over speed. Certainly, as a Barnstaple bound train using the passing loop here dropped off a large number of early evening commuters, many choose the speed of rail for their commute!

Upon reaching Exeter St Davids, our sparsely loaded rural branch line train became a well loaded commuter service as we prepared to head down the Avocet Line to Exmouth, named after a sea bird that’s a common sight along the Exe Estuary. More commuters joined us at Exeter Central, meaning there were now standees on board. We served several stations in suburban Exeter, dropping off a few of those commuters before we headed out alongside the Exe Estuary, which we followed all the way down to Exmouth. I’d chosen a seat on the offside of the train deliberately so as I could enjoy the view over the Exe, with the GWR Mainline (featuring the Riviera Line to Paignton) being visible on the other side of the river, which was getting ever wider as it turned into an estuary. The two main communities on the line are Topsham and Lympstone, the later having two stations, with Lympstone Commando being on the edge of a Royal Marine base, and can only be used by military personal!

All too soon, it was journey’s end and the remaining commuters and I all got off.

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As I mentioned in the East Devon blog, the Bus Station that once existed next door to the Railway Station has now been replaced by a Marks & Spencer’s Food Hall but fortunately, the former public conveniences still exist, so I made use of them! Stagecoach also continue to use the wall next door for publicity;

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As well as wanting a trip on the Avocet Line, I’d wanted to come to Exmouth to sample the new Gold buses on the 57, the main route to provide competition for the Avocet Line.

Now, the weather had stabilised somewhat over the past few hours, with the early morning rain having given way to an overcast dryness. So I thought that I would hang around to ride the last round trip on the 95 Big Beach Bus (as advertised on the other poster above) before getting a 57 back to Exeter. However, around two minutes after hanging around at the relevant bus stop, it started to rain! And gradually, the rain became heavier! Therefore, I gave up on the chance of another ride on Open Top Trident 17701 (see Part Seven for details of my earlier trip) and caught the next 57, which was Gold E400 Scania 15253.

The 57 starts in Brixington, a suburb/village on the Sidmouth Road. It’s the main trunk route between Exmouth & Exeter, and has it’s origins with Devon General service 5, from Orcombe Point at the end of Exmouth Promenade (also the terminus of original Exmouth Open Top service 74) and ran cross city through Exeter and out to Crediton, with some Exeter City Transport participation being involved. By the time of my 1970 Devon General timetable, the service terminated at the Devon General Garage (what became the Bus Station) and had gained a sister service in the form of the 85, which operated via Exton, as opposed to the 5’s route via Woodbury. The 4th May 1975 renumbering saw the 5 & 85 become the 356 & 357 respectively.

Subsequent years would see the service split at Exeter, with the old 5 number eventually being revived on the Crediton side. Ultimately, the Exmouth service would evolve into service 56 & 57. The 56 would be rerouted via Exeter Airport and generally be downgraded into a less frequent service beyond that point. However, recent changes have seen the 56 upgraded to become more frequent, in response to the growing number of business parks in the area it serves. To publicise this, several of the Enviro 200 single deckers used on the route have been repainted into an attractive blue livery and branded “Connexions”;

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37033 on the 56, with a Gold E400 Scania on the 57 behind-Exeter.

The 56 is a route I’ve not travelled on yet, must put that right in the future!

The 57, meanwhile, emerged as the main trunk route between Exeter & Exmouth, being converted to a high frequency minibus (Merecedes Benz) service by Harry Blundred, and extended to Brixington, replacing a local service. By the time I first encountered the service, Stagecoach were running the route on the same frequency with Dennis Dart midibuses. I first rode the route however, on an ex East London Alexander bodied Scania double decker, back in 2005, on an evening peak journey out of Exeter. Upon arriving at Exmouth, I had fish & chips from Capells and then, not fancying an hour long run back to Exeter on a Dennis Dart, I caught the Avocet line instead!

2013 would see the Darts replaced by Enviro 400 bodied Scania Double Deckers, now running on a fifteen minute frequency. This is typical of the economies being made by the bus industry in these times of tight financial returns but personally, I much prefer the space and comfort of the Double Decker, even if I have to wait a little longer for it! But then, I’m not one of the route’s regular passengers! I managed to sample one of these in 2013. 2017 saw the route converted to Gold specification, with some of the displaced E400 Scania’s making their way to Torquay Garage to be painted in a new green “Hop 22” branding for route 22 (Paignton-Dawlish Warren);

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15865-Teignmouth

So I settled into one of 15253’s comfortable seats to enjoy the run through Lympstone & Topsham. The regular “Classic Bus” magazine columnist (and rather anti rail former bus industry manager) Roger Davies once claimed that travelling by bus enabled you to experience more of the local communities that you pass through than does an equivalent train journey, where your segregated from it by what he called the “Railway Bubble”. Personally, I find the “Railway Bubble” a rather attractive place to be, segregated from all the troubles of the world outside (though probably bringing troubles of it’s own at times!) but I do see his point, and the Exeter-Exmouth corridor is a good example of this! For whilst the train hugs an attractive course alongside the River Exe, I only really saw the centre of the communities it served when I first rode the 57! Both Lympstone & Topsham seem large, quite prosperous villages, a prosperity doubtless helped by the excellence of transport links into Exeter!

