2021 In Pictures-Part Two-August – December

August

Birmingham school bus and Private Hire operator Green Bus introduced two new leisure services in August 2021, which I got to sample.

Thursdays saw the company operate service X94 from Birmingham via Halesowen, Stourbridge Junction, Kinver, Bridgnorth and Ironbridge to Church Stretton, for Carding Mill Valley, a marvellously rural route for a double decker bus to venture along. I travelled the route on Thursday 12th August, on board Green Bus 422, a Wright Gemini bodied Volvo B7 that was formerly Lothian Regional Transport 825, whose livery the bus then still carried, seen here at the Church Stretton terminus:

Meanwhile, August Thursdays saw Green Bus revive the old Midland Red X92 to Ludlow. My friend Phil and I rode this on it’s last day, Thursday 31st, travelling on board another ex Lothian Wright Gemini bodied Volvo B7, 416. Unlike 422, 416 had received Green Bus livery, seen here at it’s car park terminus in Ludlow :

Sundays in August saw the Wyvern Bus Group use members of it’s preserved bus fleet on a free service from Bewdley – Stourport, with Phil and I sampling this on the 22nd, on board 1956 vintage ex Devon General AEC Regent DRD 781, seen here at Bewdley

The Monday after this day, the 23rd, saw me return to Worcestershire, to sample today’s bus services, with the aid of an all operator Worcestershire Connecta day ticket. My first task was to visit the town at the county’s far North Eastern corner, just beside the boundary with Shropshire, Tenbury Wells. The rather sparse bus services to the town are all provided by local operator Yarranton Brothers of Eardiston, upon whose Mercedes Benz Citaro BV14 TZY, I arrived upon, on the 291 from Kidderminster :

I then caught another Citaro, BP14 FJZ, on the 758 to Worcester :

I then decided to ride on the first service to be operated by Kevs Coaches of Bromsgrove, an operator that has grown subsequently, running several tendered services for both Worcestershire County Council and Transport for West Midlands. The 355 runs a roundabout course from Worcester – Droitwich Spa, and my stead today was Optare Solo SR YJ62 FYZ:

From Droitwich, I caught a First 144 back to Worcester, then had a ride on Astons 296 to Bewdley via Stourport, recreating the route of the Devon General AEC Regent that I’d rode the previous day. Wright Streetlite WX12 CFV was my stead, seen here at journeys end at Bewdley.

Wythall’s August Bank Holiday weekend had a largely municipal theme, including no fewer than four preserved Coventry buses, all owned by prolific preservationist Roger Burdett. They all did a trip to NXWM’s ex Birmingham City Transport Yardley Wood garage, as seen here. From left-right, we have Metro Cammell Orion bodied Daimler CVG6 334, Daimler CWA6 94, Daimler CVA6 366 and single deck Daimler COG5 244:

I also got to travel on two buses from Devon, Exeter Corporation Guy Arab 50, from a fleet that was taken over by Devon General in 1970, represented by AEC Reliance 74, seen immediately behind 50 in this photo :

September

This year’s holiday saw Lynn and I return to the same flat at Dawlish Warren, Devon, where we went last year, only staying for a fortnight this year. So it was back to the joy of trains along the Dawlish sea wall. The Class 143 and 150 combos of 2020 on the Exmouth – Paignton stopping service have now gone, replaced by Class 150s usually running in four car combos, such as this pair photographed from the patio of the excellent Marine Tavern in Dawlish. Hard job this rail photography lark! :

The 150s are supplemented by three car Class 166 Turbo units transferred from Thames Valley services out of London Paddington, following the electrification of the Great Western Main Line. This one has just left Dawlish Warren, heading along the seawall to Dawlish :

Bus wise, as well as the hourly 22 to Paignton that served Dawlish Warren last year, the open top 222 to Teignmouth, originally introduced in 2019, has returned, providing a half hourly service combined with the 22. ALX400 bodied Dennis Trident 17701, previously used on the Exmouth – Devon Cliffs service 95, was the regular, branded bus, seen here at Dawlish Warren terminus:

The summer of 2021 saw the bus operators of the West Country introduce several innovative leisure services, with Lynn and I getting the opportunity to sample several.

First up was First’s Discover Exeter sightseeing tour, which we rode on our first Monday. E400 33600 is seen here at Exeter Quayside :

The following day saw me make a mammoth round trip, heading by train to Taunton, then catching First’s Quantock Line branded E300 66704 on the 28 to Minehead :

Then, I caught ex Lothian semi open top Scania 36082 on the new Exmoor Coaster to Lynmouth, an absolutly stunning route :

From Lynmouth, I caught Filers Wright Streetlite SK16 GYA on the 310 to Barnstaple :

Then, it was time to sample another new open top service, Stagecoach’s 21C from Barnstaple – Croyde Bay, on board E400 19106, seen here at Barnstaple Bus Station :

To finish the day, it was onto 158 950 from Barnstaple for a run down the delightful Tarka Line to Exeter:

Before getting 166 213 from Exeter St Davids – Dawlish Warren :

The Wednesday of the first week saw Lynn and I travel all the way through Cornwall by train (having booked in advance) changing at the station before the end of the line at Penzance, St Erth, for the branch line train to the charming seaside resort of St Ives, where we spent a very pleasant afternoon :

150 265

Saturday 18th September saw Lynn and I take advantage of Stagecoach winning the tender for Saturday service 271 from Bovey Tracey to the remote village of Widecombe, on Dartmoor, an area otherwise poorly served by public transport. The service actually starts from Newton Abbott as a 39, changing to a 271 at Bovey Tracey, before the route gets really wild! Dennis Dart 34869 at the Widecombe Car Park terminus :

We also paid a visit to the Torbay area, where we once again sampled the 122 Open Topper from Babbacombe. This service now terminates at the Devon Bay Holiday Park in Goodrington, just outside Paignton, where this photo of Dennis Trident 18305, aka Porter the Penguin, was taken on Monday 20th September :

Tuesday 21st September saw us take another trip onto Dartmoor, courtesy of First’s new Dartmoor Explorer, allowing access to the Moor from both Exeter and Plymouth, and operated by Wright Gemini bodied Volvo B7s with these colourful vinyls, as seen on 37011, seen here at Princetown :

Wednesday 22nd September saw me return to Lynmouth, this time with Lynn in the car. We stopped off at the preserved narrow gauge Lynton and Barnstaple Railway, nearby at Woody Bay, my last required Devon preserved railway!

Lynmouth itself isn’t short of rail interest, with the rare, water powered funicular Lynton and Lynmouth Railway, which we queued to sample :

Thursday 23rd September saw me take to the rails with a Devon Day Ranger, starting with a trip on the delightful Tamar Valley Line from Plymouth – Gunnislake, on board 150 216, seen here at Gunnislake :

After this, I headed back to Plymouth to catch one of the Castle sets of shortened HSTs, which GWR mainly use on Penzance – Cardiff trains, taking 43172/43094, seen here at Plymouth, before I boarded for a stomping run along the Devon Banks and along the Dawlish Coast line to Exeter St Davids :

From Exeter, I took a trip down the Avocet Line to Exmouth, on 150 261, combined with 150 247::

Here, I decided to get the fourth Stagecoach Devon open topper in the book, which happens to be the longest established, the 95 to the Devon Cliffs Holiday Park, with E400 bodied Scania 15665:

Exmouth

Heading back to Exeter, I decided to have a look at the new bus station, that had replaced the former Paris Street bus station earlier in the year :

…….. Before getting the next Exmouth – Paignton train down to Dawlish, where I spent a pleasant couple of hours drinking the Exeter Brewing Company’s Avocet Ale on the raised terrace of the Marine Tavern, watching the trains go by!

The future of rail travel in Devon was being prepared for, with this poster on Exeter St Davids Station, advertising the forthcoming reopening of the Dartmoor Line to Okehampton, which returned to use in December :

Of course, no holiday in Devon would be complete without a trip on the Seaton Tramway, with Lynn and I calling there on our way home, catching Car 2 out to Colyton :

And returning on Car 8, before heading reluctantly for home:

October

Sunday 3rd October saw Wythall Transport Museum hold their Midland Red Running Day, commemorating forty years since that great company was split in September 1981. Quite simply, this was the best ever chance to ride on Midland Red buses of all generations that I have ever encountered! A truly memorable day!

Highlight of the day was, was the entry into service of the museum’s 6015, one of the DD12 class Alexander bodied Daimler Fleetlines delivered to Midland Red between 1966 and 1968, very much buses that were in service when I was growing up! Naturally, I managed a couple of trips :

Photo by Phil Tonks

Also there was 6225, one of the following, dual door DD13 batch of Fleetlines, restored in NBC Poppy Red livery :

Other buses rode on include LD8 class Leyland PD2 4031 :

1977 vintage Plaxton bodied Leyland Leopard 674:

BMMO C5 4780 and BMMO CM6T 5656, seen in this photo by Phil Tonks alongside BMMO C1 3301:

BMMO S12 3744:

And taking the story up into the deregulated era, Midland Red West liveried Leyland National 544 :

I travelled to and from the museum on 5424, Roger Burdett’s superbly restored BMMO D9, seen here at the day’s end at Navigation Street, in Birmingham City Centre:

Just two days later, on Tuesday the 5th, Phil Tonks and I went to say goodbye to another piece of Midland Red history! For a few weeks after, Arriva would close the 1957 vintage former Midland Red garage at Wigston, to the south of Leicester :

It was also a good opportunity to catch up with the Leicester bus scene, as I’d not been to the city since the start of the pandemic! Arriva were now operating Optare Olympus’s, transferred from Yorkshire and Kent, such as Wigston based 4106, seen at Haymarket Bus Station on the 31 to Oadby :

First, meanwhile, have become very colourful, with several branded liveries, such as for Braunstone Bus, for the 18:

The Saffron, on the 88 and 88A:

And, double decker wise, the Frequent Fourteens, for the 14 and 14A to New Parks :

A trip to Blackpool on Saturday the 16th saw Lynn and I ride Balloon 701 on the Coastal Tour to Fleetwood, where 701 is seen next to the Pharos Lighthouse :

Wythall’s final event of the year was it’s Twilight Day, on Sunday the 31st, upon which Lynn, Phil and I rode on three, fine buses!

First up was a trip on a bus that we’d failed to board on the Midland Red Day, the unique underfloor engine BMMO D10 4943, seen here when I wasn’t quite far enough up the queue to have boarded on the Midland Red day :

Then, we had a ride on Birmingham City Transport Leyland PD2 1685, returned to the road on this day after a thorough refurbishment :

Finally, we enjoyed a trip in darkness out to Whitlocks End Station on board Birmingham City Transport Leyland PS2 2245:

November

The 22nd November saw me use my Staff Pass for a run around South Birmingham, with particular emphasis on riding on two new Acocks Green garage operated routes, on board one of my “beloved” 2001 vintage Alexander ALX400 bodied Volvo B7s. As it happened, I got the same bus, 4279, seen here at Acocks Green on the 41 to Queen Elizabeth Hospital :

And here arriving at Northfield on the roundabout 46 from the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, where the route interworks with the 41:

The 18th November saw me travel to Coventry on the X1, where I sampled one of the MMC E400 City BYD electric buses introduced to the 9 and 9A in 2020, and destined to be the future in the City, which has won funding for the entire Coventry bus operation to be converted to electric operation over the next few years. E025 was my stead, seen here leaving Pool Meadow Bus Station :

Of course, I also got to sample a few diesel buses before they go, such as Wright bodied Volvo B7 2160 on the roundabout 14 to Warwick University, seen here at Pool Meadow :

And Alexander bodied Dennis Trident 4452 on the 7A to Bell Green, where it’s seen here :

Following this, I returned to the City Centre on board E400 4882 on the frequent, cross city 21 (Wood Green – Willenhall) seen here at Trinity Street :

December

Lynn and I managed to book two nights at Blackpool’s Savoy Hotel, with us booking an illuminated tour on the Western Train, seen here at Pleasure Beach before embarking on the tour:

On the evening of the 27th December, a fire broke out in the yard of NXWM’s Walsall garage which sadly destroyed three buses. Platinum MMC E400 6746 and Dennis Trident 4573 were two but the most notable, and the most mourned of the three was Dennis Trident 4601, one of the company’s buses carrying a Heritage livery, in this case, the former blue of Walsall Corporation. To commemorate the bus’s demise, I’m including this photo from 2018, just after 4601 received the Walsall livery, when it made an appearance on a late night duty on the 51 Walsall – Birmingham service, where it’s seen here at Lower Bull Street terminus :

On the evening of Wednesday 29th December, after finishing work, I was advised to take a Covid Lateral flow test, which proved to be positive. Therefore, I’m ending 2021 in very much of an anti climax, having to self isolate into 2022! At the time of writing, (New Year’s Eve) I’m feeling fine, so hopefully all will be well. Therefore, I drove my last bus of the year on the 29th, when I’d been allocated a spare duty, ending up taking the first 52 out of garage. My bus for the whole day (with an hour and forty five minutes break) being Scania 1820, seen here at Perry Beeches terminus before embarking on a roundabout journey to Birmingham City Centre via Lozells :

And so, despite it’s somewhat anti climax of an ending for me personally, 2021 has proven a far more interesting year than all but the very beginning of 2020! 2022 looks likely to begin in a similar, low key fashion, as the comicron variant of Covid 19 continues to run wild throughout the UK, and indeed, the rest of the world. Fortunately, as I’m finding out, this variant seems to be to be extremely mild in the most part, so hopefully it will soon be on it’s way out, enabling me, and indeed, yourselves, out to sample some more of our interesting and varied transport systems!

A Happy New year, one and all!

2021 In Pictures-Part One – January – July

January

2021 began in the same way that we’d spent so much of 2020, under lockdown due to the Covid 19 pandemic! In my case, I was unable to see the New Year in, in even a modest fashion, as I had been allocated Sutton Duty 1 on New Year’s Day, surprisingly being allocated Enviro 400 4843, as opposed to the usual Platinum branded MMC E400. 4843 is seen here at Sutton Parade before embarking on it’s…….. and my first journey of 2021, the 06.00 X4 to Birmingham – 1/1/21

The first major event bus wise of 2021, took place on the 3rd January, when Arriva sold their operations based at their ex Midland Red Cannock garage to Cheshire /North Staffordshire independent D & G, owned by bus industry entrepreneur Julian Peddle. The new operation would rejoice in the name of Chaserider, formerly used by Midland Red in 1980 as a brand name for Cannock and Stafford’s Market Analysis Project inspired network.

As a regular driver on NXWM’s X3 Birmingham – Lichfield service, I was able to photograph a few buses of the new operation without breaking any lockdown procedure at Lichfield Bus Station, where Wright bodied Volvo B7 191 displays it’s former Arriva livery with a Chaserider fleetname applied, waiting to depart on the long established former Midland Red 825 to Stafford, a route which would soon come to an end itself, replaced by the 826 and new 828.-23/1/21

D & G’s own red livery would soon be making it’s appearance in the new Chaserider operation, as demonstrated by Wright Streetlite 65, seen here leaving Lichfield Bus Station on an 826 to Stafford via Baswich, with a Midland Classic E200 behind. – 23/1/21

February…………. And March!

The continued lockdown meant no opportunity for exploring the UK’s bus and train networks would take place until April.

April

The 16th April 2021 saw me undertake my first bash of 2021, when relaxed restrictions allowed me the chance to partake of a Cheshire Day Ranger, enabling me to explore Cheshire’s railway network, including the December 2019 introduced Transport for Wales Liverpool – Chester via Runcorn service, which had revived a regular service to the Runcorn Curve. I rode 153 323, part of a two car train, with the other unit being a former East Midlands Railway 153 from Runcorn, via the curve, to Chester, where 153 323 is seen here:

I then caught Northern 195 127 on a Leeds train as far as Manchester Victoria, from where I headed onto Manchester Metrolink to get the 2020 opened Trafford Centre branch in the book.

Here’s Metrolink Flexity 3114 at the new Trafford Centre terminus, on the current Shuttle service to Cornbrook – 16/4/21





Heading back onto the National Rail network, I then sampled my first Trans Pennine Express Nova 1 bi mode set, in the form of 802 206, which I took from Manchester Victoria – Liverpool, ending its journey from Newcastle. Seen here at Liverpool Lime Street – 16/4/21

Just three days later, on Monday 19th April, I did a West Midlands Day Ranger, starting off by getting a West Midlands Trains Class 170 on a Birmingham – Shrewsbury train (from Sandwell & Dudley) before these are replaced by new Class 196 units. 170 511 was the unit concerned, seen here at Shrewsbury.

I then paid for a rather expensive single ticket to Hereford, before heading to Worcester and Bromsgrove, from where I caught another West Midlands Railway’s Class destined to leave the fleet soon, with new Class 730 EMUs destined to replace the current Class 323s on the Cross City Line. I caught 323 210 all the way from Bromsgrove – Lichfield Trent Valley, returning to Birmingham New Street on 323 219, attached to the other end of the train and seen here at Lichfield Trent Valley :

May

My wife Lynn and I spent five days in early May at the Chesil Vista Holiday Park in Weymouth. Not many opportunities for bus riding, to be honest, but it was nice to see how much more colourful the First fleet in the town was, compared to my last, 2016 visit. The 4 to Preston features Wright bodied Volvo B7s with blue fronts:

Whilst identical buses with green fronts run the 10 to Dorchester :

With lighter green fronts featuring on the 2 to Littlemoor :

Some Wright Streetlites on loan from Southampton gave the illusion of red branding on the 1 to Portland :

Although the Open Top service 501 to Portland Bill was only running at weekends at this time of the season, we did get a ride on ALX400 bodied Volvo B7 32030 on the 502 to Littlesea Holiday Park :

We also had a day trip to Bournemouth, where we rode the open top service 12 from Alum Chime – Hengistbury Head, on board Wright Gemini bodied Volvo B9 5021, seen here at Alum Chime on 5/5/21:

The 13th May saw me head north again, heading to Liverpool on a London North Western advance ticket, then buying a Lancashire Day Ranger for more Northern rail action. With Northern’s Class 319 EMUs destined to be replaced by Class 323s displaced from the West Midlands when the new Class 730s arrive, starting off with 319 385 on a train to Wigan North Western :

I then walked over to Wigan Wallgate and caught 150 133 (running in tandem with 150 142) to Southport :

After the inevitable fish and chips and an ice cream, I caught 150 136 to Manchester Oxford Road, from where I transferred onto Trans Pennine, travelling on my first Class 397 Nova 2, 397 004, on a Manchester Airport – Edinburgh train, this service being their regular haunt after replacing the Class 350 units which are now with London North Western. I took 004 non stop to Preston :

I tthen quickly transferred onto 319 381 on an all stop train to Manchester Victoria :

Before getting one more 319 in the book, 319 378 on an all stop train to Liverpool Lime Street :

The Wythall Transport Museum held it’s first event of the year on 31st May, which featured the return to the road of West Midlands Passenger Transport Executive (WMPTE) /West Midlands Travel /Travel West Midlands Metro Cammell bodied Leyland Fleetline 7000, the highest numbered Fleetline in that fleet (though not the newest, that fell to scrapped Park Royal bodied 6690) which had moved from it’s previous Aston Manor Transport Museum home to Wythall, where it has smartly been repainted into it’s final Travel West Midlands “blue roof” livery, which, despite my fondness for its original blue and cream, I’ve always been rather fond of. Here, you can compare “blue roof” with the original blue and cream on Park Royal bodied 4613 at the Maypole :

Also visiting that day was the present day NXWM 7000, a Perry Barr allocated (so I’ve driven it!) 16 branded Platinum MMC E400, allowing this opportunity to photograph the two 7000s together :

June

The 1st June saw me make a return to London for the first time since January 2020. I headed out to the gloriously art deco Surbiton Station :

From where, I caught one of Transport for London’s more rural bus routes, the 465 to Dorking, on board MMC E200 DLE 30229, seen here at Dorking Station :

I then made my way to Croydon by train (changing at Sutton) for a ride on Croydon Tramlink’s Stadler Variobahn 2559 to Beckenham Junction :

…….. From where I took Southern Class 455 820 to Crystal Palace :

At Crystal Palace, I joined Overground 378 546 for a long trip through South and East London :

……….. right the way through to it’s Highbury and Islington terminus, from where a quick trip on the Overground’s North London Line took me to Camden Road for fish and chips at Poppies!

Sunday 13th June saw Lynn and I make a trip to Blackpool for the Fylde Transport Trust’s vintage running day on former routes 5 and 11, recognising several anniversaries, not least of which was the centenary of Blackpool Corporation bus operations itself (celebrated itself by an event which I couldn’t make. )

The 11 still runs from Blackpool – Lytham and was traditionally the main joint service between Blackpool and Lytham St Annes Corporation, which became Fylde Borough Transport in 1974, before becoming known as Fylde Blue Bus from deregulation but was taken over by Blackpool Transport in 1994. In recognition of this, Lytham /Fylde buses would largely feature on today’s 11, running as far as the Blackpool /Fylde boundary at Squires Gate, including two buses that were returning to the road on this day.

The first represented Fylde Blue Buses final days, this being 7, which was originally an Alexander bodied thirty three foot long Leyland Atlantean that was bought by Bradford City Transport before that operator passed to West Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive in 1974, after which it would later be sold to Kingston Upon Hull Transport, an operator who would sell a lot of Atlanteans onto Fylde following deregulation. 7 was one of four such ex Bradford Atlanteans which Fylde rebodied with Northern Counties Paladin single deck bodywork :

After a trip on 7 out to Squires Gate (as seen above), we returned to Blackpool on 77, one of the first three Atlanteans delivered to Lytham St Annes in 1970. Fitted with Nottingham style bodywork from Northern Counties, whose relationship with Fylde would see the Wigan based bodybuilder go onto body all of it’s new Atlanteans (though Willowbrook finished some) , right up until the new bodies used for 7 and it’s three sisters.

77 would be the only one of the original three to survive past deregulation, giving it a new lease of life as Fylde increased it’s operations, mainly in competition with neighbouring Blackpool Transport, including against the trams on the Promenade, with 77 eventually becoming one of the dedicated double deckers for use on Promenade service 1, for which the bus was renumbered 58. It was in this guise that I really got to know the bus, particularly after Blackpool took the fleet over, therefore it was really nice to reacquaint myself with the freshly restored 77:

The 5 to Halfway House, meanwhile, would feature some traditional Blackpool half cabs, including two of the ninety Metro Cammell bodied Leyland PD3s which Blackpool bought between 1962 and 1968. We sampled 529, which was one of the final, 1968 batch, several of which had very long lives, not ceasing service until 1988, though 529 wasn’t one of these, being withdrawn in 1980 and becoming the first Blackpool PD3 to enter preservation. Nevertheless, 529 bought back memories of mid eighties trips on the 5/5A to Halfway House before the route’s deregulation demise :

The other PD3 in use was 516, a bus converted into a driver trainer after withdrawal from service and now painted in the red and white livery that PD3s 507 and 512 had been painted in, to celebrate the 1985 Tramway Centenary and to provide a spare for the ex London Routemasters used post deregulation on the 12 respectively. After it’s day on the 5 was finished, 516 was scheduled to do a trip over the former 13 route to Lindale Gardens, a service replaced by the 5A in 1976.

Therefore, we left 516 until this trip, allowing me to ride over a route that I never had a chance to travel on. Included was a photo stop on the now unserved Lindale Gardens :

July

My two trips in July both involved travelling on two brand new bus services, introduced by two enterprising operators in an attempt to provide something new to offer the public. Sadly, these two innovative services didn’t reach viability and both are to be withdrawn in early January.

