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-Filers 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 400s 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 route’s 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 shorts 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 to be 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 rudely 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 Scanias 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 Royal 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 kill 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 was far more interested in South East suburban 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, alongside which the line runs. 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 that 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 services 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 Scanias 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 you’re 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 issue’s 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 Megariders 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 town’s 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 locos that have been acquired from various Industrial Railway installations. 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!

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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 Scanias. 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 deroofed 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 the last Cross Country Class 47 in service operated that very train as far as Birmingham New Street. 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 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 59 & 60 become the 334 & 335 respectively. 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 we felt 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 had 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 service. 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 route’s 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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….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 Tescos 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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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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The trip enabled me to take a few more views of the Tramway;100_1417.JPG

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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!

 

Adventures In Devon 2018-Part Five-The 11th Kingsbridge Vintage Bus Running Day-15/9/18

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Organised by the Thames Valley & Great Western Omnibus Trust, the Kingsbridge Vintage Bus Running Day has, over the past eleven years, grown into one of the most popular occasions to ride on vintage buses. I’d never been before but with the 2018 event taking place on the Saturday in the middle of our Paignton based holiday, I managed to persuade my ever accommodating wife Lynn into making the relatively short trip to Kingsbridge for the day! Being unusually well planned, I’d sent off for the very comprehensive timetable booklet as featured above, this containing details of the times of all the varied routes run, as well as scheduled buses due to operate them (with a sensible “subject to availability” disclaimer!) The comprehensive booklet also features articles about a selected theme, this years being about buses to various South Western ferries. After perusing this booklet, which arrived through the post about a week before we went on holiday, I casually showed Lynn one aspect of it…. and suddenly she showed even more enthusiasm for attending the event! But more of this anon!

The timetable also confirmed that a shuttle service was operating from Totnes-Kingsbridge, making this the easiest way for us to get to the event, catching Stagecoach Gold specification E400 Scania 15932 on the Torquay-Plymouth Gold service, which got us to Totnes in good time for the first 164 (the number of the shuttle, the same as Tally Ho’s regular service between Totnes & Kingsbridge, as featured in Part Four) of the day at 08.40, with enough time for a latte at a local coffee shop. Scheduled to run the 08.40 journey was London Transport RTL 1163 but, as we were waiting, the bus we planned to go on for our second trip made a surprising appearance;100_1355.JPG

This was a Scottish Aviation bodied Tilling Stevens coach, built in 1949, quite a late date for a product from this pioneer of bus builders! Originally bought by a firm called Altonian, the coach eventually ended up with Classic Coaches of Wombourne, Staffordshire. Now owned by multi vehicle owning preservationist Roger Burdett, who was at the wheel, the coach is painted in a fictitious livery based on that used by Wolverhampton Corporation, who used to be the main bus operator in Wombourne.

A crowd of enthusiasts had already began to gather, and enquiries made established that the Tilling Stevens was here to duplicate the second departure of the day, due at 09.20. Very soon, RTL 1163 turned up to operate the 08.40 departure, so we boarded and went upstairs. The RT family comprises London’s most numerous bus type, consisting of over 7000 buses built from 1939 (the first few) until the mid fifties. Most were standard RTs, built on AEC Regent chassis but those with prefixes RTL or RTW (the W indicating being built eight foot wide, following the grudging acceptance of the Metropolitan Police that such buses were able to operate in London streets) were built on the PD2 chassis of AEC’s great rival, Leyland. Personally, I prefer the deeper growl of a Leyland engine, so I wasn’t complaining!

Not surprisingly, apart from calling at Totnes Railway Station, the run to Kingsbridge was identical to the modern day 164 that I’d travelled on the previous Thursday (see Part Four) but the view from the top deck of RTL 1163 was so much better than from the Tally Ho Dart….and the bus was considerably cleaner too! A charming run soon bought us to the centre of the action at Kingsbridge’s small Bus Station;100_1356.JPG

The contrast between today and the previous Thursday could not have been greater, as the minimally peopled Bus Station of my last visit was now awash with crowds! Clearly this was a most popular event! A farmers market was taking place next door, so I bought myself a rather expensive but incredibly nice sausage roll!

A sight that really represented buses that served Kingsbridge in the past were two preserved Western National buses parked together, these being an ECW bodied Bristol KSW, which I’ve just discovered wasn’t in today’s programme and I regrettably didn’t write it’s fleet number down so it’s unidentified here but would date from the fifties, whilst alongside is 1978 vintage ECW bodied Bristol VR 1121, preserved in it’s original National Bus Company corporate leaf green livery. Note the similarities in style on these ECW products from years apart!    100_1357.JPG

But we were waiting for the arrival of the Tilling Stevens. Unfortunately, there seemed to be no queuing system as such, the only attempt at order being made by a loud volunteer inspector who berated anyone who stood in the way of oncoming buses, both those featured as part of the Running Day and the normal service buses. He did a good job in keeping order but it appears that this event is becoming a victim of it’s own success! When the Tilling Stevens did appear, there was a mad scramble for it, with Lynn getting to the front of the newly formed queue! I managed to get on board too but it was a bit of a scrum to get two of the coaches thirty three seats, the Tour being operated being a new destination for the Running Day, and obviously a very popular one!

We left Kingsbridge by way of Stagecoach’s 3 bus route (also featured in Part Four) along the main road towards Plymouth but found ourselves turning off this some half hour latter and heading down some ridiculously narrow country lanes (one of the original attractions of this event was to send smaller buses down very narrow country lanes!) to the small village of Bigbury (today served by Tally Ho’s Friday only 875 from Plymouth), through which we passed to reach it’s remote seaside neighbour of Bigbury On Sea, with the Tour terminating in the beach’s car park;100_1358.JPG

The beach is directly opposite Burgh Island, just a short distance across a stretch of sea with a variable but shallow tide. The main feature of the island is a 1929 built Art Deco Hotel, known simply as the Burgh Island Hotel. 100_1359.JPG

Lynn’s an avid Agatha Christie fan and this hotel was used for the filming of the David Suchet adaptation of the Poirot story “Evil Under The Sun” (not sure if the hotel actually features in the book-please put in the comments if you know-as I’ve not read it and Agatha Christie tended to use pseudonyms for locations based on real places.) Unfortunately, the hotel is only accessible to guests (and from what I’ve heard, is very expensive) but it’s main attraction for Lynn & me was the rather unique form of transport that links it to the Mainland;KODAK Digital Still Camera

This is the Sea Tractor, a unique form of transport of which this example is the third generation, having been built in 1969 (the builder received a case of champagne from the hotel as part of his fee!). It links mainland with island free of charge for hotel guests but carries other passengers for a fare of £2 single each, which Lynn & I happily paid.100_1363.JPG 100_1364.JPG

As there’s little else on the island, we paid another £2 each to come straight back! A marvellously unique transport experience!100_1361.JPG

Rather than wait for the Tour to return to Kingsbridge, we decided to take advantage of the Running Day’s 101 Bigbury On Sea service, with this journey being operated by post privatisation liveried Western National ECW bodied Bristol VR 1200;100_1367.JPG

This colourful livery replaced the more staid NBC leaf green, as featured on 1121 photographed above. 1200 was delivered in 1980 and was one of seven allocated to Plymouth for use on services within the Plymouth Joint services area, where routes were then run in coordination with Plymouth City Transport (then soon to be renamed Plymouth Citybus). The late eighties saw the batch converted to be able to run onto the Torpoint Chain ferry, linking Plymouth with Torpoint on the Cornwall side of the Tamar Estuary. This entailed it’s rear panelling being cutaway to avoid the bus grounding on the ferry. This change gave the bus a longer life, being allocated to Torpoint Garage and painted in successor First’s livery. It became the last VR to be operated by First Devon & Cornwall. Purchased for preservation after it’s 2006 withdrawal, the bus has now been returned to Western National’s post deregulation livery, representing the heady early days of the deregulated bus industry.

I’m a great fan of Bristol VRs, particularly on rural routes like this, where they seemed to find their forte with NBC, being common upon rural highways and byways throughout England & Wales. Although appearing in urban areas where NBC had a stronghold, such as Bristol & Norwich, I always associate the ECW bodied VR with inter urban or rural routes, so this route was very apt for me!

Back at Kingsbridge, Lynn & I sat down to eat our sandwiches, watching the various comings and goings. After we’d finished eating, a bus not on the day’s list made an appearance, this being Plymouth Citybus’s Leyland PD2 open topper 358;100_1380.JPG

Unfortunately, the top deck was full by the time we got to it, so we let it go and waited for something else interesting to turn up. This occurred when immaculately restored Southern National ECW bodied Bristol LL6B 1218 appeared on the 106 to East Allington.

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East Alington

The original Southern National company really bore no relation geographically to the much larger Western National. Rather, it was based in towns served primarily by the Southern Railway, to match that Railway Company’s 50% shareholding in the company, with the Thomas Tilling group holding the other half. Western National meanwhile, was based in towns where the Great Western Railway  was the main railway in town, the GWR holding the 50% Railway shareholding. This meant that the two companies were rather intertwined geographically! Both the two railways plus the Tilling group sold their transport interests to the state, so all came under the same umbrella. The two bus companies came under common management but the separate fleet names would continue until NBC was formed, when the larger Western National subsumed all! The 1983 splitting up of Western National created a new, more geographically specific Southern National. with garages at Taunton, Yeovil & Weymouth, of which Yeovil & Weymouth were originally Southern National!

The keen eyed amongst you would also have noticed that ECW (which stands for Eastern Coachworks and was based in Lowestoft) bodied Bristols feature heavily in the Western/Southern National fleet, that’s because Tillings had interests in both and they would both pass into the public sector, along with Tillings bus operations in 1948. Furthermore, the now nationalised Tilling fleets were obliged to purchase ECW bodied Bristol products for all purchases that they could supply. And ECW & Bristol were unable to supply buses to anyone who weren’t part of the British Transport Commission (including London Transport and the fleets of the Scottish Bus Group, although these weren’t obliged to purchase such products, London in particular not losing it’s association with AEC) until a complex share exchange took place with what became the state owned British Leyland in 1966, meaning operators outside of THC could buy the products of both again.

Anyhow, back to 1218! Built in 1948, it was originally a Bristol L6B Royal Blue coach, that company being the express services arm of Western & Southern National, as well as Hants & Dorset and Wilts & Dorset. 1958 saw it lengthened (becoming an LL6B in the process) and become a bus with Southern National, being principally used on short lived Rail Replacement bus services. Withdrawn in 1969, it was sold to Marchwood Motorways who kept it for 27 years! Passing into preservation, the bus’s restoration was completed last May, so the bus was in absolutely pristine condition!

Lynn & I were joined towards the back of the bus by my friend David, whom I normally see in Blackpool! He was with a load of friends and we all had a good laugh as we left Kingsbridge and entered some ever increasingly narrow country lanes, things coming to a head when we come face to face with a lorry! We had to reverse to a suitable passing place! We were then able to proceed to the small village of East Allington.100_1371.JPG

As you can see by the bus shelter, East Allington is served by a modern day bus route, this being served by one journey a day on Tally Ho’s 164. Then, it was time to head back on this delightful rural bus of years gone by!

Next up, we decided to ride on another ECW bodied Bristol double decker. In fact, we decided to travel on what is probably the most famous type of ECW bodied Bristol, the Lodekka;100_1372.JPG

Developed by Bristol as a low height chassis without the need for a sunken gangway and awkward nearside seating upstairs, the Lodekka achieved this by having a lower gangway downstairs, meaning a conventional seating layout could be had upstairs without sacrificing height. This Lodekka was Western National 2019. Now, I posted the above photo in Part Four, speculating that this might have been the bus that Lynn & I rode on the old Dartmoor Sunday Rambler service 118 from Okehampton-Tavistock in 2005 (see blog “Dartmoor Sunday Rambler”). Well, a more in depth perusal of the days timetable booklet revealed that 2019 actually was that bus, as it was loaned to First by it’s preservationist owner for use on the 118 from 1995-2007! A more tenuous connection to us and our current holiday was that 2019, built in 1963, was originally allocated to Totnes Garage and operated the company’s Paignton Town services (Western National had the northern side of town, around the Zoo, as it’s territory, with the rest of the town being Devon General territory) as well as on the joint with Devon General 128 from Torquay-Plymouth, ancestor of today’s Stagecoach Gold service.

2019’s next trip was on the 105 to Salcombe, over the route of Tally Ho’s current route 606, which Lynn and I travelled on in 2015 (see blog “Adventures In Devon 2015-Part Six-The Stunning Route 3”) on the route’s usual Enviro 200, which features contravision advertising for the on route Toad Hall Holiday Homes, so the unhindered views from 2019’s upper deck were vastly superior! Upon arriving at Salcombe, we dropped a few off who went to visit this quaint coastal town, with a few more who had already done so boarded for the trip back to Kingsbridge.

We then decided that we had time for one more journey and we chose Plymouth Citybus East Lancs bodied Leyland Atlantean 171, this being the very last Atlantean to be delivered to Plymouth City Transport in 1981. I’d only ever travelled on two Plymouth Atlanteans, both from this batch. This was in 1999 during a brief visit to the City (on the way home from Lynn’s former Girls Brigade company’s camp at Bude) and I sampled one on a route out to the Laira area of the city, whilst a bonus was finding another on the then normally Mercedes minibus operated Park & Ride service, which I took back to my car for the long drive home!

Therefore, it was nice to reacquaint myself with the Plymouth Atlantean, on a run along route 93 to Slapton Village. This follows the normal route of Stagecoach’s route 3 to Dartmouth, although this is currently being rerouted along the main road, as the coast road is closed for reconstruction, with Stagecoach running a shuttle bus to serve the villages. A very pretty run indeed! We passed what I at first thought was the Plymouth Open Topper but it actually turned out to be one of Devon General’s AEC Regent open toppers! So there were two open toppers out today, neither of them on the list of attending vehicles! Soon, we were at Slapton Village, where there was time for a photograph of 171;100_1375.JPG

Then it was back to Kingsbridge, from where we decided it was time to return to Totnes. Now, the last journey to Totnes of the day was scheduled to be operated by RTL 1163 so, having already ridden on that, we decided to travel on the penultimate departure, scheduled to be another London bus, RM 1872. However, we bumped into Maurice, a friend of mine from Birmingham, who had travelled down with Roger Burdett’s party. He said that, as well as the Tilling Stevens coach, the recently restored Devon General Open Top AEC Regent, DR 210, was also duplicating the journey, as well as scheduled Thames Valley Bristol L6A S302. So we decided to partake of an open top ride to Totnes!100_1384.JPG

The fast run through the countryside was truly exhilarating! Truly a highlight of an exceptional day! Although converted to open top in 1955, the vehicles originally dated from 1934, making DR 210 the oldest bus that Lynn & I had travelled on today! All too soon, we were back in Totnes;

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Thames Valley S302

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Totnes

The guys still on board DR 210 are with the preservation group who were heading to their hotel in Newton Abbott for a meal. Lynn & I also had to consider getting food and the smell coming from the Silver Grill chip shop was too much to resist! My battered sausage & chips went down a treat and we both decided that this was indeed the best chippy that we’d discovered on this holiday! We vowed to come back!

