Sunday, 19 August 2007

Part Three: Heriot Watt University-Edinburgh-Dunfermline-Lothalmond-Dunfermline-Edinburgh-Heriot Watt University


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After a good sleep, it was time for breakfast. The dining hall was quite busy, but a very pleasant surprise awaited in that we could pick and choose what we wanted (or as much as you could physically get on a plate!). When in Scotland - forget about cholesterol, so three pieces of fried bread, two bacon, two hash browns, two slices of square sausage an egg, toast and fresh bap - that would set me up for the day!

It was then time to get Lothian Buses service 25 into the city at 0858 on which was Dennis Trident / Plaxton President 635 (SK52 OGT). Unfortunately it showed all the signs of being yet another wet day.

We planned to take the train (actually cheaper than the Citylink coach) to Dunfermline, so went to Waverley station and purchased our tickets from the machine - a cheap day return at £4.80. Unfortunately, I only had a £20 note and all my change came in £1 coins.The train, 170461, departed on time at 0955 and we settled back for the journey over the Forth Bridge. It was also breaking new ground for me as, hitherto, I had never travelled over the Fife loop. There are two stations in Dunfermline, Town and St Margaret's, the latter being some distance from where we needed to catch the bus to the SVBM, so we opted for the former. Arrival was on time at 1029, and I made my way up the platform to photograph the train.

Someone on the train had worked out we were going to the SVBM and pointed us vaguely in the direction of the stop for the free bus (the Fire Station). Not particularly far, but meant walking up some rather steep hills. I'm not fond of walking up these (I'm built for comfort, not speed), so at several stages Graham found himself having to wait for me to catch up! Once in town there was some confusion as to where we needed to be - to save walking round I asked a friendly taxi driver and he pointed us in the right direction. We arrived having just missed Leyland Leopard / Alexander T bodied, RMS 400W, wearing Midland Bluebird livery.

As Graham went to find a cash point, I travelled up to the museum before him. Thankfully the rain had stopped and there was signs of the weather clearing a little. The 1100 free service turned out to be former Southdown Leyland Tiger, GUF 727, ironically owned by someone in Market Rasen in Lincolnshire!

This was packed, so I let it go and just waited a few minutes until WG 9180, a Leyland Titan TD7, in a very smart Alexander's blue livery, appeared.

The sunken gangway on the right of the upper deck was an interesting change as we departed at 1114, me having gained the upstairs front seat. A nice bus, but struggled up the hills even though it was quite lightly loaded.

Heading into Dunfermline was an AEC single decker, NWS 358, looking superb in Northern livery. I so wished that I'd waited as I particularly would have loved to travel on this (remember them from when I lived in Perth). Graham was the lucky enough to get a trip to the SVBM on it!

After arriving at Lathalmond, the location of the Scottish Vintage Bus Museum, I was in my element. This was my second visit there and for me, it was largely a day of nostalgia - one vehicle in particular, Leyland Royal Tiger BMS 222, brought the memories flooding back - and, was the very type of vehicle that first got me seriously interested in buses four decades ago when I lived in Perth! It was in the summer of 1967, one such example in the Alexander Midland fleet was employed on the service 39 to Muirton Toll House. The central entrance made it unusual from all the other buses, and as a kid it was great to be able to sit at the front next to the driver!

The other thing that interested me were the many liveries - when we moved up from Liverpool to Perth, my parents asked what colour I was hoping the buses to be. I replied "blue" which, to their amazement turned out to be true as Perth was in Alexander Midland territory!

It was the bright yellow and cream Northern vehicles that always captured my imagination then, going to exotic (!) locations such as Blairgowrie.

Another fond memory I have is of McLennan's vehicles which used to park opposite our house in Dunkeld Road, looking smart in their blue and white livery. The company was represented at the SVBM by preserved DGS 625, a Leyland Tiger with McLennan C39F body, new to the company in 1951.

Also present, although sadly not being used on the services, was my favourite coach, the Alexander M type. This also has connections to the LEYTR area as in the era the Scottish Bus Group provided services between London and Scotland via the A1, would have called at Grantham and Stamford.

Having missed out on a trip on NWS 358, I spotted Leyland Tiger Cub OSC 711, looking superb in its Fife red and cream livery, about to work a trip to Dunfermline. Dating from 1961, thus as old as I am, but unlike me, it managed to achieve some very good speeds. The restoration work on this is fantastic and the detail was fascinating - even down to the antimacassars with the Fife logo - although I suspect the Velcro by which they were attached was a bit of an anachronism! I also smiled at the notice on one of the sliding windows which read "Smokers are requested to sit to the rear of this point"!