Soon, we were back in the big city, and I got off 15253 at the 57’s current, streetside terminus;

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Bearing in mind that I had a valid Devon Day Ranger rail ticket I considered my various options for getting back to Paignton. Unfortunately, I’d just missed the 18.32 train and the next departure, at 19.32, would take me along the Sea Wall in darkness, so I decided to go all the way by bus instead. So I walked around to the Bus Station to catch the 18.40 number 2 to Newton Abbott, my intention being to take the route to it’s ultimate terminus. Waiting for me at the Bus Station was standard Stagecoach liveried MMC E400 19658;

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And so I boarded for the trip down to the coast and beyond! As we hit Dawlish, I noticed the weather, which had got progressively worse since Exmouth, was now extremely windy, the remnants of the American Hurricane truly hitting our shores! A very blowy night. From Teignmouth, we headed alongside the River Teign, on a road higher up than the adjacent Railway line. Pity it was now dark, as I’m sure the views would have been quite nice! The 2 then takes a circuitous route serving the estates of kingsteignton before terminating at Newton Abbott. Here, I had around ten minutes to wait for the next number 12, so I bought myself a steak & kidney pie from a nearby chippy and devoured it before 12 branded MMC E400 Scania 15317 arrived to take me back through an increasingly blowy Torquay to Paignton, where I braved the rain for the walk back to the flat!

Final Thoughts

And so this series of blogs comes to an end, just as a wonderful holiday was about to. As described in Part One, Lynn & I had a lovely day (in much nicer weather) on the final Friday, pottering about Torquay & Paignton before somewhat sadly leaving for home on the Saturday morning.

I hope this series of blogs has illustrated how easy, relatively cheap and, above all, fun it is to travel around the glorious county of Devon by public transport. We hope to be back one day but, for now, we’ll wish you goodbye from the top deck of a Hop 122 bus! 41403557_1493022960841431_1322072160130301952_o

Adventures In Devon 2018-Part Eight-Devon Railway Centre-19/9/18

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As befitting an area that attracts much tourism, Devon has many attractions throughout it’s attractive length and breadth (mostly illustrated on the useful little map that Devon County Council issues free of charge every year.) An awful lot of these would be what we would now term as “theme parks” with attractions geared towards the large number of families who holiday in the County every year. Many of these feature the usual fairground rides that one expects of such places (Crealy, near Exeter springs to mind) but some offer a more quirky, unusual and unique experiance. I suppose the Seaton Tramway could be said to fall into this category, and so does the Devon Railway Centre, just outside Tiverton.

I’d vaguely heard of the centre before but actually found out where it was back in 2015, when I passed it on Stagecoach route 55 between Exeter & Tiverton. So it was easily reached by Public Transport. Unfortunately, we were unable to find time to visit on that holiday, but I kept it at the back of my mind for a future visit. Fast forward to July 2018 and I found a leaflet for the centre at Gordano Motorway Services, just outside Bristol, when my wife Lynn & I were travelling down to Weston Super Mare to celebrate our 21st wedding anniversary. I showed Lynn the leaflet and she expressed a desire to visit too. So we decided to include it in the itinerary of one of our trips on our September holiday.

So it was that Lynn & I found ourselves once more making the short walk from our flat to Paignton Bus Station. We could have caught the train to Exeter but we’d decided to save a bit of money by utilising our Stagecoach Gold Megarider’s to the full today. We could have caught a 12 to Torquay and connect into a 46 for Exeter but we decided to take a more interesting route, so we caught one of the through journeys on the 22 to Dawlish Warren, this being branded Enviro 400 bodied Scania 15865. We headed through Torquay and up to St Marychurch (as described in Part One.) After the route’s twenty minute headway finishes at St Marychurch, hourly journeys head out over the attractive road to Shaldon, with views of the English Channel on one side and the Devon countryside on the other;100_1305.JPG

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From the riverside village of Shaldon, we crossed the bridge over the River Teign into the town of Teignmouth, where we got off.100_1448.JPG

Here, we waited for the fourth Hop branded service (having already travelled this holiday on the 12, 22 & 122), the 2, which starts in Newton Abbott, heading alongside the river to Teignmouth, where we boarded branded E400 Scania 15897;100_1449.JPG