So, after a memorable day riding on a varied selection of buses from years gone by, we returned to the 21st Century by means of Stagecoach Gold E400 Scania 15931 for the run back to Paignton!

 

Adventures In Devon 2018-Part Four-Devon Day Ticket-13/9/18

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As I mentioned in Part Three, it’s my opinion that Devon has the most comprehensive public transport network of the four West Country coastal counties (the other’s being Cornwall, Somerset & Dorset). On the bus front, this is largely due to Stagecoach’s largely positive attitude towards the county’s trunk bus network. But Stagecoach doesn’t reach all corners of the county, with the more remote corners being generally served by various independents, mostly on services supported by Devon County Council (although there’s one large operator providing mostly commercial services in the extreme west of the county, which I’ll talk about latter.) Regular readers of this blog may recall Part Six of the 2015 Devon Adventures series, in which I bemoaned having to pay a separate fare on Tally Ho’s 606 service from Kingsbridge-Salcombe, there being no integrated ticket for all bus services in Devon. Well, from 2016, that changed, with the introduction of the Devon Day Ticket (not to be confused with the Railway’s Devon Day Ranger, featured in the last blog!) which is valid on all bus services in Devon and can be purchased on the buses of most operators in the county (there are a few exceptions listed on the leaflet and the quite excellent Devon County Transport website, where you can’t actually buy the ticket on the bus but these operators do accept the ticket.)

Therefore, being as I was back in the area again, I decided to take advantage of the new facility (a solo trip this time, as my wife Lynn decided to visit Paignton Zoo) planning quite a complex itinerary with the help of Devon County Council’s excellent free area timetable booklets, which are published in May every year;42286116_1501498296660564_8896035884688736256_o

Although I’d deliberately planned my trip to include other operators, the dominance of the Stagecoach network in the county meant that I would be travelling on a fair few Stagecoach buses too, including my first bus, which was Stagecoach Enviro 400 Scania 15932, built to Stagecoach’s Gold specification (E leather covered high back seats with good legroom, wifi etc) on the Gold service from Torquay-Plymouth, which I boarded at Paignton bus station for the relatively short trip to Totnes. As this was in the Torbay Megarider area, I used this ticket for the journey.

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Totnes

Upon arrival at Totnes, I had around forty minutes for my next bus (I could have caught the next Gold half an hour latter, but if anything went wrong with that journey, I would have missed my next connection, on a route that was rather less frequent) but fortunately, it was a nice, sunny day, so I just chilled in the sun, taking the opportunity to photograph Stagecoach E400 bodied Scania 15802 on the X64 from Dartmouth-Exeter and Parks of Hamilton’s National Express Plaxton Elite (I think on Volvo chassis) LSK 814 on the 501 Totnes-London service;100_1310.JPG

…before my next bus turned up in the form of a Tally Ho quite rare East Lancs Myllenium bodied saloon which, judging by it’s engine noise, was on a Dennis Dart chassis. It’s registration was PN05 DOG (meaning it dated from 2005) and subsequent observations showed it to be the regular bus on route 164, from Totnes-Kingsbridge, which was the route I was to ride on now;100_1314.JPG

I boarded the bus and tendered the £9.30 required for the Adult version of the Day Ticket (Stagecoach’s Explorer Ticket, valid only on their services-plus the 100 River Bus as explained in Part Two-only costs £1 less) which the driver issued without any trouble (I was slightly concerned that there might be an issue, as these type of tickets tend to be only issued rarely, meaning driver unfamiliarity is not uncommon!) and I went to settle down for the trip at the back of the bus, which was fairly basic and spartan internally. I appreciate that this type of route cannot justify the investment in kit such as Stagecoach have done with the Gold product, so I wasn’t expecting any frills. Less forgivable, however, is that the interior of the bus looked quite filthy, with the white of the formica panels only just visible through the layers of grime that had obviously been covering it for quite some time! Is the route so unviable that finances can’t be raised to give the bus a good deep clean?

Fortunately, the windows were clean enough to enjoy the scenery along the route, which was textbook Devon countryside. Loadings were light, I suspect because, at 08.40, it was too early for concessionary pass holders, for which the route must be a major lifeline, though the reimbursement for such passes is usually so low that it puts a constant strain on a company’s revenue. With constant cutbacks in County Council budgets, it’s routes like this that are struggling to survive at the moment. Perhaps part of the answer could be the formation of some sort of bus promotion body, staffed in the main by interested volunteers, in the manner of the Local Rail Community Partnerships, such as the Devon & Cornwall Partnership that has done so well in increasing the passenger levels on the Tamar Valley Line, amongst others (see Part Three). Or is it that people aren’t as interested in preserving our remaining rural bus services, as they are our remaining country branch lines?

Perusing my old timetable books, I discovered that the 164 was an old established Western National service. At some point, probably in the early eighties when National Bus Company subsidiaries, encouraged by the relaxed licensing regime bought about by the 1980 Transport Act, were increasing the number of long distance Limited Stop services, the 164 was extended from Totnes-Exeter via Newton Abbott as Limited Stop route X64, part of what was then branded as the South Devon Express network. Now operated by the Devon General garage at Exeter, the service would therefore pass to the new, separate Devon General upon the Western National split in 1983 (more details on the split in Part One). When I first visited the area in 2005, the X64 was operated by Stagecoach’s Interurban Volvo B10M coaches, part of a latter attempt to build a successful, Limited Stop network. Slightly after this, as part of an economy drive, Stagecoach withdrew the Totnes-Kingsbridge section, with this being taken over on County Council tender by Kingsbridge bus & coach operator Tally Ho, who have run it ever since. The X64 remained as an Exeter-Totnes service until 2015, when it was extended to Dartmouth, replacing the former Gold Totnes-Dartmouth shuttles that had replaced the through Gold service from Torquay once the main Plymouth route had been increased to half hourly. Now operated by Torquay garage, the X64 is now operated by double decker’s, as seen above.

Soon, we were at kingsbridge’s small, riverside bus station;100_1315.JPG

Though Kingsbridge was once Western National territory, cutbacks by that operator and it’s First Group successor has lead to Tally Ho being the main operator in the area today, with local town services supplemented by the 606 to Salcombe, still operated by the Enviro 200 with the controvision advert for Toad Hall Holiday Homes that my wife Lynn & I travelled on in 2015 (see blog “Adventures In Devon 2015 Part Six-The Stunning Number 3”). As can be seen from the photograph, Stagecoach also operate into the town with that “stunning” route 3. This route runs through from Dartmouth-Plymouth and was originally Western National (latter First) 93, until First sold it’s Plymouth operations to Stagecoach in 2015. Since Lynn & I rode the route, it has now mostly been converted to single deckers, like the Dennis Dart we saw on the route in Dartmouth the previous Tuesday;

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However, I was fortunate enough to have the Dennis Trident in the Kingsbridge photo, on the 3 journey that I was now to take onwards to Plymouth, this being 18394. I suspect the bus was allocated to this journey as it would have taken school children into Dartmouth earlier in the morning. A Dennis Dart was heading in the other direction, as well as an Optare Solo on the shuttle service that’s covering the 3’s routing to Strete, as the road through that coastal village is currently closed for repairs, meaning the 3’s to Dartmouth have to temporarily stick to the main road. Originally Stagecoach’s first type of standard low floor double decker, the Dennis Trident is now getting quite rare across the whole of the Stagecoach empire, with the South West being no exception, with most of the surviving closed top examples being used on school journeys and more minor services, such as the 3. I couldn’t help comparing this rather fast demise with the very slow demise of it’s Stagecoach predecessor, the Leyland/Volvo Olympian, which lingered on for a very long time, despite the fact that Stagecoach was, and still is, one of the best of the big groups for fleet renewal. This was due to the group continuing to expand, such as the purchase of First’s services in Plymouth. Today, although still a progressive group, the level of cutbacks in today’s bus industry means that the company can dispose of it’s older buses much faster.

Naturally, I went upstairs on 18394 and sat towards the back, to take advantage of the breeze from the open windows, as it was now becoming a very warm day. Although not as stunning as the 3’s route on the Dartmouth section, the run to Plymouth is quite attractive, with countryside filling the gaps between the various villages served. The main town along the route is Modbury, where we picked up a number of concessionary pass holders, most of whom remained downstairs. Then we passed through a village named Brixton, which was totally unlike it’s inner South London namesake!

We entered the Plymouth City Council area at Plymstock. this being confirmed by the appearance of the City Council’s distinctive, outer area bus stop flags, such as the green example on the left below, which I photographed at Derriford Hospital in 2015. The flag on the right is one of those used in the inner Plymouth area, this example photographed the same day at The Barbican;

Soon, we had crossed the River Plym and were in the City of Plymouth itself, full of house covered hills as we headed into the City Centre. I noticed that building work was now taking place on the former Bretonside bus station, where Western National’s country bus services used to depart from, as well as National Express coach services. Last time I was here (see Part Five of the Devon 2015 blogs) Bretonside was a shadow of it’s former self, with just the coach services remaining there. Now everything loads with the city services on the dual carriageway Royal Parade, where I alighted from 18394, which had “Sorry, Not in Service” on it’s blinds, ready to return to garage until needed for the evening peak;100_1317.JPG

Plymouth CityBus

Plymouth CityBus is the large, mostly commercial operator at the extreme west of Devon that I mentioned at the top of the blog. It was once the former municipal undertaking of Plymouth City Transport, becoming one of several CityBus’s  (Leicester & Belfast also had them) in the eighties. The city council sold the undertaking to the Go Ahead group in 2009, much to the disgust of First Group who, as successor to Western National, were the other main operator into the city, and had latterly run some routes in competition with CityBus, prompting that operator to compete on certain First routes. I suppose the sale of Citybus to Go Ahead was the beginning of the end for First in Plymouth, resulting in the company selling it’s local garage to Stagecoach in 2015. I’ve heard that the main reason Stagecoach wanted the garage was to use as a base for it’s long distance Megabus services but it also took on what was by and large the former First service network, though there was some trimming back from both Stagecoach & Citybus on competitive services. Not included in the sale was Torpoint garage, over on the Cornish side of the Tamar Estuary, with most of it’s routes famously crossing over to Plymouth on the Torpoint Chain Ferry. Plymouth Citybus increased their competing services to Torpoint and beyond in replacement. These were not the only CityBus incursion into Cornwall, as the company has built up a largely tendered network over the other side of the Saltash suspension bridge, known as Go Cornwall,  following the fall of the independent Western Greyhound around 2012.

As soon as I’d arrived on the 3, I immediately saw the main Plymouth CityBus vehicle that I’d come here today to travel on, as the company had recently placed Open Top East Lancs bodied Dennis Trident 361 onto service on the Plymouth Hoe route 25;100_1318.JPG

However, for reasons that will become apparent, I decided to hold off travelling on 361 just yet, as another target was immediately on my mind. Since my last visit to the city in 2015 (see Part Five of that year’s “Adventures In Devon”) Plymouth CityBus has bought a batch of MMC Enviro 400s to it’s London derived City specification, branded these as “Spark” and allocated them to the trunk 21/21A routes from Plympton-St Bordeaux. KODAK Digital Still Camera

I boarded 561, heading in the St Bordeaux direction on the 21, settling down onto an E Leather trimmed seat upstairs. We headed out of town towards Devonport, passing a rather fine, Victorian building that is now sadly in decay but was once the Great Western Hotel and the New Palace Theatre. Once at Devonport, many ships, including Royal Navy vessels, were visible, as well as the Torpoint chain ferry, which takes Citybus services 70/70A/70B (previously the 32 group) over into Cornwall. We then headed into St Bordeaux, where I alighted to catch a more direct service back to the City Centre, the first bus to arrive in this direction being Yellow Flash branded Enviro 400 522 on the 50, which took me straight back into town;100_1321.JPG

I think it’s fair to say that many parts of Plymouth are largely less affluent than most parts of Devon, which means bus usage is consequently higher, giving Plymouth CityBus a good commercial core of services. The trunk routes are branded as Flash, with different colours;

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Green Flash Enviro 200 159 on the 8
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Orange Flash Gas Powered Mercedes Benz Citaro 701 on the 43

The original Red Flash was the 21 but the Spark upgrade saw this (and the E400s concerned) transferred to the 42, previously the Blue Flash, which now promotes the 11/11A/11B to Bodmin & Padstow, out in deepest Cornwall.

The city also has a buoyant Park & Ride network, operated by Stagecoach, who bought new MMC E200 single deckers and MMC E400 double deckers, such as 10457, seen here on the 101;100_1333.JPG

But Citybus’s Open Top East Lancs bodied Dennis Trident 361 was my next target and was loading on the 25, so I boarded and went upstairs, the seating reminding me that this bus was formerly used on the now defunct City Sightseeing Tour of Plymouth. Previously operated by Dennis Dart MPDs (which I presume will return to the route in the winter), the 25 is a one bus, one way Circular service that serves the Plymouth Waterfront area every half hour, making quite an interesting trip around Plymouth’s more scenic and historical parts. But I wasn’t planning to do the whole journey in one go, having a specific destination in mind. I got off at The Barbican, an area of trendy pubs & cafes…..and two fish & chip shops that sit next to each other! Both the Barbican Fish Bar and the Harbourside Fish Bar are well worth a visit but I’d used the Barbican last time I was here, so I decided to eat at the “Award Winning” Harbourside this time, purchasing cod & chips and eating them on the tables provided outside. I could easily have walked to the Barbican from the City Centre (as I did last time) but I wanted to make the whole trip on 361 and anyhow, the half hourly headway gave me sufficient eating time before the bus returned;100_1323.JPG

cI reboarded and we headed for the Hoe, where the City meets Plymouth Sound, the natural Harbour that made the city so attractive for Naval purposes when it was first established. There are many signs in this area of the city’s Naval tradition, plus more pleasure based features like the restored open air lido;100_1328.JPG

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Plymouth reminds me very much of that other great naval city, Portsmouth, where I holidayed in the seventies (see blog “Portsmouth & Southsea”), with the area around the Hoe being reminiscent of Southsea, the seaside resort developed in Portsmouth. Of course, the fact that Southsea has a beach (albeit a rather pebbly one) allowed that resort to develop more as a holiday resort than Plymouth did (despite photos of the lido featuring in Great Western Railway carriage compartments) though the waterfront did attract some fine, large houses and hotels, as seen in the photo below;KODAK Digital Still Camera

I can heartily recommend the 25 as a good way to see the Plymouth Waterfront and, hopefully, it’s open top operation has a future. By coincidence, Southsea’s old seafront service used to be numbered 25!