Meeting up with Graham again later, we had a trip to Dunfermline and back on SCS 335M, an Alexander AY bodied Leyland Leopard, wearing the striking Western SMT black and white livery.

Indeed, the Y type body, once ubiquitous in Scotland, appeared in many liveries.

It was also good to see the Eastern Coach works represented by this Lodekka.

And also by this FLF, HGM 335E in Stagecoach livery.

One thing I was not expecting to see was an ex-East Yorkshire vehicle! AEC Bridgemaster WAT 652, which was the last to be built with the distinctive Beverley Bar domed roof.

Having walked around for several hours photographing each vehicle (some more than once), my feet were aching, so I made use of the internal bus service on which was Bristol MW / ECW coach, HDV 639E, wearing Bluebird livery - although was actually new to Western National in 1967.

The ground was rather waterlogged from the heavy rain of the previous day and unfortunately a fire engine and brand new Rapsons decker, SV07 CVA, had the indignity of having to be towed out of the mud!

After a great day, we returned on the last bus to Dunfermline, on which was Leyland Titan TD5, DSG 169, new in 1942, and wearing blue SMT livery.

Following close behind was Leyland Olympian SSA 5X in Northern Scottish livery.

Once back in Dunfermline, we opted to have a drink at a pub we visited previously on our first trip to the SVBM - very much of a "local" pub as it turned out, as it went rather quiet briefly when the inmates heard our English accents. There was no other pub available, so we made our way back to the station to catch the train back to Edinburgh at 1827. This was a longer trip back as it was actually heading in the opposite direction on the circuit - no matter, as it meant we could cover previously untravelled metals on the "Fife Loop" and the next southbound train with a shorter journey would have got us back later. Bizarrely, the train which turned up was 170478, which was originally with Hull Trains and still retained that company's moquette on the seats.

It took 93 minutes to get back to Edinburgh, and our second crossing over the Forth Railway bridge, with an excellent view of the nearby Forth Road Bridge.

At Edinburgh it was time for another pub visit. Exploring the back streets we found a decent looking establishment where Graham had a pint of Old Peculiar (he decided he wasn't keen on it after drinking half a pint!) and I had some pint of an obscure German lager. Unfortunately, the process of ordering took longer than the drinking!

Graham was getting hungry, but my stomach had been playing up for the past two days, so we ended up (as a last resort, I emphasise) at McDonalds - at least it was cheap! By way of a contrast, I suggested we have a drink at the former railway hotel over the road. The Caledonian Hotel, once adjoined Princes Street Station, the Caledonian Railway's station in Edinburgh (which closed in 1965) as opposed to the present Waverley which was owned by the North British Railway. The hotel is now owned part of the Hilton group - and we made our way through the revolving doors to the Caley Bar which was well stocked with many brands of whiskey. Sadly, it has been extensively modernised and retains very little of the authentic look of the railway hotel, although several watercolours on the walls were of railway subjects. Not surprising was the prices, £3.75 for my pint of Tennants and over £5 for Graham's vodka and coke! That being said, complimentary snacks were provided and we had another round - well you only live once! Quite what the other clientèle thought of us, I really didn't care. My boots and trousers were somewhat muddy from the SVBM and I had a Tesco carrier bag for my spare batteries!

Time then to return to the hotel, at 2223, again on Lothian buses 635! Again a slow journey back, and arrival just after the bar shut at Heriot Watt Oh well, I needed an early night anyway as I had a long journey ahead of me!


Saturday, 18 August 2007

Part Two: Stockport-Manchester Airport-Glasgow-Edinburgh-Heriot Watt University


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After a good night's sleep, I got up early at 0545 and enjoyed a long soak in the bath - until I dozed off and found all the water had drained away that is! I made my way downstairs and outside for a quick smoke, returning to reception to hand in my key. I mentioned I didn't have time for breakfast, but the friendly lady receptionist pointed out that the cereals were all there and to help myself. I had about 20 minutes until the bus, so happily tucked into some muesli and toast and some glasses of orange juice. My co-Editor phoned from his room enquiring if I was up, and was rather surprised at my reply that I was already downstairs! He joined me a few minutes later and managed to have a small bowl of cereal and wrapped up two slices of toast to eat whilst waiting at the stop for the bus!