We then followed the 22 route to Dawlish, taking the coast road, which is considerably higher than the parallel railway alongside the cliffs below. We passed through gentile Dawlish, again climbing above the railway as the A379 took us out of town. KODAK Digital Still Camera

The 22 left us just on the towns edge, disappearing back down the cliff to terminate at Dawlish Warren. We then headed inland towards Starcross, serving an estate away from the main road before re joining it by the Railway Station, with it’s views across the Exe Estuary. Then we headed away from the River, travelling through more countryside (is there any better way to see countryside than from the top of a double decker bus?) before turning into the village of Exminster, which features an extensive, nineties era housing estate which the bus serves. This estate surrounds a complex which looks very much like it was an old style home for the mentally ill but now has been converted into flats and offices. Then, it was onwards into the Exeter suburbs before we terminated at Exeter Bus Station.

The Bus Station should have closed by now, with a smaller example due to be built as part of a redevelopment plan. However, things have been partially delayed, so that only part of the Bus Station has been closed! This includes the Coach Station and parking area on a lower level to the main Bus Station (fortunately, the toilets here remained open! Much relief in an era of very few public loo’s!), as well as several stands on the main concourse, meaning a few routes have moved onto nearby streets. Fortunately, a big sign on the edge of the station says which routes have moved and where to catch them, this being fortunate for us, as we were now to travel on one of the routes that had moved!

The 55 now departs from nearby Paris Street and provides a half hourly service from Exeter-Tiverton, with normally single deck operated variants 55A & 55B offering extra journeys which served the villages to either side of the main road. Actually, the 12.00 journey that we were to travel on was another variant, this being the two hourly 155, which carries on from Tiverton to Barnstaple (and a full trip on this will feature in Part Nine, the final blog in this series). E400 Scania 15434 was our stead which, like all the 155 journeys, is allocated to Barnstaple Garage.

Exeter’s northern suburbs don’t spread out as far as those to the east and south, with Exeter University occupying a good proportion of land and, despite having City services serve it, provided a reasonable proportion of passengers on our bus, with several students alighting there. Then it was on through very attractive woodland, punctuated by such villages as Stoke Cannon and Rowe. It took twenty four minutes to reach the site of the Devon Railway Centre, next to Bickleigh Bridge, an old looking structure across the River Exe. Unfortunately, there’s no bus stop outside the centre, meaning that we had to get off on the other side of the bridge and walk back across the bridge, slightly awkward as there’s no footpath and the main road is a lot busier than it would have been when the bridge was first constructed! But, with care, we crossed it!

The Devon Railway Centre

There are many preserved Railways in the UK, including four in Devon (five if you include the Seaton Tramway!-The other’s being the Paignton & Dartmouth, the South Devon Railway, The Dartmouth Railway and the narrow gauge Barnstaple & Lynton Railway, though that is far from reaching either of it’s two original termini!) but the Devon Railway Centre is something a bit different! It’s set around the former station of Cadeleigh;100_1458.JPG

This was on the former Exe Valley Line, which offered a slower, alternative route between Exeter & Tiverton than the Great Western Railway Main Line, before it’s closure in 1964. The station buildings have been converted into a café and gift shop. The Railway carriages, meanwhile, contain a Railway Museum and an excellent display of Model Railways, each layout containing different themes, like a modern, sprinter filled Railway, plus a BR green layout, a popular era to model, as this covered the late fifties/early sixties when steam and diesel were operating side by side!

The Centre opened in 1998 and was obviously created by a fervent Railway Enthusiast, as the centre literally celebrates all things Railway! It costs £8.40 for adult admission and features two working Railway lines, each operating on a twenty minute frequency and driven by the same driver, swapping from one to the other. The next one due when we had eaten our sandwiches after arriving, was the Miniature Railway, operated today by this rough replica of a British Rail Western Region Hymek locomotive that had been bought by the Centre from Twycross Zoo in Leicestershire;100_1455.JPG

Most of the Centre’s attractions are unashamedly aimed at kids, with Lynn & I being the only people there without toddlers in tow on this school day. Indeed, my cousin Martin has bought his two lads Noah (currently aged five) and Dylan (three) here on several occasions and, in Noah’s case certainly, it seems to be his most favourite place in the world! The Centre is certainly doing a good job in enticing the next generation of Railway Enthusiasts! The Miniature Railway is a case in point, with the line ending in a loop in which is enclosed a community of model Gnomes!

The second railway is a narrow gauge line, operated by loco’s that have been acquired from various Industrial Railway installation. Today, Ivor was doing the honours! (No, not that Ivor The Engine! He was steam! This Ivor is diesel, despite what the exhaust looks like! ) 100_1456.JPG

After riding behind Ivor, we went and had a look at the Model Village;

 

 

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Which has a funfair!

