Thursday, 26 September 2019

My Favourite Birthday Present?

When I was about 13 or 14 my father gave me one of the best birthday presents I've ever had - a map of the British Isles.

It's "dissected", which means that each page is presented separately and mounted onto a cloth backing that comes complete with a hanger to allow it to be displayed on a wall.  It fascinated me at the time and indeed it still does.

Despite trying to follow all the clues available on line for doing so I've been unable to date it. The reference to "Cartographers to the King" puts it no later than 1952 whilst an address shown on the back cover was occupied by Bartholomew's from 1911.  Ireland is included, divided into "Northern Ireland" and the "Irish Free State", which might narrow it down to between 1922 and 1937. Railways are shown far more prominently than roads, which also puts it before the age of mass motoring. At some point the price was reduced from a Guinea to 15-bob. (ask your dad!)

What particularly fascinated me was the way the counties were shown, with each one having a different coloured background to its neighbours. 

Of course, the map shows the true boundaries of the counties - what are nowadays known as the "historic" or "geographic" counties -  as opposed to modern administrative or ceremonial ones.
Look at "Lancashire"in yellow above. Incorporating Manchester and Liverpool as well as the detached area "over the sands" in the top left corner. Yorkshire (in pink) almost reaches Morecambe Bay with Cheshire (green) at the bottom and Derbyshire (orange) just creeping in bottom right.

We lived in Carmarthenshire (green) and rightly felt superior to the oiks in Glamorgan (pink) and the yokels in Pembrokeshire (yellow).  I think that it was this strong differentiation of the counties that made me so interested in them and their history and so upset about the effects of local government changes in 1974 that attempted to sweep away the historic entities of Rutland, Herefordshire and for that matter, Carmarthenshire (all of which have now returned).

The map has survived every house move I've made since I left home in 1968 although most of that time it has laid undisturbed in various drawers and cupboards. Nevertheless I'm sure it was a major influence in my decision to undertake a marathon bus trip "Around the County Towns of England" which, despite some difficulties, I am currently pursuing.  The map has certainly influenced my choice of route, especially in the part of the trip I am currently writing up on the trip's blog.

The top right corner of Northamptonshire (blue) is subtitled the "Soke of Peterborough". This name always fascinated me as a child and when I found out that between 1889 and 1965 it had had its own County Council (despite being considered part of Northamptonshire) I had to include it in the itinerary. Also included in this section of the trip was Huntingdonshire (pink). In 1965 Huntingdonshire and the Soke of Peterborough were merged to form the county of "Peterborough and Huntingdon", but that lasted less than 10 years after which it was incorporated into Cambridgeshire. Peterborough was located in three counties in ten years! Huntingdonshire survives as a District Council (subsidiary to Cambridgeshire). The next stage of the trip will take in the old Cambridgeshire (grey) and also something else that interested me as a child: "The Isle of Ely" (green). Again this had its own county council until 1965 but unlike the Soke of Peterborough was not considered to be part of anywhere else.
This area of "west Anglia", if I can call it that,  has certainly been the most complicated part of my journey geographically but I'm still looking forward to visiting the rest of the 39 counties of England and their county towns - by bus of course.

I don't know where Dad got the map from, although as he worked for the MoD at the time I suspect he found it at the back of a cupboard somewhere, perhaps when he was being made redundant, and didn't even pay the reduced price of 15/-  but however he came by it, I'm really glad he did.

Monday, 19 August 2019

How Did That Get There?

A friend of mine who recently visited the Czech Republic sent me this photo, taken in the town of Parudbice. The town sits on the River Elbe, although the river in the shot appears to be a tributary, the "Chrudimka".
Narrowboat on the River Chrudimka, Parudbice
He was puzzled, as am I, by what appears to be an English narrowboat tied up next to the factory landing stage!  I know many English boaters have taken to the Dutch, French and Belgian waterways and quite a few blog about their experiences, but if this boat has a blog I'd certainly like to read it!