Soon though, we were back in the City Centre, and it was time for me to leave the City on Stagecoach’s fifteen minute route 1 to Tavistock, operated by MMC E400s such as 10491 which I travelled on;100_1334.JPG

When I last rode the route in 2015, just after the route had been created from First’s former Plymouth-Tavistock routes, it was operated by Dennis Tridents, but this batch of MMC E400s arrived at the city shortly afterwards (also including the Park & Ride MMCs pictured above). The route was also then split into two variants, with an X1 (not that it was Limited Stop!) which avoided Derriford Hospital on it’s way out of the city. Now all journeys are numbered 1 and routed via the hospital, which is the main such place in Plymouth, hence attracting a wide variety of bus routes. After serving the hospital, it was out through an area of recently constructed business parks before heading into open countryside, with views of Dartmoor clearly visible to the right;100_1336.JPG

At a major roundabout, we turned off the main road to serve a bus stop on the edge of the village of Yelverton, a popular base for walkers heading onto Dartmoor. We then returned to the main road and headed into Tavistock, terminating at the small and rather quaint bus station;100_1337.JPG

I’d timed my trip on the 1 (I don’t just throw these moves together, you know! OK, some of them I do but this one featured too many infrequent routes to allow too much to chance!) so as I arrived in Tavistock to give me a reasonable amount of time before my next bus departed at 15.30, allowing for any delays on the run from Plymouth. So it was that I had around forty five minutes to spend in Tavistock bus station, watching the comings and goings, like Plymouth Citybus route 79, which runs from here to Calllington via Gunnislake in Cornwall;

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Dennis Dart 254, beside Stagecoach Optare Solo 47091, running a journey on the otherwise double deck 1.

…..as well as Target Travel, an operator who runs tendered services in Plymouth, who run the 87 to Bere Ferrers with this Optare Solo;

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MX09 AOE

But I was waiting for another independent who operates a large number of Devon County Council tenders, this being Dartline, based in the village of Clyst St Mary, near Exeter but operating services across a large part of Devon, including the 118 from Tavistock-Okehampton, which was my next route.  During term time, the 15.30 journey starts from Tavistock College, so I was wondering if the journey was going to be full of students, perhaps even being operated by one of the company’s small fleet of double deckers that are mainly used for school & college services. As it turned out, such capacity wasn’t needed, as Wright Streetlite MX62 AXH appeared with only a small fraction of school children on board.KODAK Digital Still Camera

The bus was significantly cleaner than the Tally Ho Dart I’d travelled on earlier, perhaps the reason for this being the fact that the driver kept his mop and bucket in the buggy zone!

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We left Tavistock through the Town Centre, which was new to me, as the 1 barely touches it. It was a typically quaint Devon market town. A large number of smartly uniformed school pupils were being marshalled through the streets by who I assumed were their teachers. As we reached the front of the group, I could see they were heading into a large private school on the Town Centre’s outskirts, obviously having been on a local outing to somewhere.

Soon after, we left the town behind. I’d actually travelled on the 118 once before, back in 2005 with Lynn. It was on a Sunday, when the route operated as part of the now sadly defunct Dartmoor Sunday Rambler network. First was operating the Sunday journeys then, using a former Western National Bristol Lodekka, very much like the one featured in this photo from this year’s Kingsbridge Running Day (which will be featured in Part Five). In fact, I think it probably was this bus, as internally, it has distinct signs of First ownership in the form of posters! It is Western National 2019. (Subsequent research reveals that it was the bus we rode on the 118!) 100_1372.JPG

Back then, we had used the Sunday only train service from Exeter-Okehampton, the 118 connecting with the train and then ran beyond Tavistock onto Gunnislake, connecting there with a train to Plymouth. We then returned to Torquay on a First ex London United (via National Express) Alexander Royale bodied Volvo Olympian that had been used on the Airbus service to Heathrow until it’s demise bought about by the introduction of the Heathrow Express train service, on the X80 service that would ultimately be replaced by Stagecoach’s Gold service. Before that, Western National had run the 118 but it had largely been replaced by irregular independents services in the mid seventies. The Sunday Rambler bought it back, at least on that day of the week. I believe the weekday service became a little more regular during the era of the Rural Bus Grant.

I believe the weekday route differs from that erstwhile Sunday service by diverting into various remote villages. At one of which, Lydford, an awkward reversing manoeuvre was made more complex by the presence of a coach dropping off more school children but we all got clear eventually!KODAK Digital Still Camera

The route skirts the northern edge of Dartmoor, serving the rather remote communities in the vicinity. This is deeply rural bus territory, a world away from the commercial stronghold of Plymouth. The scenery is similarly different;KODAK Digital Still Camera

We eventually reached Okehampton at 16.26, not that you’d realise that this was the beginning of the rush hour, the streets of this charmingly quaint town being virtually deserted. 100_1344.JPG

A Stagecoach E400 was about to depart on the direct service 6, down the A30 to Exeter. This comes from Bude, in North Cornwall, and used to be service X9, which I travelled on throughout in 2014 (see blog “North Cornwall & Devon”) so I decided to let it go in favour of a route that I hadn’t travelled on before, this being the 5A via Crediton. This wasn’t due until 17.15, so I headed into the local Weatherspoon, the White Hart for a quick pint of Exmoor Gold. OK, it was named after the wrong stretch of moorland to be truly local but it washed down a bag of Dry Roasted Peanuts quite smoothly!

As I left the pub, I noticed that the peak had warmed up somewhat, in that there were now three cars queuing at the traffic lights! I made my way to the bus stop for the 5A, which appeared in the form of Stagecoach E400 19001;100_1345.JPG

Loadings on the 5A were similarly light, with just a few of us boarding. We headed out of town in an eastwards direction through more deeply rural territory, though this time, I had the opportunity to view it from the top deck;100_1346.JPG

The 5A runs every two hours and is supported by the County Council between Hatherleigh (the largest town between Okehampton & Crediton) and Copplestone. Again, another example of a service running on the margins of viability, though that viability is aided by forming part of the twenty minute service that the 5 group provides between Crediton & Exeter, which also includes the two hourly 5B from Barnstaple and the oddly intervaled 5C from Chumleigh, with other journeys being simply service 5 from Crediton-Exeter. This section was altogether busier, although things were still fairly quiet on 19001 as we were travelling against the traffic flow. Upon leaving Crediton, we served that town’s railway station, on the Exeter-Barnstaple line, which provides hourly competition for the 5 group but, judging by the reasonable loadings of buses on the 5 group heading from Exeter, there’s enough passengers for both modes. Interestingly, the 5 is an old established number from Devon General days, although back then, it ran through from Crediton-Exmouth. With a variant numbered 85, the routes were renumbered 356 & 357 respectively on 4th May 1975. Subsequently, the routes were split at Exeter, with the Crediton side becoming one of several Stagecoach Devon services that have reverted to the original number.  We were soon approaching Exeter from the northern side and arrived at the surviving section of Exeter’s soon to be rebuilt bus station.

Newton Abbott

There are three routes linking Exeter with Newton Abbott. The most direct is the X64 to Dartmouth but that had finished for the day. Having a reasonable hourly evening frequency is the 2, which follows the coastal route through Dawlish & Teignmouth but I’d just missed one of them, so I chose to do the last 39 of the day, at 19.10, which E200 32632, branded “Ex Citi” for Exeter City services, was operating, this being the second bus visible in this line up, with the “Hop 2” branded E400 Scania waiting to depart on the next 2 at 19.40;100_1347.JPG

The 39 tends to be operated by a mix of buses, with daytime turns being in the hands of either E400 double deckers (either with Scania chassis or complete Alexander Dennises) or Dennis Dart saloons. When I first started to visit Devon, it was usually operated by Stagecoach Interurban Volvo B10M coaches. I was expecting one of these the first time I got to travel on it, which was on this very journey on the last Wednesday of my 2005 holiday in Torquay, but a standard Stagecoach bus bodied Alexander PS bodied Volvo B10M turned up instead. I remember being the last passenger on after leaving Bovey Tracey and the driver asking me for directions, for which obviously, I couldn’t help him! Turns out he’d just started working for Stagecoach after moving to Devon from Walsall!

Subsequent visits saw me travel on double deckers, initially in the form of Volvo Olympians such as 16601, which seemed to follow me around on those early Devon visits, whilst the last time I’d travelled on the route (which I think may have been in 2012) was on board one of the E400s bought for Exeter Park & Ride (complete with high back, leather clad seats) but painted in standard Stagecoach livery to act as a spare either for the Park & Ride or normal services. As it was a route that I’d become very familiar with, I’d given it a miss in more recent years but I thought now was a good time for another trip.

We left at the appointed time with around fifteen people on board, all late finishing commuters heading home for the villages outside of the city. As we left the Exeter suburbs, by the Exeter Service Station at the very end of the A5, we headed onto the A38 towards Plymouth, coming off just after the junction with the A380 Torbay Road, to serve the village of Chudleigh.

This section of the route actually has it’s origins from the very earliest days of Devon General, as the fledgling company’s first venture (in 1919) was to introduce two routes from Exeter-Torquay via Newton Abbott. The 2 ran via the coastal towns of Dawlish & Teignmouth, whilst the 1 ran inland, via Chudleigh. The Newton Abbott-Torquay section of both routes was pretty soon hived off to form separate service 28 (which would be merged with the 12 from Torquay-Brixham in 1954, forming today’s route 12) but the Exeter-Newton Abbott sections of both routes would become long established trunk routes. Whilst the 2, with it’s lucrative seaside traffic, would continue as such until renumbered in the seventies (becoming the 2 again when Stagecoach returned double deckers to the route around 2007) the less busy 1 was split in the sixties, running just from Newton Abbott-Chudleigh, with Exeter City Transport taking over the remaining section to their home city as route 66. Becoming a Devon General route with the company’s takeover of the municipal operator, the 66 would go on to be renumbered 366, as part of the renumbering of Devon General services into the Western National series (see Part One) on 4th May 1975. By 1970. the 1 was running through Newton Abbott to Denbury, being renumbered 183 at the 1975 renumbering. Today, the Chudleigh-Newton Abbott section is covered by independent Country Bus’s 182, with the Denbury section being covered by tendered service 176, also operated by Country Bus.

Not sure of the route’s history beyond this up until the Stagecoach 39 started but the new route follows a slightly less direct course to Newton Abbott via the small town of Bovey Tracey, where the remaining passengers got off. The town proclaims itself as “The Gateway To Dartmoor” reminding me that I’d managed today to travel all the way around the edges of that National Park, the 39 being another route that the Moorland was clearly visible from. Bovey Tracey was originally served by the joint Devon General/Western National 129 from Exeter-Plymouth, which met it’s demise in the eighties upon the introduction of the X38 service which still runs between Devon’s two main Cities via the A38. I can only assume that the present day 39 emerged from the 129’s replacement. As we left Bovey Tracey to head towards Newton Abbott, we picked up one more passenger for the remainder of the route.

Soon, we had arrived at the routes terminus and I alighted to await my final bus of the day. This was Stagecoach MMC E400 Scania 15307, branded for the 12 from Newton Abbott-Brixham via Torquay & Paignton (more on this route in Part One). The 12 leaves Newton Abbott past the Railway Station, then heads out on the first stretch of the recently built South Devon Link Road before coming off at the Kingskerswell turn off, the route then heading through that village before entering the suburbs of Torquay, which it runs through into the Town Centre, then reaching the Harbourside which, in the dark, was lit up by coloured lights;42289106_1501658559977871_4721651096899026944_o

Then, it was on through more coloured lights, along Torquay Promenade and then into Paignton. I stayed on after the bus station for one stop, getting off at Sands Road, the nearest stop on the 12 to our digs! So ended a fascinating day exploring the varied world of Devon’s bus services!

Adventures In Devon 2018-Part Three-Devon Day Ranger 2-10/9/18

 

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The journey begins! 143 611 at Paignton

One advantage that Devon has over it’s three neighbours (Cornwall, Somerset & Dorset) is that, by and large, it’s the easiest of the four to get around by public transport! True, there are some places that are virtually inaccessible without a car (Dartmoor springs to mind) but reaching most parts of the county by bus or train is feasible. One of the main reasons for this is that, despite there having been several losses before, after and during the reign of the infamous Doctor Richard Beeching’s axe swinging time as Chairman of the British Railways Board, Devon still has a reasonably comprehensive rail network.

Fortunately, it’s possible to explore this network with the aid of a Devon Day Ranger, valid on all the county’s National Rail lines, plus popping out to Taunton in neighbouring Somerset and an incursion into Cornwall which I’ll talk about latter, from 09.00 Monday-Friday and anytime weekends costing £12 for adults (Railcard discounts are also available, although the fact that we wanted to go on the 09.12 train off Paignton meant that my wife Lynn & I couldn’t use our Two Together Railcard, as that isn’t valid until 09.30)

Readers of the “Adventures In Devon 2015” series of blogs will know that I made use of one of these tickets back then (hence this blog being called “Devon Day Ranger 2”) and, as the lines concerned are all, in their own distinct ways, absolutely stunning, I’ll be retracing most of that bash today, though with one difference…..Lynn had agreed to accompany me! I have the best wife possible in this respect, as she’s very accommodating about my passion for public transport (when this series of blogs is complete, you’ll see just how accommodating!) but that means I have a responsibility too, as she can get a bit “zoned out” if she’s travelling too much, therefore, I tend to plan our joint trips with a nice break in areas with plenty of non transport interest (which in Lynn’s case, usually means charity shops!) to satisfy her. But that would come latter in the day, as my first objective was to travel on one of the Uk’s most remote and scenic surviving Branch Lines, which terminates at an incredibly remote location where there would be very little to do for the two hours until the train returned! So it was far better to just ride there and back!

So it was that we walked the short distance from our holiday flat in St Andrews Road, to Paignton Station, (situated on the other side of the level crossing to the Paignton & Dartmouth Railway Station that featured in Part Two) in sufficient time to buy our two Day Rangers and catch the 09.12 Exmouth via Exeter train which, as seen in the photo at the top of the blog, was formed of unit 143 611, with another 143 attached at the other end. I was particularly pleased to have one of the Class 143 Pacer units, as these are due to be withdrawn from service by 2020, as they don’t comply with more stringent disability access regulations which will become law at that years end (see blogs “Pacer Hunt 1” & “Pacer Hunt 2” for more on my odyssey to ride on Northern’s Class 142 & 144 Pacers. I also managed to get a 142 into my blog “Wayfarering Around Manchester”) Thirteen of the Class 143s are based at Exeter to operate alongside Class 150s and a few single car Class 153s on the various Branch lines out of that City, including the Riviera line to Paignton.

We found seats on the offside of the train, so as to enjoy the views of the sea that can be seen as it trundles along between Paignton & Torquay. It’s a view that tends to get overshadowed by the more famous stretch along the West Of England Mainline from Teignmouth-Dawlish Warren (more on which latter) but is a fantastic view regardless! We were soon picking up more passengers at Torquay, that station with faded grandeur tucked away behind the resort’s Grand Hotel. The line then turns inland, passing the tree lined, large house/hotel filled avenues of Torquay before calling at the suburban station of Torre. Then it was out, past the disused platforms of the closed Kingskerswell Station and joining the West Of England Mainline as it enters Newton Abbott station. Here, our service is scheduled to wait for around ten minutes to allow us to connect into a Penzence-London Paddington service, which our Guard advised any Exeter St Davies passengers to join for a quicker journey. We alighted too but we were leaving our trip along the Dawlish coast until latter in the day. For now, we intended to travel in the other direction.