 

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And a Horse Bus!

KODAK Digital Still Camera

Well, being a centre dedicated to all things Railway, of course the Model Village had a Model Railway!KODAK Digital Still Camera

……….complete with Station!KODAK Digital Still Camera

…………and a Tramway!KODAK Digital Still Camera

…with it’s own Depot!KODAK Digital Still Camera

We then visited the Museum in the Railway carriages, which tells the history of the Exe Valley Line. We followed this with an ice cream in the café, followed by a round on the Railway themed Crazy Golf!

An amazingly charming attraction, well worth a visit, especially if you’ve got kids. Even if they’re not Railway Enthusiasts, they’ll have fun with things like the drive your own train (I couldn’t fit in it!) and so on! Be warned though, they may not be enthusiasts before entering but afterwards……….!

Home Via Totnes!

Well, back to Paignton, at any rate! After leaving the Railway Centre, we made our way across Bickleigh Bridge in time to catch E400 bodied Scania 15782 on the 55 back into Exeter.100_1466.JPG

We could have then hung around for the 17.30 46 direct to Paignton but I had something a little more interesting in mind! So we joined the early evening commuters boarding E400 Scania 15802 on the 16.40 Totnes short working of route X64, which normally carries onto Dartmouth. 100_1468.JPG

15802 is one of the buses that have been displaced from the 12 (Newton Abbott-Brixham) by the recent MMC E400 Scania’s. This one remains allocated to Torquay Garage, as the X64 was transferred there from it’s original Exeter Garage some years ago (I suspect when the route was extended to replace the Gold Shuttle from Totnes-Dartmouth in 2015.)

We left the Exeter suburbs through typically heavy peak hour traffic before joining the A38, then the A380 which took us swiftly to Newton Abbott. Most of our fellow passengers alighted as we travelled around parts of the Kingsteignton area, with the remainder getting off in Newton Abbott Town Centre. So there were only a few of us left on the top deck to enjoy yet another superb Double Deck run through the Devon countryside! Soon, we were at Totnes;100_1469.JPG

It wasn’t just the pleasant countryside run on the X64 that made me suggest coming to Totnes but also the opportunity to revisit the Silver Grill that we’d been so impressed with the previous Saturday (see Part Five). Superb Fish & Chips!

When we’d finished, we had some time before the next Gold was due and, as the weather had started to turn a little wet, we ventured into the coffee shop that we’d visited the previous Saturday for a latte, which helped me wash down the most sweetly gooey piece of Millionaire’s Shortcake that I’ve ever tasted! Then it was onto E400/Scania 15930 on the Gold service back to Paignton, relaxing in the comfortable Gold seat as darkness descended around us and the rain began to get a bit heavier. This deterioration in the weather had been forecast and, in fact, had caused us to move our plans around, as we had been planning to visit the Railway Centre on the day after. But instead, whilst Lynn would spend the final Thursday of our holiday wandering around Torquay’s shops, I would be off on one final wander around Devon with my Megarider, details of which will feature in the final part of this blog series!

To Be Continued…….!

 

Adventures In Devon 2018-Part Seven-East Devon-18/9/18

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Stagecoach Dennis Trident 17701, the Big Beach Bus, at Exmouth on it’s regular route the 95 to Devon Cliffs.

After the previous day’s long trip to the Seaton Tramway (see Part Six), my wife Lynn & I decided to explore a bit more of East Devon….only this time without the ridiculously early start! As well as our desire for a decent lie in, another reason for leaving latter was to enable us to use our Two Together Railcard for an Off Peak Return from Paignton to Exeter Central. Therefore, we left our holiday flat significantly latter than the day before, our walk to Paignton Station being lit by sunlight as opposed to lamp posts! Our returns cost us £10.50 with the Railcard and we then found that our train was formed of a two car Class 150 (150 126) and single car 153 333, which we decided to travel on.

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The HST on the other platform had just arrived on a service from London Paddington

We managed to bag a table seat on the offside to enjoy the views of both the coastal section between Paignton & Torquay, plus the famous sea wall from Teignmouth-Dawlish Warren. Beyond here, the line heads inland alongside the Exe Estuary, with the train next calling at Starcross, where we got off (having bought the through tickets to Exeter to enable us to come back from there latter on).