The Trent / Barton Skyline service 199 was due at 0710 from the stop opposite the hotel, and Optare Excel 263 (Y263 DRC) arrived punctually and took us on a speedy trip to Manchester Airport via Stockport. The next stage would be on the National Express service 538 at 0805, which started at Manchester Airport and ran through to Aberdeen, and we would travel on this as far as Glasgow. A brief walk around the airport found no shops open, and Graham was amused to see 185120 stood at the railway station there, bound for Cleethorpes, where he had set out from less than 24 hours before!

Waiting outside for our coach to arrive, we noted Haytons Volvo / Plaxton, YN55 WSO, and Scania / Berkhof, YN06 TFY, on the 0715 service 244 from Manchester to Newquay.

Also seen was Go North East Volvo / Plaxton, 7086 (JCN 822) on the 0700 service 380 from Liverpool to Newcastle.

Our coach, LSK 815, a Neoplan double-decker in the Trathens fleet, turned up and we managed to procure both the front seats of the upper deck for our journey. Departing at 0807, two minutes late, we made our way to central Manchester, passing the Royal Northern college of Music, arriving at Chorlton Street at 0829. The driver announced we would not be leaving there until 0900, so leaving Graham on board, I made good use of the time calling at the toilet, shop, and photographing a few vehicles to pass the time, amongst which were Megabus, PX07 EAC, on route M11 to London.

Also seen was Burnley & Pendle's Volvo B7TL / Wright Eclipse Gemini, 2762 (PJ05 ZWK), in a smart black, silver and red livery with route branding "Witch Way".

We departed at 0859, making our way out of Manchester to our next scheduled stop at Bolton bus station where plenty of activity could be seen in term of buses, mainly operated by First.

Our next scheduled pick up / drop off point was at Carlisle, reached via the M61 and thence the M6, and overtook Daimler / Northern Counties VTC 503M, new to Greater Manchester PTE in 1983, but now used for transport by the Hagfold Morris Dancers!

The further north we progressed, the heavier the rain became, and the more glad I was to have a waterproof coat! Tebay services was reached at 1045 where the booked 20 minute stop was extended to 35 minutes, allowing time to photograph the coach.

There was time to purchase a few snacks, ignoring the ubiquitous expensive restaurant, I opted for the shop which sold a large variety of cheeses, pies, etc., and came out with a Blencathra Pie packed with meat (£3.29) and a Pork and Stilton with ginger chutney pie (£1.49) - so I ate all the pies, and very nice they were too! Selwyns DAF / Van Hool, YJ05 PWE, had arrived for a refreshment break whilst working the 0645 National Express service 533 from Liverpool to Glasgow.

We departed at 1120 and continued north up the M6, now in pouring rain, to Carlisle, departing from the bus station there at 1208, 18 minutes late. We were further delayed by works on the M6 and crossed the border into Scotland at 1237 during a mini monsoon! The scenery became more mountainous and the rain became heavier. The place names also became sillier, Ecclefechan being one example! Starting to doze now as the forward view was impossible with condensation and rain, suddenly the driver announced that we were passing Lesmahagow - quite why, we never established as there was no stop there nor, as far as we could tell, was there any cause for celebration!

Hamilton bus station, our next stop, was reached at 1352, and we remained there until 1359, now running 29 minutes late. This was almost certainly going to mean that we would miss our connection - although, happily, services between Glasgow and Edinburgh are reasonably frequent so did not cause us much concern.

More time was lost as we approached Glasgow, with heavy traffic caused in part by a sign indicating that a lane was closed when it actually wasn't, and a broken down car. We eventually reached the Buchanan bus station at 1502, 67 minutes late. So late in fact, that the booked 20 minute break for passengers travelling onwards, was dropped.

We called at the cafe in the bus station for a tea and refreshments, and I braved the rain for a few minutes to have a smoke and take a photograph of one of Stagecoach's bendi-buses.

Buchanan Street bus station is one of the largest in the UK. The photo below shows First SA52 DVR, a Volvo B7L with East Lancs Nordic EH55/40F body, departing from this location.

Not too far away was the location of one of Glasgow's railway termini. Buchanan Street railway station, long since obliterated under modern development, was closed in 1966. Some excellent photographs of it when open and the location as it is now, can be seen here.

The fun started when we tried to catch a Motorvator service. Stagecoach had acquired this firm in July 2004, and operated in direct competition with the Scottish Citylink service. From September 13th, 2005, Stagecoach and Citylink ran the Glasgow - Edinburgh services on a joint basis (more details here). So it was we had to use the Citylink 900, the downside being that we were unable to use our Stagecoach staff passes on this so ended up each paying the £4.60 single fare. The first coach we waited for was packed to capacity, so we let this one go and instead caught the 1600 service (departing at 1602). Parks of Hamilton Volvo / Plaxton, LSK 879, was on this well used run. Arrival at Edinburgh's St Andrew Square bus station was at 1722, just four minutes late.