The first trip took me to Sheffield, on the 23rd July, to ride Hulleys of Baslow’s X57 to Manchester via the Snake Pass, with me travelling aboard Wright Streetlite 12:

Sheffield Interchange

….. Which took me to Manchester :

Chorlton Street

Then, the following Monday (the 26th)saw my friend Phil and I head to Telford (on Banga Travel’s 891 from Wolverhampton) to sample Chaserider’s new X14, a two hourly service linking Telford with Cannock and the new MacArthur Glenn Shopping Park. Another Wright Streetlite, Chaserider 66, was our stead :

Telford Bus Station
Cannock Bus Station

August and September would find me, amongst other things, sampling a few more newly introduced bus services!

To Be Continued……….!

Return To Coventry-18/11/21

They’ve done up Pool Meadow Bus Station since my last visit. Very nice!

My attitude of thrift that inspired my last bash (see blog “Return To South Birmingham”) has continued into this bash, my current cash flow situation being exasperated by our boiler breaking down! But never mind, this gives me the opportunity to use my National Express West Midlands (NXWM) staff pass to it’s ultimate extent, taking me out to the far eastern reaches of my employer’s West Midlands territory, the city of Coventry, where the largely separate fleet (the only NXWM route connecting the city with the rest of the company’s territory being the Birmingham Central garage operated X1 to Birmingham) features a blue livery (as opposed to NXWM’s crimson) and the fleet name NX Coventry, this dating back to 2002, when what was then Travel West Midlands, in a reaction to proposals by Coventry City Council to bring in a franchised network to the city (there’s nothing new under the sun!) bought out what was then Travel Coventry, to demonstrate their commitment to serving the city. The franchise plans disappeared, and the local name and sky blue colour scheme continues.

Coventry is a city very much in the news lately, with 2021 seeing the city celebrating a year of culture, whilst bus wise, the city has won government support to completely electrify it’s whole bus operation, with all operators being given grants to replace their diesel buses with electric battery powered vehicles, supplementing NX Coventry’s ten Alexander Dennis MMC Enviro 400 City electrics, with chassis built with Chinese BYD electric batteries, which were introduced to cross city services 9 & 9A last year. So the current diesel fleet will not be serving the city for much longer, with more electrics due to begin to arrive from early 2023, which will presumably see the newer buses in the Coventry fleet cascaded elsewhere in NXWM’s territory, whilst the older buses will be withdrawn. So well worth a trip!

Getting There

Normally, I’d have started a trip to Coventry by heading into Birmingham on the West Midlands Metro (our staff passes being valid on this, a legacy of it’s previous National Express operation) but, unfortunately, the CAF built trams had gone the way of my boiler, with cracks being discovered on the trams, leading to a cancellation of all services for at least four weeks. So it was a short walk to my local bus stop, from where I caught Wolverhampton based 2004 vintage ALX400 bodied Dennis Trident 4542 on a very full peak hour 79, obviously carrying it’s share of the Metro’s traffic, so I stood for the short journey to West Bromwich Bus Station. Rather than get the direct 74 along the Soho Road to Birmingham, I caught the roundabout 80, partly to avoid the sort of overcrowding I’d just encountered on the 79 but mainly because the 80 terminates on the same side of Birmingham City Centre as the X1 to Coventry. So Enviro 400 4958, one of a 2014 batch of E400s allocated to West Bromwich for the 74 and it’s then sister 75, but not one of those specifically branded for the route. The 80 took me on a roundabout course through Smethwick, passing close to three of my four former homes in that town, then headed into Birmingham through Edgbaston and Ladywood. This dropped me a short walk from the X1’s current Bull Ring terminus, opposite Selfridges and alongside Moor Street Station, where branded Platinum standard MMC E400 6843 was waiting to depart for Coventry on the X1:

The X1

This route has it’s origins as one of the first Midland Red services running out of the city, commencing in October 1914 and gaining the number 159 in 1928, which it carried for many years but mostly being replaced by the Halesowen – Coventry 900 in 1985, though the 159 would hold on as a Sunday service until deregulation in October 1986, when the 900 became daily and was extended to the Halesowen estate of Hasbury. Whilst the Hasbury section would be split off as the 19 in September 1988, the 900 would remain as the trunk Birmingham – Coventry service, until it was renumbered X1 in December 2016, just after 6843 had entered service, displacing 2015 batch Platinums elsewhere.

And so I sat in one of the comfortable Platinum seats, taking advantage of the superior legroom to stretch my legs, and we set off down a Digbeth plagued with roadworks, all part of the area’s redevelopment, part of which will eventually see a Metro extension but more immediately will see the introduction of the Sprint bus service from next year. Sprint will be a highly prioritised bus route, complete with highly appointed stops and emmisionless buses, initially twenty hydrogen powered Wright Gemini Streetdecks, which are currently being used for driver training at their Walsall base, hopefully entering service next month on the 51 Walsall – Birmingham route, one of the routes that will be absorbed into the Sprint service (no idea of the number for this yet) the other half replacing the X1’s sister service, the X2 to Solihull via Coventry Road.

There was more evidence of Sprint construction on the Small Heath By Pass, with only one lane in each direction currently open to traffic as both sides are widened to accommodate a bus lane, with a currently unused Sprint stop now sited on the To City direction by the Golden Hillock Road roundabout, next to Small Heath Railway Station, which will be handy for connections onto the 8A/8C Inner Circle. There never has been a stop on this section of route before.

The By Pass rejoins the original Coventry Road at Heybarnes Circus, a large roundabout by the former Hay Mills trolleybus short working turning circle (for routes 56 & 57) alongside the River Cole. Here, a road is being built directly through the roundabout, presumably exclusively for buses, as part of Sprint. It will be interesting to see how Sprint affects the X1, especially as the Sprint works are due to eventually reach the National Exhibition Centre (NEC) after the first phase to Solihull is opened. Will the X1 be integrated in with the Sprint service, or will the opportunity be taken to make it a faster service, operating alongside Sprint? Certainly, as the route heads to Coventry, the move to convert all routes to electric in that city will also mean that the X1 will need to become emissionless, which places a question mark over it’s current home at the due to close Birmingham Central, with the proposed replacements at Kitts Green and somewhere in the south of the city both being some way from the route, so is a transfer to Coventry the most likely outcome? (The route has been allocated there before, from 1996-2000) Also, what’s the future for the all stop service along the Coventry Road, the 60 to Cranes Park, one of the most unaltered services in the city, with only alterations to it’s City Centre route having taken place since it’s introduction as part of the trolleybus replacement scheme (though the trolleybuses never reached Cranes Park, the 60 providing the first bus route to the area) of July 1951. It’s also a route I have fond childhood memories of, travelling on ex Birmingham City Transport Daimler Fleetlines to visit my Great Grandmother, who lived two stops from the Cranes Park terminus. Around five years ago, there were plans to replace the route with a Limited Stop service to the City Centre (presumably to have been numbered X3, though this number was subsequently used to renumber the 902 to Hillhook, now running through to Lichfield, which I drive regularly) and run a separate service via Small Heath (an area that’s too crowded to accommodate Sprint) to Yardley (Swan) that was proposed to be numbered 15 but it was deemed to be more economic to keep the 60 via it’s current route. Will the arrival of Sprint change the economic equaliberium and make a faster route to Cranes Park possible? There are many questions out there at the moment, and it’ll be an interesting ride as we find the answers to these questions over the next few years.

The semi detached clad outer suburbs begin at the Swan Roundabout at South Yardley (where the 11A/11C Outer Circle crosses) and we travelled through this area first served by the 1936 extension of the 92/93 trolleybus services (which replaced the 15/16 trams to Yardley in 1934) onto the City Boundary at Sheldon, as the 94/95 (replaced by the 58 motor bus in July 1951, for many years the 60’s sister service until the 900 caused it’s downgrading and eventual evolution into today’s Solihull – Kingshurst service. ) The semi detached houses gave way to offices and shops around Sheldon’s Wheatsheaf, a crossroads where the X2 and future Sprint route turns right into the Borough of Solihull, and the 60 turns left to head for Cranes Park, whilst we headed back into semi detached land for final mile to the City Boundary former trolleybus and 58 terminus, after which, the A45 opens out to reveal Birmingham Airport, first revealing the original 1939 built Elmdon terminal that is now a freight terminal, from where we joined the bus only road which takes us directly to the newer, 1984 built terminal that is the centrepiece of today’s Birmingham Airport. Here, it was possible to see the various single deck buses used for car park shuttles and the like, including the recently introduced electric buses, some of which could be seen charging at charging points sited on the road that links the Airport to the National Exhibition Centre , alongside the viaduct that carries the automatic people mover, successor to the eighties introduced MAGLEV system, between the Airport and Birmingham International railway station, where we soon called at, this being the site of a Transport Interchange. We called here and then headed back to the A45, now in open countryside. A few miles later, we were turning off to serve the village of Meriden, the alleged centre of England, before returning to the A45 for the final stretch into Coventry, heading into the eighties built Park Hill Estate, serving the tuning circle that was originally the terminus for service 8, later route 6, before it was deemed that the most economical way to serve the estate was to reroute the former 900 in the early years of this century. Then it was over to Allesley, a village that has long been subsumed into Coventry suburbia, with some of the original village cottages surviving alongside semi detached suburban housing, plus a couple of blocks of maisonettes, two of many built by Coventry City Council to rehouse the many people made homeless by the massive luftwaffe attacks on the city in 1940.

Bus wise, we were joined here by the 7 from Brownshill Green , a long established, former Coventry Corporation service that last September’s Coventry revisions has actually seen the route return to it’s traditional Cross City route to the east of the city. For recent years have not only seen the route terminate at Pool Meadow Bus Station, but also divert away from the main road to serve the Coundon area along Kingsbury Road, leaving the main road to the 900, which was made all stop along this stretch at the same time. Now though, the 7 has returned to the direct route into City, with a new 7A also running direct from City, then routed along Kingsbury Road to Coundon. Further along, we were joined by the 8/8A from Allesley Park, originally served by the 23.

Not long after, we pulled into Pool Meadow Bus Station, which I noticed had received a rather pleasing face lift since I last visited the city:

The 9 & 9A

First off, I wanted to sample one of the ten MMC E400 City BYDs that were introduced to the city last year, which unknowingly began the conversion to electrics that Coventry has now won the bidding for. These operate on cross city services 9 & 9A, which themselves, are not that old (and are not to be confused with Coventry’s original 9 & 9A, which were the last routes in the West Midlands to use half cab, front engine, rear entrance double deckers, these ceasing in 1979, after which the route’s were renumbered 29 & 39, and being withdrawn in the April 1985 revisions, though they also served Ansty Road) having been introduced around ten years ago, initially being operated by the Wright bodied Volvo B7 single deckers that are NX Coventry’s standard full size saloon. I’ve ridden the eastern side of the service, which was the first time that NX Coventry had provided a direct service along Ansty Road to the large University Hospital complex at Walsgrave, all previous routes having reached there by meandering trips through the suburbs, though the now defunct Coventry independent DeCourcey had run an 85 via the main road, which probably encouraged NX Coventry to start their own version. The last time I’d ridden this side was in early 2020, just after the route had been converted to double decker E400 operation. Therefore, I decided that my first ride on a Coventry electric would be my first trip on the other side of the 9 and 9A, with the first bus appearing being E025, on a 9:

This photo was taken after my round trip, hence the bus showing 9A University Hospital

Other than specific branding, these buses are identical to the nineteen NXWM Yardley Wood based examples allocated mainly to the 6, such as E007 which I travelled on in the “Return To South Birmingham” blog. So I sat at the front and we headed through the City Centre, down to the Transport Interchange at a recently rebuilt railway station. After this, it was onto Kenilworth Road, crossing the bridge that takes this road over the station, but then turning immediately left just before War Memorial Park. This took us into Styvechall (pronounced Sty-chall), a rather posh area of tree lined detached and semi detached housing. I remember the April 1985 revisions taking West Midlands Passenger Transport Executive (WMPTE) buses away from this area, with the previous 14 to Finham (which was itself introduced in 1976 to replace the section of the 26 to Baginton Airport within the city) being rerouted via Fenside to replace the 17 (a number that has returned to the area, though this largely follows the route of the former 2 through Cheylesmore) and leaving much of this area to Midland Red South’s country services, including the 587 that had been introduced to replace the Baginton section of the 26. Post deregulation, these services would be replaced by tendered 539 & 580, which would ultimately pass to Decourcey before being won by Igo, who would go under in 2019, with NX Coventry taking these services over (see blog “Replacing Igo 2-Warwickshire”. ) using E200 midibuses. Now the 580 to Rugby has been renumbered 25 and 25A, whilst the 539 to Kenilworth has become the 24, complete with an extension back into the Coventry City limits at Tile Hill!

During the nineties, some tendered services would be introduced into the area by transport authority Centro, which was won by Travel Coventry for a bit, as the 64, upon which I rode on an Alexander bodied Mercedes minibus around 1999. Taking the wider area, this affluent side of Coventry would be the unlikely recipient of competition in 1990, when Midland Red South, by now owned by the Western Travel Group, formed by the management buyout of fellow National Bus Company subsidiary Cheltenham & Gloucester, who transferred some of their Metro branded Ford Transit minibuses over to Coventry, keeping them in their silver Metro livery, and put them on new routes C to Cheylesmore and F to Finham. These would ultimately prompt West Midlands Travel to reroute their rather lacklustre 14 and 15 (the later running to Green Lane via Kenilworth Road, that thoroughfare being largely left to the frequent Midland Red South routes to Kenilworth and Leamington) to imitate the C & F. The Metro concept would initially prove successful, prompting the company to expand this to other parts of Coventry and West Midlands Travel must have got pretty nervous when Western Travel was taken over by the growing Stagecoach group in December 1993, who would, in 1994, bring new Mercedes minibuses to the H to Holbrooks, one of the later Metro route, whilst the Transits on the others would be replaced by Ivecos from Stagecoach’s London Selkent subsidiary in 1995. All would be well for the Scottish group until the turn of the century, when trouble recruiting drivers would see the demise of the Metro network, leaving what was now Travel West Midlands, and soon to become Travel Coventry, in charge of the area, with the 14 and 15 converted to Volvo B6 midibus operation. Years later, upon the replacement of the B6s with E200s, the services would be replaced by the Cross City extension of the 23 from Allesley Park, although now that side has been replaced replaced by the 8 & 8A, with the 17 returning to Fenside.

But NX Coventry have been decidedly brave to begin the fifteen minute 9 and 9A through the eighties abandoned Styvechall District, replacing the 15 to Green Lane. And they are braver still for making this the first route in the city to use electric double deckers! Certainly, loadings were light on this journey, but it was midday, a fairly quiet time of day. Certainly, for the length of time the 9 and 9A have been running, the route must be fairly successful, although I would hazard a guess that it’s the Hospital side that’s the stronger side of the route.

Wandering through the Outer suburbs, we split off the 9A and ended on Green Lane itself, which bought us onto Kenpas Highway, part of Coventry’s A45 southern by pass, which the original 15 had used to get to it’s Green Lane terminus from Kenilworth Road. Here, we rejoined the 9A, with both routes then routed around a loop around a housing estate, during which, the stop announcing lady changed our 9 Green Lane destination, into a 9A University Hospital service. So we returned to city as a 9A, meaning that I’d got both routes in the book!

Now, from Coventry’s buses of the future, I intended to seek out some of the Coventry buses that would soon be history in the city!

The 14

As I’ve hinted, Coventry’s bus services have been much revised in recent years, with an emphasis on swapping the ends of the various cross city services with one another. With my visits to the city being fairly infrequent, it’s the one area of the West Midlands county where I’m not always sure of the current bus network. Therefore, my past visits in recent years have seen my first task once in the city has been to visit the bus station travel shop, and pick up some relevant timetables, as well as the latest copy of the West Midlands Network map for the city. Sadly, NXWM have recently closed all their Travel Shops and have seemingly ceased to print paper timetables, whilst the network maps have also ceased to be published. Of course, I understand that all this information can be sought on line but I have a limited phone battery, plus searching on line is only possible if you know what you’re looking for, whereas a rack of paper timetables can produce something that you didn’t know existed! And, of course, most of us maybe these days, but there are some souls out there who aren’t on line. Are we to deny those folk information about the bus network? Not a great way to encourage increased ridership, is it?

Therefore, to revive my memory of what was new of the city’s recent revisions, which I’d glanced at when announced on line, I scanned the “Where To Board Your Bus” information board, which gave me a brief description of each service. Bear in mind that I am a savvy, bus using bear, so I was able to work this out at a glance, very few have, or indeed even want my level of knowledge, so would surely give up and find alternative means. Only the day before, my good friend Phil Tonks had been travelling by train from Birmingham New Street and was appalled by the lack of detail on the city bus map posted there, with him photographing and commenting on this on Facebook and Twitter, saying how the hapless stranger would be heading for the taxi rank, especially with the closure of West Midlands Network’s Travel Shop on the station. Something the bus industry as a whole really needs to think about.

Anyhow, a route that I fancied riding was the new 14. As I’ve mentioned, West Midlands Passenger Transport Executive (WMPTE) previously started a 14 to Finham, whilst going back earlier, Coventry Corporation had an Inner Circle route numbered 14 that was withdrawn in 1966, whilst a short lived 14 ran as a Limited Stop service up Broad Lane to Berkswell, replacing the outer section of the 19. That 14 would be replaced by the 28/28A /29/29A services in the early seventies. This 14 is a new service that replaced the western and original side of the 10 to Eastern Green but featuring an extension onwards to Warwick University (actually on the outskirts of Coventry) and operated by the single deck Wright bodied Volvo B7s that had commenced the 9/9A, such as 2160, which was waiting time on the route’s stand.

In the background can be seen an NXWM crimson liveried Dennis Trident, with a sky blue NX Coventry patch on it, exclaiming that it’s on loan to NX Coventry, one of several Tridents and Volvo B7 saloons currently so attired in the city, it not being considered worth it repainting recent transfers to the city, on account of them being replaced by electrics within the next couple of years.

And so I boarded 2160 and we headed out of the City Centre in a westerly direction, taking the Old Allesley Road , also served by the hourly, E200 operated 1, which has recently been extended from it’s traditional Chapelfields terminus, across the Birmingham Road as served by the X1, and following the new 7A route onto Coundon. Just after the 8/8A to Allesley Park joins the Old Allesley Road, the 14 turns off and heads through the terraced houses of Whoberly. This areas was originally served by the cross city 11, from Glendower – Willenhall, until 1971, when the Willenhall side was replaced by the extension of the Broad Lane 13 service, with Whoberly now served by a rerouting of the 19 Eastern Green service, but this would be rerouted back via Hearsall Common in 1973, with the 11 reinstated and terminating at Whoberly, this being the route’s status when Coventry Corporation was absorbed into the West Midlands Passenger Transport Executive (WMPTE) on 1st April 1974.

The service would next change as part of the April 1985 revisions, when the route was extended onto Broad Lane, replacing this side of the cross city 13 that had took over the 11’s Willenhall section, that route heading to Whitmore Park instead (as it still does.) At the same time, the 19 was renumbered 10. Deregulation would see these two routes continue into the nineties, but Midland Red South would introduce Metro service E to the area, serving previously unserved roads from Tile Hill North. This would prompt West Midlands Travel to introduce a 9 to serve some of those unserved roads, though this would ultimately evolve into the 34. Eventually, the 11 would be replaced by the 10 being rerouted via Whoberly, recreating the sixties version of the 19. The 10 would subsequently become cross city, replacing the eastern half of the 7 to Bell Green (more on that later.) Bringing us up to date, the 10 has been broken up, with the 7 and new sister 7A returning to Bell Green, and the 18 introduced to Eastern Green. And so we headed up a little of affluent Broad Lane before branching off into the semi detached land of Eastern Green, this bringing us back onto Broad Lane, where I noticed that the old turning circle where the 13, 19 and later 10 and 11 used to terminate, had now gone, with the 18 carrying on past the former Massey Ferguson tractor factory, the site of which now contains some new housing, as well as a business park. Also serving here is the 6A, which follows the former E/34 route through Tile Hill North (splitting off here from it’s sister 6 to Tanyard Farm) and Broad Lane, before terminating at Tile Hill. We carry on past this terminus, crossing over the bridge near the adjacent railway station, and following the 18 (another B7 saloon operated service, that terminates at Tile Hill) into Canley, then onto the eighties built Cannon Park Shopping Centre. The presence of students in the vicinity points to the fact that Warwick University is quite close, so we made our way to the centre of learning on the very edge of the city, and got off at the Bus Station, where I quickly jumped onto Platinum MMC E400 7540, one of the last diesel buses to enter the whole NXWM fleet (this ending at 7542) on the fast 12X back to Coventry.

The 12X

The UK’s universities have generally grown considerably during the same period of time that the UK bus industry has been deregulated, the increased presence of students therefore being one of the few real growth areas that the deregulated bus industry has developed, most famously on the Wilmslow Road in Manchester.

This has meant that the former, pre deregulation half hourly 12 to Warwick University would soon see competition in the form of G & G’s X12 from Coventry – Leamington via the University, started just after Midland Red South owning Western Travel had taken over that small Leamington coach operator in 1989, and part of the group’s early nineties assault on West Midlands Travel’s (WMT) Coventry network, this attack also including the Metro minibus network and several city services started by Bedworth coach operator Vanguard, which had also been purchased by Western Travel in 1989. This would prompt WMT to extend the 12 to Leamington in competition and an extreme battle would break out between the two operators, this not calming down until after the Stagecoach takeover of Western Travel, with Stagecoach ultimately concentrating on the Leamington side, heading there fast along the A46, as opposed to the 12’s route via Kenilworth and eventually renumbering this the U1, whilst WMT would control the Coventry side. In recent years, the Leamington journeys have been renumbered 11, whilst the 12X has been introduced as a fast service between University and City.

2019 saw Stagecoach return to competing for University – Coventry traffic, introducing the U12. I sampled this just after it started (see blog “Competition In Coventry”) and found it considerably emptier than the 12X, something which still seems to be the case from my observations, with my bus being well loaded with students taking advantage of NX Coventry’s City wide ticketing, and most U12s that we passed being considerably more empty. In fact, rather ironically, I think that there’s a good chance that the U12 would have gone by now, if it wasn’t for the Government’s Covid 19 grant to keep the network going, a grant that is currently rapidly reducing! NX Coventry’s response to this competition was to extend alternate journeys on the 20 Bedworth service onto Nuneaton, competing with Stagecoach’s 48, with seemingly more success, as Nuneaton folk take advantage of NX’s cheaper fares. With the later announcement that Coventry had been successful in gaining government support to electrify all it’s buses, I was wondering whether the competition would be replaced by partnership between operators, something that had been encouraged by West Midlands Mayor Andy Street, and has since been embodied in the philosophy of the National Bus Strategy. Well, cooperation may well go even further than imagined, as National Express have announced that they are preparing a proposal to take over Stagecoach, so the network may become extremely integrated! Ironically, back in 2009, Stagecoach had bid to takeover a then struggling National Express but this bid was rebuffed. Interestingly, in those days of stronger control by the competition authorities on the bus industry, Stagecoach were planning to dispose of their Warwickshire business (basically the former Midland Red South) in order to keep the more profitable city of Coventry operation. Whether the the current takeover plans come to fruition or not, I can’t see much of a future for the U12, with the investment Stagecoach would have to make in electric buses for this route (yes, there will be a government grant but this will only cover the difference between the cost of a diesel and that of an emmisionless alternative) not being justified on what I can see of the loadings.