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Newton Abbott

The plan now was to catch the 09.47 to Penzence, this being a virtually all stop service from Exeter operated by a Class 150. Unfortunately, upon our arrival, a quick glance at the platform indicator revealed that the service had been cancelled! A platform announcement confirmed this and revealed that the cancelation was due to a shortage of train crew. However, I was far more concerened about whether we would make our connection at Plymouth, as it was a two hour wait before the following train on that line, so wondered if it was best to head for Exeter first. However, a quick glance at the timetable showed me that the next Plymouth train would get us there with twelve minutes to spare, quite adequate if it was running to time, which the platform indictor assured us that it was! Unfortunately, this train was a Cross Country service, which meant that we would be travelling on a Voyager, a long way from my favourite type of train! Still, never mind, needs must. It also gave me the opportunity to photograph a few trains calling at Newton Abbott, including the aforementioned London Paddington service, formed of a High Speed Train, another long established train type that, on the GWR Mainline at least, is due to disappear soon;

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Power Car 43027 at the front

I also had the opportunity to photograph one of it’s eventual replacements, as a virtually new Hitachi ICT Class 800 appeared on a London Paddington-Paignton train;100_1233.JPG

Finally, the next train off the Paignton branch appeared, in the form of 150 238 on a service that terminated at Newton Abbott. If we’d have known about the 09.47’s cancellation, we could have caught this and got a Railcard discount on our Day Ranger! Ohh well!100_1234.JPG

Soon, 221 136 appeared to whisk us swiftly across the gradients of the Devon Mainline, calling at Totnes before we headed into Plymouth, where I quickly identified 150 247 as our next train, the 10.54 to Gunnislake;100_1235.JPG

The Tamar Valley Line

As can be seen on the photo, 150 247 is painted in the new, dark green GWR livery (interestingly, the last time I rode the line was on the first day of First Great Western rebranding itself as GWR) and internally, the train has been pleasantly refurbished in this style too. I was particularly impressed by the legroom given by this refurbishment, in sharp contrast to that on some of Northern’s 150s;100_1236.JPG

I also quite like the little GWR badge in the seat’s handgrip;100_1243.JPG

At the appointed time, we set off, following the GWR Mainline out through the Plymouth suburbs, serving the local stations along here before branching off to the right just before the Mainline heads over Brunel’s Royal Albert Bridge across the Tamar into Cornwall. We however, headed alongside the Tamar itself, giving the line it’s “Tamar Valley Line” name!

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The Saltash Suspension Bridge, with the Royal Albert Bridge behind

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The first stretch of the line, to Bere Alston, is actually the former Southern West Of England Mainline, which used to then head to Exeter over Dartmoor and through Okehampton (that last section now being part of the preserved Dartmoor Railway and even featuring Summer Sunday mainline trains from Okehampton-Exeter, see blog “Dartmoor Sunday Rambler”). From Exeter, Southern trains would then head onto the current Exeter-Waterloo line (now run by South Western Railways) to provide competition for the original GWR’s London traffic. There are quite strong proposals to reopen this line as far as Tavistock, to serve proposed housing development. There are also much more tentative proposals to link Tavistock & Okehampton, reforming an alternative Plymouth-Exeter link to the volatile Dawlish sea wall.

At Bere Alston, the train reverses, heading onto what was the former branch to Callington. Now Doctor Beeching had his sights on this line too but there was a problem! The railway crosses the Tamar, much further upstream than the GWR mainline, to pass into the Cornish town of Calstock, this bridge being the only direct access from the Devon side into the town, meaning the train was the only practical way to reach Calstock and the next station, which served the tiny hamlet of Gunnislake, from Plymouth. The terminus at Callington however, was linked to Plymouth by Western National’s 76 bus route, reaching the town via a different route, today covered by Plymouth Citybus’s service 12 to Launceston. So, despite Callington being a larger town (and therefore potentially more traffic for the Railway), it was decided that the branch could be curtailed at the tiny hamlet of Gunnislake without causing undue hardship to the people of Callington, who could reach Plymouth on the 76! So the Gunnislake line has survived. Yes, it’s heavily subsidised but the Devon & Cornwall Railway Partnership have publicised the line, making it attractive to both the locals and tourists, resulting in patronage increasing by 50% since 2001! And with the scenery on this final stretch, you can understand the line’s attraction;

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Calstock

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This is where the line is most dramatic, with steep gradients meaning the trains speed barely tottered above single figures! Soon though, we were at the quaint little station of Gunnislake;100_1237.JPG  Now, as we headed back to Plymouth, we had the opportunity to enjoy the line all over again!

The Devon Mainline

In total contrast to the trundling nature of the Tamar Valley line, our next train would be the fast 12.55 to London Paddington, which we would take as far as Exeter St Davids, Now, at the moment, this train could be one of two types, an old school HST (High Speed Train) or one of the replacing Class 800s, which are now finding their way onto the West Of England Main Line. It turned out to be one of the former, which I was rather glad about, as there’s plenty of time to sample the new order in years to come.

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43022 at the rear end of our train

The 12.55 starts from Plymouth, meaning Lynn & I had the chance to choose our seats. We wanted to find a seat on the offside of the train to enable us to gain the best view of the sea as we passed along the Dawlish sea wall, preferably a table seat, as we planned to eat our sandwiches on this trip! Trouble is, First Great Western’s refurbishment of these trains greatly reduced the number of such seats, in favour of more airline style seats (to provide more capacity for Reading-Paddington commuters) and the small number of table seats all had “Reserved” tags on them. Fortunately, I found one where the reservation didn’t begin until Exeter St Davids, where we would be getting off, so we sat there and got our sandwiches out!

Soon, it was departure time and we headed out of Plymouth and over the Devon Banks back to Totnes & Newton Abbott, with it’s views of delightful countryside. It’s after Newton Abbott however, that the line really comes into it’s own! Leaving Newton Abbott, we pass the horse racing course before striking alongside the River Teign, which gets ever wider as it heads towards the coast. We then raced through Teignmouth Station before making a sharp left turn onto that coast. Then, there were excellent views of the English Channel in between the various short tunnels that had been carved out of the dramatic, redstone cliffs. Soon, we passed through Dawlish Station, then it was the more open section to Dawlish Warren, where we passed a Class 143 on a stopping service, this station featuring a four track layout to enable express trains to overtake the stopping trains. After this, we headed inland again, running through Starcross alongside the Exe Estuary, another delightful river view virtually all the way to Exeter St Davids.

Now, had I been on my own, I’d have probably sampled either the Barnstaple or Exmouth branch lines (though a full trip between these two Towns will feature on a future part of this series) or perhaps have a run on South Western Railway’s service to London Waterloo as far as Axminster (though this would have been on a replacement bus, as the line was currently closed as far as Crewkerne for engineering works) but as Lynn was with me, I’d planned to spend the rest of the afternoon exploring Exeter. One more short train journey to go however, as Exeter Central is closer to the City Centre than St Davids, so we jumped on 143 618 on a Barnstaple-Exmouth train, for the short trip to the smaller, City Centre station.

We then had a pleasant afternoon, with Lynn finding charity shops, allowing me to watch the City’s bus scene (Stagecoach mainly uses Enviro 200s on the City services, these being branded “Ex-Citi. The routes are lettered rather than numbered, a legacy of the former Exeter City Transport operation, which was taken over by Devon General on 31st March 1970) before we both headed  for the Cathedral. Lynn had been here before, with her Mom on our last holiday in Paignton (Not surprisingly I was riding on buses & trains on that day!) but I’d not been there before. We seem to have visited a few cathedrals this year, with visits to Wells & Lichfield (see blogs “Weston Super Mare-July 2018” & “Lichfield By 10A”), so Exeter made it a hattrick! 100_1256.JPG100_1257.JPG 100_1258.JPGKODAK Digital Still Camera

We’d decided to eat cheaply today, so we went to the local KFC for tea, before making our way back to Central Station to catch 143 617 on an Exmouth-Paignton service. We found backwards facing seats on the offside, as the train reverses at St Davids, meaning we would now be facing forward on the nearside, in prime position for the run along the seawall! Obviously, this was a much slower trip than on the HST, calling at the suburban station of Exeter St Thomas before heading alongside the River Exe, calling at Starcross before reaching the coast with a call at Dawlish Warren, where we waited for an HST to pass on a fast train.

We decided to get off 143 617 at Dawlish;KODAK Digital Still Camera

where we were passed by a Class 150;100_1262.JPG

This station has to have one of the best views of any station;100_1263.JPG

Lynn & I are quite familiar with Dawlish, as it was a location used on many occasions for the Girls Brigade/Boys Brigade camp used by the company that Lynn used to be an officer of. It’s a pleasant little town, with nicely landscaped gardens surrounding a stream and ponds in the centre of the town, which were a nice place for us to sit and enjoy an ice cream;100_1264.JPG

The streams most famous residents are a group of black swans who have become synonymous with Dawlish. One is seen here with a couple of cygnets;KODAK Digital Still Camera

As Dawlish is within the area covered by our Stagecoach Torbay Megariders, we decided to get a bus ride in the book and return to Torbay on the 22. E400 Scania 15861 soon appeared, heading in the Dawlish Warren direction, so we chose to ride there and then travel back all the way through. This gave a higher view of the sea than the Railway, travelling along the main road out of town before descending down the hill into Dawlish Warren, with it’s fun fair and holiday homes. We had some time here before the bus started out on what would be the last 22 of the day, allowing me to pop out and take a photo;100_1273.JPG

You can just see the driver (in shorts) sitting on the wall to the left of the bus, alongside a young lady who he was chatting to intently about rap music. Not my scene at all but this guy seemed to know his stuff and made videos about the subject on You Tube! It’s amazing what people get up to outside of work!

Soon, it was time to go, so we headed back into Dawlish and on above the cliffs through to Teignmouth, from where we crossed the bridge over the Teign into Shaldon, then following the direct road to Babbacombe. This is a stunning run, which I’ll talk a bit more about in a future blog but unfortunately, darkness had now fully descended, so we were unable to enjoy the views! Still, I do enjoy night time bus rides, particularly quiet journeys like this, with Lynn & I being the only people upstairs! We soon reached Babbacombe then preceded through suburban Torquay before reaching the Harbourside. Unfortunately, the 22’s through service to Paignton had ceased by this time of night, so we had to get off here to get a number 12……one of which had just pulled away from the stop as we approached! Still, it was only twenty minutes until the next one, so we sat on a bench with a view over the harbour. There are far worse places to wait for a bus!

At the appointed time, MMC E400 Scania 15314 arrived on the 12, to take us along Torquay front back to Paignton, bringing to an end a happy days wandering!

Adventures In Devon 2018-Part Two-The Round Robin-11/9/18

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One of the joys of staying in Paignton is the possibility of being woken up from a pleasant lie in, by the gentle sound of the whistle of a steam locomotive, accompanied if you listen hard enough by that locomotive’s gentle chuffing sound. This is the Paignton & Dartmouth Railway, which runs from a station next to the town’s Network Rail station, down to Kingswear, on the River Dart. This line, originally basically an extension to the Great Western Railway’s Torbay Branch, closed in 1972, with the Dart Valley Railway being formed to reopen the line as a steam operated preserved Light Railway, which occurred in 1973, since when the line has made an important contribution to Paignton’s tourist economy.

In 1999, the Dart Valley Railway bought the Dart Pleasure Craft Company, which operated cruises along the River Dart out of Dartmouth, as well as the ferry that linked Kingswear with the larger town of Dartmouth on the other side of the River Dart. The longest river cruise that the company operated from Dartmouth went to Totnes, about an hour and a half upstream, and as far as large boats can head up the river. With both companies now under the same control, joint Rail/Cruise ticketing became easier to organise. It was then decided that a round trip could be provided by running a bus service over the comparatively short distance from Totnes-Paignton, the company setting up it’s own bus company, using the fleetname River Bus, it’s primary function being to operate bus service 100 from Paignton-Totnes, linking Railway Station with Steamer Quay. Thus the Round Robin was born, and has become a popular addition to the area’s tourist attractions!

To operate the 100, a small fleet of ECW bodied Bristol VRs were purchased, most of which were open top, like bus 1, seen here near Paignton Station in 2015;FB_IMG_1537856773494.jpg

There was also a closed top version for use in inclement weather, which I managed to travel on, on a very rainy day in 2005. I was able to do this because the 100 wasn’t just restricted to passengers doing the full Round Robin, but was a registered commercial local service, charging local fares over it’s route. Even more of an advantage was that a deal was done with local bus operator Stagecoach for it’s day tickets and Megariders to be valid, which meant that a ride (or several rides!) on the 100 was a major priority whenever I was in the Torbay area, as Bristol VRs by this time were incredibly rare on normal service! The company also bought a few Mercedes minibuses, as it won the tender for service 25 (Goodrington-Stoke Gabriel via Paignton) for several years.

But the advent of easy access laws for the disabled meant that the reign of the VRs would come to an end after the 2016 season had finished. Their replacements came in the form of Plaxton President bodied Volvo B7s, like bus 12, seen here at Paignton Bus Station;100_1349.JPG

It had been a while since my wife Lynn & I had done the full Round Robin so we decided to do it this holiday. The trick with knowing which way round to do the tour is to study the boat departures for the day, as these are affected by the tides on the river, with part of the river being inaccessible to large boats during a period of low tide. Therefore, it was best for us to do the bus first, though we had to go to the Railway Station to get the tickets for the Round Robin, which cost £27.50 each, before making our way around to the Bus Station to catch the 100. Unfortunately, there was a light drizzle in the air, which meant that the company had deemed it prudent for one of the fleet’s closed topped Plaxton President Volvo B7s, bus 6, to be used today.100_1276.JPG

Never mind, it’s a pretty enough run to Totnes in any weather, on any bus! We boarded along with the other waiting passengers and I immediately identified from the bus’s distinct mocquette that it originated from the East Yorkshire fleet. In fact, the company had replaced the original closed top VR with some Volvo Olympians from the East Yorkshire fleet. Being late step entrance buses, these have also now gone but East Yorkshire’s livery has since been adopted for all future buses! The journey to Totnes was pretty but uneventful, the route being shared with Stagecoach’s Gold service from Torquay-Plymouth, which provides an all year round facility between the two towns. (I should also mention that River Bus also run a journey from Torquay at the beginning of the day, with a return in the evening, though Stagecoach tickets aren’t valid on the Torquay-Paignton section)

Along with the Gold, we leave the Paignton-Totnes main road to head along a narrow lane which leads into a large Totnes housing estate. Whilst the Gold is the main service around this estate (local community bus “Bob The Bus” also serves the estate!) the 100 follows this route in this direction only, as it’s the easiest way to access the Steamer Quay, where most of us got off, leaving the bus to head into the Town Centre before returning to Paignton;100_1277.JPG

We had a bit of time to spare before the boat came in (those who are old enough to remember the seventies will now be humming a Geordie folk song with the lyrics “Who’ll have a fishy, in a little dishy!”, which was the theme to the TV series “When The Boat Comes In!” starring James Bolam) so we had a Yarde Farm ice cream from the steamer company’s café! Not too long after, the boat Cardiff Castle docked;100_1278.JPG  The rain had eased off by now, so we were confident enough to choose one of the seats on the deck. The cruise takes an hour and a half and includes an informal, amusing and interesting commentary by one of the crew. The river also features some fabulous scenery, passing many locations of interest, including the village of Dittisham, which features the holiday home of the Dimbleby Brothers (current affairs presenters David & Jonathan), opposite which is Greenway, the former holiday home of Agatha Christie, which is now owned by the National Trust and is open to the public. Ways to reach there include a ferry from Dartmouth, (there’s also a ferry from there to Dittisham) and a relatively recent Greenway Halt that has opened on the Paignton & Dartmouth Railway. For those who can’t manage the walk from these, a shuttle bus, operated by a Dennis Dart, operates from Churston Station on the Railway which, incidentally, is where all the company’s buses are garaged.