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For although our train would reverse at Exeter St Davids and then head down the other side of the Estuary to Exmouth, we intended to use a quicker method to get to that East Devon seaside town. For an hourly ferry service runs from a jetty on the river side of the station and, as luck would have it, we just had enough time to make our way over the station bridge and along the jetty to get the next trip across, costing us £3 each for a single journey. The boat concerned was called Orcombe and the ferry has been a family owned business for generations. We got a seat in the open section and the small boat soon departed into the estuary, heading towards the sea mouth but in a south easterly direction;

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We soon docked in Exmouth Harbour;

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The Harbour is around a ten minute walk through side streets full of Victorian Guest Houses, to the Town Centre, where we headed for a quick look around the market (featuring an excellent model store) before heading towards the bus stop for the Big Beach Bus! Namely Stagecoach route 95 to the Devon Cliffs Holiday Park, today operated by it’s regular bus, open top Dennis Trident 17701;

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Those who have read Part One of this blog series will notice that the bus is painted into a similar livery to the Torquay based Open Top Tridents used on service 122 and the bus has obviously been repainted in the same style as those on the more recently introduced 122, as the 95 has been operating for a bit longer, with 17701 having been allocated some years back in more of a standard Stagecoach livery, as seen in this photo from 2014;

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At the old Exmouth Bus Station

Interestingly though, Open toppers at Exmouth have another link with their more numerous sisters in Torbay! For when Devon General deroofed six 1934 vintage AEC Regent’s, primarily to introduce open top services in Torbay, one of them (DR 218) was allocated to Exmouth for existing service 74 along Exmouth Sea Front to Orcombe Point. The service was still running in my 1970 timetable (probably using a latter converted AEC Regent, several of which were converted in the sixties.) but had disappeared by the time of the 4th May 1975 renumbering.

I first visited Exmouth in August 2002, when I’d first travelled along the Dawlish Sea Wall on Class 47 hauled trains just before the Cross Country examples of these were replaced by Voyagers. I’d travelled from Plymouth-Exeter behind Virgin (as it then was) Cross Country 47 805, a week before it was destined to be the last Cross Country Class 47 in service. The next 47 heading back to Plymouth (a First Great Western example) wasn’t due for a couple of hours, so I used the opportunity to get the Exmouth Branch Line in the book! Once arriving there, I noticed the 95, which was being operated by a Dennis Dart. I then walked onto the Prom and spotted another 95 heading into Exmouth, this being an ex London Transport Leyland Titan double decker (closed top). Had that been at the Bus Station on my arrival, I would have got it in the book! As it was, I hadn’t time to ride it, as I had to catch a Class 150 back to Exeter to get 47 813 in the book along the sea wall! The fact that there was two buses on the 95 back then meant that the service must have been half hourly. When I encountered the route again, in 2005, an ex West Yorkshire PTE Open Top Roe bodied Leyland Olympian was on the route, so I took a ride. By this time, the route was down to a one bus, hourly operation. An Alexander bodied Scania would latter be used on the service before early Trident 17701 (originally allocated to Manchester’s Princess Road Garage) was converted and became the Big Beach Bus!

We left the Town Centre and headed onto the Promenade. I noticed that this section of the 95 faces competition from an hourly Land Train, which probably accounts for the £1 fare charged along the Prom on the 95! It was a typical English seaside Promenade, with cafes and stalls selling rock & ice cream, all a bit quiet now that the main tourist season had now passed. The sort of Promenade seen at it’s best from an open top bus! Just before the Prom comes to an end at Orcombe Point (terminus of the present day Land Train and erstwhile 74), we turned inland and headed for the heavily suburbanised Littleham Village, also served by the 98 & 98A, which provides an all year round service.

Where the houses end, the caravans of the vast Devon Cliffs Holiday Park at Sandy Bay, came into view. This is typical of many such caravan parks developed along our coastlines (and some scenic areas inland) from the sixties onwards, often in tandem with the increase in car ownership that began in that time period. Consequently, this has meant that public transport access to many of these sites can be minimal. My 1970 timetable book shows service 60 running in the summer months from what was then known as Sandy Bay Holiday Camp to Littleham Village, connecting into the 59 to Exmouth. The 4th May 1975 saw the 60 become the 335 and the 59 the 330 & 331. Presumably, a through service from the Camp to Exmouth started some time latter.

The Devon Cliffs camp is very large, straggling across the cliff tops that lead down to the beach at Sandy Bay. I’ve known several people who stop there, so it seems to be popular with folks from the Midlands. As the bus exchanged one set of camp dwellers for another heading into town, we remained on board for the return journey.

Back at Exmouth, we went for lunch at Capells chippy, opposite the Railway Station and former Bus Station, which has now become a Marks & Spencer Food Hall. Then it was back to the new Town Centre bus stands to catch the 157 Sidmouth bus, which turned up in the form of Enviro 200 37134;

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Just visible in the photo is the Ex-Citi fleetname, indicating that the buses around here are now operated by Exeter Garage, following the demise of the Exmouth Garage, which was situated in the now gone Bus Station. I’d travelled on the 157 some years ago but this time, I wanted to alight at the route’s main intermediate point, the town of Budleigh Salterton.