The 12X heads down the straight, tree lined Kenilworth Road, since West Midlands Travel rerouted the 15 in the nineties, very much mainly a Stagecoach corridor, with the fifteen minute X17 to Leamington and Warwick providing the main service down here, including serving the South Park & Ride site, originally served by a bespoke service run by Decourcey. And so it was back into Coventry City Centre, and back to Pool Meadow :

The 7A

The interesting thing about some of the recent revisions, is that some of the new routes are near reinstatements of former Coventry services. There’s the 17, from University Hospital (formerly Walsgrave Hospital) – Fenside, routed slightly differently from originally. There’s the 3, which covers much of the former 3 from Stoke Aldermoor – Holbrooks. The 16 has returned to Keresley and then, there’s the 7, and it’s new 7A sister service.

As already mentioned, the 7 runs from the west of the city at Brownshill Green, exactly as the 7 of old did, heading through Allesley and running alongside the Birmingham service into the City Centre. Then, the route headed out to Sewell Highway in the east of the city. One of the last Coventry routes to use conductor operated Daimler CVG6s (as already mentioned, the last was the original 9/9A), the route would subsequently be split in the City Centre in 1980, the eastern side being covered by new service 16 heading beyond Sewell Highway to Henley Green. Deregulation would see the 7 and 16 linked as a cross city service again, with alternate journeys becoming the 8 in 1988, heading to the Park Hill Estate now served by the X1. The 8 would cease in 1994, with the 6 to Kingsbury Road extended to Park Hill, before being replaced by the rerouting of the X1’s 900 predecessor. The early years of this century would see the 7 split in City again, with the Henley Green section linked to the 10 from Eastern Green, whilst the 7 itself would replace the 6 by being rerouted through Coulsdon. Now though, the 7 has returned to the direct Birmingham Road route, with alternate 7A’s heading to Coulsdon via Kingsbury Road, and both services head through to Henley Green again, replacing the 10.

For my final ride within the city, I wanted to ride on one of the older buses currently in service with NX Coventry. Low floor double deckers were introduced to the city in 2002, coinciding with the introduction of the Travel Coventry image, alongside it’s Sky Blue livery. Wishing to provide as many new buses as possible to launch the new image, many of that year’s order for one hundred Alexander ALX400 bodied Dennis Tridents were allocated to the city. In addition, the company ordered an extra ten identical buses (4405-4414) to add to the Coventry fleet, along with ten ALX400 bodied Volvo B7s (4415-4424) similar to the previous year’s eighty delivered to the WMT fleet but featuring a different type of gearbox. These would be the last ALX400 bodied B7s to enter service with the WMT fleet, subsequent B7s featuring Wright Gemini bodywork, including ten delivered to Coventry in 2005 (4687-4696) though these would ultimately move to the main NXWM fleet, though older, 2003 and 2004 vintage Gemini /B7s have come to Coventry in replacement of the earlier Tridents. I would have liked a ride one of the surviving eight ALX400 B7s but, although I’d earlier seen several about, non seemed to be forthcoming at this moment in time, so I caught the first Trident I saw, which was 4452, a 2003 example that was another bus cascaded to replace earlier Tridents, on the 7A.

And so we left Pool Meadow and headed eastwards towards the tower blocks of Balls Hill, then heading into the Victorian /Edwardian suburb of Stoke, the beginning of the main road to the University Hospital, the M69 and out of the city, therefore plenty of bus services head this way, including the eastern leg of the 9/9A. Gradually, the various routes split off including the 7/7A, which turns left before the rather shabby shopping area ends. We then followed the original 7 route to it’s Sewell Highway terminus, by the Devonshire Arms pub. Sewell Highway is quite a long road, heading around the north eastern side of the city. We then headed along this road, following the route of the 16 that replaced this side of the 7 in 1980, replacing the 26 to the sixties housing of Henley Green, with a terminus virtually over the road from the 21’s Wood End terminus. The 26 was one of four Limited Stop “Monobus” (Coventry’s term for one man operation) services introduced to serve new housing estates, the other three being the 23 to Allesley Park, the 24 to Baginton Airport, the latter replacing the outer section of the 17 to avoid an awkward crossing over the new A45 Coventry By Pass, and the 28 to Cannon Park, plus a peak Limited Stop service to Bedworth numbered 30. 4th March 1973 saw the 24 and 26 combined as a cross city service. The PTE would subsequently convert the various Limited Stop sections to all stop. The nineties saw what was now the 7 & 8 extend to Bell Green. Due to roadworks, we were unable to serve Henley Green today, so we made our way directly to the Bell Green terminus :

Bell Green is home to a rather rundown (many of the shops are closed, the shutters down) shopping precinct that opened in 1964, along with most of the housing in the area, yet more examples of the masses of council housing built in the city, following the destruction of many of the city’s houses during the 1940 bombings.

As such, several bus services serve here. The 20A reaches here via Foleshill Road, and now carries onto University Hospital, replacing much of the former 8A, which used to run from here to City via Ansty Road. Stagecoach also serve here with the 703 from University Hospital – Arena Park, one of several suburban services originally introduced by Decourcey to serve the new Arena Park shopping complex, built next door to the new ground of Coventry City Football Club :

Nuneaton based E200 37111

The 21

But the main service past the centre is the 21, which has gained a reputation as the busiest service in the city. Originally running from Wood Green-City, the service became cross city in the April 1985 revisions, replacing the 22 to Willenhall. After a spell of being operated by former Perry Barr allocated Mercedes 0405 bendibuses, these were replaced by Enviro 400s, such as 2013 vintage 4882, which I travelled on. These buses now form the mainstay of the Coventry double deck fleet and will doubtless be cascaded elsewhere across the NXWM network, once electrification comes to the city.

And so we headed back into City along the terraced house clad Stoney Stanton Road, taking 4882 to the 21’s main City Centre stop on Trinity Street :

I then walked over to Pool Meadow for the final time of the day, where I waited for the next X1, which was branded Platinum 6844:

And so I had an enjoyable journey back to Birmingham in descending darkness, arriving back in the second city around five. I then walked up to the Fillet Of Sole, a new fish and chip shop that opened recently on Bennetts Hill, one of the streets that run between New Street and Colmore Row. I’d been there once before, having a takeaway after work, and found the purchase to be extremely good, so I decided to go today, opting to eat in this time, to keep out of the cold. Again, my cod and chips were of the highest standard. The shop is open from Wednesday – Sunday, from 12-2 and from 5-10.

After eating, I didn’t seek out a West Bromwich bound bus, but rather headed for Lynn’s Aunt and Uncle’s in Warley (who regular readers may recall, my wife Lynn and I occasionally cat sit for!) for our broken boiler means that we are unable to shower, or, in my case, shave in warm water, something that I wanted to do before tomorrow, as I was sadly attending a funeral. This was for renowned West Midlands busman Dave Wall, who started his transport career at Bournemouth Corporation, as a clerk and part time conductor, particularly on the trolleybuses, for which he developed a lifelong love. The opportunity for advancement came with a move to Birmingham City Transport, not that long before the undertaking was absorbed into WMPTE. Here, he found himself transferred to the Schedules Office of the North Division at Walsall, where he would remain for many years, during which time, he would pass his PSV licence, becoming a part time driver. It was during this period that I would be one of many enthusiasts who would make his acquaintance, when he used to take many Walsall based buses to various bus rallies. Deregulation would see him transfer to Perry Barr as services supervisor, years before I worked there, and my colleagues who were there at that time always spoke most highly of him.

A reorganisation of West Midlands Travel management saw Dave made redundant, so he and several colleagues pooled their redundancy money to form North Birmingham Busways, registering service 104X from Birmingham – Sutton Coldfield via Aston Expressway in competition with his old employer. The first buses the company purchased were five ex Blackpool Transport East Lancs bodied Leyland Atlanteans (317-321) which Dave had seen in “Buses” Magazine had been placed into store by Blackpool, so he made tentative enquiries and was successful in purchasing them. The company soon gained a reputation for quality and gradually expanded, buying more Atlanteans from the likes of Plymouth (via Southampton), Preston, Brighton and Greater Manchester before moving onto more modern buses. Dave and his fellow Directors took the decision to retire in 2007, so the company was sold to the Rotola Group. I’ve bumped into him many times during his retirement, usually with his friend James (called his “bus son” at the funeral) on visits to the Wythall Transport Museum and Blackpool Heritage Tramway Gold Days.

So I caught Wolverhampton Platinum 6780 to Bearwood, then West Bromwich Wright Gemini bodied Volvo B7 4687, a former Coventry bus, on the 48A to Hurst Road, where I did the necessaries at Lynn’s Aunt and Uncle’s, where Lynn met me and we drove home afterwards.

The following morning, I made my way by bus to the Aston Manor Transport Museum at Aldridge, where Wythall’s Walsall short Daimler Fleetline 116 took a load of us to the funeral at Sutton Crematorium, followed by a wake at the Hardwick Arms, Streetly, afterwards. A sad day but a fitting tribute to a much loved family and busman.

Although Dave had no connection to Coventry, I feel that it is only right that I dedicate this blog to Dave’s memory. Rest in peace, Old Friend.

Three Monstrous Beasts! -Wythall Twilight Day-31/10/21

Two of the “beasts” I rode on today! 1685 pulls out from a line up including D10 4943, which is surrounded by LD8 4031 and Walsall 56.

Ok, I’m capitalising on Halloween a bit with this title but, with today being Wythall’s Twilight event, where the museum runs it’s buses into the hours of darkness where the spirits of the night come out to play (try to imagine Vincent Price saying that!) I decided that the term “monstrous beasts” applies just as strongly to the three buses that my wife Lynn and I would travel on this afternoon, as to any imagined horrors that were out there on this Halloween night!

Being busy in the morning, we drove down late on this rather cold and grey day, parking the car in the overflow being used at a nearby nursery, then walking over to the museum. Perusing the day’s running order, I discovered that the first bus that I really wanted to ride on was over an hour away, so we headed into the cafe for a bit, before heading out for a wander around the museum. First up, we discovered a couple of buses visiting the museum today that are both relatively new to preservation. Travel West Midlands ALX400 bodied Dennis Trident 4126 was the second numerically of the company’s first batch of one hundred such buses. Originally passing into preservation in the ownership of former Walsall (where the bus spent it’s whole life) bus driver Isobel Gall, who sadly passed away from cancer in 2019, the bus has recently passed into the hands of another lady bus driver, whose known on Social Media as Bus Driver Jade.

Jade has a small team who help her look after 4126, one of whom has also just become the owner of another bus, which was also here. Interestingly, I’ve only just discovered that this guy, Reubyn, has just become a colleague of mine on the Sutton Rota at Perry Barr! And I quite spectacularly failed to recognise him when he said hi in the Wythall shop! Sorry about that, Reubyn! The bus is quite a rarity, one of the early Enviro 300 single deckers built under the Transbus Group that had took over various bus builders across Europe in the early years of this century. The Enviro 300 was basically a long version of the Dennis Dart, Dennis being one of the manufacturers that Transbus had absorbed. With the Dart itself to be renamed the Enviro 200 and the group about to launch the Enviro 400 double decker, now probably the most common double decker on British streets, so everything looked rosy……… then Transbus went under! Fortunately, it’s various subsidiaries were sold off, including combined body builder and chassis builders Alexander and Dennis, forming Alexander Dennis Limited (ADL). The new company (with a major shareholding by Stagecoach Head Brian Souter) continued development of the Enviro range, though the single deckers would undergo a radical redesign of the front end, meaning that very few of the original Transbus E300s were built, including a 2005 batch that were delivered to First’s Wyvern operation, the former Midland Red West company. These were originally allocated to Worcester and Redditch and led a full life with the company, though several would pass to Diamond in 2013 upon the sale of Redditch and Kidderminster garages to that company. Several of those that remained with First would be reallocated to the group’s Potteries operation, where 67659 ended it’s days before passing into preservation :

I’d actually seen 67659 parked in Sutton Coldfield the other week and wondered what it was doing there. Now I know!

These two recently retired workhorses would make a trip later but, although I think it’s quite right and proper that such buses are saved and am fully beyond those who are working hard to keep such buses (which have some quite complicated engineering to deal with, certainly when compared to older buses) but, being the middle aged bloke that I am, I prefer to ride on buses from the twentieth century!

Another visitor was this Badgerline Alexander bodied Volvo B10M, one of a batch that Badgerline bought in 1987, alongside some double deckers with the same chassis and also featuring Alexander bodywork, both types initially being allocated to Weston Super Mare, where they totally modernised the big bus (minibuses then worked the Weston town network) fleet. Again, these bushes had full lives, so it was good to see one in preservation :

But as much as I am an adolescent of the eighties, that decade of fabulous music, shoulder pads and big hair, I was more interested today in riding buses from earlier decades, starting with a unique double decker that I’d failed to get a ride on at the Midland Red Running Day (see blog “Midland Red Heaven – Part One”) earlier in the month!

BMMO D10 4943

The 1958 introduction of the Leyland Atlantean literally turned double decker bus design back to front! For instead of what had become the traditional front engine double decker, mostly fitted with a rear entrance, suddenly the engine was at the back, with an entrance alongside the driver. Of course, ultimately, this would lead to one person operation but this (firmly called one man operation back then, despite the presence of some lady drivers leading the way to more lady bus drivers like Jade entering the industry – and interestingly seeming to enjoy it more than most of their male colleagues!) wasn’t legalised on double deckers until 1967. The gain in the late fifties /early sixties (the Atlantean’s main rival, the Daimler Fleetline, entered production in 1960) was a slight increase in seating capacity, adding around an extra six seats compared to a similar length front entrance double decker, increasing capacity being very much in vogue at that time, an effort to combating rising crew costs.

Midland Red, of course, built most of their own buses at their Carlyle Works in Edgbaston, Birmingham. Their engineers were similarly obsessed with increasing capacity (the 1958 introduced thirty foot long BMMO D9 having 72 seats) but were unimpressed with the reliability of the early rear engine double deckers. Their solution was to adopt an approach that they had pretty much pioneered on single deckers, an entrance alongside the driver being possible by placing the engine underneath the bus, albeit creating a large amount of steps to ascend when using that entrance!

AEC had tried to do this in 1950 with the Regent Four but this remained a one off, never entering service with an operator. The problem with building a double decker with such a layout was that it would create a bus that would be unacceptably too tall. The BMMO engineers solution? Turning the engine around! I’m sure it was more complicated than that but I that’s about as technical I get, and it’s pretty much how virtually every book on Midland Red describes it, so there you go!

The result was BMMO D10 4943, the bus in the centre of this picture, with a front that had far more than a passing resemblance to the BMMO D9 that was just beginning to become established in the Midland Red fleet when 4943 was built in 1960.

The revolutionary bus could seat 78 passengers, six more than the D9, and actually entered service on 11th January 1961, from Birmingham Digbeth garage, initially being used on the 159 Birmingham – Coventry service, before moving onto other Digbeth routes, then was transferred to Bearwood in March 1961, followed by Birmingham Sheepcote Street in May. Here, it was joined by it’s newly constructed sister, 4944, which featured a rear staircase and exit, in an attempt to improve passenger flow. This reduced the seating capacity to 65, which really contradicted the purpose of building the class, so 4944 would be rebuilt as early as November 1962, but still differed from 4943 in seating 77, as opposed to 78.

From the moment 4944 first entered service, both D10s would run alongside each other, with both buses transferring to Hartshill, for the busy “D & S” 245/246 Stourbridge – Dudley – Wednesbury route, by the end of May, staying in the Black Country until December 1963 for 4943 and January 1964 for 4944, with both going to Leicester Southgates until April 1964, when both returned briefly to Hartshill in April 1964, before both transferred to Stafford, where they would remain for the rest of their service.

Whilst seemingly successful, Midland Red decided not to build anymore, concentrating on the D9 instead, presumably because it’s simpler construction made for an easier manufacture in a Carlyle Works then struggling for staff. It was a pity that one man operation wasn’t a possibility when they were built, as it might have made a case for more to be built. But there again, that would probably have meant that the classic that is the D9 wouldn’t have gone beyond it’s first batch, so let’s be grateful for that! As it was, Midland Red would succumb to the rear engine double decker when it ordered the fifty DD11 class Alexander bodied Daimler Fleetlines in 1963, to supplement D9 production, with the company returning to the marque after D9 (and BMMO double decker) production ceased in 1966, with the DD12 class, including the museum’s 6015, which would be running alongside 4943 on today’s trip to the Maypole :

These were followed by the dual door DD13s, such as preserved 6225:

The two D10s would settle down to a quiet life at Stafford, with 4943 being withdrawn in July 1972, whilst 4944 would linger on until January 1973, after which it was sadly scrapped. Fortunately, 4943 would pass into preservation, becoming an important and prominent member of Wythall’s collection.

Opportunities to ride on 4943 are rare and eagerly sought when it does run. I’ve only ever ridden the bus once before, many years ago, and I sadly didn’t manage to ride it again at the Midland Red running day at the beginning of this month (see blog “Midland Red Heaven – Part One”) with me unable to board it on it’s one trip at Maypole :

So this time, I was determined to get on board, so Lynn and I were at the front of the queue, along with my friend Phil Tonks, who also missed out on a ride on the Midland Red day, an was determined to get his first ride on the bus. We were therefore at the front of the queue, heading upstairs (which featured some marvellous posters advertising Midland Red Excursions) and grabbed the front seats, with me grabbing this photo of the interior before other passengers made it upstairs!

Very reminiscent of the early D9s, the later examples being fitted with fluorescent lighting, rather than the tungsten bulbs that also feature in the D10. The interior also features the white colour scheme that the early D9s also received, the more infamous pink interior arriving after it appeared in the DD12s, with early D9s retrospectively repainted into it, meaning the pink interior was all I was familiar with in my youth, and D9s with white interiors, such as the Black Country Museum’s 5342, always look a little alien to my eyes! I speculated whether the D10s had also gained pink interiors in later life, to which Lynn pointed out some remains of pink paint sticking out of the white! So they had become pink!

We had a splendid run to the Maypole and back, the bus sharing the D9s tendency to bounce a little, the culprit being a similar suspension to the D9’s.

Underfloor engined double deckers wouldn’t be seen again until 1982, when Volvo introduced the Citybus but the D10 represents the pinnacle of development made by the Birmingham Midland Motor Omnibus company. A fine, unique bus!

BCT Leyland PD2 1685

Birmingham City Transport (BCT) coped with the problem of early post World War Two vehicle shortages by ordering a wide variety of chassis, of which most were fitted with bodywork (again, by several manufacturers) designed to a very “Birmingham” standard look, clearly influenced by the pre war Daimler COG5s (like the museum’s 1107) that were BCT’s pre war Standard.

Amongst the orders were one hundred Leyland PD2s (1656-1755), featuring Brush bodywork to BCT specification, which were delivered in 1948 and early 1949. These followed on from a very non BCT all Leyland PD2 that BCT had purchased in 1947, shortly after Leyland had introduced the PD2 model of it’s long established Titan double decker. This bus would be the only post war BCT bus to feature a pre war style three figure fleetnumber, becoming 296, and was allocated to Yardley Wood, one of two garages where the Brush bodied PD2s would be allocated, the other being Perry Barr, with the batch spending their entire lives at either one or the other of the two garages on opposite sides of the city. The type must have been particularly common on cross city routes 29 & 29A from Hall Green – Kingstanding /Pheasey (they became the 29/30 & 90/91 in November 1964), which was operated by both garages, as well as Hockley, which would receive PD2s in 1949, though this next batch would have less of a BCT influence in their bodywork, with fifty all Leyland models (quite similar to 296) spending all their lives at Hockley, whilst some of the fifty strong batch with Park Royal bodies would also end up at Hockley, though that batch would mainly be associated with the small Rosebery Street garage, home of BCT’s share of the joint with Midland Red Dudley Road routes. In fact, after Rosebery Streets June 1968 closure, some of the Park Royals would end their days at both Yardley Wood and Perry Barr.

The Brush bodied PD2s withdrawals would take place in 1967 and 1968, replaced by BCT Fleetlines. One of the 1968 withdrawals was 1685, which would be purchased by a group of enthusiasts who formed the 1685 Group. As well as purchasing 1685, the group would go on to purchase two other Midland area Leylands, the single deck BCT Leyland PS2 that accompanied 1685 on it’s two trips to the Maypole today, 2235, of which I’ll talk more about anon…..

…….. and Midland Red LD8 class PD2 4031, which I last rode on the Midland Red day:

In addition, the group would purchase 1937 vintage Daimler COG5 1107 from a private preservationist, as well as one of the COG5s converted to lorries by BCT. Together with fellow preservationists the Birmingham & Midland Motor Omnibus Trust, the group was instrumental in the setting up of Wythall in the late seventies, so the group’s buses were some of the first to call the museum home.

I would get the chance to ride on 1685 on several occasions over the years but, around ten years ago, it was decided to give the bus a major overhaul, which is now complete. In fact, it was whilst riding on Midland Red 4031 at the Midland Red Day that it’s conductor, one of the founder members of the 1685 Group, which had now officially passed ownership of it’s buses to the museum, with the group being dissolved, told me that, pending the successful passing of it’s MOT, it was hoped that 1685 would return to the road at the Twilight event. So here she is!

Lynn, Phil and I all boarded and took the back seats this time, taking this shot of the classic BCT interior :

And a selfie!

And so we set off for another run to the Maypole, the deep pitch of the Leyland engine offering an interesting contrast to the more normal Gardner that was found in most BCT buses. At Maypole, I popped out for a quick photo of 2245 and 1685 :

And whilst I was doing so, BCT Daimler CVD6 2707 passed by, sporting the new look concealed radiator bodywork that BCT adopted as standard (becoming known as the Birmingham Standard) from late 1949 onwards, a style that is instantly recognisable by Brummies of a certain age as a typical Birmingham bus!

Then it was back to the museum.

BCT Leyland PS2 2245

With the day winding down, plus darkness descending all around, we had time for one more trip, on the single decker that had accompanied 1685 on our last trip. 2245 was one of thirty Leyland PS2s with Weymann 34 seat bodies, that replaced BCT’s small single decker fleet in 1950. There was originally going to be thirty five PS2s but the last five would become chassis-less (integrally constructed) Leyland Olympics, featuring the underfloor engine that was about to make front engined half cab single deckers like the PS2s look incredibly dated! Despite this, the PS2s would have a long life with BCT, finding a lot of use on transport for special needs schools, though those allocated to Selly Oak garage would find a natural home on the 27 (Kings Heath – West Heath) a traditionally single deck service thanks to the height of the bridge under Bournville Station, and was, in fact, BCT’s only regular single deck service from 1952 – 1963. The latter year saw the commencement of the 4 from Cotteridge – Pool Farm, the first of a new generation of one man operated feeder services to new housing estates, linking these with main road bus services to the City Centre. The Leyland Olympics commenced this service but these were replaced in 1965 by a batch of twenty four Marshall bodied single decker Fleetlines, which also enabled the 27 to be one manned. This should have been the end for the PS2s but the continuing introduction of new feeder services lead to them continuing in service, with some of them even having modified front bulkheads to enable them to be (albeit somewhat awkwardly) operated as one man buses!

The end would mainly come in the late sixties, following the 1969 transfer of 1967 vintage AEC Swift rear underfloor engined single deckers from Acocks Green, where they were used unsuccessfully on the 36 (Sparkbrook – Stechford), to Selly Oak for the 27. Several PS2s managed to survive long enough to pass to the West Midlands Passenger Transport Executive upon it’s takeover of BCT in October 1969, including 2245, which lasted until 1971, after which it became one of three of the class to be preserved.