Thursday, 1 August 2019

Nowhere to Hyde

Yesterday I did something that most of you probably do all the time, but which I've never done before - I bought a train ticket and downloaded it to my 'phone!  Up until now I've always been afraid that I'd run out of battery at the crucial moment when a ticket inspector asked to see it.  Strangely enough that's just what happened now when I went to take a picture of the ticket on the phone screen for this blog and found the battery was indeed flat.

Fortunately, Virgin Trains allow you to print off the ticket as well (although they make it clear that they think you belong in the stone age if you do so). I'd done that as an insurance policy so  I can at least show you a picture of the printed version of the ticket that would have appeared on my phone screen if I hadn't flattened the battery!

Why Stockport?  Well, the West Coast Main Line is closed south of Wigan at the moment with trains from Scotland (and Lancaster) to London being diverted via Manchester. This gives a rare opportunity to travel this way in relative comfort on an 11-coach Pendolino, rather than being crammed into a 4-carriage Trans Pennine Express with several hundred other unfortunate souls. Not only that, but it gives an equally rare opportunity to travel across Manchester without changing trains.

My train arriving at Lancaster
When I found that Virgin was offering cheap 1st class Advance tickets to Stockport at a premium over standard about equal to the free coffee and bacon roll you usually get on mid-morning trains it was a no-brainer.  The only drawback would have been having to collect the advance purchase ticket at the station in the morning - from one of only two ticket machines at Lancaster station, one of which has been out of order recently.

In the event, I needn't have worried about battery power.  There are no barriers at Lancaster and although my ticket was checked on the train on the way there, Stockport's barriers had been left open and there was no on-train check on the way home.  The only problem was the bacon roll, which didn't arrive until we were nearly at Stockport, meaning I had to eat half of it on the platform!

Onward by bus

The plan was a circular tour by bus, visiting Marple, Glossop and Hyde before returning to Stockport in time for a few pints and a bite to eat before the train home.  There are frequent buses to Marple from the main road at the end of the station approach in Stockport, so the first stage should have been easy. But the A6 here is a four lane road and the nearside lane of the southbound side of the road was coned off as far as the eye could see, leaving the bus stops stranded and out of use. I ended up having to walk to the bus station and start the journey from there.

I know Marple well from multiple visits over the years on various boats, including Starcross, so having alighted in the town centre I walked up the last few locks of the flight to the junction to take this obligatory shot.
The junction at Marple
A hire boat came along from the Macclesfield direction and I waited to see how well the steerer would handle the turn and whether they might need some assistance down the locks. But they carried straight on, heading for Whaley Bridge spoiling  the fun. (As I write I'm hearing on the radio that the dam feeding the Peak Forest Canal situated above the town is in danger of at least partial collapse following heavy rain causing part of the town to be evacuated - I hope it hasn't spolit their holiday).

I went to get a sandwich for lunch and ate it waiting for my next bus, which arrived a few minutes before I expected it, forcing me to abandon the remains of my cup of Gregg's tea and rush to the stop. Of course, the driver had realised he was a few minutes early and we waited until the scheduled departure time before leaving, but you can never be sure of these things.

My next destination was the town of New Mills, on the edge of the Peak District, where I arrived at the town's minimalist bus station, which effectively has only one stand and no other facilities.
New Mills bus station and the bus I'd arrived on from Marple
I had seventeen minutes to wait for my next bus - an awkward amount of time: not long enough to do anything useful but too long to just hang around and wait. I settled from a stroll along Market Street and back, which took about 5 of those minutes, before returning to wait for service 61 to Glossop.