Budleigh Salterton

When I last rode the 157, I noticed how pleasant Budleigh Salterton looked, so I decided that it would be nice for both Lynn & I to have a look at the place. From Exmouth, a half hourly service is maintained by the Optare Solo operated 357 but we travelled on the through 157 as that gave us an hour to look around before the next one…or the one after if we felt the urge! It’s a coastal town, although the buses don’t reach the seafront, so it would be nice to see what it was like. We got off the bus at the main bus stop;

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The town was where “On The Buses” star Reg Varney retired to and you can understand why. Just around the corner from the Bus Stop was the town’s narrow High Street which, to Lynn’s delight, was full of charity shops! So we wondered down going from shop to shop. Not my favourite activity but at least I picked up a copy of Laurence Olivier’s auto biography! Eventually, we reached the end of the High Street and made our way onto the front;

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We sat on a bench for a bit, admiring the view and content in the knowledge that we’d visited another seaside resort for the first time. Soon, it was time to make our way back to the Bus Stop to get the next 157, which was E200 37133.

This section of the route is considerably more rural than the Exmouth side, explaining why that side is augmented with the 357. After a pleasant trip, we arrived at the nicely landscaped triangle that acts as Sidmouth’s bus terminus;

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Again, we went and sat down on the front, this time eating an ice cream as we did so!

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Sidmouth was developed in the Regency period and is probably most famous today for it’s annual Folk Festival. Lynn & I happened to be in town when this was on once and I managed to persuade her that we should have a ride on the ex London & Country Leyland Atlantean, owned by a Seaton Junction based independent, that was running a shuttle service to the Festival’s camp site on the edge of Town, costing £1 each way! Hellfire bus with some rather eccentric fellow passengers!

Soon, it was time to return to the Bus Terminus to catch E400 bodied Scania 15806 on the 9 back to Exeter. This was one of the buses previously allocated to service 12 (Newton Abbott-Brixham) before being cascaded following the arrival of this year’s MMC E400 Scanias for that route.

We were delayed just after reaching the main road by a broken down Dartline double decker (an East Lancs bodied Scania) that was blocking a narrow section of the road. This made our connection into the 18.30 Paignton train from Exeter Central look unlikely but fortunately, we arrived in Exeter just in time to walk to Central Station and catch 143 617. I was glad of this as, the previous evening, we had caught the 19.30 train which travelled along the sea wall in darkness. So not only did we get to enjoy the view of the sea in fading evening twilight, we did so on what will probably be our last ride on a Class 143 along this scenic section of Railway, as they are due to be withdrawn from service in 2020. And so we arrived back at Paignton after another good day out!100_1446.JPG

Adventures In Devon-Part Six-Seaton-17/9/18

 

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There are certain irrefutable truths in the Universe! Night follows day, which is followed by night again! We are all born, we all die, and the sometimes quite messy bit in between, is what we call life! And whenever I’m anywhere near the glorious county of Devon, I always find myself making a trip to it’s eastern most extremity, to the small seaside town of Seaton, to travel upon the Great British eccentricity that is the narrow gauge Seaton Tramway!

Regular readers of this blog will recall that I’ve written about the Seaton Tramway before, in “Adventures In Devon 2015-Part Three” in which I gave a fairly comprehensive account of the tramway’s history, and “Adventures In Dorset 2016-Part Seven-Seaton By X53 & 9A” in which I reached the town from the Dorset direction. So it was only natural now that I was holidaying in Devon again, I would plan to visit again!

The journey to Seaton from Paignton is a very long haul and changes to the former Stagecoach X46, now 46, from Paignton-Exeter, now mean that there’s only one morning peak journey, which leaves Paignton Bus Station at 06.45, meaning a very early start for my wife Lynn and I! For a while, this was the only Stagecoach journey on the 46, with the off peak service having been deregistered and picked up by an independent operator who didn’t last long. Fortunately, Stagecoach had second thoughts about the viability of the off peak service so they returned to it, running a few times a day between Torquay & Exeter, meaning the 06.45 and it’s evening return journey at 17.30 are the only two surviving through journeys to and from Paignton. Gold specification Enviro 400 Scania 15932, which seemed to be following me around, having featured in both Part’s Four & Five of this series, was our stead, leaving Paignton Bus Station with a few of us on board, bang on time!100_1396.JPG

We used our £30 Megarider Gold tickets (OK, they were stored on a smartcard but you know what I mean) which we’d purchased the day before on our wanderings around Torbay, this giving us complete validity over the Stagecoach South West network for seven days, meaning all the buses we would travel on today were valid. We’d considered using the train to Exeter but this would have been an extra expense, particularly as our Two Together Railcard wasn’t valid until 09.30. Nevertheless, I took the Railcard with me so as we could use it for a single journey from Exeter-Paignton that evening.