2245 was now running a shuttle to Wythall and Whitlocks End railway stations, on the Birmingham – Stratford line. The timetable advised that the bus wouldn’t be in time to connect into the buses running to Birmingham, which today were Roger Burdett’s BMMO D9 5424 and an SMT single decker, so 2245 was relatively lightly loaded as we made our way to the back and enjoyed the glow of the tungsten bulbs in the dark:

And so we set off into the night, heading over to the far eastern side of Wythall, where the railway station is. It was indeed fortunate that we were safely inside this cosy little saloon from 1950, as the Halloween outside was witness to scores of witches, vampires and other creatures of the night, scouring the neighbourhood for candy! Curiously, they all had the look of primary school aged children about them!

One of the passengers on board was Malcolm Keeley, Wythall stalwart and writer of a large number of books on the West Midlands bus scene, which I frequently refer to in checking facts for the blogs. He got off at Whitlocks End station, turning to us all and wishing us a happy new year (yeah, that has to be the earliest that I’ve been wished that!) and hoping to see us next Easter, when the Wythall season for 2022 is due to begin.

We then headed back to the museum and watched 2245 being put to bed!

And so Wythall’s 2021 season came to an end. Despite it’s late start, at Whitsun, and the problems that the pandemic has bought to the bus preservation movement as a whole over the last two years, Wythall have excelled themselves in producing a wide variety of interesting buses to ride on, in my opinion, the best selection in many a year! So well done and thank you to all the volunteers who have worked so hard in bringing both this and this season’s other events to their immensely satisfying fruition. Truly a vintage year, at least as far as Wythall is concerned!

Return To South Birmingham-2/11/21

It’s been a while since I last spent a whole day wandering around the bus network of my own West Midlands patch. I’ve had a few short trips around my immediate West Bromwich home, mostly in search for one of the eleven of my “beloved” ALX400 bodied Volvo B7s that are still allocated to the town’s National Express West Midlands (NXWM) bus garage. I haven’t blogged these, planning to do so when I write a blog about the 2001 batch of originally eighty buses following their impending demise, which I reckon, given the plans for new, emmissionless buses coming into the fleet, will be at some time within the next twelve months.

Obviously, the pandemic has also been a factor in preventing me sampling the current West Midlands bus scene, as we were all encouraged to stay at home for so long, and even when we began to come out again at the dawn of last spring, the fact that I’d been driving NXWM buses throughout the pandemic meant that I felt over familiar with the company, so I started to venture outside of the West Midlands, helped, of course, by the fact that, being unable to spend much of my earnings throughout that time, I had a reasonable kitty available to cover travel costs. But that kitty has now been spent, a fair bit of it down Devon on our September holiday (see blogs “Adventures In Devon 2021-Parts One – Eight”) so, needing a day out after working a fair bit of overtime (something in great abundance at the moment, with the driver shortage that my industry is facing!) I decided that, realistically, I could only afford to do a local bash using my NXWM staff pass, keeping costs right down. Once I’d accepted this, I actually found that I was looking forward to a more local wander, after so long!

My choice of which direction to head for was definitely influenced by my desire to ride on some of my “beloved” ALX400 bodied Volvo B7s at the other garage where they are allocated, with around fifteen of them still surviving at Acocks Green garage, in South Birmingham (for completeness, around eight of a 2002 batch of ten still remain at Coventry) so I decided to head in that direction, with a particular aim to ride on two recently introduced, interworked routes on a “beloved” , which might prove quite a task! We’ll see!

First of all though, I had to get to South Birmingham, so I thought I might as well try and get one of West Bromwich’s “beloveds” on the trip over. Being as Carol Kirkland on “BBC Breakfast” had announced in her Scottish brogue that it was going to be quite cold, I dressed for this, my attire featuring two sweaters, a scarf, anorak and Blackpool Heritage Tramway beanie hat!

Walking over to my local bus stop, I wondered if I would be lucky enough to get a “beloved” on my local West Bromwich operated route, the 47, this possibility being strengthened by a Wolverhampton garage Dennis Trident on my other frequent local service, the 79 from that city, passing by before I could reach the bus stop, so the chances were that a 47 would appear next (for completeness, my local bus stop is also served by the half hourly West Bromwich operated 44 from Harvills Hawthorn, but that’s usually operated by a mixture of E200 midibuses and the garage’s newer double deckers, such as the E400 that headed in the opposite direction whilst I waited.) In the event, the next 79 would be the next bus to appear, in the form of 2003 ALX400 bodied Dennis Trident 4428, originally allocated to Birmingham Central and branded for the 900 to Coventry, so I boarded, the next 47 proving to be a 2003 Wright Gemini bodied Volvo B7 anyhow.

4428 arrived at the bus station at the same time as “beloved” 4272 on the 49, which must have been running late, as it pulled straight onto it’s stand and changed drivers, so I joined the queue for it, allowing me to grab this photo of both 4272 and 4428 in the background :

4272 was originally allocated to the now closed Hockley garage, mainly to operate the 16 (Birmingham – Hamstead) although it wasn’t one of those branded for the route. Like all bar one of my “beloveds” (the exception being 4248) it would subsequently be allocated to my garage, Perry Barr, where, like all of it’s 79 so allocated sisters, I would get to drive it, the model’s ergonomically designed cab controls first endearing the class to me. I went upstairs and grabbed the front seat. The 49 has been one of my “Beloved’s” regular haunts over the past few years, so rides on it have featured in a fair few of my blogs, where I’ve described the route’s history in depth, so here, all I’ll say is that the route has it’s origins in the August 1980 Warley revisions introduced 449 from West Bromwich – Brandhall, which was renumbered 49 in the October 2012 Sandwell revisions, being extended onwards to Bearwood, replacing part of Diamond routes 200/201. So off we went, heading down Spon Lane into West Smethwick, then serving the Victorian /Edwardian terraces of Rood End and Langley, then into the suburbia of Causeway Green, heading up the semi detached clad Grafton Road before reaching the council housing of Brandhall before more semi detached suburbia took us to Bearwood along the Hagley Road, just within the Birmingham boundary, terminating alongside Bearwood Bus Station :

I then made my way over to Lordswood Road, which is one of the few roads to be served by both a West Bromwich route, the 48 from West Bromwich – Northfield, and an Acocks Green service, the iconic Birmingham route 11, the Outer Circle, which has recently been split into two overlapping sections due to heavy congestion caused by roadworks at Perry Barr, as that inner city suburb is rebuilt, ready for the 2022 Commonwealth Games, which will largely take place at the nearby Alexander Stadium. Bearwood is on the longer stretch, running from Erdington – Acocks Green via Perry Barr, Bearwood and Kings Heath, the shorter section running from Perry Barr – Acocks Green direct, with the two sections overlapping between Perry Barr and Erdington. This splitting is proposed to be temporary, with hopefully the full circle being restored upon completion of the roadworks.

Therefore, this is one of the few sections of road where one can encounter both West Bromwich and Acocks Green beloveds! My plan was simple! To wait for the next, half hourly 48, but, should a “beloved” turn up on the 11A (the A and C suffix still continues, despite the route not being a Circular at the moment) first, then to take that, but take the 48 whatever turned up, travelling all the way to Northfield if it was a “beloved” ! As it happened, a ten minute wait saw a 48 come first, in the form of Wright Gemini bodied Volvo B7 4688, so I admitted defeat here (part of the skill of seeking out desired buses is to know when to give up!) and boarded.

4688 was one of ten Geminis (4687-4696) delivered to what was then Travel Coventry in 2005, primarily for use on the 13 (Whitmore Park-Willenhall). They spent ten years in that city, before transfer to Perry Barr, where I got to drive all ten before they were on the move again, passing to Acocks Green before arriving at West Bromwich. I’ve always thought that the Geminis were nice buses, though the controls in the cab aren’t as ergonomically placed as in my beloveds!

4688 headed off down Lordswood Road, full of large, detached houses, this being one of the wealthiest areas in Birmingham. Then, we split off from the Outer Circle in the area of Harborne that will be forever known by those of both mine and older generations as the Duke Of York, after a pub that was demolished in the early years of this century, then heading down Harborne High Street, which spreads for around a mile down to the Green Man pub (which is still there!) where we left the road towards the City (used by today’s 23 & 24 bus routes) turning right into another area of very large, affluent houses. For many years, this area was served by the 21, which came from City, on it’s way to the outer suburban council estate of Bangham Pit, but this was withdrawn in July 2010, leaving what was then the 448 serving the area, becoming the 48 at the same time the 449 was renumbered. This took me into the area of the buildings of Birmingham University, where I was able to see the progress on the rebuilding of University station, the busiest station after Birmingham New Street on the Cross City Line, which is being rebuilt to cope with larger crowds. This area is also served by the X21 & X22 Platinum bus routes into city, which slightly controversially, upon their July 2018 introduction, failed to serve the adjacent Queen Elizabeth Hospital, a short walk away but featuring a rather cramped and poorly designed bus turning area, serving which would have affected the route’s reliability. The hospital is only a short walk away, but I suppose it’s awkward for some of those needing to reach the hospital with various ailments, so it’s not ideal. Still, various Inter suburban (an old Birmingham City Transport – BCT – term used to describe services that didn’t serve the City Centre, other than the Outer, Inner and City Circles) services continue to use the turning area, including the 48, so I got off here:

Although the X21 & X22 are a short walk away, an off peak, hourly, more indirect service to the City Centre starts from the hospital itself in the form of the 25 via Ladywood, a replacement for the ex Igo 10H service that I rode on in the blog “Replacing Igo. ” Regular fayre on the 25 are Birmingham Central Platinum standard MMC E400s such as 6880 seen here, with Gemini 4696 on the 48 heading in the West Bromwich direction behind.

Also terminating here are three new routes, that were introduced on Sunday 29th August 2021. One of these is the Yardley Wood garage operated 20 to Cofton Hackett via Bristol Road, a replacement for the third X prefixed Platinum service that operated alongside the X21 & X22, the X20. The 20 interworks at Cofton Hackett with the 27, a traditionally single deck service thanks to the low bridge it passes under at Bournville Station, so the 20 is operated by Scania single deckers too, like 1911 here:

But I was more interested in the other two new routes, which interwork here, the 41 & 46, which are Acocks Green operated and, hence, good opportunities for featuring one of my beloveds, hence my decision to get off the 48 here! As that 48 had approached, a 46 had left, this being an 11 branded Standard MMC E400, so my first task after getting off the 48 was to check out the 41 timetable. There was one due to leave in around eight minutes, just giving me time to pop into the hospital to use the toilets. When I came back out, there was no sign of a 41, and there wouldn’t be for another five minutes of waiting, leading me to suspect that this journey may have been a victim of the current driver shortage but, around five minutes later, beloved 4279 turned up, thus confirming my next move :

The 41

4279 was the first numerically of twenty one “beloveds” that were branded for the “Sutton Lines” routes that are on my rota at Perry Barr, the garage also having the first nine, 4225-4233, of the batch, with 4228 onwards branded for the 65. Furthermore, although 4279 and it’s sisters would lose Sutton branding around 2007, when the company’s first production batch of E400s took over most Sutton workings, 4279 and it’s ten sisters, 4280-89, would stay at Perry Barr until July 2018, when they were transferred to Acocks Green, so getting on 4279 was like catching up with an old friend!

The 41 has replaced the 1A to Acocks Green, a route that also dated from those July 2018 revisions and a route that I first travelled on with my friend Phil Tonks in December of that year, as explained in the blog “Bromsgrove Electric And Other Stories”. The twenty minute frequency on that route had proved to be a little over the top demand wise, so the much older established 1 from Acocks Green – Five Ways had it’s twenty minute frequency increased to fifteen (thus going some way towards restoring the former ten minute peak frequency, which certainly was once needed to cope with office workers in the Five Ways area) whilst the 41 would run half hourly, and deviate from parts of it’s former route alongside the 1, as I’ll explain.

And so 4279 set off, heading down onto the Selly Oak By Pass. The last time I’d travelled on the 1A, I’d noticed that the mammoth 76 that then run from Solihull to the QE (now it goes on to Northfield, making it even longer!) had also been rerouted down here, but today, I noticed just the 41 number on the bus stops, so concluded that the 76 had been rerouted back via it’s previous Selly Oak route, which I would later find out was correct. The by pass bought us onto the main Bristol Road just to the north of Bournbrook, around the point where the former tramway along here was placed on a tree lined central reservation in the twenties, at the same time as the line had been extended from it’s previous Selly Oak terminus (route 35) out on similar tree lined reservations onto Rednal (the 70) and Rubury (71) with the 70 becoming extremely popular with Brummies heading out for days at the Lickey Hills, the tree lined journey being part of the day out! July 1952 would see the trams replaced by the 62 and 63 bus (the 63 is still with us, whilst Rednal is now covered by the aforementioned 20, meaning there’s no longer a through bus from the City Centre to Rednal.)

Today, the trees are still there, dripping gold leaves at this time of year but that central reservation has been given over to another form of environmentally friendly transport, having been converted into a cycle path. One wonders of the long term implications, with West Midlands Mayor Andy Street’s proposed expansion of West Midlands Metro including a line along the Bristol Road (to be named the Chamberlain Line.) Where exactly will the tramway now go?

After traversing the Bristol Road for around a mile, we turned right onto another road with a central reservation, which, in fact, was Birmingham’s first tramway reservation, being constructed in 1919, with the former street track of the 36 tram to Cotteridge being placed onto it. This is Pebble Mill Road, home for many years of the BBC’s Pebble Mill studios, which most famously broadcast the BBC1 lunchtime show “Pebble Mill At One” during the seventies and eighties. Now, the Birmingham Dental Hospital stands on the site of the former studios, the BBC having moved it’s Birmingham studios to the smaller Mailbox site on the edge of the City Centre, with plans now being made to expand these!

When the 36 tram was replaced by the 45 bus (extended through to West Heath) in July 1952 (same time as the Bristol Road trams), the opportunity was taken to use the flexibility of the bus to serve more of Pershore Road on it’s way towards the City Centre, a route still used today by the 45 and it’s 1967 introduced 47 sister service (there was also a 41 between 1957 and 1986, so the new 41 brings the number back to this area!) so the only bus services then to use Pebble Mill Road were the Midland Red services 145 (Bromsgrove via Barnt Green) 146 (Rednal Island, short of the 145) and 147 (Astwood Bank via Redditch) which had been routed alongside the tramway charging double fares within the city, as per the October 1914 agreement between Birmingham Corporation and Midland Red, and continued to do so after the tram replacements buses changed route. Today, the only survivor of these is the 145, which now only runs between Longbridge and Bromsgrove, whilst the last ex Midland Red service along Pebble Mill Road, the by then Diamond operated (as is the 145) 146 to Redditch (the successor to the 147) fell victim to the Covid 19 pandemic, being withdrawn without replacement last year, the railway having gained final victory in gaining Birmingham – Redditch traffic. It was against this backdrop that the 1A was rerouted along here around the same time, having originally continued along the Bristol Road to Priory Road, where it joined the route of the 1. And so the 41 continues this rerouting, turning left at the end of the quite short Pebble Mill Road, and following the 45, 47, and indeed, the former 41, to it’s crossroads with Priory Road, where the bus turned right, where I noticed that a new complex is being built next to Warwickshire’s Edgbaston Cricket Ground, depriving the residents of the higher floors of the nearby Wickets Tower block of flats a grandstand view of any cricket matches taking place!

Here, we were following the 1 route, past Cannon Hill, probably Birmingham’s most prestigious park (Sutton Park is a lot larger but the residents of that fine town don’t like to think of themselves as part of Birmingham!), then headed into bustling Moseley Village, which has a reputation for being Birmingham’s arty quarter. Onwards up Wake Green Road with the leaves on the trees being a delightful shade of gold, as autumn begins to turn into winter and they start to drop to the ground. Soon, we had reached Stratford Road, from where we departed from the 1’s route along Shaftmoor Lane, turning left onto a bustling and busy Stratford Road before turning right into Formans Road, a road of Edwrdian terraced houses, with many parked cars making progress difficult. No wonder this route feels quite tight time wise.

Formans Road was originally served by the 36, introduced on 21st September 1936, running a roundabout route from City-Stechford. The City section was never that busy, so the route was curtailed to terminate at Sparkbrook, becoming an inter suburban service on 21st September 1958, exactly twenty two years after the route’s introduction. Thanks to the presence of factories in the Tyseley area, the service gained a very heavy peak, but the closure of many of these factories in the eighties, plus many of the remaining workers using cars, saw the 36 go into decline throughout the eighties. A spell of minibus operation (as the T) would follow, though larger buses would return, as the 36, before NXWM deregistered the service around 2010, with it passing onto the tendered market. NXWM would briefly return to the route in 2019, following the demise of previous operator Igo (see blog “Replacing Igo”) before present operator Clarabels won the long term tender. The 36 no longer serves Formans Road, having been rerouted to terminate at Small Heath Station, so I suspect this is the reason why the 41 has been routed this way. We rejoined the 36 on Olton Boulevard West, where outer suburbia begins, this taking us onto Spring Road, past Spring Road Station on the Birmingham – Stratford line. Then we were in the Fox Hollies district, home of Acocks Green Bus Garage, which we passed on the way down to the terminus at Acocks Green Village :

To Eat Or Not To Eat!

It was now dinner time and hunger pains were beginning to develop in my stomach, so I was thinking of getting a 4 to Olton’s Dovehouse chippy, one of my favourite West Midlands chippies. After all, there was little chance of one of my “beloveds” popping up here, a slight chance on the 11……….and as soon as I thought that, 4278 appeared, turning around the roundabout with “Not In Service” on the blinds. Was it heading for garage, or was it about to start an 11C journey, the long way around to Erdington? I just had to walk over to Westley Road to have a look, and sure enough it was loading on the 11C. I decided to put my hunger pangs to one side, not many modern (to younger readers, “Modern” to me means anything built in this century!) buses would persuade me to do that! So I joined the back of the queue and boarded! 4278 was the last numerically of Hockley’s allocation originally.

This stretch is actually my favourite part of the Outer Circle, heading back up Westley Road, passing the garage, then heading along the tree lined dual carriageway that is Fox Hollies Road, taking us into Hall Green, turning right into School Road, taking us across Stratford Road and down the hill to Sarehole Mill, famous for influencing Tolkien’s novel “The Hobbit”. Up Swanshurst Lane, we passed Swanshurst Park, which always makes me think how lucky Birmingham is to have so many fine parks within it’s boundaries. Then we headed through the busy Kings Heath shopping centre, heading past another of Birmingham’s fine parks, Kings Heath Park. Heading through Cotteridge, I began to wonder where I was going to get off. I certainly didn’t fancy going through Perry Barr traffic all the way to Erdington, seeing far too much of that area on a work day! I therefore decided to get off at Selly Oak, with the germ of a possible plan to get another of my “beloveds” in the book, in my head!

As soon as I’d got off, I saw that this plan was most certainly going to work! Why? Because over the road, I spotted a “beloved” making it’s way on new route 46, from QE Hospital over a very roundabout route to Northfield. Looking closer, I saw that it was 4279, having made it’s way back from Acocks Green on the 41, changing into a 46 at the QE.

Fair enough, I don’t mind getting the same bus in the book twice, particularly as it was over another new route! Therfore, I put my plan into action and walked over to the Bristol Road to catch a direct 61 or 63 to Northfield. In fact, one of each came along within a few minutes, with a Platinum MMC on the 61 in front, very nice but also, to me, very familiar, as I mostly drive the type everyday. Therefore, I decided to join the only other passenger waiting and hailed the 63 behind, which was one of the regular, branded buses for the Bristol Road routes, Wright Gemini bodied Volvo B5 hybrid 5515, a type I’ve not ridden on for a while.

With the quest to lower emissions from both buses and other forms of transport now heavily on the minds of many (this was the week of the COP 26 environmental conference in Glasgow) with hydrogen and electric power being considered the fuels of the future, the bus industry’s first step on this process was the hybrid, with an electric motor being powered by a diesel engine, allowing that electric motor to take over in areas of high pollution. Whilst the concept was adopted with fervor in London (including the New Routemaster) the expense meant that only handfuls appeared elsewhere, including two batches of both Wright Gemini bodied Volvo B5s and ADL’s hybrid offering, the E400H, delivered to NXWM. The first two batches arrived in 2010, both types being allocated to Birmingham Central for 22 and 23 Harborne services. Three years later, in 2013, another batch of each type were allocated to Wolverhampton garage for the 1 (Dudley – Tettenhall Wood), this second batch including 5515. After around a year, it was decided to concentrate each type at one garage, with all the E400Hs going to Wolverhampton and the Geminis heading to Birmingham Central, where they would remain on the Harborne routes until late 2017, when they would be replaced by the Platinum MMCs now used on the routes. It’s staggering to think that the development of the diesel engine in what looks like it’s final years, has been such that those Platinums, featuring micro hybrid technology, contribute less emissions than the hybrids they replaced! Indeed, Wolverhampton’s E400Hs (since joined by similar buses from the previously NX owned Explore Dundee fleet) have been converted to full diesel, producing less emissions than when they were hybrid. It seems that the same wasn’t possible with the Geminis, which transferred onto the Bristol Road after their time on Harborne.

So it was one of the rarer buses in the NXWM fleet that took me the short distance along the Bristol Road to the major suburban centre of Northfield :

As the suburbs of South Birmingham developed in the twenties and thirties, Northfield emerged as a natural shopping centre, which in turn, lead to the development of various inter suburban bus services to the centre, supplementing the Bristol Road trams and replacement buses. Of these, two would become particularly well established over the years, the 18, which now runs from Bartley Green – Yardley Wood Garage, and the single decker 27, which has undergone several changes in recent years, now running from Maypole – Cofton Hackett via a very convoluted route, with Northfield at its centre. And the new 46 is the latest replacement for a one time leg of the 27.

I paid a visit to the very seventies Northfield Shopping Centre (previously the Grovesnor Centre) buying a sausage roll from Greggs to keep me going, then walked over to the 46 bus stop, and waited for 4279 to appear along Bunbury Road :

The 46

The first section of the 46 maybe covering what was a long standing section of the 27, but it has directly replaced the previous routing of the 48, which gained a mammoth rerouting in July 2018, giving the route a journey time of well over two hours from West Bromwich. Thus the route needed quite considerable dropback at the Northfield end to stay reliable, though this time would later be utilised to send the route even further, replacing Kevs Coaches 39A down Swarthmore Road to Weoley Castle, virtually doubling back on itself! Such an unwieldy route wasn’t really ideal, so the 29th August 2021 revisions saw the 48 rerouted to follow a much more direct route from QE Hospital – Northfield, recreating it’s pre July 2018 route via Weoley Castle and Swarthmore Road.