I quite like boats (would probably be more knowledgeable about them, had I been born closer to the coast!) and anyone else who does would really love Dartmouth, where lots of boating activity takes place! There’s the aforementioned ferries to Dittisham & Greenaway, plus the Steamer Company operate other cruises from here, including a general river cruise and a sea voyage down to the nearby Dart estuary and onto Brixham & Torquay. Pride of place in the steamer fleet goes to Kingswear Castle, I believe one of only two Paddle Steamer’s (the other being the Waverley) that commercially operate in UK waters!KODAK Digital Still Camera    Here’s some other scenes of Boating activity at Dartmouth;

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The Main Quay, with the Kingswear Ferry, Cardiff Castle & Kingswear Castle

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The Dittisham Ferry

 

Dartmouth is also home to the UK’s only Railway Station never to have been served by any trains!100_1281.JPG

Isambard Kingdom Brunel originally intended building a bridge across the Dart further upstream to take his new railway line from Paignton into Dartmouth but local landowners objected, therefore forcing him to build the line along the side of the river into Kingswear, from where you could get a ferry to Dartmouth. With the town’s Naval College (the Navy’s answer to the Army’s Sandhurst) providing plenty of demand for the new Railway, the Great Western Railway constructed a station building on the Dartmouth side, enabling trainee Naval officers, amongst others, to buy a combined ferry/rail ticket to their final destination! It’s now a rather aptly named café!

The town has much else to offer, so we spent the rest of the afternoon there! The Dartmouth Bakery sells the most excellent chocolate flake cakes and this time, we sampled the upstairs restaurant, where ice cream sundaes are served with real clotted cream! There’s also a fudge shop which makes the stuff in full view! I’m afraid I ended up eating far too much on this day! Then I let Lynn drag me around the various shops for a bit!

Of course, the town is also served by buses, all of which terminate by the Quay. Here’s a couple of photos;

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Stagecoach Dennis Trident 18395

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Stagecoach Dennis Dart 35265 on the 3 to Plymouth

Soon, it was time to catch a ferry across to Kingswear. Two ferries ply the short crossing, making up a fifteen minute service, operated by the Steamer Company. The two ferries are Dartmouth Princess and the boat we travelled on, Dittisham Princess;KODAK Digital Still Camera

And so we crossed over the Dart and made the seamless walk onto Kingswear Railway station, an interchange in the best tradition of Rail/Ferry integration for both short journeys and long, an era that sadly now seems to be largely past, so it’s nice that this example of it has been preserved. We waited for the next train, which was hauled by British Railways Britannia Class 75014 Braveheart;100_1291.JPG

We managed to find a seat in a BR Mk 1 compartment carriage (much better than the former DMU carriages that made up a lot of the stock!) and enjoyed a gentle chuff along the side of the river that we’d earlier cruised down, before heading into the woods that contain Greenaway Halt. Then it was onwards to Churston, after which we strode across the high Broadsands viaduct, looking down onto Broadsands Beach below and the view of the English Channel beyond, which we followed for the rest of the journey, passing the water park and other amenities at Goodrington Sands, the final stop before reaching Paignton some three minutes latter;KODAK Digital Still Camera

And so came to an end an excellent day that is truly a jewel in the crown of Devon Tourist Attractions!41473084_1494634884013572_3879032106025746432_o

Adventures In Devon 2018-Part One-Topless In Torbay (And Other Stories!)

 

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It’s been three years since I last holidayed in the glorious county of Devon, specifically in the traditional British seaside town of Paignton, which lies roughly halfway between posh Torquay and olde worlde Brixham, these three towns forming the basis of the Borough Of Torbay. The Great Western Railway christened Paignton “The Family Resort”, a slogan still used in the town’s publicity today with good cause, as it’s cheerful Esplanade is full of family amusements such as crazy golf, an adventure playground and the amusements of Paignton Pier. Good, old fashioned British seaside vulgarity! 41491185_1494358170707910_143734250246504448_o

It’s a town I’ve become very fond of, having holidayed there three times previously (in 2009, 2014 & 2015) so when my wife Lynn (whose become similarly fond of the place) and I were discussing where to holiday this year, we decided that it was time to return to the Town.

We drove down early on the morning of Saturday 8th September, having a leisurely breakfast at Gordano services (near Bristol) and then elevensies at Exeter services before leaving the M5 behind for the last stretch to Paignton, initially parking up in the car park by the Bus Station (giving me the opportunity to pick up a set of timetables from the Stagecoach Travel Shop, including a near complete set of Devon County Council timetables-I picked up the East Devon booklet latter)42286116_1501498296660564_8896035884688736256_o

We then had a leisurely wander along the chip & rock shop filled Torbay Road to the Esplanade, then spent some time on the pier before returning to the car to make the short journey to the Broadshades Holiday Flats on St Andrews Road, where we stayed in 2014 & 2015 and were returning to now. After booking in and chilling out for a bit, we latter popped out for a bite to eat and a general wander around Paignton before having an early night watching the first Episode of this year’s “Strictly Come Dancing” (Lynn’s a big fan!) and “Last Night Of The Proms”, leaving the commencement of bus riding until Sunday morning!

However, I did bring along some holiday reading, in the form of “Devon General-A Fascinating Story” by Leslie Falkard, probably the most comprehensive bus company history ever written, plus some Devon General & Western National timetables from the seventies, which will provide information about the history of the various routes that I was to travel on, plus, bringing the story up to date, the latest edition of the Stagecoach fleet list.41495238_1494356727374721_8499523245496598528_o

Sunday 9th September

As is customary on the first morning of me being on holiday, I woke up early (around 07.30). Lynn was fast asleep, so I quietly dressed and went for an early morning walk, buying a copy of the Observer from the local newsagent before walking over to the nearby Paignton Bus Station. This acts as an outstation for Stagecoach’s Torquay Garage, so it’s pull in/reverse out bays were stock full of buses this morning!100_1200.JPG

Paignton Bus Station feels very much like a throwback to National Bus Company days, or even earlier, when British Electric Traction (BET) subsidiary Devon General ran most of the buses around here, supplemented by it’s Tilling (really nationalised as part of the British Transport Commission in 1948, latter the Transport Holdings Company, before BET joined it in state ownership in 1967, leading to the creation of the National Bus Company) owned sister Western National, which operated routes to the north west of the town. The Bus Station opened in 1961 and, in an era when many such facilities have succumb to the lure of the property developer, is happily still serving it’s original purpose today!

Current owner/operator Stagecoach very effectively makes it’s presence felt, not least in the Travel Shop, full of publicity for it’s wares;100_1201.JPG

This is supplemented by a series of posters throughout the passenger waiting area, particularly useful for the town’s many tourists, leaving them in no doubt that the local bus operator can offer many travel opportunities to enhance their holiday;100_1307.JPG 100_1308.JPG

I noticed that a crowd of passengers were mingling at the top side of the passenger area and they all suddenly moved forward when a bus engine started up. I joined them, as they boarded MMC Enviro 400 bodied Scania 15306, numerically the first of a batch delivered to Torquay Garage last year, most of which (including 15306) being painted in a variation of the standard Stagecoach livery with a red (instead of blue) front and being branded for “Hop 12”, one of four routes in the South Devon coastal area to have “Hop” branding, with the publicity for these extolling the virtues of travelling on the upper deck to enjoy the stunning views that the four routes offer.

I boarded too, asking the driver for an £18 Torbay Megarider, which would be valid for the next seven days. The driver asked if I had a Stagecoach Smartcard, upon which these tickets can only now be bought. I replied in the negative but the driver had some, so he sold me this for £1. I personally find this a bit of a con! Sure, Smartcards like London’s Pay As You Go Oyster can give many benefits to the passenger, such as offering cheap fares whilst taking away the hassle of looking for change but here, a Smartcard has replaced a simple paper ticket with no discernible advantage to the passenger! A retrograde step?

I then made my way upstairs, joining the other passengers, who seemed to be mostly on their way to work in the hotels and cafes of Torquay. This was the first 12 journey of the day from Paignton Bus Station on Sundays, the 08.15. The through route starts in Brixham (first Sunday journey at 08.30) and is the main trunk route in Torbay, linking the three main towns of Brixham, Paignton & Torquay, then continuing on out through the Torquay suburbs and beyond to Newton Abbott. The route out of Paignton takes us through the suburb of Preston, where more workers of the Torquay tourist economy boarded, then it was out along Torquay sea front, passing the Grand Hotel, next to the Railway Station, before following the curve of the bay as we headed into Torquay Town Centre, where I got off in The Strand, just around the corner from Torquay’s fashionable and stylish Harbourside.100_1204.JPG

The 12 is a very long established route, with the Paignton-Torquay section originally being a Torquay Tramway Company tram route. This company also started a bus operation, including a Paignton-Brixham route, and a Torquay-Newton Abbott route that competed with an early Devon General service until the tram company bought 90% of Devon General’s share capital in 1922. This saw the tramway’s bus services pass to Devon General, with the Paignton-Brixham service gaining the Devon General route number 12. By 1928, the 12 was running through from Torquay (with protection to the tram route)-Paignton-Brixham-Kingswear, though the Brixham-Kingswear section would latter be separated as the 12B.

The Paignton tram route was the first line on the system to close, on 7th January 1934, mainly due to  council plans to widen Torbay Road (Torbay sea front), this being replaced by the 12A bus route. Gradually, this would be merged into the 12. The jigsaw was completed in 1953 when the 12 was merged with route 28 to run through to Newton Abbott. In the sixties, congestion in the summer months would see the 12 split at Torquay for the summer months, whilst 4th May 1975 saw the 12 renumbered 120, as part of the Western National route numbering series following the take over of control of Devon General by it’s larger neighbour, though Devon General’s fleet name was retained, this fleet adopting NBC’s poppy red livery, though Western National’s leaf green (the other standard NBC livery) would eventually replace this.

1983 would see Western National split up into four separate companies, with Devon General once again becoming a separate company, managed by former Oxford manager Harry Blundred. As is well known, Blundred was persuaded by NBC head office to introduce high frequency minibus services, initially in Exeter, in 1984 but the success of these persuaded Blundred to expand the concept throughout the company’s territory, with a new company called Bayline taking over the Torbay operations. In time, Blundred converted the whole network to minibus operation, and was probably the concept’s most zealous supporter! The 120 returned to being the 12 upon it’s conversion to a very high frequency minibus service, operated by sixteen seat Ford Transits! Seeing how busy the route is today with it’s ten minute (Monday-Saturday) double deck service, it’s amazing to think that such small buses should cope on the route!

Nevertheless, the success of the minibus services must have been a factor in Devon General becoming the first NBC subsidiary to be privatised, this being in the form of a management buyout, with Blundred at the head. The company would expand as Transit Holdings, starting operations in Oxford, London’s Docklands & Portsmouth before Blundred began to sell these operations in the mid nineties, with Devon General passing to Stagecoach in 1996. Since then, the size of buses on the 12 (as well as most other routes) has grown, with Dennis Darts replacing the minis (dual door Iveco’s having replaced the earlier Transits), then low floor Volvo B10BLs, supplemented by Volvo Olympians before the route was converted to Dennis Trident operation in 2005. 2012 saw these replaced by a batch of Enviro 400 bodied Scanias before the current batch of MMC E400 Scanias took over last year, confirming the 12’s position as one of Stagecoach Devon’s most profitable trunk routes.

Babbacombe

At Torquay, I discovered that a 22 was due at 08.40, so I decided to wait for it, with Green Hop 22 branded E400 Scania 15866 turning up. This batch of buses have recently replaced Dennis Tridents on the 22, having being cascaded from the Exeter-Brimmington Via Exmouth service 57, following it’s conversion to Gold specification buses (comfy E leather clad seats with superior legroom, etc)  The 22 has a much more recent genesis than the 12, evolving from the 12A variant of the 12 that developed following the opening of South Devon College to the north of Paignton in 2005 (also incorporating the former Paignton Town minibus service to the Roselands Estate.) The 12A had quite a complex existence, gaining a 12C variant at one stage but the complexities of the letter suffix system caused confusion on such a tourist oriented route, so routes 13 (Brixham-South Devon College, latter extended to Newton Abbott via North Torquay), 22 (Roselands-St Marychurch) & 23 (Paignton-South Devon College via Roselands) replaced the 12 suffixed routes in 2013.

Starting from Roselands, the full 22 route serves South Devon College before passing Paignton Zoo and joining the 12 at Paignton Bus Station, from where it followed the route of the 12 to Torre Beach on Torquay sea front, from where it turned left onto Belvedere Road, home to several of Torquay’s more popular hotels. Here, it’s joined by the 32 from The Willows/Torbay Hospital, which wind’s it’s way around Torquay’s western suburbs to reach Belgrave Road. From here both routes then combined to provide a ten minute service through the Town Centre, down to the Harbourside before heading up Babbacombe Road to Babbacombe & St Marychurch. More recently, one journey per hour on the 22 has replaced the formerly self contained route 11, which followed the 22 & 32 up to St Marychurch before carrying on out of town to Teignmouth, Dawlish & Dawlish Warren. On the debit side, the 32 has been cutback to terminate at Harbourside, leaving the all year round service on the Babbacombe corridor to the 22 (more on a summer enhancement in a moment!).

We left the gradually waking up Torquay Harbourside, and headed up the affluent Babbacombe Road, another former Torquay Tram route. Passing through Wellswood, home to the Kent’s Cavern cave complex, we soon entered Babbacombe before coming to the main bus stop at St Marychurch;100_1207.JPG

As can be seen on the blinds, this journey was running through to Dawlish Warren but, despite my Torbay Megarider being valid throughout, I decided to get off here, as I wanted to sample the newest bus route on the Torbay scene! I therefore walked onto the Babbacombe sea front, home to the 1926 built Babbacombe Cliff Railway, that links the clifftop resort to Oddicombe Beach below. This is actually the last surviving link with the Torquay Tramway Company, who built it! The winding up of the Tramway Company in 1934 saw the Cliff Railway sold to Torquay Council, whose Torbay Council successor still run it today;100_1390.JPG

Babbacombe sea front is a really charming place, full of hotels and various cafes.100_1391.JPG

Also nearby is the Babbacombe Model Village and the area has enough tourist attractions to warrant a seasonal bus service!