The 46 heads into Torquay along the 12 route via Torquay Promenade. After serving the main bus stops around the Harbourside, we doubled back along the Prom as far as Belgrave Road, home of some of Torquay’s hotels, which we served before heading out of town. The 46 takes it’s number from a former Devon General service from Torquay-Exeter via Newton Abbott which had been withdrawn by the time of my 4th May 1975 Devon General timetable. The early eighties saw the Exeter-Torquay link revived by South Devon Express service X80, which by passed Newton Abbott but otherwise covered the route served by the original 46, but then carrying onwards from Torquay to Paignton, Totnes & Plymouth, offering a Limited Stop alternative to the joint Western National/Devon General (who were also the joint operators of the X80) 128 Torquay-Plymouth services. Over the next few years, the advent of the Western National split (which made Devon General a totally separate company again), deregulation and privatisation saw the X80 split into two routes, with Western National gaining sole charge of the X80 running from Plymouth-Torquay, which became more of a semi Limited Stop service, as it replaced the 128. Overlapping between Paignton & Torquay with this was the Devon General operated X46 from Paignton-Exeter, reviving part of the old Devon General number.

From then, the X80 would go from strength to strength, warranting Western National’s purchase of several batches of dual purpose double deckers for the route, before the allocation of standard bus seated low floor Dennis Tridents to the route by Western National successor First, saw the quality of the service decline, prompting Stagecoach to introduce it’s Gold service in competition, following which First throw the towel in on the X80.

Although the X46 would also be converted to Gold operation, the presence of a competing rail service has meant that it has never been as strong as it’s Plymouth bound neighbour, particularly when traffic congestion is taken into account. Hence today’s very much reduced service. Nevertheless, Lynn & I were glad of the comfort of the Gold specification, meaning we could both stretch out and get a little more sleep as we headed towards Exeter. I woke up on Exeter’s outskirts and realised that the route now served the industrial estate where Stagecoach’s new Exeter Garage is located. We called there and dropped off a driver who had boarded at the stop on the outskirts of Newton Abbott.

Progress was fairly swift into Exeter, obviously a reason by the retiming of the journey to an earlier departure having been done to avoid the worst of Exeter’s traffic congestion. This meant that we arrived in the Bus Station slightly ahead of schedule, meaning that we were able to quickly change onto the 08.05 9A to Lyme Regis, which we were scheduled to miss!

The 9A

Enviro 400 bodied Scania 15606 was our stead, not as comfortable as the Gold bus but reasonably well appointed for the nearly two hour journey that was ahead of us. We headed through the Exeter suburbs, picking up a few passengers who, from their attire, were obviously workers at the Crealy Theme Park, a few miles outside of the city, which we called at. The 9A forms a half hourly service as far as Sidmouth with the 9, which then heads inland to Honiton. This is another example of Stagecoach reviving a former Devon General route number, as that was the number used by the company’s Exeter-Sidmouth service before being renumbered 339 in the 4th May 1975 renumbering. By the time I became familiar with the route, in Stagecoach days, it was running as the 52B to Honiton and the 52A to Seaton. The route is typical of Stagecoach’s double deck runs through the Devon countryside, offering excellent views over the hedges, something only a double decker bus can do!

After leaving the genteel regency seaside resort of Sidmouth behind, we split off from the 9 and continued along the main A3052 road. This stretch of route was developed by Stagecoach in the early years of this century as the 52A. The road to Seaton had previously been quite sparsely served (Sidmouth being linked to Seaton by Axe Valley Motor’s irregular 899 via Beer.) This had changed around 1999 when First introduced the X53 Jurassic Coast link, running every two hours from Exeter-Weymouth (Part Seven of the Dorset 2016 blogs has more details), which lasted for many years until funding ran out and the through route struggled to remain commercial throughout the year. 2016 saw the route split into three (having been extended from Weymouth-Poole during the routes heyday, this now being split off as the X54). The main X53 now ran from Weymouth-Axminster (running alongside the X51 to Dorchester) whilst new, much reduced route X52 was started, running from West Bay-Exeter.

Stagecoach started the 52A around 2003, basically by extending an hourly Exeter-Sidmouth journey onto Seaton. Whilst the detour via Sidmouth made the Exeter-Seaton journey longer than on the X53, the hourly frequency made the route more convenient, as did the fact that the Exeter side of the route was Stagecoach territory, meaning that the 52A had the advantage of validity of Stagecoach’s area tickets, which weren’t valid on the X53 and latter X52. The reduction of journeys from Lyme Regis-Seaton in 2016 prompted Stagecoach to extend the 52A from Devon’s easternmost town onto Dorset’s westernmost town of Lyme Bay, the route being renumbered 9A at the same time (with the 52B becoming the 9).