And so I was now travelling on an Acocks Green “beloved” over a route upon which I’ve previously ridden a West Bromwich example! Leaving Northfield, we took a direct route to Northfield Station, the original 27 route via South Road and Pamela Road now being covered by Kevs 19, and the 46 also covers some of the former 44 route around Harper Road, but the service basically continues to provide the link to Northfield from the council housing of the Turves Green area that the 27 traditionally provided. From May 1978, the 27 was joined over this stretch by the extension of the 4 Cotteridge – Hawkesley service to Northfield, then deregulation of the British Bus Industry in October 1986 saw the 27 extended from West Heath – Cotteridge to replace the 4. And so we passed through West Heath, crossed over the Pershore Road, and headed into Hawkesley, one of three seventies built housing estates built jointly by Birmingham City Council and Bromsgrove District Council (the others being Frankley and Kitwell) and is one place where bus services improved greatly with deregulation, with the half hourly 4 replaced by the fifteen minutes 27, plus a new group of services run by Midland Red West (the 83/84/85) linking the estate to the City Centre. 1993 saw West Midlands Travel extend their 35 City – Pool Farm route onto Hawkesley, bringing competition for the city traffic to Midland Red West. Despite being longer, the 35 would gain an edge over Midland Red West thanks to the West Midlands Travelcard and Daysaver tickets. Therefore, the Midland Red West routes would go into decline afterwards, with the company pulling out and Travel West Midlands taking what was left, the 84, over, cutting this back to terminate at Cotteridge and then extending to QE Hospital, with the route later being replaced by the 48, and now the 46. From Hawkesley, we headed onto Pershore Road, through Kings Norton into Cotteridge, where we joined the route of the Outer Circle through Bournville to Selly Oak, from where we headed straight to the QE Hospital :

The 76

After getting off 4279, I immediately noticed 2004 vintage Dennis Trident 4589 on the 76:

The 76 is a long route that was made even longer last year, when it was extended from it’s QE Hospital terminus into Harborne, and then replaced a July 2018 introduced section of the 27 (I told you that route has had frequent changes over the last few years! This section replaced the 29) through Weoley Castle and Shenley Fields to Northfield, with the 76’s Dennis Tridents providing more capacity than the 27’s Scanias. This made the 76 even longer than the other Solihull – Northfield route, the 49………. which was curtailed to terminate at Longbridge at the same time!

I’ve been hoping to ride the extended 76 at some point but not today, as I was now to ride over the QE – Solihull section, which I hadn’t done in quite a while. We headed into Selly Oak, passing a recent Retail Park with a massive Sainsburys, then passing the abandoned relic of the previous Selly Oak Sainsburys, which had seemed so modern when it had first opened in the early eighties! Then it was onto the Bristol Road which, thanks to the presence of coned off cycle lanes, is now quite narrow. We followed these under the railway bridge carrying the Cross City Line into Selly Oak Station and into the district of Bournbrook, which these days is virtually a shrine to the students of Birmingham University, many of whom live around here, with plenty of pubs and takeaways serving their needs. Overlooking this student land is Old Joe, the clock tower at Birmingham University, dedicated to City Council leader Joseph Chamberlain.

Just before reaching the point where the Bristol Road meets the Selly Oak By Pass, along which I’d travelled on the 41 earlier, we turned right into the terrace clad Dawlish Road, once home to the tram depot that operated the Bristol Road route until the opening of the larger combined tram and bus depot in Harborne Lane, Selly Oak in 1927 (which would close in 1986)

On 2nd October 1935 (the same day as the 27 started) new route 26 started from the junction of Bristol Road and Dawlish Road, running to Kings Heath, both routes entering that suburb via Dads Lane, with both routes single deck, as Dads Lane contained a low railway bridge, the road under which wasn’t lowered until 1949. Whilst the 27 is still with us, the 26 would become a short working of Shakespeare’s favourite bus route, the 2B (2B or not 2B!) in January 1939. The 2B grew from the 2, which was one of the earliest bus services in Birmingham, originally being Midland Red route 10, one of the routes taken over by Birmingham Corporation in October 1914, and becoming the 2 upon the beginning of the Corporation’s new numbering system (with separate series being introduced for buses and trams) in 1916. The 2 ran from Handsworth Wood, into Hockley, then followed the route that would later become part of the 8 Inner Circle to Ivy Bush, on the Hagley Road. 1st February 1932, seven years after Handsworth Wood had gained a service into the City Centre with the 1925 introduction of the 16, the 2 was extended down to Hamstead Village, then a pit village. January 1939 saw the 2B (2A was used for Sunday short workings from Hockley – Hamstead) introduced, which were journeys on the 2 extended from Ivy Bush, via a then much smaller Queen Elizabeth Hospital into Selly Oak, down the Bristol Road to Bournbrook, then over the 26 to Kings Heath.

The fact that the Ivy Bush – Hamstead side of the 2/2B was now mostly duplicated by other services, meant that what was now the 16A to Beauchamp Avenue (now running cross city to/from Yardley, with the number 15 being used in the Yardley direction) was extended to Hamstead Village in September 1939, allowing the 2 to be withdrawn and the 2B to be cutback to run from Ivy Bush-Kings Heath, originally as a World War Two economy, which would become permanent. Double deckers would come to the 2B in 1949, and 21st July 1957 saw the 26 discontinued and the 2B renumbered 2. 3rd September 1967 saw the route cutback to run from Selly Oak – Kings Heath, being converted to one man single deck (Fords plus converted Leyland PS2 2257) before Fleetline double deckers took over on 13th October 1967. Despite the presence of the 21 over the same section of route, passenger complaints saw the route return to the QE Hospital on 28th April 1968, though it would be cutback to Selly Oak again on 15th January 1972.

The South Birmingham revisions of August 1980 would see the 2 extended from Selly Oak – Weoley Castle, replacing part of the withdrawn 22.

We headed through more areas of terraced housing, past the abandoned Dogpool pub in Selly Park, and headed into Kings Heath along the aforementioned Dads Lane, alongside Kings Heath Park. The 2 was operated by several garages over the years, from Birmingham Corporation’s original Tennant Street bus garage near Five Ways, onto Hockley when that tram depot became a bus garage in 1939, where the 1949 all Leyland PD2s were the first double deckers to be used on the 2, these being low enough to get under Dads Lane bridge, though the subsequent road lowering saw any double decker able to be used and the route was transferred to Harborne to cut down on dead mileage. The 1980 Weoley Castle extension saw the route transfer to Selly Oak, where it would remain until the garage’s August 1986 closure, the route then transferring to Yardley Wood. Deregulation saw the 2 extended to Yardley Wood Garage, again cutting down on dead mileage and replacing the 1985 introduced 163, and it was over this section of route that we would travel next. I’ve always felt that it was quite a surprise that this section would start so late, especially as the section is now busy enough to support a second route, the 27!

June 1987 would see the 2 replaced by the new 69, extended from Yardley Wood all the way to Yardley via Solihull, replacing the tendered 162. This mammoth service would become a popular haunt of mine in it’s early years, thanks to a regular allocation of my earlier “beloved” Leyland Fleetlines! But 1989 would bring competition to the relatively new section of route from Kings Heath – Yardley Wood! Growing independent Your Bus introduced the mammoth A6Y/C6Y South Circular, heading out of Birmingham along the Bristol and Warwick Roads and linking them on a grand tour of Birmingham and Solihull suburbia, including this stretch of the 69. Your Bus would later pass into West Midlands Travel ownership, with the South Circular gradually being broken up. The winding up of Your Bus in 2001 saw the remaining Solihull – Kings Heath section covered by Acocks Green garage as the A6, subsequently extended to Pool Farm replacing the 35S (formerly Your Bus 35Y) before this was cutback to terminate at Dawberry Fields. The route would be renumbered 76 around this time.

Then, around 2009, the 69 and 76 would swap routes! The 69, which had lost it’s Yardley section (that had been extended to Heartlands Hospital slightly earlier) to the 169 (now largely covered by the 73) was significantly shortened, with an increased 49 covering the Solihull – Maypole section, so the 69 would run from Maypole – Kings Heath, then replacing the 76 to Dawberry Fields, with an off peak 69B heading out of the county from Maypole – Hollywood (not THAT one!) for a while. The 76 meanwhile, became considerably longer, replacing the 69 to Selly Oak but then rerouted to the QE Hospital – shades of the former 2B! Shortly after this, the 76 would move from it’s Acocks Green home to Yardley Wood, in exchange for the 5 going the other way.

The remains of the 69 would ultimately be replaced by an extended 27, with Dawberry Fields replaced by an extended tendered 669 (Shirley – Kings Heath) which would subsequently be renumbered 69! The new 69 is currently operated by Johnsons.

And so we made our way through Yardley Wood, passing Yardley Wood Station, on the edge of Hall Green and once the terminus of the Cross City 29 to Kingstanding, which ceased to be in 1971, though the number was used for a peak shuttle to Sparkhill (College Arms) surviving until 1979. Then it was up the dual carriageway Highfield Road, to it’s junction with the similar Robin Hood Lane. I suspect these central reservations had tramways in mind (there actually was a reserved track tramway on the last stretch of the Stratford Road, up to the city boundary) before Birmingham decided to turn to the bus to serve suburbs developed from the late twenties onwards. Upon reaching the large Robin Hood Island, we turned onto the Stratford Road, passing alongside that former tramway reservation to the city boundary, then entering the Borough of Solihull, heading into the Shirley Shopping centre. From the Robin Hood Island, the 76 follows today’s route 6 from Birmingham, operated by 2020 vintage electric BYD MMC E400 Cities, the beginning of the conversion of NXWM’s fleet to emmisionless buses (at source, for anyone who’ll point out that electricity has to be created somewhere!) And the fact that the 6 is a very frequent service meant that I could get off the 76 and get fish and chips from the Seaspray Fish Bar, which I ate in the shelter (they were delicious!) before getting one of the electrics into Solihull, something I’ve not had the pleasure of doing since they were relatively new last year (see blog “Electric 6”) with “Bond” bus 007 turning up, this having been given the name Moneypenny, the secretary of Bond’s boss M, who holds an unrequited but flirtatious torch for the dashing, debonair secret agent! A nice touch! Since this batch was delivered to Yardley Wood, a further ten have entered service at Coventry for routes 9/9A, but these will soon be joined by many more electrics, as Coventry has been chosen by government to fund a conversion of the whole city’s bus fleet to electric operation, which should come to pass over the next two years. Elsewhere, twenty hydrogen powered Wright Streetdecks are currently being delivered to Walsall garage to operate the upcoming Sprint service from Walsall – Solihull, combining routes 51 and X2, with bids having been put in for funding for another three hundred and twenty of these to operate from Walsall and the two proposed garages to replace the sold to developers Birmingham Central. Whether all that funding is forthcoming remains to be seen, but long term plans should also see more electrics in the fleet, with NXWM planning to rid itself of diesel buses by 2030! Quite a tall order, in my opinion, it’ll be interesting to see if it will come to fruition!

E007 turned left off the Stratford Road at Marshall Lake Road, and headed through Blossomfield into Solihull Town Centre :

The 72

As I was approaching Solihull on the 6, I was pondering what to do next, with a ride on the soon to be “Sprinted” X2 being my favourite possibility. Certainly, I felt that I would have to be really lucky to hit a “beloved” on the most likely route to feature them here, the frequent 72 to Chelmsley Wood, which is mainly in the hands of Geminis. However, upon entering the Town Centre, I spotted 4277 coming through the useful bus lane off Lode Lane, heading towards it’s Solihull Station terminus!

So, after a quick toilet visit in the Torchwood Centre, I waited for 4277 to return from the station, then I boarded, along with a large amount of early home going commuters. The driver was my Facebook friend Lee, who said

“One of your favourites, ain’t it?”

It most certainly was!

The bus then headed out up Lode Lane, past the Rover Works and on towards Sheldon. I looked in vain for evidence of work for Sprint but, unlike the Perry Barr /Great Barr areas, there seemed to be non going on here. As well as the 72, the X2 and 73 also head up here but split off down Old Lode Lane, whilst the 72 takes Hob Moat Road, past Solihull Ice Rink, towards Sheldon Wheatsheaf, where Old Lode Lane rejoins us. Then, the X2 turns onto Coventry Road, for the run into Birmingham, whilst the 72 and 73 cross over into Sheaf Lane, now within the city of Birmingham but featuring the same semi detached suburbia that features in the Solihull section. We’re briefly paralleled by the 60 from City, a route that I was familiar with in childhood, as it was the nearest route to my Great Grandmother’s, just off Cranes Park Road, which the 60 heads along to it’s terminus. But the 72 heads towards The Radleys (the 73 having turned off beforehand) from where we took a route that the 72 pioneered on it’s November 1987 introduction.

For before that date, the Solihull – Chelmsley Wood corridor was forced to be single deck, due to low bridges on The Radleys itself and on Mackadown Lane, both served by routes on the corridor, which West Midlands Passenger Transport Executive (WMPTE) had developed from former Midland Red services, with the pre deregulation 166 to Sutton Coldfield heading via The Radleys and the 167 via Mackadown Lane to Chelmsley Wood. Deregulation saw these replaced by the 71 via Mackadown Lane to Sutton Coldfield, with Chelmsley Wood shorts. November 1987 saw the daytime shorts become the 72, running via Garrets Green to avoid the low bridges, enabling double deckers to run on the route. Like the 69, it’s a route I became fond of due to the regular use of Fleetlines during it’s early days, so riding one of my current “beloveds” today possesses a certain pleasant symmetry!, Late 1989, however, would see the 72 converted to single deckers (Nationals first, then Lynxes) allowing more interworking with the 71, as well as an increase to the peak service. This continued into the twenty first century, though double deckers would return for a while to the 72, the route through Garretts Green having generated more passengers itself, so the 71 was also rerouted. Single deckers returned in late 2010 when the 72 was extended to Birmingham via Bromford Bridge, but 2017 would see that section largely replaced by the new X12, whilst the 71 would also be split, passing to Perry Barr garage and running between Chelmsley Wood and Sutton, still using single deckers due to another low bridge, in Minworth. The 72, meanwhile, would become the high frequency Solihull – Chelmsley Wood double decker operated service that it still is today.

And so we made our way through Garretts Green and into Tile Cross, then passing into the Borough of Solihull again, heading into the semi detached land of Marston Green, complete with it’s station on the Birmingham – Coventry line. Then it was onto the contrasting, large Chelmsley Wood Estate, built by Birmingham City Council in the late sixties but served by Midland Red, as opposed to BCT, due to being outside the city boundary, passing to Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council in April 1974. The passing of Midland Red’s West Midlands services to WMPTE in December 1973, meant that integration with the former BCT network would ultimately take place. Soon, we were at the Bus Interchange at Pine Square, home of the area’s main shopping centre, where the 72 terminates.

The 97

As I was now getting a little tired, as well as cold (ohhh for the days of my youth, when I had the energy and stamina to carry on into the middle of the night! Mind you, I didn’t have to contend with bus driving split shifts back then!) I decided to start heading for home by catching the main service that links Chelmsley Wood and Birmingham City Centre, the 97, created in December 1976 by merging the former BCT 53 to Shirestone Road, with the ex Midland Red 169 and 193, which entered Chelmsley Wood via Bosworth Drive. Despite being one of NXWM’s most frequent trunk routes the 97 is still largely operated by Dennis Tridents (not for much longer, surely?) so I wasn’t surprised when 97 branded 4466, which was originally a Lea Hall bus, who had operated the 97 from the October 1985 closure of Coventry Road garage until it’s own July 2010 closure, when the route passed to Birmingham Central, although the 97’s conversion to Tridents was made with the earlier, 2001 batch of Tridents. 4466 and it’s sisters entered service in 2003, converting the 94 from Mercedes 0405 single deck operation. The 97 itself would be converted to single deck, with new Scania saloons, in 2007, in an attempt to combat competition from Petes Travel, around the time Petes had been bought by the Go Ahead group, which soon sold the operation onto Rotola, their 97 soon transferring to their Central Connect operation before coming to an end. With the single decking of the Travel West Midlands 97 having caused overcrowding, the Scanias soon moved elsewhere and the Tridents returned.

We headed down Bosworth Drive, then headed over the city boundary, soon passing the former Shirestone Road turning circle that became the 53’s terminus after it’s extension on 12th November 1967, replacing the brief 23 (which had only started on 5th February 1967) which ran to City via the 14 route through Alum Rock. The 53’s extension had been possible due to improvements to the Meadway, enabling it to become the main road between Birmingham and Chelmsley Wood. We soon joined this road, which took us through Stechford (the original 53 terminus and also the terminus of route 54, replaced at the same time as the 53 went by services 98 and 99, which started from the ex Midland Red Bull Ring Bus Station, also replacing ex Midland Red services 163 and 195 respectively. The 98 would go at deregulation, whilst the 99 became a WMT operated tendered service from Chelmsley Wood North – East Birmingham Hospital, later becoming a commercial service through to the city again, but via a different route, eventually coming to an end in 2004) then into Bordesley Green and down Garrison Lane, joining the traffic queue to get over the Garrison Circus junction with the Middle Ring Road. Then we passed close to the route’s Birmingham Central home, this 1936 vintage bus garage destined to disappear in a few years, as the area is redeveloped from it’s current, rather run down industrial status, to an area taking advantage of it’s proximity to the new Curzon Street Station of HS2. Things are set to change very radically over the next few years!

I got off 4466 by the Bull Ring Markets and, not fancying a walk up to the temporary Bull Street terminus of West Midlands Metro, then a peak hour crush loaded ride home, I went and caught Enviro 400 4742 on the 80. 4742 is one of the first batch of E400s that entered the NXWM fleet in 2007, following on from 2006 prototype 4698, one of the first two E400s built, the other being the bus that replaced the Stagecoach Dennis Trident destroyed by a suicide bomber on 5th July 2005, and hence named “Spirit Of London.” Like 4698, the first of the 2007 batch (4718-4737) were allocated to Perry Barr garage, where they largely displaced my Sutton branded “beloveds” onto other work, whilst 4738-4762 went to Yardley Wood for use on the 50 (City – Druids Heath) until displaced in 2015 by standard MMC E400s (since replaced by Platinums) when they were transferred to West Bromwich for use on Dudley Road services 82 and 87, being the mainstay here until Platinums replaced them in 2019, after which, they were used more widely on West Bromwich services. Many have now transferred to Pensnett, but 4742 is one of those that remain.

4742 took a full peak load out of the city on the meandering 80, very much a route of the 21st century, having commenced in 2000 to replace part of Limited Stop 979 to Wolverhampton, which had lost much traffic to the Midland Metro that had opened in 1999. The 80 would feature many changes over the years, the most notable being a rerouting via Ladywood and Rotton Park in July 2010, replacing parts of the 66 and 129 in the revisions connected with the closure of Lea Hall garage, this rerouting really cementing the route’s viability, and 4742 lost most of it’s passengers through this wander around Birmingham’s inner city. Passing into Smethwick and heading up Shireland Road, the route now follows the 2017 introduced variant 80A, down Windmill Lane and through the estate where I lived with my Grandparents from 1985-1997, then it was onto Smethwick High Street. Having been bought up in the town, I always feel a tingle of nostalgia everytime I ride a bus through here. We joined the queue on the suspended bus lane (grrrrh) on TollHouse Way, slowly making our way to Oldbury Road, which we followed to West Smethwick, where we joined Spon Lane, the road which I had left West Bromwich along that morning on the 49!

At the bus station, the electronic indicator told me that a 47 was due in five minutes, so I made my way to the stand, noticing that one of my “beloveds” was in the waiting bay. Could that be the 47? Well, no, because 4744, one of the same batch of E400s as 4742, soon pulled onto the stand, so I boarded, grabbing the front seat just as 4271 on the 45 to Walsall via Yew Tree, pulled onto the stand in front, so I took a photo :

Back in my younger days, if the bus had been one of my “beloved” Fleetlines of the time, I’d have quickly jumped onboard and gone for an evening run to Walsall, being unconcerned about the time I got home, but now I’m middle aged, and I was a little cold and a little tired! So I stayed on 4744 and five minutes later, I was walking through my front door!

I’d had a nice wander around a patch I know very well, but now don’t get to visit that often! I’d ridden on a good variety of the NXWM fleet, all courtesy of my Staff Pass, though the same moves could be made by anyone with a £4 NXWM Daysaver. In particular, I’d rode on four of my “beloved” ALX400 bodied Volvo B7s on five routes, including two new routes, all in their declining days, thereby making my moves today thoroughly worthwhile!

The Coastal Tour-16/10/22

701 beside Fleetwood’s Pharos Lighthouse

A trip to see Blackpool Illuminations is always high on my agenda in autumn, complete with a trip on a Blackpool Heritage Tramway Illuminations Tour. Due to the Covid 19 Pandemic, these have to be booked in advance at the moment, so one of the first things I did, after returning from our Devon holiday (see blogs “Adventures In Devon 2021-Parts One – Eight”) was to check out the Blackpool Heritage Tramway website, to book tickets for Saturday 16th October, my only Saturday off work in October. All were full! Obviously a result of the Staycation boom. Never mind, let’s have a look at my next Saturday off, the 4th November. Again, all fully booked! Although the lights are shining through to the 4th January next year, all part of Blackpool’s plan to regain lost revenue from last year’s lockdown, and indeed, my wife Lynn and I were planning the possibility of a winter trip to the resort, but we also wanted to spend a day there when she weather was likely to be reasonably warm, so we decided to go on the 16th anyhow.

But a trip to Blackpool isn’t really complete without a trip on a Heritage tram, so we looked at the two types of tours provided in the daytime. We went on a Promenade Tour last year, boarding at North Pier, then heading north to Little Bispham before returning south to Pleasure Beach then returning to North Pier, on one of the two vintage double deckers, with us travelling on Standard 147 (see blog “Return Of Heritage And Other Blackpool Stuff”) so we decided to book on the one Coastal Tour scheduled for the 16th, at 13.45 on a Balloon Car out to Fleetwood, costing £6 each, so I booked two seats for this.

The Coastal Tour is a revived, historical name, for a tour introduced in 1960, designed to publicise the new Twin Cars that were then entering service. These were the result of a visit by then Blackpool Corporation General Manager Joe Franklin to Zurich, Switzerland where the idea for increasing capacity on the largely single deck (thanks to the high frequency, small vehicle policy of Mr Franklin’s predecessor, Walter Luff, which paid huge dividends in the thirties but rising staff costs in the fifties was making unviable) tram fleet, using trailer cars attached to a rebuilt single decker, was conceived. 1958 saw 1935 vintage Railcoaches 275 and 276 totally rebuilt and joined together, the operation was successful enough to encourage the Corporation to buy ten, purpose built trailers from Metro Cammell Weymann, designed to be attached to ten, rebuilt Railcoaches, including 275 and 276. These Trailers were numbered T1-T10 and, although initially detachable, were generally attached to the same Towing Car, with T1 being paired up with 281 and T2-T10 with 272-280.

Initially, despite usually being paired into distinct sets, the Trailers had no cabs, meaning that the Twins had to operate between the four loop termini on the tramway, namely Starr Gate, Pleasure Beach, Little Bispham and Fleetwood. To promote the new trams, the Corporation introduced the Coastal Tour, effectively a full tour going from Talbot Square (North Pier) out to Fleetwood, then all the way back to Starr Gate, before returning to Talbot Square. These ran in addition to the Corporation’s already established but soon to disappear Circular Tour, which would go when the Squires Gate route closed in October 1961, and the then recently introduced Promenade Tour, doing the Starr Gate – Little Bispham circuit, slightly longer than today’s Promenade Tour. These last two tours usually used the Open Boat single deckers.

Unfortunately, probably due to the length of the journey time, the Coastal Tour was largely unsuccessful, and particularly made poor use of the Twin Car’s 126 seat capacity. Therefore, it soon ceased. The Twin Cars would have more success during the tramway’s busier periods, such as Illuminations Saturdays and Tuesday Fleetwood Market Days, where they would become most common. The 1968 renumbering saw the Towing Cars renumbered 671(the former 281) and 672-680 (272-280) with the Trailers becoming 681-690. The lack of flexibility was solved by cabs being put into seven of the trailers (681-687) and being permenantly coupled to their Towing Car sisters, their rear cabs taken out. The three unconverted Towing Cars would come to be used as normal Railcoaches 678 – 680, Trailers 688-690 being scrapped. Thus the remaining seven Twin Cars settled down, mainly for use at peak times, until the system upgrade in 2012.