Exiting the bus station, I paused briefly to light up a cigar. The matches I'd purchased from the bar at the hotel in Stockport were clearly not the best as the lit end broke off and nearly set light to Graham! We adjourned to the public bar of the Balmoral Hotel called NB's. I'd discovered this on a previous jaunt, and it's rather upmarket and also does has live jazz performances some nights. On the previous occasion, we were told to find a seat and our drinks would be brought over to us, along with these were complimentary snacks. No such luxury on this occasion as I waited several minutes whilst the staff were busy preparing fancy cocktails, and eventually got the drinks - no snacks being offered. The one thing that hasn't changed are the high prices - £3.20 for a pint of McEwans for me and £4 for a bottle of Kronenberg Blanc for Graham!

The bar itself is a part of what was once the North British Hotel, once owned by the railway company who constructed the railway to Edinburgh at nearby Waverley.

Tempus fugit, so time to make our way to our accommodation for the next two nights, courtesy of the Heriot Watt University, some 8 miles from the city centre. As previously researched before we set out, Lothian Buses service 25 was the easiest way and the stop a short walk from NB's. At 1819 we caught Dennis Trident / Plaxton President, 586 (X586 USC). Traffic was very heavy and progress very slow out of the city centre, and although scheduled to take 40 minutes, our arrival at the University was not until 1903.

The rain had at least eased off, and we called at reception for the two pre-booked rooms and paid the balance - £32 per night each and the rooms were en-suite. The building where they were located involved a very long walk (although we found shortcuts later) and on the way noticed Leyland Olympian / ECW, A658 OCX, in Mexborough & Swinton livery, in a car park. We assumed this was an entrant in the SVBM, although it failed to materialise the next day.

The rooms were small, but clean and comfortable, even though, as Graham remarked, were akin to prison cells! No television was a definite down point, so we opted to go utilise the restaurant facilities there as they were still open until 2000hs, and only made it with 5 minutes to spare! My sausage casserole with chips and carrots came to just under £6, a little on the expensive side. Luckily, we did manage to find a bar within the complex with Tennants at a more reasonable £2.30 a pint. Several pints later and several vodka and cokes Graham, we adjourned to our respective rooms hoping, but not expecting, that the breakfast in the morning, for which we were issued vouchers at reception, would at least be decent.


Friday, 17 August 2007

Part One: Skegness-Ingoldmells-Manchester-Stockport


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Some months ago, both the Lincolnshire & East Yorkshire Transport Review Editors, had devised a plan which, as Baldrick in Blackadder would say, was "As cunning as a fox who has just been appointed professor of cunning at Oxford University." The idea was basically, to travel to Scotland to photograph the remaining vehicles in the Strathtay fleet before they were repainted into Stagecoach corporate livery, as the company, along with Lincolnshire Road Car, had been taken over as a part of the Yorkshire Traction Group by Stagecoach on December 14th, 2005. To ensure as comfortable a journey as possible, this was to be done using one of the National Express Neoplan double deck coaches, but these were temporarily withdrawn at the time so the plan was shelved. Their reintroduction into service meant the plan was back on, although this time was amended slightly include a visit to the annual Open Weekend at the Scottish Vintage Bus Museum.

The original idea, involved a rather complex run via Peterborough, Milton Keynes, Northampton and Gatwick Airport and overnight to Birmingham and Manchester, was ditched to save a day and allow a nice late start using the more direct National Express 664 (Butlins to Preston) service from Butlins to Manchester. Graham similarly dropped his ambitious plan to make his way to Stockport using local bus services, and opted to join me on the 664, travelling down on from Cleethorpes using local buses and, thanks to late running, had a very tight connection!

Skegness was in chaos as in the early hours, a serious fire had taken place on the seafront destroying several buildings. It also meant the road along the seafront was closed and bus services were diverted. This made Roman Bank (the A52) even busier than normal.

By way of a change, we opted to catch the coach from Butlins, so travelled on Stagecoach in Lincolnshire's service 5 at 1328, on which was Volvo Olympian 16394 (N394 LPN). A good start to the trip, having a vehicle with dual-purpose seating, and also saved having to negotiate security at Butlins as it dropped us off inside the complex. We'd spotted our coach on the 664 heading up earlier, so knew it was reasonably on time - quite unusual as the 664 is one service which tends to regularly run late.