Bringing the story up to date, the X52 didn’t have a successful life, not helped by the route not running during the 2016 strike at First’s Weymouth & Bridport Garages. Therefore, First deregistered the route in late 2017. The main victim of this was the small town of Beer, the only other route through this area being Axe Valley’s 899. This little company had carved out a niche for themselves as the area was largely abandoned by the National Bus Company subsidiaries in the seventies & eighties, only to have to adapt that niche as NBC successors First & Stagecoach returned to the area in this century! The company introduced a once daily 52 from Seaton-Exeter via Beer, offering shopping facilities in the big city. In addition, most journeys on the company’s 885 (Colyton-Seaton) were extended to Beer, supplementing the 899.

The 9A meanwhile, continues to grow and prosper. We alighted from 15606 at the bus stop alongside the Tram Station just before 10.00, just in time for the first tram of the day!100_1397.JPG

The New Tram Station & Car 15

Immediately obvious was the newly rebuilt tram station…….

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….inside which was newly rebuilt Car 15!100_1410.JPG

As can be seen, the new Tram Station is fully enclosed, and contains four tracks, allowing plenty of room for terminating trams, as well as allowing the tramway to display some of the earlier, older cars which now see only occasional use, with 1964 vintage Car 2 being on display today;100_1408.JPG

But Lynn & I were about to sample Car 15, so we bought two £11 Explorer tickets, allowing us unlimited travel on the tramway all day. Car 15 was originally open cross bench “Toastrack” car 17, which looked like this……

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Colyton

….but has now been rebuilt as a totally enclosed saloon, giving the tramway four totally enclosed cars (the others being cars 14, 16 & 19) which can operate the standard four car timetable should the weather prove to be unkind. 15’s new blue & cream livery is based on a scheme from the Isle Of Man.

We set off, heading around the back of Tesco’s and past some brand new housing, all of which used to be part of the old Haven Holiday Camp that used to provide so much custom for the tramway. Then we passed the Depot and joined the route of the original London South Western Railway (latter Southern) Seaton branch line, the former trackbed of which the tramway follows. I’ve written in the previous Seaton blogs about how scenic the next stretch of the line is, along the Axe Estuary. Then it was on to the intermediate station of Colyford, with it’s level crossing over the A3052. Following this, it was onwards to the line’s terminus at Colyton;100_1399.JPG

The original station buildings at Colyton are now used by the tramway, pride of place going to an excellent café, where we had most excellent scones, with the requisite jam and clotted cream! Very nice! Nicely filled, we then headed for the next tram back to Seaton, which was 2004 vintage Car 9, one of the main three cars built in the early years of the century and featuring wheelchair access.100_1401.JPG

At the rear of Car 9 here is ex Bournemouth Car 16, performing on the tramways popular Tram Driving Experience;100_1400.JPG

We caught 9 back to Seaton, then jumping onto Car 11. Whilst we waited to depart, it gave me the opportunity to inspect the new tram shed a bit more;100_1409.JPG

 

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A better view of the electric wire, attached to an overhead gantry.

Being on board an open topper gave me the opportunity to photograph the Depot;100_1422.JPG

….as well as some views of the Axe Estuary.100_1415.JPG100_1416.JPG

We got off Car 11 at Colyford;100_1411.JPG

Here, we adjourned to the White Hart pub next door, where I enjoyed a pint of Branscombe Valley Golden Fiddle! Afterwards, we joined Car 15 again for the run back to Seaton. We then went into Claude’s for a (non alcoholic) drink before getting the fourth tram in service today, Car 10, the third of the cars that entered service in the early 2000’s, car 10 entering service in 2006.

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Car 10, in a livery based on that of Glasgow City Transport

The trip enabled me to take a few more views of the Tramway;100_1417.JPG

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Car 14, I think on a Private Hire.

At Colyton, we got off and joined the queue for the return journey;KODAK Digital Still Camera

….and returned to Seaton.

We then went to Frydays Chip shop, (as advertised on Car 9) for tea before having a little look around Seaton. Sadly, the demise of the Haven Holiday Camp seems to have affected the whole town’s economy, as several shops that we’d known from the days when Lynn’s former Girls Brigade company used to camp here, had now closed. A great shame. We enjoyed an ice cream whilst sitting on the sea front, then went to catch the next 9A back to Exeter, which was E400 Scania 15600. We had a nice run back to Exeter, then made our way to Exeter Central station, where we caught 150 246 back to Paignton (with the Two Together Railcard, this came to around £8.00), ending a long but satisfying day!