Two Twin Cars, sadly currently not operational, are part of the Heritage fleet. Having returned to their original numbers, 272 and T2 are painted in the all white livery that the Twin Cars entered service in, as demonstrated by this 2016 photo, taken on a Gold Running Day at Bispham :

675-685, meanwhile, keep their post 1968 numbers, and are painted in the seventies green and cream that the Class spent many years in. Seen here at Fleetwood Ferry on the 2015 Fylde Tramway Society Christmas Tour :

Subsequently, the Twin Cars were painted in the tidier nineties livery, giving the Class a much needed smartening up. Then, late in the 2002 season, the Twin Cars became more important, following the banning of double deckers on the then detoriating tracks north of Thornton Gate, with the class taking over the main Starr Gate – Fleetwood service for a few weeks. The ban continued throughout 2003, with the Twin Cars contributing heavily in accommodating Fleetwood passengers. This summer also saw 671/681-675/685 repainted into the different colours of the Metro Coastline livery that Blackpool Transport’s bus fleet had been branded in.

With the track improved, double deckers returned to Fleetwood in 2004, a year which also saw a large proportion of the tram fleet mothballed due to falling use, with the two unrepainted sets, 676/686 & 677/687, being two such cars. Nevertheless, the other five sets continued to see regular use, including regular turns on the Pleasure Beach – Thornton Gate intermediate service in the year of the tramway’s 125th Anniversary, 2010. 672-682 would find itself unexpectedly replacing a defective Balloon car on the final night of the traditional tramway in November 2011, something which us enthusiasts in town took advantage of, with all of it’s 126 seats being in use on it’s final journey, the penultimate trip on the tramway that evening, from Pleasure Beach – Little Bispham (due to construction work on the new tramway, the two termini points in use that year) an incredible trip!

Sadly, a fire on board 672 lead to that set being taken out of service, with 675-685 also being withdrawn, needing rewiring.

Back To Today!

And so, from the vehicles that ran the short lived Coastal Tour of the past, to a trip on the Coastal Tour today! Lynn and I arrived at Gynn Square car park just turned 11.00, meaning we had just over two and a half hours before the 13.45 departure of the Tour. With us having just missed a tram, we caught MMC E400 442, which was loading outside the Savoy Hotel on the 1 Promenade bus service, which runs alongside the tram, providing transport for those with English Concessionary Passes outside of Blackpool and Wyre Districts, which aren’t valid on the tram, as well as partially competing with Coastliner Buses route 21 (Cleveleys – St Annes. )

We bought two £4.50 One Day Tickets, valid on Blackpool Transport’s buses and modern trams. We took this along the Promenade to North Pier, where we found out that the service now terminated here, having not noticed the “Blackpool Town Centre” destination on the blinds! Previously, the 1 had continued to terminate alongside the tram terminus at Starr Gate, but, due to a shortage of staff caused by Covid 19 sickness and the National Bus Driver shortage, it had been decided to revise the 1, eliminating the section along the most congested part of the Promenade, along the Golden Mile, and the route now running only between 09.00 and 16.30 on a thirty minute frequency out to Cleveleys, integrated with the fifteen minute daytime frequency on the trams, this having been reduced from it’s previous twelve minutes for the same reason, but also to enable resources to be concentrated on the all important evening service, so essential for moving the crowds along the Promenade during Blackpool’s busiest period, the fifteen minute Fleetwood service being supplemented by a fifteen minute intermediate service from Starr Gate – Little Bispham. Other than one morning and one afternoon journey designed for students, the 1 now only goes to Fleetwood on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, the main Fleetwood Market Days.

For Lynn’s benefit, we then had a walk around the Hounds Hill shopping centre, before returning to the Prom in plenty of time for the tour, allowing me to watch the passing bus scene. Blackpool Transport’s fleet is now highly standardised, consisting of Palladium branded MMC E400 double deckers like 442, corresponding single deck MMC E200s, in both short and long lengths, and the Mercedes Benz Citaros that started off on the 5 but, with that route seemingly now double deck, the only examples I saw today were on the 3 (Cleveleys – Mereside), a route recently slightly rerouted to allow conversion from short MMC E200s to longer buses, allowing the shorter buses to be transferred onto the 74/75 Fleetwood – Preston services won on tender last year (see blog “Return To Blackpool”) which have light loadings, plus some tight turnings on the 75 (it was previously operated by Preston Buses using minibuses.) This just leaves the oldest buses in the fleet, 2010 vintage Plaxton Centro bodied Volvo B7s, retrofitted with Palladium e leather seats and WiFi, but currently in store, with several on loan to Transdev for school services in East Lancashire.

All examples of a well run, modern bus fleet, but stuff which I’ve photographed regularly, so today, I concentrated on the other operators in town! As previously mentioned, Coastliner Buses compete with the trams and the 1 along the Prom with the 21 from Cleveleys and beyond the Starr Gate tram terminus to St Annes, usually operated by Dennis Dart and Optare Versa single deckers but today, this East Lancs bodied Dennis Trident, formerly owned by rival Blackpool Transport (think it was Blackpool 356) was also on the route :

This year, Coastliner have also started route 22 from the Tower to Blackpool Zoo via Stanley Park, capitalising on Blackpool Transport having moved it’s Zoo service 20 to terminate at Queen Street, out of the way by the town library, not the best place for tourists to find it (the service was also merged with the 19 to Staining, meaning that Stanley Park and the Zoo now receive a year round service, but only on an hourly headway, recently reduced to ninety minutes!) The regular bus on the 22 is this semi open top 1ALX400 bodied Dennis Trident, that was new as a closed top bus to Stagecoach Selkent in 1999 as TA 158:

Coastliner run two other routes, the 26 Beach Bus, from the Promenade to Marton Mere Holiday Park, a service started after Blackpool Transport withdrew the 20 from this Holiday Centre on the edge of the town, and the 24, which replaced the former Stagecoach 84 from Fleetwood – Poulton via Cleveleys service which, with the 1 now only going to Fleetwood only on three days a week, is now the only bus service on other days supplementing the trams between Fleetwood and Cleveleys.

Stagecoach, as successors to the former Ribble company, still operate into Blackpool, on the 42 to Lancaster and the 61 and 68 to Preston, and it was on the later that I spotted the company’s latest tribute to Ribble, E400 bodied Scania 15305, which has been painted in this very pleasant commemorative livery :

Also passing by was the vintage tram being used on today’s Promenade Tour, Blackpool Heritage Tramway’s grand Old Lady, 1901 vintage Bolton 66:

The Coastal Tour

And so, it was now time for the main event! A reasonable crowd of us had began to gather at the North Pier Heritage stop, and were soon rewarded by the arrival of Balloon 701:

Pharos Street, Fleetwood

701 carries the red and cream livery that it first carried in 1991, when it had a major overhaul. This livery had been used by Blackpool Corporation until 1933, when new Manager Walter Luff changed the colours to green and cream, saying that this livery better suited the character of the town, which I personally agree with, although I also like the red and white. This livery was revived on Leyland PD3 bus 507, which was repainted thus in 1985 as part of the Tramway Centenary celebrations, and proved so popular that it was applied to the six ex London Transport Routemasters bought the following year (another six, also featuring red and white, were delivered in 1988) with Leyland PD3 512 also recieving the colours, allowing it and 507 to act as spares on the first batch RMs regular haunt, the 12 along Lytham Road, in competition with Fylde Blue Buses 11 and 11A – see blog “Fylde Transport Society Running Day Part One”) with Boat Car 604 also recieving the livery in 1989, carrying it until 2000.

And so we went upstairs (you book for an upstairs or downstairs seat) and sat on one of the former ex London Transport Routemaster seats that replaced the (much more preferable, to be honest) original swingover seats at the 1991 refurbishment, and I must say that the legroom on this tram is much better than on all of the latter refurbishments, probably because 701’s refurbishment sacrificed too much seating capacity. I remember that 701 felt very modern back in 1991 but subsequent Balloon refurbishments, to cars 723, 711, then the four flat fronted Balloons (707, 709, 718, 724) and 713 and 720, were far more far reaching, wiping away the forties vintage interiors that still remain within 701.

And so, with a very encouraging load, we set off, heading past the Metropole Hotel and then gradually climbing above the cliffs towards North Shore, my favourite section of the tramway, as the sea views are so much higher up. Passing our car at Gynn Square, we then passed the Cabin and headed onto the sleeper laid tracks towards Bispham, then leaving the lights behind, passing the Little Bispham turning circle used by both the Promenade and Illuminations Tours. Beyond here, the tramway heads inland, through Cleveleys, an area that largely owes it’s existence to the 1898 constructed Blackpool & Fleetwood Tramroad, gradually transforming from a remote, thinly populated hamlet into the bustling Town Centre of today, serving the suburban housing that surrounds much of the tramway today. A feeling of what the original Tramroad (taken over by Blackpool Corporation in 1920) must have been like before the area built up, can be felt around Rossall, where fields containing horses stretch towards Thornton in the distance. On the other side of the line is Rossall School, a public school which recently purchased Twin Car Trailer 687, whose Towing Car 677 was sacrificed to rebuild the engine of the illuminated Western Train some years back, for extra classroom space. I looked out in vain for 687, but it’s obviously hidden from view.

The tramway then moves away from the 1930 constructed Broadway, the road that links Cleveleys and Fleetwood, passing through housing around the tiny tram stop at Rossall Square, then heading alongside playing fields, crossing the Fleetwood – Thornton Road, used by Blackpool Transport’s 14 bus and marking our arrival into the town of Fleetwood. From here, the tramway is surrounded by the Broadwater Council Estate, before heading into town alongside Radcliffe Road on one side and the more industrialised Copse Road (where the tramroad used to have a depot) on the other, bringing us to Fishermans Walk , where the tramway becomes street track along Lord Street, 701 creating the time honoured rumbling echo as the sound created by it’s trundling along the tracks echoes off the shops and cafes along here. Soon, we were approaching Fleetwood Ferry terminus, where a Flexity Car left as we arrived, us following it onto the Esplanade before continuing around the 1924 constructed terminal loop into Pharos Street, named after the street’s most dominant structure, the Pharos Lighthouse, which guides ships into the estuary of the River Wyre, where Fleetwood Docks was established by Sir Peter Hesketh Fleetwood, who was responsible for developing the port and town. Here, we pulled up at the Heritage tram stop for ten minutes, allowing the Flexity to get ahead of us and giving me the opportunity to take the following photos:

Ten minutes later, we were heading back to Blackpool, continuing down the Promenade to Pleasure Beach, where we used the loop to turn around and then head back to North Pier, where we encountered Bolton 66, which appeared to be taking on a load of Punch And Judy operators!

Afterwards, Lynn and I headed to Papas, the new fish and chip restaurant that’s opened this summer, part of a chain from Hull. I had one of their belly busting chip shop plateaus, consisting of fish, chips, a battered sausage and a Hull Pattie, a wonderful creation consisting of potatoes mixed with sage and onion, coated in batter and deep fried! Wonderful!

Afterwards, we caught Flexity 016 down to the southern terminus of the tramway at Starr Gate, on the boundary of Blackpool with the neighbouring Borough of Fylde, and alongside the Flexity Depot. We then reboarded 016 and travelled along the Promenade to Bispham, during which time, the lights were switched on. From Bispham, we then walked through what I think is the most impressive stretch of the illuminations, the tableaux which stretch down to Cabin. Here’s some pictures :

And of course, it gave me the opportunity to photograph the first two of the evening’s illuminated tours, with Boat 227 forming the first :

And tthe Western Train second:

Then we carried on down to Gynn Square, got in the car and began the drive home.

Of course, we were slightly disappointed in not doing an illuminated tour but, the lights are shining longer this year, shining until January 4th, to make up for the lack of visitors during the lockdown, so we’ve booked a couple of nights in December at the Savoy Hotel (only £149!) and also booked an illuminations tour on one of those nights, so expect a blog about that!

Adventures In Devon 2021-Part Eight – Devon Day Ranger 3-23/9/21

I had one or two ideas for this second solo bash of the holiday. Do I invest in a Devon Day Rover all operator bus ticket and explore some of the more off the beaten track bus routes operated by the independent operators of Devon? Or do I have a day simply wandering around Devon’s railways with a Devon Day Ranger, all railway lines that I’d ridden before, which I’ve talked about in various blogs over the years (hence the 3 in the title of this blog) but which are so beautiful, that riding them again is always a distinct joy!

In fact, in early plans for the holiday, I planned on doing both, but the possibility of the grand trip described in Part’s Three and Four of this series, getting First’s new Exmoor Coaster in the book, ruled out the possibility of doing both bashes. Looking through my Devon area timetables, I’d actually concocted a couple of ideas for bashes but I’d had such fun exploring our railway lines since lockdown came to an end (see blogs “Cheshire Day Ranger – Part’s One & Two”, “West Midlands Day Ranger – Part’s One & Two”, “Lancashire Day Ranger – Part’s One & Two” and “Return To London – Part’s One & Two”) that I really wanted to continue doing so on some of my favourite railway lines in the UK.

The Monday – Friday validity of the Day Ranger begins at 09.00, which meant that, as I first wanted to head westward, I fell again into that awkward gap of no trains calling at Dawlish Warren, no Westward trains calling after 09.00 until the 10.00 Paignton train, which would give me rather tight connections into my first objective (readers of my earlier “Buses For Fun” Devon Day Ranger blogs will work out what that first objective was) so I decided to start off by paying a fare on the 08.24 train from Dawlish Warren – Dawlish, so I was out of the flat nice and early, giving me time to sit on the platform and watch the trains go by:

A Cross Country Voyager whizzes along the fast lines, overtaking a Class 150 on the stopping service.

…… before 166 207 arrived, which took me on the three minute journey along the seawall to Dawlish :

As the ladies from Newton Abbott (see Part’s Three, Five & Six) weren’t here this early to sell me a ticket, plus the fact that the three minute trip to Dawlish saw precious little time for the guard to sell me one, meaning that I was able to travel free of charge but, call me ridiculously honest if you will but I don’t like not paying for things that I’ve used, so I went to the ticket machine in the station car park (why Dawlish Warren doesn’t have a ticket machine I don’t know) and bought a £2.45 single to Dawlish Warren, meaning my trip had been covered, and I’d contributed my fair share towards maintaining a service along this most stunning of railway lines!

Having over half an hour to kill before my next train, I found a bench in the pleasantly landscaped parkland alongside the stream which is home to Dawlish’s famous black swans, as well as other water fowl, a lovely place :

I was also able to observe the work being done to rebuild and strengthen the seawall, which will significantly reduce the chances of another severe breach of the seawall such as that in 2014 happening again :

When the time came, I returned to the station, bought an adult Day Ranger for £14 from the ticket office and waited for the first post 09.00 train to call, a stopping service to Penzance, operated by 158 798. And so my journey along the seawall continued, heading to Teignmouth, from where the train took the by now familiar course alongside the River Teign to Newton Abbott. Then, it was onwards over the Devon Banks, calling at Totnes and Ivybridge before heading to Plymouth, where I got off :

The Tamar Valley Line

Those of you who have read the “Buses For Fun” blogs “Devon Day Ranger” and Devon Day Ranger 2″ (part of the “Adventures In Devon 2015” and “Adventures In Devon 2018” blog series respectively) will have worked out why I was heading westward, and that reason was to ride on the roughly two hourly service on the branch line to Gunnislake, which, today, was being operated by 150 216:

At departure time, we headed out of Plymouth, calling at the local stations in that city’s suburbs along the Great Western Main Line towards Cornwall. Just before reaching that magnificent monument that my wife Lynn and I travelled over on our trip to St Ives, the Royal Albert Bridge across the Devon and Cornwall separating River Tamar, the train today turned right and then headed up alongside that river, towards the Tamar Valley that the line takes it’s branding name from. As mentioned in those previous blogs, this section is actually part of the Southern’s main line from Plymouth – Exeter, then onwards over the surviving South Western Railways operated line to London Waterloo. The next stop was Bere Ferrers, home of a fair bit of railwayana:

At the next station, Bere Alston, the train reverses. This is where what was then the Callington branch branched off from the main line, hence the reverse. There are tentative proposals to reopen part of the main line as far as Tavistock, in connection with planned housing development there. Of course, a reopening is much closer on the opposite side of the main line, with an Exeter – Okehampton service due to start this November, but Tavistock has been talked about for a while, so there’s every hope that we’ll see a reopening here in the not too distant future. Longer term, the ultimate aim must be to reopen the Tavistock – Okehampton section, restoring a second rail link between Exeter and Plymouth, reducing the region’s reliance on the vulnerable Dawlish sea wall, but the cost of this will be high, so the possibility will be many years away, if at all. Still, it’s great to see Okehampton reopening, and Tavistock must have a fairly high place on the government’s reversing Beeching agenda.

The final section is where the line gets really dramatic! We headed down a steep gradiant towards a crossing over the Tamar, well upstream from the Royal Albert Bridge, taking the line into the Cornish town of Calstock :

It was the lack of a road bridge here that lead to the line’s survival! For the railway offered the only direct link from Calstock and the adjacent hamlet of Gunnislake into Plymouth. Thanks to the opening of the Tamar Suspension Bridge, this wasn’t the case for the line’s original terminus, as Callington was then linked to Plymouth by Western National’s 76 (today covered by Go Cornwall’s 11 to Padstow) so, typical of the short sightedness of the whole Beeching era, it was decreed that the line could be cutback to terminate at Gunnislake without causing undue hardship! Well, that may have been the case but I’m sure Callington being still the ultimate terminus of the branch would bring in more passengers, plus giving Callington itself a congestion free route into Plymouth! Still, we are where we are, and the Devon and Cornwall Rail Partnership have delivered a large increase in passenger numbers on the branch over the past ten years, though I suspect the pandemic has had an effect recently.

Anyhow, the approach to Gunnislake was up another steep gradient, a climb that defeated Class 142 Pacers (branded Skippers during their brief time in the West Country) back when they were new, necessitating the return of traditional DMUs before the Class 150s were bought in:

Then, along with an encouraging number of boarding passengers, it was time to do the delightful trip back!

Castle

Back at Plymouth, I could quite easily have done my previous, post Gunnislake bash move, and caught a Paddington train to Exeter, but I decided to hang back half an hour for a ride on a Castle set, one of the former High Speed Trains (HST) which have entered a second phase of life as four car sets on the Penzance – Cardiff service, one of which was due and turned up propelled by power cars 43172 and 43094:

So I found a seat on the offside of the train, to enable the best view of the Dawlish seawall, and we set off, the highly powered four car set making light work of the Devon Banks, calling at Totnes and Newton Abbott before heading alongside the River Teign, racing through Teignmouth Station and dashing onto the seawall. Throughout the holiday, I’d enjoyed my trips on the stopping train, allowing maximum time to view the English Channel along this stretch, but riding a fast train over the line is altogether more dramatic! And so I had around five minutes to enjoy the seawall as we charged through, using the fast lines at Dawlish Warren, then running alongside the River Exe before the set bought me effortlessly into Exeter St Davids.

The Avocet Line

Now it was time to travel down the one Devon branch line that I’d not ridden so far this holiday, even though I’d ridden on plenty of trains that had either started or would be finishing it’s journey down that branch. Yes, I was heading to Exmouth down the Avocet Line, named after a bird that’s a common sight along the River Exe.

A four car Class 150 combo consisting of 150 261 and 150 247 formed the next departure, so I boarded 261. The train then headed to Exeter Central, where more passengers boarded. Then, it was off through the Exeter suburbs, calling at St James Park before the Exmouth line branches off from the former Southern Railway (now operated by South Western Railways) main line to London Waterloo, the Exmouth branch having also belonged to the Southern, in contrast to the GWR operation of the branch today. The line is now the busiest in Devon, with a healthy commuter traffic usefully supplemented at other times of the day /week by tourist traffic heading for the seaside resort of Exmouth. Polsloe Bridge, Digby & Sowton and the recent station at Newcourt serve Exeter’s increasingly growing suburbs.

Topsham is probably the largest intermediate town on the line, and this is signified by a passing loop on this otherwise single branch being here. This single line status requires some smart running to avoid delays on this line with a half hourly frequency!

After Topsham , the line travels along the opposite bank of the Exe to that which carries the line to Dawlish and beyond, meaning that both the Castle set I’d caught from Plymouth and the 150 combo that I was now on, having reached Exeter from Paignton, had travelled along that opposite bank some half an hour earlier! The village of Exton is next, followed by the two Lympstone stations, the first being the infamous Lympstone Commando, where passengers are unable to leave the platform unless they have business at the adjacent Royal Marine base, this being the only way off the platform. Lympstone Village caters for the local, non military population! Soon, the river becomes an estuary and we were at journeys end at Exmouth :

The Big Beach Bus!

Now it was time to take a break from the railway and get the last of Stagecoach’s four Devon based open top bus services in the book, having ridden on the other three (the 122 from Babbacombe – Devon Bay, 222 from Dawlish Warren – Teignmouth and the 21C from Barnstaple – Croyde Bay) this holiday. The 95 happens to be the longest established of these routes, with open toppers introduced to this route by Stagecoach in the early years of this century. This year, complementing the new 21C and the return of the 222, the 95 has been increased from hourly to half hourly, so I knew that I wouldn’t have to wait too long for one to appear, with Big Beach Bus branded E400 bodied Scania 15665, which I’d ridden on twice this holiday, when it had stood in for regular bus 17701 (ironically formerly used on the 95) on the 222, appeared :

And so I boarded, paid just over £5 to the driver for a return to the route’s Devon Cliffs terminus, and went upstairs to enjoy the open section. After heading through the Town Centre, we were soon on the Esplanade, a typical British sea front, with stalls selling ice cream, buckets and spades, and rock, quiet now that the peak season was over but still serving the handful of visitors, many with pre school aged children, who were enjoying the unseasonably warm weather that had blessed our whole fortnight in Devon. Several of these families boarded our 95, obviously staying at the Devon Cliffs Holiday Park that the route serves.

Despite Stagecoach only bringing open toppers to the 95 this century, Exmouth Esplanade has seen open toppers before! For back in 1955, when Devon General converted some 1934 vintage AEC Regents to open top, mostly for Torquay but one was allocated to route 74, which ran along the Esplanade to Orecombe Point, where the Esplanade comes to an end. In my 2018 blog series, I wrongly assumed that this Regent was replaced by a newer converted Regent, when the Torquay Regents were replaced by the convertible Sea Dog Leyland Atlanteans, but a recent article in “Classic Bus” magazine about the Sea Dogs stated that this Regent was used on a new open top service from Torquay – Dawlish Warren (with today’s 222 covering part of this) and the 74 returned to being closed top, the route disappearing in the seventies. Today, the 95 faces competition for Esplanade passengers from the Land Train that runs to Orecombe Point, but the 95 leaves the Esplanade just before the road becomes a cul de sac, and then heads through the suburbs and the neighbouring village of Littlesham, where we passed the other 95, which was a closed top E400. I’m unsure whether a second open topper is allocated for the other turn but was unavailable today, or if that turn, which was due to return to Exeter in service after it’s next trip, is normally a closed top bus but, either way, I’m glad that I arrived in time for the open top turn! Soon, we were entering the large Devon Cliffs Caravan Park, which leads down to the beach at Sandy Bay, where we exchanged one lot of holiday makers for another, then began the journey back to Exmouth.

I then returned to the station to catch the next train, with the arrival of 150 202 as part of a four car Class 150 combo dashing my hopes of getting a Class 166 along the line:

And so I enjoyed another run along the Avocet Line, enjoying the view of the River Exe:

Exeter Bus Station

I did think of staying on 150 202 after reaching Exeter, but I hadn’t had the chance to see the new Exeter Bus Station, which only opened a few months previously, so I got off the train at Exeter Central and made the five minute walk to Paris Street, where I soon spotted the remains of the old bus station :

Before reaching the new bus station next door:

Yes, I know the chap in the advert on the Stagecoach E400 looks like me but it is, in fact, James Bond actor Daniel Craig!