The 122

It’s also the terminus of the 122 to Paignton Zoo, the 2017 introduced Stagecoach service that has returned open toppers to a regular seafront service in Torbay. Now, open toppers have a bit of history in Torbay. Devon General introduced open toppers to Torbay in 1955, when six 1934 vintage AEC Regent’s (DR 203/205/210/218/219/224) had their tops removed and five (the other went to Exmouth) were allocated to Torquay, being used on short workings on the 12 until new service 12A was introduced on 17th July 1955. This started from St Marychurch, so the new 122 is a direct descendent! The 12A then preceded down the Babbacombe Road to Torquay Harbourside, from where it followed the 12 through Paignton (though serving the sea front), and on past Goodrington Sands before turning off the 12 route to terminate at Broadsands Beach. Here’s a photo of now preserved DR 210, seen at this year’s Kingsbridge Running Day (expect a blog on that day as a latter part of this series). Following behind is a Ford Transit of the type that Devon General used extensively from the mid eighties onwards, though this is a Southern National example!100_1384.JPG

The 12A was such a success that certain journeys would be extended beyond Broadsands, onto Kingswear as service 12C, commencing on 19th July 1959. This was the only direct bus service from Paignton-Kingswear, with the Railway line previously having a monopoly, the only other way to travel by bus between the two points being to get a 12 to Brixham, then a 12B. I don’t think a year round direct service from Paignton-Kingswear commenced until the Kingswear Railway line closed in 1972 (re-opening as the steam operated Paignton & Dartmouth Railway in 1973-more on this in Part Two), this running as a Paignton-Kingswear 12C closed top service (the open topper through to Babbacombe running in the summer) which became the 113 in the 4th May 1975 renumbering. Today, Stagecoach’s hourly 120 runs from Paignton-Kingswear throughout the year.

The 12A & 12C were joined on 1st July 1961 by the 12D, which ran via the same route as the other two from St Marychurch-Paignton, then duplicated the 12 to Brixham. This virtually coincided with the replacement of the 1934 vintage AEC Regents with the “Sea Dog” class of convertible (meaning they had roofs for winter use, which were taken off for the summer)  Leyland Atlanteans DL 925-933, each being named after a famous sea Captain, hence the class’s name.

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Admiral Blake in 2004 with the independent Devonian, who ran a short lived tour of Paignton.

These became iconically connected with the Torbay open top services and had long lives, being replaced in the late seventies by convertible ECW bodied Bristol VRs, by which time the routes had been renumbered 122 (Broadsands) 123 (Kingswear) & 124 (Brixham), on the same date that the 12 had become the 120.

Harry Blundred’s zeal towards minibuses saw him abandon any service that couldn’t be operated by them, including the Torbay open top services, which were withdrawn in the nineties, obviously backed up by a decline in visitor numbers, as overseas holidays became increasingly popular. Stagecoach however, reintroduced them in the early two thousands, using a small number of converted ex East London Alexander bodied Scanias on new service 200, which ran from Torquay’s Meadfoot Beach-Paignton Zoo on an hourly headway. By the time of my first visit to Torbay in 2005 (holidaying at Torquay) the 200 was running through to Totnes, using two of the Scanias, which I got to ride on regularly. 2007 would see some open top competition in the area, as First, retaliating from Stagecoach moving into their North Devon territory, introduced extra journeys between Torquay & Paignton on their X80 (Torquay-Plymouth) using open top ECW bodied Leyland Olympians based at First’s Totnes out station. I was fortunate enough to travel on one of these one evening as it finished it’s day with a journey to Totnes (I was staying at a Girls Brigade/Boys Brigade camp-Lynn then being an officer in the former-at Dawlish) returning on the last 200 of the day. The open top X80 would only last for the 2007 season, whilst Stagecoach would withdraw the 200 shortly afterwards, the 12 being more than capable of handling the Torquay-Paignton traffic.

A solitary open topper returned to the sea front in 2014, when Stagecoach’s ex Portsmouth City Transport Open Top Leyland PD2 was used on a running board on the 22. Quite irritatingly, this operation ended on the first day of my 2014 holiday in the resort. After arriving, I headed down to the Bus Station to try and find it, catching the next Trident on the 22 into Torquay to see if I could spot it, then hanging around in Torquay to see if it turned up! Sadly, it didn’t. The bus returned to the 22 in 2015 & 2016 but my 2015 holiday was even latter, so I never got the chance to ride it!

The Open Top PD2 must have been sufficiently successful to encourage Stagecoach in 2017 to introduce the Hop 122 from St Marychurch-Paignton Zoo, running every twenty minutes (the old frequency of the 12A/12C/12D combined) on a daily basis throughout the summer, using six (five being needed for the service, with one spare) open top Alexander bodied Dennis Tridents. The service was sufficiently successful to return for the 2018 season.

I made my way up to the 122’s terminus at the small Babbacombe Theatre, which advertised it’s summer seaside variety show, which seemed quaintly old fashioned! I was in good time for the first 122 off Babbacombe, at 09.06. An elderly couple were also waiting, wondering if the bus would arrive, as it’s departure time passed. Despite this, it wasn’t long before Trident 18305 appeared and we boarded. Repeating an idea used by Stagecoach on it’s Open Top service at Skegness (a long established service originally operated by Lincolnshire RoadCar), the six Tridents are all named, after specially created cartoon animals, with 18305 being Porter The Penguin!

Publicity for the service has been excellent and this includes a little booklet available on each bus explaining the back story for each character and giving children the opportunity to get “passport stamps” for each character from various tourist attractions on the route. A timetable also feature’s in this booklet but a separate timetable leaflet is also published;41503565_1494359714041089_9172625168596467712_o

Quite excellent publicity, which probably helped in giving the route enough custom to return for it’s second year, with hopefully many more years to come! I couldn’t help thinking of the contrast with Arriva’s 1 service at Rhyl, which I sampled last year (see blog “Adventures In North Wales 2017-Part Two-Crosville Eastwards”) which had barely any publicity….and has failed to return this year!

The 122 terminates in a loop around Babbacombe Promenade, returning to the main Babbacombe Road at St Marychurch, then following the 22 route (and acting as a summer only replacement for the curtailed 32) into Torquay. Then, it’s along the 12 route as far as Preston, then heading onto the beginning of Paignton Esplanade at Preston Sands, reached under the low railway bridge previously mentioned. The 122 then heads along Paignton Esplanade until reaching Torbay Road, which it uses to reach the Bus Station, where I alighted, leaving Porter to finish his journey to Paignton Zoo!100_1209.JPG

I then returned to the flat for breakfast, before Lynn & I both headed out to Torquay….travelling there on Hop 122, of course! The route’s return from Paignton Zoo see’s the route serve Sands Road, which lies at the bottom of St Andrews Road, where we were staying, so we went to wait at the stop along Sands Road, from where we caught 18306, aka Gary The Rabbit! From Sands Road, the route turns onto the western end of Paignton Esplanade, passing the brightly coloured hotels on the one side, and the Adventure Crazy Golf on the green leading up to the beach, on the other. Then it was down Torbay Road to the Bus Station again, then along the 12 route into Torquay. There, we spent a bit of time, enjoying an ice cream overlooking the harbour;100_1210.JPG

It was indeed a beautiful day! Perfect for an Open Top bus ride! But Hop 122 isn’t the only Open Topper in Town!100_1211.JPG

The English Riviera Sightseeing Tour has been running for several years. Originally, a longer tour, including Brixham, was operated using an ex Southend Daimler Fleetline, which the family and I travelled on in 2009. More recently, a shorter tour has been operated using this fine ex Southport Leyland PD2 FFY 403. The company (known as English Riviera Sightseeing) also own a replica Charabanc converted from a Bristol LH by Bournemouth NBC subsidiary Shamrock & Rambler, which latter passed to Midland Red North, as well as an Open Top Volvo Olympian which, presumably acts as a spare for the tour. The charabanc occasionally duplicates the PD2 on the Tour, which departs twice daily, at 10.30 & 13.45. As it was close to the 13.45 departure and, being such a nice day, Lynn & I decided to partake of the Tour. So we paid £12 each and settled down upstairs to enjoy the run around Torbay. We headed out towards Babbacombe, with the guide giving us many interesting facts about our route…..and quite a few really awful jokes! From Babbacombe, we returned through the Meadcroft area, very much the local millionaires row, our guide telling us that former residents of this area were Max Bygraves & Bruce Forsyth!

We then headed through Torquay again, getting caught in a traffic jam along the Promenade, by the Princess Theatre, caused by a broken down car, which delayed us by about fifteen minutes. This meant that the scheduled twenty minutes break at Preston Sands was reduced to a ten minute break. Still, it gave me the opportunity to photograph the PD2 again!KODAK Digital Still Camera

as well as Stagecoach 18186 aka Swash Buckler The Pirate Parrott! 100_1224.JPG

Then it was back to Torquay via Paignton, for the Tour’s conclusion. Lynn & I then decided to wait for Swash Buckler for a run up to Babbacombe;100_1227.JPG

The eagle eyed amongst you will have spotted a difference between Swash Buckler and it’s sisters! Where as the other five converted Tridents are only semi open top, with an enclosed section at the front (an increasingly popular design in Britain’s “varied” climate!) the Pirate Parrot (a friendly pirate, according to the Adventurer’s Passport!) is completely open, with only the front windows acting as protection from the elements! The bus is also from a different, slightly older batch of Tridents from it’s 1830x numbered sisters, dating from 2004, as opposed to the others, which were all part of the original Trident allocation for the 12 in 2005, which I remember virtually brand new from my Torquay holiday of that year! Odd to think that they’re now old enough to be deroofed!

At Babbacombe, we spent some time on the cliffs, enjoying the views, then had a cream tea with mutant sized scones at Angels Tea Rooms. We then returned to Paignton on Swash Buckler, the bus having had time in the intrim to do a complete round trip. We then spent the rest of the day in Paignton, including a game on the crazy golf, which I won! Lynn wasn’t impressed!41530647_1494360070707720_3485525849451528192_o

Wednesday 12th September

This was another day we spent wandering around Torbay. As the day started off a bit rainy, we decided to head into Torquay on a 12 from the Bus Station, this being MMC E400 Scania 15317. We then booked some theatre tickets before getting Trident 18307, aka Freddie The Frog to Babbacombe, where we went to Bygones, a Victorian museum, complete with a street scene, model railway and even a real steam locomotive! All very interesting. We booked a table at Hanbury’s for latter on, this being probably the best fish & chip restaurant in Torbay and very popular, hence why we booked in advance. To pass the time before our booking, we took a trip on the 22 out to Teignmouth on board standard liveried E400 Scania 15327, returning on this after it had made it’s way back from Dawlish Warren. Then, we ate at Hanbury’s, excellent food, even if a bit on the expensive side before catching another 22 (green branded E400 Scania 15865). The through service to Paignton ceases in early evening, so we changed onto a 12 at Torquay (MMC E400 Scania 15318) for the run to Paignton, where we viewed the motorbikes that gather on the Esplanade every Wednesday during the summer months. This was only slightly marred by Lynn being attacked from behind by a seagull with a penchant for the rum & raison ice cream she was eating! Apart from being a bit shocked, she suffered no ill effects! The seagull was reported to be slightly tipsy!

Friday 14th September

Another day around Torbay, starting with a ride on Gary into Torquay, then a ride on Porter (meaning Lynn had now got Porter in the book) back to Paignton, before getting our fifth Open Top trident in the book, in the form of 18304, aka Cango the kangaroo! 100_1351.JPG

Back in Torquay, we decided to go to Brixham on the Western Lady, a ferry service run by the Dart River Boat company, an absolute bargain at £2.50 single each! 100_1352.JPG

A sea cruise gives you an appetite! So at Brixham, we went to the Harbour fish restaurant for fish & chips, after which we went and had a look at the replica of Sir Francis Drake’s Golden Hind that’s sited next to the Harbour;100_1354.JPG

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We then returned back to the flat on MMC E400 Scania 15318 on the 12 to get freshened up before leaving to catch 15314 on the 12 to Torquay to watch the thriller “The Case Of The Frightened Lady” by Edgar Wallace at the Princess Theatre, a whodunnit with quite a gothic feel to it! We caught 15320 back to Paignton.

Sunday 15th September

I decided to repeat the move I made the previous Sunday morning, getting standard Stagecoach liveried MMC E400 Scania 15325 on the 12 into Torquay;100_1387.JPG

….then catching E400 Scania 15862 on the 22 to St Marychurch. I walked over to Babbacombe front, catching Gary on the 122, this time deciding to take it all the way to it’s Paignton Zoo terminus. This would have been an obvious terminus for the original open top services but this side of Paignton was Western National territory, with that company operating the local services around here. As we waited time outside the Zoo, it’s residents seemed to be making an awful racket, sounding like I’d arrived in the middle of a Tarzan movie! I mentioned this to Lynn when I got back to the flat. She’d been to the Zoo on the day that I’d gone out on a bash, (soon to feature in a separate blog!) and she said that the noises were actually a recording!

After breakfast, Lynn & I took Freddie to Torre Abbey for an afternoon garden party to celebrate Agatha Christies birthday! (Lynn’s a big Christie fan!)KODAK Digital Still Camera

This cost the normal £8 admission to the abbey (which features a museum,) complete with a free glass of Preseco! There were also some nice cakes for sale and entertainment, including a jazz/folksy duo on saxophone and bass guitar and a dance demonstration by a group that encourages elderly people to dance to help keep their joints subtle! Then came a talk by the Abbey’s Head Gardener on the plant derived poisons used in Agatha Christie’s novels! She confessed to being a big fan of the novels, and her knowledge of the subject means her Torbay council employers are too scared to threaten her with redundancy!

Then it was two ladies doing Japanese dancing which, frankly, was a bit overlong! It was then followed by a guy with an accordian, wearing a bright orange jacket, knee length trousers and sandals, with rather wild grey hair making him look a bit eccentric! He sang a song which he claimed was inspired by a dream! The song’s first verse went like this;

“Ezekial, spoke to me tonight!

And I’m persuaded that the words he said were right!

He said to me, that I should go

But I cannot go with this stone tablet on my back!”

Subsequent verses saw the poet William Blake and singer Nina Simone say things to him, which he couldn’t do because of the aforementioned stone tablet on his back!

Then the final verse simply says’

“Tonight’s the night, Agatha Christie disappears!”

It’s Art, I suppose!

Afterwards, I managed to get a shot of Gary heading along the front;100_1395.JPG

…..before catching Freddie again back to Paignton, where the evening was spent at the Vue cinema, watching Tom Cruise & Simon Pegg in “Mission Impossible; Fallout” (no Tom, I don’t think you could do that in a helicopter and survive!) A good evening of popcorn munching!

Friday 21st September; The Hunt For Chirpie!

The previous Sunday had seen us buy a week’s Megarider Gold (for £30) on our smartcards, covering the whole of Stagecoach Devon’s territory, meaning most of our second week was concentrated on visiting places away from Torbay. Therefore, our last Friday was my last chance to get a ride on my final required open top Dennis Trident, 18303, aka Chirpy The Cricket! Heading out on my own initially, I headed into Torquay in some comfort on board E400 Scania 15925 on the Gold service from Plymouth, this being the first bus in that direction to arrive at Paignton Bus Station after my arrival.