We made our way to the coach departure point where only a few passengers were waiting as, at this time, the main changeover day at the camp was on a Saturday. As we arrived, Clynnog & Trefor's Volvo / Plaxton KSV 361 departed on the 662 National Express service to Liverpool, the driver giving me a friendly wave as I took a photograph!

Our coach, Traveller's Choice, Volvo / Plaxton PN06 KLJ was parked up next to Rowell (of Prudhoe) Bova, T234 SBB, which was working the 663 service to Newcastle.

Boarding our coach, we were surprised to find it seated around 70 passengers - using a 3+2 arrangement, but at the expense of reclining seats and a toilet - hardly an ideal vehicle for National Express work!

With only some 20 passengers on board there was plenty of room so, we chose our seats towards the back - although moved closer to the front later as I could here music being played from someone's mobile phone from the back of the coach, something I did not wish to listen to for hours on end. We departed on time at 1440, but thanks to heavy traffic along Roman Bank again, progress was extremely slow. We turned off at the town centre, as the driver was hoping to reach the coach stop at Skegness via the sea front, unfortunately not being aware that road was closed due to the aforementioned fire, we ended up doubling back and rejoining Roman Bank, albeit a little closer to the coach stop! As we arrived, Rowell's T234 SBB was just departing - despite the fact this departed from Butlins 20 minutes before us! With no passengers to pick up at Skegness, we called at the coach stop and departed immediately at 1510, 20 minutes late. Making our way out of town by the A158, we encountered another hold up at Burgh-le-Marsh where a new by pass is being constructed and single-lane working was in force at the new junction. We made our way to the M180 by way of the A1028, A16 and the A18, passing Humberside International Airport at 1625, and, on the M18 running immediately behind Rowel's T234 SBB. This left us at Ferrybridge at 1713 where the 663 service is booked a refreshment stop, leaving us to continue along the M62. There were a few comments from passengers at the back puzzled as to why we didn't follow, but another passenger told them we'd be stopping at another services. We then found ourselves in heavy rush hour traffic on the outskirts of Leeds, which luckily did not last long.

We reached the Hartshead Moor services at 1741 for a refreshment break, departing there at 1800.

After returning to the M62, we were a little surprised to find ourselves leaving the motorway only to turn off at junction 22 onto the A672, and pulled into a slip road where we stopped at 1819. No announcements being made, left us wondering if the coach had broken down - fortunately, it transpired that this was the point where the drivers changed, the other driver arriving by car. We eventually got under way with the new driver, leaving the other to go drive off in the car, at 1833, although quite why this changeover couldn't have more sensibly been done at Hartshead Moor, is a mystery.

Continuing along the M62 we passed the well known landmark of Stott Hall Farm which famously stands between the east and westbound carriageways. A well known myth is that this was due to the original farm owner refusing to sell their land, but in reality this was partly due to the land beneath the farm being unsuitable and also that it could more easily be bypassed using this method.

Leaving the motorway, we made our way to Oldham, and Graham looked at me in disbelief when I told him there was a railway station there called Mumps! At the very modern and smart Oldham bus station, we were definitely very much in First Bus territory judging by the number of their vehicles present. We dropped off a few passengers and departed at 1852, 32 minutes late, and progressed towards Manchester's Chorlton Street coach station where we alighted at 1917, still 32 minutes behind schedule.

Making our way to Piccadilly where some live musicians were playing, we walked around several minutes trying to find the bus stop for the service 192, which would take us to the hotel just the other side of Stockport. We were not waiting long before Stagecoach in Manchester's Alexander Dennis Trident / Alexander Dennis Enviro 400, 19002 (MX06 XAA), arrived. A large number of people boarded, so we opted to let this one go, only waiting a few minutes for sister vehicle 19003 (MX06 XAB), departing at 1942. We caught up with 19002 not long after, only to be overtaken by it again as we collected more passengers. Eventual arrival was at 2026, the stop conveniently being outside our hotel.

Two single rooms at £29 each was very reasonable, and they were clean and comfortable, although not en-suite. This didn't matter a great deal as the bathroom and shower rooms were just down a corridor and we would be leaving early in the morning. Downstairs, a wedding reception was taking place, so we went to the adjoining bar where I enjoyed three pints of Robinsons beer, brewed in Stockport. As it was too late for food at the hotel, I was getting rather hungry. There were no takeaways nearby, so I left Graham to retire to his room whilst I nipped over the road to a garage and purchased an all day breakfast sandwich at £3.19! I returned to the hotel, and had another pint before returning to my room to have my sandwich and watch some tv.