Very nice! I then managed to walk back to Central Station in good time for the next train to Paignton, which did produce a Class 166, in the form of 166 206:

Which took me up to Exeter St Davids, where it reversed for the run down the other side of the River Exe. I gave Lynn a rang, explaining that I planned to take this train to Dawlish, where I planned to have a few drinks at the Marine Tavern, inviting her to join me, but she declined, fancying a night in, so I rode solo onto Dawlish, where I first went for fish and chips from the new chip shop Frank Fries In Dawlish:

I ate my purchase on the same bench as I’d chilled out on that morning! They were very nice! I then walked over to the Marine Tavern, where I enjoyed a pint or four of the Exeter Brewery’s most excellent Avocet Ale-yes, named after the same bird as the line to Exmouth is named after! – on the pub’s excellent upstairs patio, where I spent a pleasant couple of hours watching the trains go by:

Then, I caught 166 212 for one last, three minute trundle along the sea wall to Dawlish Warren, the sun well on the ascent beyond the sea, bringing the day to a close!

Conclusions

And so Lynn and I had spent a fortnight in the Dawlish Warren flat that we had discovered in 2020 and fell quite in love with, in a county with which we were already well smitten. The railway had served us well during the holiday, taking us along the seawall to Dawlish and Teignmouth, as well as further afield, such as our trip to St Ives. I must admit that I’ve come to really like GWR’s refined, dark green livery, which suits it’s publicity extremely well. Centrepiece of this publicity is a series of posters based on Enid Blyton’s “Famous Five” series of books, which show off the magical charm of the West Country that GWR serve really well:

Devon is well served by railway lines, allowing good access to many parts of this surprisingly large county. This network is being added to in November, when the Dartmoor Line to Okehampton reopens:

Devon’s bus network is similarly good, particularly the main operator Stagecoach, not withstanding their current problems retaining staff (as are most bus companies at the moment). But the bus and rail networks are largely separate, with no integration, particularly ticket wise, between them. Which makes using public transport on journeys which require both modes, say, from Exeter – Lynton, more awkward and costly than it ideally could be! Of course, in the UK,, this is nothing unusual, at least outside of the Metropolitan areas, with their Integrated Transport Authorities (formerly Passenger Transport Executives) and, of course, London, with Transport for London’s Oyster Card (and now, contactless) valid on pretty much everything. But out in the usually more rural Shire Counties, bus and rail are largely separate entities.

Around a week before I finished this blog, Devon was one of the first county councils to announce it’s bids for cash from the government’s “Bus Back Better” fund, part of the National Bus Strategy. Included in this bid are plans for more integration, including combined ticketing in places, plus better bus connections, like the extension of the Lynton – Barnstaple route to Barnstaple Railway Station. Other initiatives would see the all operator Devon Day Rover bus ticket extended to include Cornwall, and more local versions, including for longer periods of time (weekly, four weekly etc) all of which should make public transport cheaper and easier to use here, as will improved bus services to places like Dartmouth and Lynton /Lynmouth, so perhaps First’s commercial initiatives this summer may be a stepping stone towards such links.

I sincerely wish all parties concerned considerable success in improving things, making public transport in this most glorious county even better, and I look forward to sampling some of the initiatives when I next return to Devon!

What…………….!

“What……….!”

I hear regular readers of my blogs say!

“He’s just completed a series of blogs about Devon and there’s been no mention of the Seaton Tramway?”

Well, yes, this time round, there were so many things that Lynn and I wanted to do, that we didn’t have time to make our way to Devon’s most eastern town. But, as we were heading home on Saturday, I couldn’t resist a lengthy diversion to Seaton, despite the fact that it was a struggle to get petrol, due to the fuel panic buying that sprung up over our holiday’s last few days, though luckily, we found a lovely country garage near Sidmouth which supplied us sufficient fuel to get back home and last us for around a week.

At Seaton, we bought two returns, then took Car 2 to Colyton :

Then had a last Devon Cream Tea in the Colyton Station Restaurant, then caught Car 8 back:

Then, we returned to the car, and drove out through Axminster, then headed out of Devon into Somerset, making our way up to the M5 near Taunton and then homeward bound, both of us being sad that a wonderful holiday was over, and looking forward to returning to the glorious county of Devon sometime in the future!

Adventures In Devon 2021-Part Seven – Two Trips To Dartmoor

A cow in the road! One of the hazards of rural bus operation!

Last year, during our week at Dawlish Warren, we visited the National Park Moorland of Dartmoor, doing so by car, as this is one of the few parts of Devon to be very sparsely served by public transport. This year, however, upon researching possibilities for trips on this holiday, I discovered two new seasonal bus routes onto different parts of the Moor, which I felt would make two good days out for my wife Lynn (who readily agreed) and myself.

Saturday 18th September – The 271

Previously, a small independent, whose name currently escapes me, used to run a very sparse Summer only Devon County Council tendered service, numbered 271, from Newton Abbott to the remote village of Widecombe, right in the middle of the Moor, and carrying onto various really inaccessible places deeper on the Moor, necessitating the use of a really small minibus.

This year, the contract has passed to Stagecoach who, not having such a small bus, would only operate the Newton Abbott – Widdecombe section. The upside, though, was that the service would run hourly on Saturdays, the only day that it runs. Therefore, having visited Widecombe on our drive last year, we decided that it would be nice to re-visit the village by bus!

To get to Newton Abbott, we decided to start off with the 09.35 open topped 222 from Dawlish Warren, with regular Trident 17701 doing the honours :

We paid the driver £8.30 each for a Stagecoach Explorer, giving us validity over the whole Stagecoach Devon network and went upstairs for a sea breeze on the short run to Dawlish. We could have actually gone all the way to Teignmouth on this, but we chose to make our connection in Dawlish, as the toilets were closer to hand!

Here, we waited for the 2 Exeter – Newton Abbott service, which appeared around half an hour later in the form of E400 bodied Scania 15896. Although the number ceased to be used in the seventies, being revived by Stagecoach when they bought double deckers back to the corridor in 2008, the 2 was actually one of two services between Exeter and Newton Abbott (originally going onto Torquay, but that section was hived off to the 28, merged with the 12 to Brixham in 1958) introduced by the fledgling Devon General in 1919. Whilst the 1 would travel inland via Chudleigh, and would cease as a through service in the sixties (today’s 39 covers most of it) the coastal 2 would benefit from the traffic generated by the seaside towns, plus the suburban development, of Dawlish and Teignmouth, becoming, and indeed remaining one of Devon’s main trunk routes. We followed the hilly course of the 222 and 22 routes into Teignmouth, then headed along the road to Newton Abbott, like the coast road, higher up than the railway, which we looked down on alongside the River Teign. Just before we reached Newton Abbott, we made a detour into several estates in the Kingsteignton area, this not been part of the original 2 but added to the service, I think, in the minibus era (when the route was numbered 85) so we followed a rather circuitous route into Newton Abbott.

Here, we had half hour before the 271 was due, giving Lynn the opportunity for a wander around the market. The time came for the 271, but it didn’t pull up at the stop. However, Plaxton Pointer bodied Dennis Dart 34869 was parked up with “Sorry Not In Service” on the blinds. The driver of this bus soon came over to us, and explained in an East European accent that the bus had been losing power, and he’d called the garage for assistance, and they were on the way, but it would mean that we would be late departing. We thanked him for letting us know, whilst the two elderly ladies who were also waiting for the bus decided to cut their losses and get a 12 to Torquay instead. Having invested in Explorers and having only this opportunity to ride the 271 we hung on. After around twenty minutes, a Stagecoach Land Rover pulled alongside the bus, and an engineer got out, did some fiddling with the engine and, ten minutes later, the bus was declared fit to continue, so it pulled onto the stand and we boarded, and set off rapidly out of Newton Abbott.

Technically,, this first stretch out to Bovey Tracey is actually a short of the 39 to Exeter, with that number being carried as far as that small market town on the southern tip of Dartmoor. Here, the driver put 271 on the blinds and we headed onto the narrow Moorland roads, which the Dart was just small enough to negotiate! A fine run across stunning, ragged Moorland, bought us to the top of a steep hill, which we gingerly descended into the lovely village of Widecombe, the bus terminating in the car park that we used last year.

We went for a cream tea at the Widecombe cafe, then had a look around this charming village :

We then did something that would have been most unwise for me to do on our car trip, going for a drink (in my case, a couple of pints of Jail Ale) in the Old Inn:

Then, we headed back to the car park to get the bus, driven by the same driver in another Dart in the new Stagecoach livery, which I assumed was the bus we came on but the driver said that it had lost power again, so a replacement in the form of 34863, had been bought out. This took us back through the delightful lanes and into Bovey Tracey, where the driver changed the number to 39, and we continued back to Newton Abbott.

We then decided to get a bit more use of our Explorers, so caught MMC E400 Scania 15327 on the 12, which took us along the South Devon Link Road to the outskirts of Torquay, which we headed into, the grand houses of the Torre area soon turning into hotels the closer we got to the Town Centre, which we went through, leading us to the main Torquay bus terminus at the Marina. We stayed on for a short trip along the Promenade, getting off by the railway station, leaving the 12 to continue to Paignton and Brixham. We then walked over to the station, bought two singles to Dawlish Warren with our Two Together Railcard, for around £7, and caught 150 234 for the trip back to Dawlish Warren, getting fish and chips from the Penlagon Chippy, which were better than those from the Warren chippy, but is about to change hands, so had a quite limited menu. We then headed back to the flat, where we watched the first episode of this year’s “Strictly Come Dancing” – Lynn’s a big fan!

Tuesday 21st September – Dartmoor Explorer

Exploring Dartmoor hasn’t always been as awkward as it has become in recent years, at least on a Sunday! For on the first day of the week, for many years from the eighties onwards, Devon County Council, the Countryside Commission and the National Park jointly sponsored the Dartmoor Sunday Rambler Network of bus services, operated by a variety of operators, all of which accepted the Dartmoor Rambler Ticket, which gradually came to be valid throughout Devon. Lynn and I sampled this ticket on two occasions, the first in 2005, catching the X46 from Torquay – Exeter, then catching the Sunday train to Okehampton (now a line that’s due to reopen fully in November, then preserved Western National Bristol Lodekka 2019 on the 118, which skimmed the northern edge of Dartmoor to reach Gunnislake, from where we caught the Tamar Valley Line back to Plymouth, then an ex London Airbus Alexander Royale bodied Volvo Olympian on the X80 back to Torquay.

A route we noticed running that day was First’s 82, running across the Moor from Exeter – Plymouth, using an ex Strathclyde Alexander bodied Leyland Olympian, which sounded a fantastic double deck run. Unfortunately, over the following years, funding cuts would reduce the Sunday Rambler network to but a fraction of it’s former self, so we never got the chance to ride the 82. However, in 2014, in the dying days of the Sunday Rambler ticket, First ran an extension of one journey each way on their 48 route from Wemsbury into Plymouth, then out to Yelverton, onto Exeter via the Moor. Being on holiday in Paignton that year, we decided to take a trip, using the first Stagecoach Gold journey of the day to get to Plymouth, from where we caught the 48. Unfortunately, the route couldn’t be double decked due to low trees @n on the double run it made to Yelverton lakes, a Plaxton Pointer Dennis Dart running the trip, which left Plymouth nearly full! Not really a suitable bus for a three hour run but the Dartmoor scenery made up for this! Here’s a photo of the bus at Moretonhampstead car park, where a much needed comfort break was scheduled :

Afterwards, we caught the Sunday Okehampton train again, this time then catching the preserved Dartmoor Railway (now sadly no longer operating), which operated an ex Southern Region Thumper DEMU a bit further along the old Southern main line to Plymouth, to Meldon Quarry, the reason the line this far has survived, being used by freight trains, before returning to Paignton by train, those final years of the Sunday Rambler having complete Devon wide rail travel added, to make up for the reduced bus services. The next year, Stagecoach had taken over First’s Plymouth operation, and the Dartmoor Sunday Rambler ticket had gone, along with the remaining special services, including the 48 extension.

But this year, First’s third new leisure service in Devon (along with the Discover Exeter Tour and the Exmoor Coaster – see Parts Two and Three of this series) the only one not to feature open toppers, probably wise considering Dartmoor’s exposed location, and also allowing the three branded Wright Gemini bodied Volvo B7s, to be used on the college services that undermine the group’s small Devon operation, is the Dartmoor Explorer, which covers much of the former 82 route.

The Dartmoor Explorer timetable says that two round trips operate, neither of which run the full Exeter – Plymouth journey. Instead, buses leave Plymouth at 1000, bound for Moretonhampstead, and Exeter at 10.05, bound for Tavistock, allowing passengers from both starting points to enjoy a journey across the Moor and spend around an hour at the respective towns that each leg terminates at. Not long, granted, but buses and drivers need to be back in position for their college runs. Having been to Tavistock (a nice town, but not really a great deal to do there.) I decided that it would be better for us to get off at Princetown, another small village on the Moor, which gave us just under two hours there. But, of course, the real joy of this trip was to cross Dartmoor on a double decker.!

Having to get to Exeter for the 10.05 departure time, we felt it prudent to get an earlier train than our Two Together Railcard would permit us to travel on, so, facing another of those awkward gaps in the Dawlish Warren calling pattern, we caught the 08.54 to Exmouth, consisting of just the one Class 150, 150 249, upon which the guard charged us around £10 for two all day returns to Exeter St Davids, rather reasonable, I thought. Despite the expense of long distance rail travel, I find that a lot of local journeys are very reasonably priced.

Like the Discover Exeter Tour, the Dartmoor Explorer starts from St Davids Station, meaning we could book to, and get off at Exeter’s main station, rather than reverse down to Central. We then spent some time in the Pumpkin cafe, until around ten minutes before the bus was due, when we went out to the bus stop. Despite it being 10.00, neither the 10.00 Exeter Tour, nor our bus was around. Two elderly ladies were waiting for the Exeter Tour and we got chatting about the sparseness of buses out to Dartmoor. They hadn’t heard of the 271 when I mentioned it! They were both wondering where the buses were, my guess was that both drivers had been delayed on college duties, which was confirmed when Wright Gemini bodied Volvo B7 37011 appeared, resplendent in Dartmoor Explorer livery, the driver telling the two ladies that the tour would be along shortly :

Taken later that afternoon

We paid our fare of £10 for me and a further £5 for Lynn (or the other way around! Like the other First leisure services, only the first passenger per party pays full fare, companions pay half.) and then bagged the front seats upstairs, perfect for a grandstand view of the grand ride ahead! We headed around the City Centre, picking up a few more passengers at Central Station, then headed out into the suburbs, where we picked up a few more passengers. Obviously this service seemed to be doing better than the Exeter Tour but seemed to be below the loadings I’d seen on the Exmoor Coaster. A very unscientific survey, based on single trips on each service, but my gut tells me that this is an accurate assessment of the services fortunes. I somehow think that the future for the Exeter Tour may not be that great, but I certainly think the Exmoor Coaster has potential. Whilst the loadings on the Dartmoor Explorer were light (and the two ladies we were talking to at St Davids had confirmed that the trips they had made on the Explorer had been lightly loaded.) it hopefully will get another chance next year, with the fact that the closed top buses can used throughout the year on college work surely means that another season would be a relatively economical proposition!

And so we left the City behind. The first stretch, out to Moretonhampstead, roughly follows the path of independent Countrybus route 359, a pretty rural stretch, though the really scenic stuff would start beyond Moretonhampstead, where we arrived at the car park /bus terminus where the toilets facilities provided such relief on the 48 back in 2014! Here, we also had a little surprise, when we encountered another Dartmoor Explorer liveried B7 on a journey to Exeter, which doesn’t appear in the timetable! Curious!

As I say, after Moretonhampstead, the dramatic Moorland scenary began! Here’s some pictures, including an encounter with a cow! :

Quite simply, an absolutely stunning double deck ride! Well worth doing should it come back!

We got off at Princetown, a delightful little village, where we went for another cream tea!

We also visited the Visitor Centre, where an exhibition centred upon Dartmoor’s most famous literary reference, my favourite Sherlock Holmes story, about the diabolically devilish hound that hunts down the local lord’s of the Manor, yes, it can only be “The Hound Of The Baskervilles” :

Also nearby is the infamous prison :

And nearby is the Dartmoor Brewery, where the Jail Ale that I consumed at Widecombe is brewed.

Whilst waiting for the bus back to Exeter, Princetown’s regular, all year round service appeared, with this ex First Optare Solo of Oakley Coaches, who run the 98 from Tavistock – Yelverton, with just one journey each way Monday – Saturday running through Princetown, so I was really lucky to get this shot!

Soon after, our bus appeared, and took us back through that glorious scenery once again, bringing us back to Exeter,:

….. Where we were joined by an open top E400 in Atlantic Coaster livery (following the early reduction, due to driver shortages, of that route along the North Cornish coast from Padstow – St Ives, the route now going no further west than Perranporth) which had took over from 36600, which we had rode on the tour the previous week (see Part Two)

And so I had ridden all three of First’s new leisure services in Devon, and I’d been very impressed with what I’d seen, admiring the inventiveness that the group has shown in starting these routes, particularly in such challenging times for the bus industry. Around a week before I’m writing this, Devon County Council was one of the first councils to announce it’s plans for it’s contribution to the government’s National Bus Strategy (Bus Back Better!), and these include improvements to bus services onto Dartmoor, so perhaps both the Dartmoor Explorer and Stagecoach 271, are the start of a determined attempt to improve public transport access to the National Park, with the November reopening of the Dartmoor Line to Okehampton contributing to this! I wish it all every success!

Lynn and I then caught a completely full 150 248 back to Dawlish Warren. Like 249 that morning, and several other trains running the Exmouth – Paignton service that day, 248 was operating solo, meaning just two carriages to carry the returning peak hour crowds, obviously a result of a unit shortage that day, bringing the uncomfortable spectre of overcrowding back to a railway which passengers were returning to.

The final blog of this series will cover a trip I made solo with a Devon Day Ranger, exploring the Devon rail network.

To Be Continued…………!

Adventures In Devon 2021-Part Six-Torbay & Dartmouth

Broadsands, as seen from the Paignton & Dartmouth Railway

When holidaying in South Devon, the Borough of Torbay is a logical attraction. Consisting mainly of the varied seaside towns of Torquay, Paignton and Brixham, it probably contains the largest amount of tourist attractions, in a county that’s full of tourist attractions!

So iit wasn’t surprising that my wife Lynn and I would visit the area at some point. We would do so a grand total of six times over our fortnight at Dawlish Warren, twice by car to see theatre shows at Babbacombe and Torquay, twice for just brief visits, mentioned in other blogs, and twice using public transport, with those two trips being the subject of this blog.

Friday 17th September

This trip, on the Friday of our first week, saw us using one of Torbay’s great attractions to reach the town of Dartmouth. This attraction is the Paignton & Dartmouth Railway, the largely steam operated railway that took over the Paignton – Kingswear line from British Rail, the line being another of those final Beeching inspired closures (as was the Minehead line, see Part Three of this blog series) closing in 1972, with the Dart Valley Railway taking over and beginning operations in 1973, from which time, the railway has made an important contribution to the Torbay tourist economy.

To get there from Dawlish Warren, the obvious way was to use the railway line that once fed into the Kingswear branch from Paignton. So we found ourselves repeating the walk of the last blog, getting to the station slightly earlier than on our trip to St Ives, as this time, we had to purchase tickets from the ladies who come from the Newton Abbott ticket office to sell tickets to the large amount of holidaymakers using the 09.32 Exeter and Exmouth train, as well as the 10.00 in the other direction to Paignton, which would be our train. We paid around £9 for Day Returns with our Two Together Railcard, with the queue being considerably quieter than had been the case on the day of that St Ives trip. The usual four car Class 150 combo arrived, with us boarding 150 244 and grabbing the obligatory nearside seats to enjoy the view from the Dawlish Seawall, then the River Teign as we made our way to Newton Abbott where, today, we would stay on the train for it’s trundle down the Paignton branch, calling at Torre, in the suburbs of Torquay, before calling at Torquay itself, then the line carrying on, offering pleasant sea views of Torbay which tend to get overshadowed by the views from the more famous Dawlish seawall section. Soon, we arrived at Paignton :

The station of the Paignton & Dartmouth is sited the other side of the level crossing which trains on the National Network cross to reach the National Rail station. So we made our way there, bought our tickets, which were unsurprisingly more expensive than our tickets from Dawlish Warren had been, with us paying around £13 each. 5239 Goliath would be the loco hauling our train, seen here running around that train:

And so we boarded the innovatively modified British Railways MK 1 stock where our seats had been allocated, part of the Railway’s Covid 19 precautions, , the plastic screens fitted above the seats also being part of this:

These are the comfortable seats that I referred to at the end of the last blog, after a day of travelling a long distance on the hard seats of GWR’s Class 802, returning on a leg room limited Class 158. Why are today’s railways so bad at providing comfort for long distance journeys? Too much concentration on the commuter market? And will that have to change now that commuting is not looking to be the strong market it was pre Covid?

Anyhow, we began our twenty five miles per hour gentle chuff, on incredibly springy and comfortable seats, soon passing through Goodrington Sands Station (all the intermediate stations are currently unserved) before heading over the Broadsands Viaduct, with it’s views out to sea :

At Churston (the C in Agatha Christies “The ABC Murders” which was one of my holiday reads!), the line heads inland through woodland, passing Greenaway Halt, constructed a few years back for visitors to the National Trust’s Greenaway House, Agatha Christie’s Riverside holiday home, before running alongside the River Dart.

When Isambard Kingdom Brunel was planning the line, he originally intended building a bridge across the Dart, to get to Dartmouth on the opposite bank, but the local landowner would have non of it, so the line terminated at Kingswear, immediately opposite Dartmouth, instead. The railway then started a ferry service to take passengers across the river, and thanks to the 1999 purchase by the Railway of the Dart Pleasure Craft Company, who had previously taken over the ferry, and also operated various cruises along the Dart, the Railway owns that ferry again. Those long term readers, who followed my earlier “Buses For Fun” blogs, will remember Part Two of the “Adventures In Devon 2018” series, will recall that Lynn and I had travelled on the Round Robin which the Railway runs, where steam train, ferry and a river cruise to Totnes combines with the usually open top 100 bus service (operated by the River Bus subsidiary of the Dart Valley Railway) completing the tour by linking Totnes – Paignton. As we were coming from Dawlish Warren this time, we decided to leave that side of the trip, and just do a return to Dartmouth.

So our tickets were valid on the foot ferry that crosses from Kingswear – Dartmouth, with us catching Kingswear Princess :

With Dartmouth’s Naval College being such a prime attraction for the Great Western Railway, a railway station without a railway line was built on Dartmouth Quay, allowing trainee Naval officers to buy through tickets on the ferry, then onto the railway beyond. This is today a cafe:

If you like boats, then Dartmouth is a good place to go! Ther are ferries galore, two car ferries, ferries to the village of Dittisham and also to Dartmouth Castle, overlooking the estuary onto the English Channel around a mile to the south. Then there are the cruises up the Dart, plus plenty of pleasure craft. Here’s some photos :

We had a look around the shops and visited the Dartmouth Bakery, which sells the most wonderful chocolate flake cakes. We visited the market, then popped into the Market pub, where I enjoyed a couple of pints of St Austell Tribute.