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This got me into Torquay in good time to catch the first 122 of the day from St Marychurch, this arriving in the form of Gary, which seems to be the open topper I’d been on the most! I caught it towards Paignton and spotted Chirpy heading the other way by the Grand Hotel. Trouble was, it wasn’t in service and the sight of bright orange overalls indicated that an engineer was at the wheel. Was It the spare bus of the day? Was I destined to get only the five open toppers that I’d already copped this holiday? It looked a distinct possibility! Still, no harm in still keeping my eyes open!

At Paignton, I decided to get the next 122 in the Torquay direction, this being Porter. I caught this to Seaway Lane, the stop before the Grand Hotel and this enabled me to catch the next 122 in the Paignton direction. I saw the bus approaching along the wide sweep of Torquay seafront. It had a green animal on it’s side, meaning that it was either Freddie The Frog or….Chirpy The Cricket! As it got closer, I could see!……..YES! IT WAS CHIRPY!

So I caught my final required Open Topper back to Paignton and went back to the flat for breakfast!100_1501.JPG

Lynn and I came out again in good time to catch Chirpy after it’s next trip from St Marychurch, with us heading into Torquay for a final ice cream by the Harbour;42146087_1501354480008279_8552873460936736768_o

We caught Freddie back to Paignton, getting off on the seafront to visit the Pier for one last time. After this, we returned to the flat to get ready for another Friday evening at the Princess Theatre, reaching there on MMC E400 Scania 15317 on the 12 to see an amateur production of “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” (Lynn’s a fan of musicals) which was honestly considerably better than I thought it would be! The performances were definitely of a standard that would have been expected by a professional company!

We then waited for the bus home beside the lit up harbour;42289106_1501658559977871_4721651096899026944_o.jpg

…….before catching 15317 again back to Paignton, from where we walked up to the seafront to perform a ritual that we’d done most nights for the past two weeks, sitting on a bench and just listening to the waves lapping alongside the seawall, with the view of the pier in the distance.41685407_1495500193927041_5355379130651115520_o

This effectively bought to an end a thoroughly wonderful holiday! Subsequent parts of this series will look at the various days out that we took, starting with what should have been on a trip on the other open top service to serve Torbay! Only things didn’t quite work out that way!

To Be Continued………..!

WMPTE Renumbering

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The Wythall Transport Museum’s WMPTE Metro Cammell bodied Bristol VR 4413, showing service 513 from Underhill-Warstones, an example of the PTE’s Wolverhampton area 5xx route number series.

Last weekend saw the final phase of National Express West Midlands plan to introduce two digit route numbering in all the areas it serves, take place. Walsall’s 301 (Mossley) & 302 (Lower Farm) became routes 31 & 32, in connection with a partnership agreement with Diamond on the corridor, whilst renumbering of most of the 1xx (the 126 remans) and all of the 2xx series of numbers in the Dudley area (see blogs “On The Way Out-Part’s Five & Six”) as part of a major revision in the area. Now, as far as NXWM is concerned, only the 529 from Walsall-Wolverhampton retains one of the area series numbers introduced by West Midlands Passenger Transport Executive in the seventies. To commemorate this change, I’ve decided to look at the history of WMPTE’s unified numbering system.

The West Midlands Passenger Transport Executive was formed on 1st October 1969, designed to integrate public transport within it’s area, and taking over the bus operations of Birmingham City Transport (becoming the PTE’s South Division), West Bromwich Corporation, Walsall Corporation & Wolverhampton Corporation (all becoming part of the PTE’s North Division.) Each of these operators had it’s own, separate numbering scheme, starting at 1 (all four operators having a service 1) and carrying on, with much duplication between them.

Early Days

Moves to start a common series began as early as 1971, when several Walsall and West Bromwich services were renumbered. In Walsall, several services were renumbered in a 2xx & 3xx series. Most of these consisted of Walsall’s longer routes, as that operator had operated quite a few routes outside it’s boundaries, though this wasn’t exclusively the case, as the relatively short 20 to Primly Avenue on the Alumwell Road estate, became the 250. Conversely, the long route 1 to Rugeley carried on unchanged for a time.

Walsall was also unique in the PTE in having some routes already numbered in a three digit series. This included routes 158 & 258, introduced on 21st June 1965, in conjunction with Heath Hayes independent Harper Brothers, when both operators were allowed to extend their Aldridge-Kingstanding services into Birmingham City Centre, to replace through trains on the Sutton Park & Walsall-Lichfield lines, where passenger services had ceased. The 158 replaced most journeys on the 58, from Bloxwich-Kingstanding (a few peak short journeys continued) whilst the 258 followed the same route as the 158 from Birmingham, through Aldridge and right to the end of Barns Lane, Rushall, from where it then headed along the Lichfield Road to Walsall bus station. The 1971 renumberings would see the 158 renumbered 358, whilst the 58 became the 359 and the other Bloxwich-Kingstanding service, the peak only 50 via Stubbers Green Road, was renumbered 360.

Walsall has a small network of Limited Stop services, consisting of the peak 901 (Walsall-Rugeley), 944 (Birmingham-Boney Hay, joint with Harper Brothers), 958 (Birmingham-Bloxwich) and 960 (Wolverhampton-Lichfield, introduced due to the same rail closures that saw the creation of the 158 & 258 and destined not to last too long into the PTE era). The PTE would latter use the 9xx for Limited Stop  services, as well as for “special” services such as Football, Supermarket and Hospital services.

Meanwhile, in West Bromwich, several services connected with Walsall were renumbered into a 3xx series, including the 14 & 54 West Bromwich-Walsall services, formerly joint between the two corporations, which became the 314 & 313 respectively. Another joint service between the two former Corporations was the 53 from West Bromwich-Aldridge & Streetly, which became the 353. West Bromwich short workings to Barr Beacon had been numbered 27, these becoming the 354, although short workings to Queslett remained numbered 27. This was the point where the 53 split off from the 25 from West Bromwich-Sutton Coldfield, which was renumbered the 352.

The PTE Expands!

3rd December 1973 saw the PTE takeover the services of Midland Red within the West Midlands area, bringing with it services out of Birmingham with a 1xx series, as well as  Black Country services numbered in a 2xx series, which would conflict with some of the recently renumbered Walsall services. Following this, upon the creation of the West Midlands Metropolitan County Council on 1st April 1974, the PTE absorbed the fleet of Coventry City Transport, which became the PTE’s East Division.

Coventry also had it’s own, two digit number series, although it was decided that this would remain, as the city was separated from the rest of the PTE’s area by a large  swathe of countryside, with the only bus service connecting the two areas being the ex Midland Red 159 from Birmingham-Coventry (see blog “Sent To Coventry.”)

The rest of the network however, was rather cheek by jowell with each other, with the inherited Midland Red network fitting in very well. The PTE had plans to integrate services further and it was felt that the separate groups of service numbers might be a complication with this. Therefore, plans were made to create a common route numbering system across the South & North Divisions.

A short term renumbering actually occurred on the 3rd December 1973, which actually increased the scope of the Wolverhampton series! This was because several ex Midland Red services into the town passed to the ex Corporation garages at Cleveland Road & Park Lane, filling the space left by the transfer of several ex Wolverhampton services out to Staffordshire & Shropshire to Midland Red and releasing space at the ex Midland Red garages at Dudley & Oldbury to take on services previously run by Midland Red’s closed Bearwood garage.

The services concerned had mostly found their way into Midland Red’s 8xx series in the late sixties but, with no ex Midland Red buses transferring to the two garages, they would have to be operated mostly by ex Wolverhampton buses with their two digit number blinds, as seen on preserved Wolverhampton Guy Arab 5, seen here at the Wythall Transport Museum;18556544_1121611024649295_2080089884798261564_o

Hence all but two of these services would be renumbered into the Wolverhampton series. The 863 from Rocket Pool-Sedgley became the 63, the peak only 867 from Wednesbury-Darlaston Green became the 67, the peak 880 from Wolverhampton-Oldbury became the 88 (matching the Dudley Road 86 & 87 which ran from Birmingham to the later town-see blog “The Dudley Road-Part Two”), whilst the formerly joint with West Bromwich (hence with the PTE from 1969-1973) 268 from Wolverhampton-Yew Tree estate via West Bromwich became the 2, a number previously used in the West Bromwich series for the 268’s short working from Yew Tree-Great Bridge (upon which Midland Red had actually ran some journeys on Saturdays), these journeys becoming the 3 (previously used for more irregular West Bromwich-Great Bridge short workings)

Two routes kept their three digit numbers, presumably due to them being one man operated with double deckers (the 63/863 was one man with single deckers, initially using Wolverhampton’s varied fleet of saloons), meaning that they would be operated with non Wolverhampton, three track blinded double deckers such as ex Walsall short Daimler Fleetlines transferred over, or the Park royal bodied Jumbo Daimler Fleetlines that were ordered by Wolverhampton Corporation but delivered to the PTE to a largely identical specification to those ordered by BCT at the same time. Also, the allocation to the two Wolverhampton garages (as well as Walsall) of Metro Cammell bodied Bristol VRs (like 4413, as seen at the top of the blog) at the time of the Midland Red takeover ensured that there would be plenty of buses with three digit blinds able to operate the two routes, which were the 281 from Dudley-Wolverhampton via Woodcross and the 862 from Wednesbury-Willenhall, the only 8xx series route to be inherited by the PTE.

The Main Scheme

The PTE had created a Field Survey Unit in 1974, it’s aim was to conduct surveys, both on bus and by calling at people’s homes (a crucial difference to the National Bus Company’s Market Analysis Project, which only consisted of on bus surveys, therefore missing out on discovering the views of people who don’t use buses and why they don’t), it’s aim being to make sure that the bus network was fit for purpose and provide data for any changes that needed to be made. Therefore, several revisions were to take place over the following few years, with more through links between the various territories commencing, Therefore, it was felt that a common route numbering system would be beneficial. The PTE’s new numbering system would be logically numbered into area series;

Birmingham & Solihull; 1-199

Dudley; 200-299

Walsall; 300-399

Sandwell; 400-499

Wolverhampton; 500-599

North Division Works Services; 600-699

North Division School Services; 700-799 (some South Division school services gained numbers in the late 7xx’s)

South Division Works & School Services; 800-899

Special Services (Limited Stop, Football, Hospitals, Supermarkets etc); 900-999

Although Coventry was allowed to continue with it’s separate series, it was decided to eliminate the general use of letter suffixes, meaning various services were renumbered to eliminate this. Over the whole network, the use of suffix letters were now confined to E for exception to the normal line of route, A & C for the Anti Clockwise & Clockwise directions of Circular services (notably Birmingham’s Inner & Outer Circles) and N for Birmingham Night Services, this replacing the cumbersome NS prefix, which was shown as part of the main destination rather than the separate number blinds. Now I’ll go through the effects on individual areas;

Birmingham & Solihull

Obviously, these areas basically kept their existing former BCT & Midland Red series numbers, although the integration of these two networks saw the BCT 1-99 series spread itself beyond the city boundary (which had been extended in April 1974  to cover former Midland Red territory in Sutton Coldfield anyhow) such as the 51 being extended to Walsall (replacing the ex Midland Red 118). Conversely, the Sutton Road corridor would lose it’s two digit route (the ex BCT 64) in favour of  routes 102, 103 & 104. 101 would also become a prominent Birmingham service when it was used to number the Birmingham Centrebus following the replacement of it’s original Commer minibuses with ex BCT single deck Daimler Fleetlines on the 18th November 1974. The 101 would evolve into today’s service to Oxhill Road and still survives! Midland Red also had some of it’s lettered prefixed Town Services based in the West Midlands, including S prefixed routes in Sutton Coldfield & Solihull (the later with just two routes, the S55-Knowle/Bentley Heath Circular, which became the 155 & 156, and the S57 from Hall Green-Wells Green, which became the 57, both these changes occurring in the Solihull revisions of November 1975-see blog “WMPTE In Solihull-Part One”), as did the renumbering of Sutton Town services into a 1xx series.

The 9xx series came to various peak only Limited Stop services in the city, with the ex BCT 98 (Kingstanding) & 99 (Rubury) renumbered 998 & 963 (matching the all stop 63) respectively, whilst the PTE introduced 97 (on 5th June 1972, the day the Aston Expressway opened) to Castle Vale became the 967 (matching the all stop 67)

Similar ex Midland Red services X2 to Hasbury and 162 to Chelmsley Wood became the 902 & 962 respectively, whilst ex Midland Red service 136 to Romsley Hall Hospital became the 906 and an unnumbered ex Midland Red service to Coleshill Hospital (which only ran on the third Sunday of every month!) became the 991. The PTE then introduced a 992 service from Solihull Lodge-East Birmingham Hospital in 1976 (this and the other two hospital services being withdrawn in the October 1980 cuts) and previously unnumbered services to Birmingham City, Aston Villa & West Bromwich Albion Football grounds were all numbered in the 9xx series, as were services within West Bromwich itself to the Albion Ground, plus services in Walsall to Fallings Park. A new service 990 was also introduced from Stourbridge to either the Albion or Villa Park on match days. These services all disappeared at deregulation.

Dudley

Again, the 2xx series dominant here survived, although the December 1976 revisions would see many changes. Prefixed Town services also existed here, with Dudley’s D series of routes renumbered into the standard 2xx series in 1975, as was Brierley Hill’s sole B prefixed service, the irregular B39 to Upper Pensnett, which was renumbered 267. Stourbridge’s S prefixed series survived until the December 1976 revision, with several routes being replaced by through services to Dudley (294), Brierley Hill (291) & Halesowen (297).

The 278 from Dudley-Prestwood Hospital became the 978 (again withdrawn in the October 1980 cuts)

Walsall & Wolverhampton

Due to the integration that occurred between the routes of these two areas, I’m looking at both areas together! Early 1976 saw the one manning of what had been the former trolleybus services of Walsall Corporation, namely the Bloxwich corridor and the formerly joint service 29 to Wolverhampton. The later was the first route to be numbered in the Wolverhampton 5xx series, this becoming the 529. This meant that the number 329 was available to replace the 15 number used for anti clockwise journeys on the Blakenall/Bloxwich Circular, the clockwise number of which had previously been 30, so the Circulars becoming the 329 & 330 producing a tidier number sequence. The 31 to Mossley and 32 to Lower Farm (numbers that have now returned!) became the 331 & 332 respectively. The 33 was a fairly complicated service which would gain three route numbers in replacement! The route was mainly a Circular service that ran along Bloxwich Road in one direction and ran to the other side of that thoroughfare from the 15/30, through Dudley Fields & Beechdale, this Circular becoming the 333 in the anti clockwise direction and the 334 clockwise. But the 33 also included a branch from Beechdale to Cavendish Road, the last Walsall trolleybus route to open in 1962. This became the 335.