Things almost went wrong at this point.  Travelling with a bus pass means you have minimum interaction with the bus driver. Usually, you just plonk your pass on the card reader and wait for the "bleep" that tells you it's been accepted, after which you may - or may not - get a ticket without a word being spoken. So if I had boarded service 61 when it arrived, on time, at 13.30 I would have made a big mistake.
Service 61 to Glossop  Buxton!
Fortunately, I noticed at the last minute that this was the 61 in the other direction - bound for Buxton and running late. "My" 61 - to Glossop -  turned up a few minutes later and if I had boarded the Buxton bus I'd have been well on my way before I'd realised and certainly too late to catch the Glossop bus.


I'd allowed an hour in Glossop.  Long enough for a stroll through the town centre, followed by a visit to the market hall, where I expected to find somewhere for a cup of tea and a bun before getting my next bus from the stop outside. Easy!

Except that shortly after my walk around the town began it started to rain, so I changed plan and headed for the market first. I was somewhat disconcerted to find the building covered in scaffolding and feared that it had closed down and was being transformed into a Wetherspoons or something (in Lancaster it would become student accommodation) but then relieved to see this sign:

But then unrelieved to see that the market was only open between Thursday and Saturday!

By now the rain had become a veritable storm and I spent most of the remainder on my time in Glossop watching it from the shelter of the scaffolding platforms at the Market entrance.

And on to Hyde

Stott's bus to Hyde
Service 341 to Hyde is not, it has to be said, one of the most scenic routes in Derbyshire. For the most part it trundles round the Manchester overspill estates of Gamesley and Hattersley, being something of a "Heineken" bus in reaching the parts that other buses don't.

But it was a friendly sort of a bus with the driver obviously known to the regular passengers who engaged him in banter, until the last of them had alighted, when he struck up a conversation with me.

Image result for buses on broadbottom bridge
An old shot of a bus crossing the bridge about 40 years ago.
Highlight of the route however was the crossing of the River Etherow at Broadbottom Bridge. You come across it unexpectedly when, at the bottom of a steep descent the bus makes a sudden left turn onto the bridge.  I'd have liked to get a photo of my own, but the 341 only runs once an hour and although I'm sure the driver would have been happy to "pose" the bus and wait for me to get a photo I wasn't prepared and by the time I'd thought of it we were over the bridge and away, so here's one I borrowed from Flickr.

Modern buses are actually a few mm wider than the one in this historic shot!

I'd included Hyde in this tour mainly to take a few photos that I was prepared for. Regular readers may not be surprised to hear that the subject was a bus shelter - although in my defence it is actually a listed building!
The listed bus shelter in Hyde.
Wikipedia says that it was originally a tram shelter and no doubt it's elaborate design was influenced by the fact it is situated outside the Town Hall. It goes on to say that:

Originally a tram shelter, the bus shelter is opposite the Town Hall. It has four main cast ironcolumns with crocket capitals and decorative pierced spandrels, and in between are intermediate columns with ball finials supporting a timber and glass screen. On the top is a glazed canopy with rounded ends, and elaborate cast iron finials.[39]

Mind you, Wikipedia also says that it dates from "The 18th or early 19th Century", which given that Hyde's trams only started running in 1899 is about one hundred years out, so you can treat the above information with a pinch of salt.

Still, I was pleased to see it and even took another photo, this time with a bus on it!

After that, I caught the next 330 to Stockport for a couple of pints of Robinson's Bitter and the a first-class train ride home.

Friday, 19 July 2019

Two Signs

Like most people I imagine, I don't make a habit of taking photographs in public toilets (!), but the gents at Chelmsley Wood bus station was otherwise unoccupied when I paid a necessary visit recently and I couldn't resist:

It's not just the misspelling, or even the fact that someone has obviously found it necessary to correct it, but my theory of signage is that signs which prohibit an activity are only put up where the activity in question has been taking place.  Maybe I've led a sheltered life. If I have, no doubt someone more worldly-wise than me will leave a comment to explain!

I was in Chelmsley Wood on the latest leg of my bus trip Around the County Towns of England and spent a whole twenty minutes there (not all of them in the gents). The day's ride ended in Warwick where I found this sign on the methodist church door even more baffling!