Then, we caught the other ferry, Dartmouth Princess, which features an open upper deck, which we took advantage of as we crossed over the river.

Then we walked back to the station to await Goliath to take us back to Paignton :

From Paignton, we caught 150 234 back to Dawlish Warren, where we then took fish and chips from the Warren Fish Bar back to the flat.

Monday 20th September

On this Monday, we decided to head to Torbay again, this time by bus, with the aid of two Torbay Dayriders, giving us unlimited travel on all Stagecoach buses between Dawlish Warren and Totnes, two areas outside the actual Borough of Torbay that add extra value to the tickets, all for £5 each.

As the weather was particularly warm on this day, we decided to do as much of this trip as possible on open top buses! Therefore, we made our way to the Dawlish Warren bus terminus in time for the 10.35 222 to Teignmouth, with Big Beach Bus E400 15665, branded for the Exmouth – Devon Cliffs 95 service but spending a couple of days covering for the 222 regular bus 17701 (which, in fact, used to run on the 95) soon appearing :

And so we had a nice trip through Dawlish, enjoying the sea view from high above the famous railway line, this taking us onto Teignmouth :

Here, we sat on a bench admiring the view for half an hour, before boarding (closed top) E400 bodied Scania 15864 on the 22 to South Devon College via Torquay and Paignton. This stretch of route is one of my favourites in Devon, indeed, in the whole UK. It leaves Teignmouth over the bridge across the River Teign that heads into the neighbouring village of Shaldon, then climbs high above the cliffs, offering splendid views towards the sea in one direction, and over the Devon countryside in the other. A simply stunning route.

The 22 then enters the clifftop resort of Babbacombe, to the north of Torquay. We got off here and walked down to the cliff top front itself, where we saw a queue waiting for the next 122 open topper, which should have gone a few minutes ago, so perhaps it was running late. After around ten minutes or so, it began to dawn on me that this journey was a victim to the current shortage of drivers that was afflicting Stagecoach Devon, and indeed, the bus industry as a whole. So we waited just under half an hour, when the next bus, Dennis Trident 18305, aka Porter the Penguin (the Tridents allocated to the 122 are all named after cartoon animals) arrived, which we boarded and took a seat in the open section, taking this view of the coast:

And so we set off, heading along the coast before completing the terminal loop and heading onto the main road that took us into Torquay Town Centre, alongside the Marina, with it’s posh yachts, indeed, posh is a word that describes Torquay rather well, with it’s hillside hotels and luxury flats giving a somewhat continental look that gives the area it’s “English Riviera” tag.

We then took the main coast road to Paignton, which circled the bay, offering more fine views, before heading onto Paignton Esplanade itself in Preston, following this towards Paignton Town Centre, where we headed down the chip shop and amusement arcade filled Torbay Road, unloading most of our passengers at the stop by the Paignton & Dartmouth railway station, before crossing the level crossing and entering Paignton Bus Station.

The 122 started running in 2017, restoring a frequent open top service to Torbay, something that Devon General introduced in 1955, using converted 1934 vintage AEC Regents, which were in turn replaced in 1961 by the famous Sea Dog class of convertible Leyland Atlanteans. These services were letter suffixed variants of the main 12 from Newton Abbott – Brixham, these services (12A, 12C, 12D) all starting from St Marychurch and Babbacombe, so the 122 is very much a direct descendent of these services. The Sea Dogs were replaced by convertible Bristol VRs in the late seventies (the services having been renumbered 122, 123 and 124) but the services were withdrawn in the late eighties, victims of Devon General Manager Harry Blundred’s drive towards total minibus operation. With Stagecoach largely reversing this trend after purchasing Devon General in 1996, several open top services returned to Torbay, mostly on an hourly headway, with varying success, though it took the 122 to bring back the twenty minute frequency of years gone by.

The 122 returned in 2018, which was fortunate for me, as we holidayed in Paignton that year, (see the “Buses For Fun” blog “Adventures In Devon 2018 – Part One-Topless In Torbay And Other Stories”) so I got to use the 122 regularly. The route, on the same timetable, would return in 2019, but 2020, thanks to the pandemic, would see a reduced operation begin in August, on just an hourly frequency, needing two buses.

2021 has seen a more frequent service return, but on a half hourly headway. The final section of the route has also changed, with it’s previous Paignton Zoo terminus (not served by the original Devon General open toppers, they went to Broadsands, Kingswear and Brixham, due to the zoo being in the Western National area of the town) left to the 22 and Torquay – Plymouth GOLD service, which stop outside, whilst the 122 now heads to the Devon Bay Holiday Park to the north of Goodrington. As this section was new, I asked Lynn if we could get it in the book, so we stayed on board for the run out to this large caravan park, which Lynn quite liked the look of. :

We then returned to Paignton, where we had lunch in a cafe that served the most wonderful milkshake, even coming with a doughnut on top! Then, we spent some time on the beach, with me having bought my swimming trunks for a dip in the sea! We then went to catch a bus back to Torquay, hoping to to grab a 122, but we seemed to hit the bus with no driver again, which was unfortunate, as there seemed to be a gap in the 12 too, it being the time of day when school kids were joining holidaymakers in wanting to travel! Fortunately, three 12s would subsequently appear together, and we got on the quietest one, MMC E400 bodied Scania 15324. This took us back to Torquay, where we had tea at the Saltwater Fish Bar, which we had discovered last year.

Then, not wishing to wish another encounter with the Stagecoach staff shortage (A Dawlish Warren 22 had been missing the previous Tuesday, when Lynn had visited Torquay) so we caught MMC Scania 15314 for a short run on the 12 upto Torquay Station, which is handy for the beach, and the Grand Hotel that, from the outside, certainly seems to live up to it’s name, but is a little out of the way for the town centre, so isn’t as much of a focus in the town, as the station at Paignton, very much in the centre, is. Therefore, when I first encountered Torquay Station, whilst staying just around the corner from it (not at the Grand!) in 2005, the station seemed to possess a degree of faded grandeur! Since then, the station has been spruced up, but it still seems very quiet! Anyhow, we bought two singles to Dawlish Warren from the machine, which came to around £7 with the Railcard, then caught 150 248 back to the Warren.

So we’d spent a lovely couple of days either by the sea, or close to it by the River Dart’s estuary. In the next blog, we’ll be taking two trips in land, near to the source of the River Dart itself!

To Be Continued……..!

Wigston Farewell-5/10/21

Return To Leicester

It’s been a while since I last visited the city of Leicester (May 2019, in fact! See blog “Recreating A Midland Red Day Anywhere”), one of my favourite places for bus riding but, with the city being particularly blighted by the Covid 19 pandemic, not even enjoying the brief relaxation of conditions in the summer of 2020, a visit since hasn’t really been prudent. But things seem to have turned a corner, and the city, like everywhere else, is pretty much fully open, so a visit has been on the cards at some point………. then I heard that Arriva were closing Wigston garage!

Wigston

As well as being home to a proud municipal operator in Leicester City Transport (LCT) , the city was also one of the most significant centres of the large Midland Red company, not only operating services out into the surrounding countryside and beyond but also operating a significant proportion of services around the city, thanks to LCT coming to bus operation relatively late (mid twenties) and the growth of housing in areas just beyond the city boundary. Several garages had been used by the company to provide this network, with the two purpose built garages at Southgates and Sandacre, both within Leicester City Centre, providing this role from the thirties onwards. But the post war growth of the network meant that these were becoming severely overcrowded, so a third Leicester area garage opened on Saturday 5th October 1957 at Wigston, one of those areas beyond the city boundary where increased housing saw an increase in Midland Red services.

And so the new garage became the natural home of services to the south of Leicester. As the years went by, Wigston’s services would be one manned, then converted to single deck, mostly Leyland National operation (as per Midland Red’s seventies pro single deck vehicle policy, as explained in “Midland Red Heaven – Part One”) before Midland Red’s September 1981 split saw the area become part of Midland Red East, which saw double deckers return, with D13 Alexander bodied Daimler Fleetlines returning and ex London Transport DMS Fleetlines bringing back double decker dominance. Midland Red East would become Midland Fox and the garage would carry on into the deregulated era, with Midland Fox ultimately becoming part of Arriva.

Wigston is now the only surviving former Midland Red garage in Leicestershire, with Hinckley closing in 1979 (today’s Hinckley garage being at another location, set up originally to operate Fox Cub minibus services) and Leicester Sandacre closing in 1980, although Sandacre would return to use as a Foxcub minibus garage in 1985, lasting in this guise until the opening of a new garage on former Walkers crisps owned land at Thurmaston in 1995. Thurmaston would go on to become the dominant Leicester garage, with Coalville closing and partially replaced by an out station before Southgates closed on 12th July 2009, with services divided between Wigston and Thurmaston. Now, with Arriva siting the increasing cost of maintaining the building as the main reason, Wigston is to close on 16th October, with services transferred to Thurmaston, from where Leicester – Nuneaton service 158 will be transferred to Hinckley to make room.

So with the garage’s demise imminent, my friend Phil Tonks and I decided that we had to go and pay homage!

So it was that I found myself strap hanging on West Midlands Metro CAF 17 into Birmingham, then making my way to New Street station, where I met up with Phil, who’d made the rather longer journey from his Wordsley home, and we both bought off peak returns to Leicester for £16.10 each, adding a Plus Bus for all operator travel around the Greater Leicester area for a further £3.50. We then caught Cross Country 170 105 on the first Monday – Friday train that these tickets are valid on, the 0952, which took us to Leicester in around an hour.

The 47 & 48-The Track

I decided that the logical first move would be to ride on a 48, which we could get from the front of the station. The 48 is a circular service, with 47 used in the other direction and has traditionally been Wigston garage’s main trunk route, known by crews as the track. Originally, these services were known as the L7 and L8, though were rather more complex, with an L6 also being part of the mix. Midland Red would remove the L prefix in the early seventies, whilst Midland Fox would bring in the 4x number series in 1984, when the current 48 clockwise, 47 anti clockwise system was bought in.

One of the route’s regular buses, Enviro 400 4416 turned up and Phil and I made our way to a very full top deck, having to go right towards the back to find a seat. The reason the bus was full soon became apparent moments later, when the bus turned off the main London Road and headed up University Road, the logically named home of the Leicester University complex, along which most of our young passengers alighted. Students are always a good market for bus operators, and it’s a wonder that this road is only served by the fifteen minute 47/48. Previously, Arriva had run the 80 along here, latterly with ex Arriva London Mercedes Benz Citaro bendibuses, though this service, mainly running to the halls of residence on the outskirts of Oadby, has now been replaced by a Centrebus operated Shuttle.

University Road bought us out onto Welford Road, where we joined services 46, 49 and 49A. This road has long been one of Midland Red’s main trunk routes out of the city, the growth of suburbia beyond the city boundary leading to those Midland Red services outnumbering the trams and their replacing 42 buses, leading to the abolishment of the area stop sign, that protected LCT services from Midland Red’s, who weren’t allowed to carry local passengers into the City from the point of it’s location inwards , in the fifties. 1972 would see the 42 replaced by joint services 62 and 63 to South Wigston and Wigston Magna respectively, serving developing areas away from the main road. These were mostly operated by LCT, with some Midland Red participation, though a route exchange in 1984 (with LCT gaining services in the Braunstone area) would see Midland Fox take them over completely, renumbering them 42 and 43 to match the new Welford Road numbers. These services would disappear around ten years ago, replaced by the 44A and 49.

We headed out across the city boundary into the semi detached clad suburbia that produced the demand for the increased services that justified the construction of Wigston garage. This bought us into Wigston Magna, the original village that the suburbia was built around, the church being the main giveaway that the village had been there long before. We then wandered around estates of largely seventies housing in the Little Hills area, which eventually bought us into South Wigston. This area’s location next to the railway junction of the line to Birmingham, featuring the Wigston Station that our train this morning had called at, and the Midland Main Line to London St Pancras. This created a mini Victorian railway town, with other business establishments later established in the area……… Including Wigston bus garage.

We got off 4416, with a driver change taking place at the time honoured place for the track but not for much longer!

Then we walked down Station Street to pay homage to Wigston garage for one final time!

Rather than continue the 48 back into Leicester via the direct route down Saffron Lane, we retraced our steps, catching E400 4417 on the 47 from this shelter that highlights South Wigston’s railway heritage :

4417 took us back through Wigston Magna, and back into the City of Leicester, with us getting off just inside the city boundary at Knighton Fields, by the former terminus of the Welford Road trams and replacing 42 bus route, but now is also the home of my favourite Leicester chippy, Grimsby Fisheries, home of truly gigantic haddock! Phil and I ate our purchase on the garage wall over the road, next to the bus stop where, after we’d eaten, we caught 4420 on a 47 back into the City, getting off at it’s Haymarket Bus Station terminus :

Colourful First!

Here it was possible to see side by side, Leicester’s three main bus operators, more Arriva, the independent Centrebus, who have filled in the gaps left by the other two operators, as well as competing on a few routes of the other operator, the successor to Leicester City Transport (or, as it later became, Leicester CityBus) First who, since I was last in the city, have introduced three new liveries to three corridors, reflecting First’s currently relaxing attitude to local image.

The 88 and 88A, which run alongside the 47/48 on it’s South Wigston – City leg, have been branded Saffron, with Wright bodied Volvo B7s painted in this smart livery of maroon and cream, giving a nod to LCT of years gone by! Unlike Welford Road, Midland Red never achieved total dominance along Saffron Lane, which gained a very early LCT bus service to serve the council housing built along there in the twenties. This was the 24, although this would later become a short working of the joint LCT /Midland Red (from Wigston) L88/88 to the fifties vintage Eyres Monsell Estate. The 24 would disappear in 1972, and the 88 would become wholly LCT, being merged into the Cross City 38 to Nether Hall, which would become the last Leicester route to operate with front engine Leyland PD3s in 1982, and the last Leicester route to use conductors in 1984. Recent years has seen the 38 split, with the Eyres Monsell side becoming the 88 again, alongside the 88A, which serves the back roads of the Saffron Lane Estate, terminating at Saffron Crossroads.

Also featuring Wright bodied Volvo B7s is the Braunstone Bus, for route 18 along the Hinckley Road to that suburb.

The third livery features on double deckers, specifically some recently added to the fleet E400s, branded for the Frequent Fourteens to New Parks : A Wright Streetdeck also features this livery.

The 14A

The electronic display at the bus station said that the longer of the New Parks routes, the 14A to Beaumont Leys, was due, so we thought we’d get it in the book, hoping for one of the branded E400s but getting one of the previous 14 branded buses, Wright Streetdeck 35168. Anyhow, we boarded and the bus left the City Centre, heading past a St Margaret’s Bus Station currently in the throes of rebuilding :

Then it was out into the suburbs, following the former tram route that gave LCT the running rights to operate onto the New Parks Council Estate, to where the family of one Arnold Dorsey, who would become famous as singer Englebert Humpledinck, would move to.

But LCT’s 14 group would not have New Parks to themselves! For Midland Red would reach the estate via Stephenson Drive, following the course of the L3 and L4 routes the company had introduced to the Newfoundpool area in the twenties, these being reduced to peak only status by the fifties, before being withdrawn. Years later, Midland Fox would bring Foxcub minibuses to Newfoundpool, which were handed over to Leicester CityBus in 1994, but these would later cease, mainly due to problems with parked cars in the area.

In contrast, Midland Red’s New Parks services would become amongst their busiest in the city, the original L29 and L39 becoming the 92 (running cross city to Thurnby Lodge) 93 (cross city to Scraptoft) and the 94 short to the City Centre. These would be the last routes of all to be operated by BMMO D9s, these finally ceasing on 31st December 1979, using six buses, one of which was now preserved 5399, giving me an excuse to post a photo of it (as if any were needed) at it’s Wythall Transport Museum home, wearing the NBC Poppy red livery that it, and it’s sisters, carried in their final days!

Following one manning, the Cross City running would cease, and the 94 became the main Midland Red New Parks service. The arrival of Midland Fox in 1984 would see the 94 extended beyond the estate, with several variants heading into the Glenfield area, replacing direct services into Leicester area along the Ratby Road. This would bring long standing Ratby Independents Hylton & Dawson and Astill & Jordan as joint operators on the route. Then Midland Fox would do the dirty on the Independents, converting the 94 to high frequency Foxcub minibus operation, supplementing the routes through Newfoundpool that it had already introduced! But for a while, the Independents persevered, working together to hold out against the minibus onslaught…. Until 1989, when Astill & Jordan sold out to Midland Fox. Despite this, Hylton & Dawson’s conductor operated Bedfords would continue, bolstered by a lot of local support, although economics would later force the operator to convert to the, by now conventional one man operation. The operator would eventually retire, but by this, time, Midland Fox would no longer be serving New Parks!

For 1994 would see Leicester CityBus taken over by Moir Lockhead’s GRT Group, formed from the privatisation of Grampian, in Aberdeen, and a year later to join forces with Badgerline to create First Bus, now First. Very quickly, Lockhead organised a truce between what had become a most competitive situation between CityBus and Midland Fox (then owned by the British Bus group) with each operator generally carving up the city between them. Many commentators at the time felt that GRT gave up too much, but, aside from the traditionally Midland Red Thurnby Lodge estate, CityBus would gain dominance of the city’s other council estates, including New Parks. CityBus would convert the 94 back to double deckers, although First would later leave the route to Hylton & Dawson, only returning to the route when Hylton & Dawson retired. Today, Stephenson Drive is served by First’s Wright Streetlite operated route 12.

But Fox successor Arriva are back on New Parks. For back in 2006, First and Arriva came to blows over the city of Chester, where competition between the two groups would break out following First’s purchase of Chester City Transport. This prompted Moir Lockhead to begin competing with certain Arriva routes in Leicester, with Arriva responding in kind on several routes, including the 14, and a Wright bodied Volvo saloon in front of us showed that the 14 was one such route where the competition has continued. One wonders what effect the new National Bus Strategy will have on this competition.

The 14A leaves New Parks and heads towards the Glenfield Hospital, crossing the main A50 out to Coalville to reach it, then heads onto the large, seventies built Beaumont Leys Estate, terminating at the eighties built shopping centre, that I remember being advertised on Central TV when it first opened!

The 14A has it’s origins in Midland Fox’s 94B, one of the variants introduced when the 94 was extended into the Glenfield area. Surprisingly, it didn’t survive the introduction of Fox Cubs to the area but was basically bought back by CityBus after it had gained complete dominance of New Parks, as the 15. Initially using minibuses, full size buses would take over, with a spell of single deck operation before double deckers returned to the New Parks corridor, with the 15 eventually becoming the 14A.

The 54

Beaumont Leys Centre is always a good place to head for, as it is served by several routes, which head back to the City Centre. The most direct is the 74, a former Midland Fox service out to the nearby small town of Anstey, which transferred to CityBus with the 1994 swaps. Usually single deck operated, I noticed a couple of Streetdecks on there today. Also single deck, mainly Wright Streetlites, are the 25 and 26 Circular but the main service to the city is the double deck 54 through to Goodwood, against which Centrebus competes with it’s 54A. For some reason, the stop for this service now features no publicity or information at all, just a blank shelter, so we just looked out for an arrival, which turned out to be Wright Streetdeck 35179. We boarded and the bus made it’s way out of Beaumont Leys, serving the seventies council housing (as I’ve said before, council estates and the bus industry are mutually dependent on each other. Look how many of our busiest bus routes serve them) complete with some bus only roads linking various parts of the estate. Then we headed into the fifties vintage Stadium Estate that the 54 was originally introduced to serve. This would actually be merged with the 29 to Stoneygate at some point, taking the latter number. Deregulation saw the 29 extended across the city boundary into Oadby’s Coombe Rise estate, but 1990 would see the route split, with the 54 returning on the Beaumont Leys side. Later still, First would extend the 54 out to Goodwood.

Being one of the city’s busiest services, the deregulated era has bought competition to the route, firstly in the early nineties with the independent Kinch (now owned by the Wellglade group, Trent Barton’s holding company, who still operate into Leicester with the 2 to Loughborough and the Skylink service to East Midlands Airport) using ex London B20 DMSs, before Centrebus began their competitive operations on the route, this proving far longer lasting.

As we headed towards the City Centre, we passed First’s current Abbey Lane garage, then headed past the site of what was the far grander Abbey Park Road, the original Leicester City Transport garage. Then, in the City Centre, we got off at the Charles Street loading point in the Goodwood direction.

The 31

Time for one more ride, I decided to look out for another Wigston bus, soon settling on Optare Olympia 4106 on the 31 to Oadby.

These buses are new to the area since my last visit, having been transferred from Arriva’s Yorkshire operations (where they were used on the 202/203 Leeds – Huddersfield services) and Kent. In the same way as the Frequent Fourteens E400s had replaced First’s last Wright Gemini bodied Volvo B7s in the city, these had come to replace Arriva’s buses of the same marque, as well as similarly bodied DAFs, which were no longer able to operate in Leicester City Centre due to a council introduced clean air zone.

I’ve always been fond of Optare’s Olympus bodywork, which offered a bit of variety when compared to the hoardes of E400s and Wright Geminis that were entering service at the time of their construction some ten years ago, but sadly couldn’t keep up the volume needed to make production viable, so Optare ceased to build the model, only returning to double deck manufacture more recently with it’s Metrodekka. So I wanted to ride on one of these VDL chassis buses.

Interestingly, by riding the 31 immediately after travelling on First’s 54, we were following the route of the former CityBus cross city 29, heading out past the railway station and down London Road. Like the 48, this corridor is extremely busy with students from the University, with our bus soon filling up and leaving passengers behind, as we headed along past the large houses that would make one think that this isn’t good bus territory at all, but the presence of student accommodation around by the city boundary with the Borough of Wigston and Oadby guarantees good patronage. This boundary is by Leicester Racetrack at Stoneygate, where there is also a small building that was once Oadby tram depot, now the home of the Leicester Historic Vehicle Trust, at the site where the Leicester trams terminated, leaving the area beyond to Midland Red. This was also the terminus of the 29 up until deregulation, when it was extended into Oadby and onto the Coombe Rise estate, which Midland Fox then ceased to serve. Unusually for the new era, the timetable for this was integrated with Midland Fox’s 31 to the Grange Estate (the previous routes had all been numbered in the 1 group). With 1990 seeing the 29 cede it’s Beaumont Leys section to the 54, this side by side operation continued until the route swaps of 1994, when Midland Fox took over the whole corridor. The 29 would be renumbered the 31A.

After passing through Oadby Centre, we headed onto the Grange Estate, this whole area being another example of how Midland Red prospered from the expansion of housing. Wigston had spells of operating this corridor but it was mainly operated by Southgates until that garage’s 2007 closure, with Wigston operating ever since. Going back much earlier, to the beginnings of Midland Red operation in the area, service 132 was the original route to Wigston, operating via London Road and Oadby before the development of housing along Welford Road justified the introduction of a more direct service! In recent years, the 31A has been withdrawn so, after wandering around the Grange Estate, we crossed over the A6 and entered onto Coombe Rise, where we wandered around some more housing in a one way loop, despite the presence of bus stops on the opposite side of the road disused but still showing 31A!

We were soon back in Oadby and then heading back down the London Road back into city, our last ride on a Wigston based bus.

With the day drawing to a close, we met up with my old friend Steve, who took us to the Blue Boar pub, where we met up with Robin, whom Steve had introduced me to years ago. Robin introduced us to the delights of Abbeydale Dreadnought! After a couple of pints and a good chat, we said our farewells and Phil and I headed back to the station, where we caught 170 105 again back to Birmingham, having said our farewells to Wigston, witnessing another slice of Midland Red history come to an end.