The 1 to Tettenhall would become the second Wolverhampton service to gain a 5xx number, becoming 501 shortly afterwards, again upon the routes one manning (the two digit displays on the ex Wolverhampton Guy Arabs making renumbering of crew routes awkward, although some of the latter Guys would have two digits somewhat awkwardly crammed into the offside number box)

Then a series of revisions in the Willenhall area basically saw integration between several ex Walsall & Wolverhampton services, with an ex Midland Red service thrown in for good measure! New services 325 & 326 were formed from merging the 242 from Bloxwich-Willenhall (formerly Walsall Corporation’s 2) with the ex Midland Red 862 from Willenhall-Wednesbury, ridding the PTE of this rather anachronistic number, and producing a through Bloxwich-Wednesbury service. The peak 67 from Wednesbury-Darlaston Green became the 328.

Another new through service was the 531, which was basically an extension of the 231 from Walsall-Bentley (a relatively new service itself, having only started in the early seventies) through the new Lodge Farm estate and into Willenhall, then heading over to Moseley Road to supplement the ex Wolverhampton 45 from Bilston, now renumbered 545, via Deans Road into Wolverhampton. Other Wolverhampton-Willenhall services renumbered at this time were the 41 peak service to New Invention and it’s all day sister, the 72 to Ashmore Park, these becoming the 571 & 572 respectively.

The remainder of the Walsall network would soon find itself renumbered into the 3xx series, (except the 69 from Walsall-Burntwood Hospital, which became the 969, lasting until the 1980 Chaserider revisions) including the 2xx numbers that were now at odds with the PTE’s numbering block for the Dudley area. In most cases, the 2 was simply swapped for a 3, one of only two cases this wasn’t possible was the 258 from Walsall-Birmingham via Aldridge (ironically, the only 2xx number actually used by Walsall Corporation) which became the 357, matching it’s sister service 358 from Bloxwich-Birmingham. The Chaserider revisions of 1980, which saw the integration of PTE & Midland Red services in South Staffordshire (see blog “Cannock In The Eighties”) would see the 357 & 358 renumbered 157 & 158, in line with changes on the Birmingham-Aldridge corridor, which saw Midland Red’s 853 & 854 Birmingham-Cannock services (ex Harper Brothers) become the 156 and the much reduced 154 respectively instead. Also renumbered was the peak 360, which had been extended from Kingstanding into Birmingham in the mid seventies. Other PTE services on this corridor were the new peak 150 to Shenstone (partially replacing Midland Red’s ex Harper Brothers 818 from Kingstanding-Lichfield) and the hourly 155 to Boney Hay, which replaced most 854’s between Birmingham & Brownhills, as well as the joint Limited Stop 944 (also replaced by Midland Red’s peak Limited Stop X55)

Another oddity was the 265 from Dudley-Walsall, originally a short working of the Midland Red/Walsall joint service from Dudley-Stafford. Walsall buses on both services used 65 until it became part of the PTE, from when they became 265/865 in line with Midland Red. The December 1973 takeover of Midland Red services saw the 865 cutback to terminate at Walsall and become a wholly Midland Red service, whilst one journey per hour on the 265 took over a Hednesford short working on the 1. Thus, when renumbering came in 1976, the 265 became the 301 and the 1 became the 302 (there being a slightly different routing in Cannock, with the 302 running via Hampton Street.) The 1 was split at this point, with the 302 terminating at Hednesford and a new 303 running from Cannock-Rugeley. The Chaserider revisions saw the 301 become half hourly throughout, absorbing the 307 from Cannock-Hednesford via Pye Green, whilst the 865 was totally withdrawn, mostly replaced between Cannock & Stafford by Midland Red’s 838, whilst the PTE’s new 303 to Hednesford (Cannock-Rugeley being replaced wholly by Midland Red’s X31) covered the Walsall side.

The Dudley revisions of December 1976 saw more Wolverhampton services renumbered. The 61 was originally a short working to Sedgley of the 58 from Wolverhampton-Dudley (Wolverhampton’s final trolleybus route) but the building of the Northway estate in 1971 saw the 61 become a full time service in it’s own right, diverting via Northway and then carrying on from Sedgley to The Straits via Gornal Wood, replacing most journeys on the 65. There was also service 64, which ran from Wolverhampton-The Straits via Penn Common, Sedgley & Gornal Wood. December 1976 saw the 61 renumbered 565 (fully absorbing the 65 between these points) and increased from hourly to half hourly. The 64 meanwhile, became the 564 and was cutback to terminate at Sedgley. The 58 was also renumbered 558 but the timetable booklet that introduced the changes actually stated that, whilst older crew buses were used on the routes, 58 will still be shown!

Earlier in the year, the 63 had been extended from Sedgley along the previously unserved direct road to The Straits but this section would be passed onto new Dudley operated service 566, which ran via the 558 route from Wolverhampton-Sedgley, then replaced the 63 to The Straits before heading into Gornal Wood and then replacing the 276 (formerly Midland Red D6) via Himley Road to Dudley.

The 63 became the 563 and it was revised to interwork from it’s new (or old, depending on your viewpoint!) Sedgley terminus, with the former Dudley operated 272 to Great Bridge, this being renumbered 562. Ex Coventry ECW bodied Bristol REs were the regular buses on the route by this time and it wasn’t long before the 562 & 563 were combined to become the 563 from Rocket Pool-Great Bridge.

Unusually, one corridor out of Wolverhampton found itself being served by bus routes numbered in the Dudley 2xx series! This was the Penn Road, previously served by the 11 to Penn (another former trolleybus route) and a group of services that left the town’s boundaries to serve the sprawling village of Wombourne, with one route, the 38, carrying onto the smaller village of Swindon. Meanwhile, the ex Midland Red 256 ran straight down the main road through Himley, and onto Stourbridge via Kingswinford & Wordsley. From December 1976, the 11 was renumbered 253 and the 38 was replaced by new route 254. The rest of the Wombourne routes were replaced by the 256, which was rerouted via the village, along with new sister service 255, which followed the same route through Wombourne but served Cot Lane between Kingswinford & Wordsley.

The Wombourne routes have seen frequent revisions over the years, with 1978 seeing a new 252 start to serve new housing at Pool House Farm, as well as a peak 956 Limited Stop service following the 256’s original direct route from Wolverhampton-Stourbridge. Then 1981 saw the routes renumbered into the 5xx series! The 956 was replaced by the all stop 555, whilst an all day service returned to the main road in the form of the 551, which was one of two services replacing the 255 down Cot Lane, the other being the 554, an extended former 254. Neither the off peak service via the main road, nor the extended Swindon service would last long as the November 1983 Dudley revisions saw the 551 rerouted via Wombourne (lasting until September 1985, when Cot Lane became served by the 264/265), whilst the 554 became an evening & Sunday only service from Wolverhampton-Swindon, with the 552 extended to the village at other times (including a peak journey to/from Wallheath as the last remnant of the Stourbridge through service.

More changes would occur after deregulation, which I won’t go into here, other than to mention the December 1993 revisions, which saw the corridor renumbered back into the 2xx series! (More details on this in my blog “West Midlands 1993”)

Sandwell

For those unsure of where (or indeed what!) Sandwell is, it’s the Metropolitan Borough formed in April 1974 by the combination of West Bromwich (naturally former West Bromwich Corporation territory, though the borough was expanded in 1965 to include Wednesbury & Tipton, parts of which were served by Midland Red & Walsall) and Warley, a 1965 creation combining Smethwick, Oldbury & Rowley Regis, all prime Midland Red territory.

The 4xx series made it’s debut on 6th June 1976, when new services 415 (West Bromwich-Old Hill) and 417 (West Bromwich-Hayley Green) started, being combinations of the ex West Bromwich 15 from there to Oldbury and the ex Midland Red 217 (Oldbury-Hayley Green) and 232 (Blackheath-Old Hill). Shortly after, the unnumbered ex West Bromwich service to Moxley Hospital gained the number 479.

More of the West Bromwich network would become 4xx services on 24th July 1977. The 252 (formerly a West Bromwich/Midland Red joint service, hence the 2xx number) from Portland Road (on the Smethwick/Birmingham boundary)-Wednesbury via West Bromwich, became the 428 & 429. The peak only 428 actually covered the then current 252 route, along the factory filled Dartmouth Road, whilst the 429 became the main service via the recently built Telford Way, though that was parallel to the original 252 over the now pedestrianised Galton Bridge. The 29 section of 429 came from the 29, that ran in the peaks & Saturdays supplementing the 252 between West Bromwich & Hateley Heath, and had been a regular service until the 252 was extended from Carters Green-Wednesbury over it’s route in May 1967.

The number 452 was used to renumber the 352 from Walsall-Sutton Coldfield, with the 353 becoming the 453 (absorbing the 27 to Queslett, the 354 to Barr Beacon having gone by this time). Other services renumbered at this time included the 406 to Hamstead via Scott Arms, the Friar Park services (410/411/416 and new peak 409 via Hallam Street) and the irregular 424 to Birmingham Road (Walsall) via Grove Vale Estate. The 26 to St Margaret’s Hospital became the 926.

The remaining ex West Bromwich services were renumbered in November 1977. Ironically, the 479 would be renumbered 927 in the hospital series, whilst over in the Warley side of Sandwell, the ex Midland Red works service 223 from Foundry Lane (Averys)-Causeway Green became the 683.

Most of the ex Midland Red services in the Warley area were numbered in the 2xx series until the August 1980 Warley revisions, when a virtually new network would be numbered in the 4xx series, apart from services to Birmingham, which remained in the xx/1xx series from that city. More details on this revision are in my blog “The Warley Revisions-August 1980”.

Deregulation

Despite the seismic changes made to the West Midlands bus network upon the introduction of deregulation on the 26th October 1986, the PTE’s basic area numbering structure continued to be used by the PTE’s new arms length commercial company, West Midlands Travel, as well as other operators such as Midland Red West, who had won a large number of tendered services, filling in the gaps that West Midlands Travel felt weren’t commercially viable.

The 9xx series would become dominantly linked with Limited Stop services, with the new Timesaver network seeing this type of service increase in number (see blog “Timesaver’s”) but two Hospital services remained on tender (the 927 to Moxley Hospital and the 928, renumbered from 926 following a Timesaver service taking that number, to St Margaret’s Hospital, both from West Bromwich.) and would continue for a few years.

The other main change was the adoption by West Midlands Travel of a 6xx series for the Sutton Coldfield minibus network (see blog “The Minibus Revolution”) which would ultimately be adopted by the PTE for tendered minibuses. The North Division Works services were virtually extinct by this time anyhow.

And so the area numbering scheme continued largely unchanged, both by West Midlands Travel and most other operators. The system would become more relaxed though, with operators like Birmingham Coach Company reintroducing the ex Midland Red number 221 to a competitive service from West Bromwich-Bearwood Via Warley (competing with WMT’s 448) being a good example as to how things weren’t as rigid as pre deregulation. There was also operators like Ludlows of Halesowen, who adopted their own numbering system, in this case with a 00x series (surviving today of Diamond’s 002 from Merry Hill-Weoley Castle). Another oddity was Zaks, who introduced a commercial Birmingham suburban service from Perry Barr-Kingstanding via Great Barr, which they numbered 424, simply because that was the number of the company’s owner’s house! Latter this would be combined with the tendered 653 from Birmingham-Hamstead, now running as the 424 from Birmingham-Perry Beeches. This still survives, now run by Igo, as is the 425 from Great Barr-Grove Vale, these two today being the only 4xx services to run in the West Midlands.

Then, in 1996, what was now Travel West Midlands themselves broke the mould by using a 5xx number in Birmingham! This was the 590A/590C, a combination of the 59 & 90 Birmingham-Coleshill services (which ran as a circular anyhow, having originally being ex Midland Red Circulars 161/171) and had been renumbered to simply give a simpler image for it’s new branding, this being one of the first services to begin the trend of certain routes being operated with route branded buses (there had been earlier schemes, like Tracline 65 and Walsall’s 341, but the 590 and other services branded around this time can largely be regarded as the pioneer of today’s NXWM route branding). The 590 would last until 2004, when the Birmingham-Chelmsley Wood via Yardley section of the route was cut, the remainder becoming the 90.

Otherwise, the area numbering system would remain intact until 2010, when a North Walsall network review would introduce a two digit number system back to Walsall. This followed a similar review in Solihull in 2009, which saw an Sx prefixed number series introduced on Solihull Town Services. The new Walsall system would be deemed successful enough to be adopted for the South Walsall & Wolverhampton Review the following year, whilst October 2012 would see a Sandwell review introduce another one/two digit series. Now, the new Dudley system see’s the much older established 1xx & 2xx series become virtually extinct, at least as far as NXWM is concerned, as other operators continue with several 2xx numbers, at least for the time being.

Conclusion

It’s interesting to consider that the bus industry isn’t an island! When WMPTE was creating the unified numbering system back in the seventies, all but one of the other PTEs introduced similar systems (the exception being Merseyside. Ironically, it’s 21st Century bus operating successor, Arriva Merseyside, have now introduced a common number system across it’s network!). Similarly, NXWM aren’t alone in believing that simply, easier to remember lower numbers are liable to encourage new users to consider using buses, with Arriva in Derby & Telford and First in Glasgow & Portsmouth being just a few examples of this. To be honest, it’s an idea I personally am a little sceptical of, and I wonder just how much goodwill is being eroded by the elimination of well established route numbers like the 246 (Dudley-Stourbridge), these long established numbers effectively being a brand. Yes, the company claim that past schemes have lead to an increase in users but I believe this is more down to the network reviewers having their fingers on the pulse, with the actual service revisions that are invariably introduced in tandem with such renumberings, producing growth.

I remember back in August 1980, my Grandad saying “What’s the bloomin’ point of that?” when he found out that the 220 (West Bromwich-Bearwood via Smethwick) was being renumbered 450 as part of the Warley revisions of that time. Now, I’m hearing the same things again with the new Dudley network! What goes around, comes around, I suppose! But we have to remember that we live in different times. Back in the seventies, the aim was to mould the networks of several formerly separate operators together and WMPTE, in my opinion, was the most successful of the PTEs in achieving that. But more people used buses back then and today’s challenge is to get a largely hostile population back on board. Whatever my feelings on the subject, the new numbering policy is just one way that NXWM are attempting to do just that! How successful that policy ultimately will be, will be judged by history.

Today, we now have just three NXWM all stop services using three digit numbers, the aforementioned 101 (Birmingham-Oxhill Road) the 126 from Birmingham-Dudley and the 529 from Wolverhampton-Walsall, both the later two services surviving because it was awkward to find numbers that fit the local series (I’ve heard that 52 has been proposed for the 529, whilst 15 was proposed for the truncated 126 but in the end, it was decided to use this number to renumber the 255 from Wolverhampton-Merry Hill). Meanwhile, a group of 9xx Limited Stop services leave Birmingham along the Perry Barr corridor (907, 934, 935/A, 936, 937/A, 997) which I believe should remain in that series, as to renumber them in the X series now favoured for Limited Stop services would cause the highly successful X51 Birmingham-Walsall Express service to not stand out as much as it now does on the corridor. Time will tell if these exceptions to the rule will remain.

So a new era for the West Midlands bus network has dawned!