Thursday, 16 August 2018

Compensation (Episodes 7 and 8)

Over the last week in July I completed another stage in my bus trip Around the County Towns of England travelling from Lincoln to Chester, via Nottingham and Derby. As all bus trips tend to be it was pretty straightforward, with none of the excitement that taking a narrowboat between those cities might be (although Derby might be a bit of a challenge).

Getting to and from the start and finish was another matter.  I already have two outstanding Delay Repay claims against the railways. One from 15th March where Northern Rail has admitted it failed but has sent me my compensation is a form I hadn't asked for (which would you chose: a "free ticket to anywhere on Northern Rail" or 55 pence?!) and another from 28th June where the company insists the train I planned to use ran normally, whereas I know it was cancelled.

To these I can now add two more.  On my way to Lincoln I found that there were no direct trains between Manchester and Sheffield for some unspecified reason and I was diverted via Leeds arriving an hour later than scheduled.  And then on my way home from Chester the Arriva Trains Wales train to Warrington was delayed by 20 minutes. Not enough to trigger compensation in itself but it meant I missed my connection there and was 45 minutes late getting to Lancaster.  Both Arriva and Trans Pennine are warning that due to the volume of claims this summer they can't meet the required 20 working days deadline to process claims, so I'm not holding my breath - although I will be chasing Northern rail again soon.

Sunday, 29 July 2018

Starcross is for Sale (Again)

Starcross, as advertised on Apollo Duck
When I sold Starcross in 2014 it was bought by a young couple, Chris and Jess, who wanted somewhere to live in London. Unlike many such liveaboards they had an interest in boats, with Chris being active in the Thames Sailing Barge Trust so I knew that she would be well cared for.

Starcross needed a bit of work doing to it, which was one reason why I sold her, but Chris and Jess have also done a lot more in order to create a comfortable home. Towards the end of my ownership I'd become very aware that a complete re-fit was necessary and this has been done, although the end result makes her much more of a liveaboard than a cruising boat. 

I saw the results of their efforts last year when I visited them on the Regent's Canal and I was so impressed that I asked for first refusal if they ever came to sell.  Well, that time has now come and, true to their word, they have offered me a chance to buy.  I must admit that I was tempted, but times have moved on for me as well as for Chris and Jess and I've reluctantly come to the conclusion that whilst I wouldn't entirely rule out buying another boat, taking ownership of Starcross again would be a bit too much "back to the future" for me, even though I wouldn't have to repaint her to proclaim my ownership!

Starcross is therefore now offered for sale on Apollo Duck.  I think it's fair to say that the asking price is best described as "London Pricing" but I'm sure it's negotiable and it doubtless reflects the many improvements and enhancements that have been done in the last four years.

Tuesday, 24 July 2018

A Day Out in Yorkshire

National Park Authorities all make a great fuss about how they want the parks to be "sustainable" and about how they want to encourage more visitors without swamping the area with cars, The trouble is they do very little about it and the Yorkshire Dales National Park is no exception.

There are very few alternatives to visiting the Park other than by car. The small and scattered resident population and the great distances between what are actually quite small urban centres mean that there are very few commercial opportunities for bus companies, whilst local councils now have no funding to buy in extra buses to meet the needs of visitors.  The situation is at its worst on Sundays, when visitor numbers are highest, but public transport services are scarce.

What buses there are in the Yorkshire Dales on Sundays are only there  because of the actions of ordinary people  - hikers and the like - who have banded together to set up a Community Interest Company to raise funds to pay bus companies to provide the services that they can see are needed to allow people to visit the parks without recourse to a car.  Over the years they've set up quite a network:

Since becoming Chair of our local Bus Users' Group I've helped to develop close working relationships with Dales Bus and we've held a number of joint promotional events in Lancaster. So when they wanted volunteers to help conduct a passenger survey I was at the front of the queue.

It wasn't an onerous task. I just had to ride on the bus, hand out survey forms to the passengers for them to complete during the day and then collect them on the way home.  I surveyed the "Northern Dalesman" service 830 that runs from Preston (Lancashire) to Richmond (Yorkshire) and then continues as service 859 to Leyburn as shown on the map above.  I didn't even have to go to Preston to get the bus as it stops at the end of our road on its way in to Lancaster.

It was a long day, but even longer for the driver who would have left the depot not long after 8.00am and who wouldn't get back there until almost 8.30pm that night, but every mile was a delight.  With already half-a-dozen passengers on from Preston we picked up a few more in Lancaster and the villages in the Lune Valley on the way up to the start of the national park at Ingleton. From there it was up into the hills all the way to Ribblehead, where we were due to connect with a train from Leeds on the famous Settle & Carlisle Line.  Northern Trains have been having some problems recently and Sunday was no exception with our train reported as running 30 minutes late.

Not that it was exactly straightforward to find that out. Ribblehead is an unstaffed station with no passenger information screens.  It also has no mobile phone or internet signal. Fortunately, on a Sunday at least, there are National Park volunteers on duty who have access to a land-line in one of the station buildings and who can therefore be contacted by regular passengers on the train who know the number, to advise them of any delays and to ask for the bus to be held.
Ribblehead, with the famous viaduct in the distance. There are worse places to wait for a delayed train.
But the driver was put in a bit of a dilemma.  Waiting for the train would put two onward bus connections in jeopardy:  one at Hawes for the bus to Wensleydale and another at Muker for the popular walking village of Keld. We had passengers for both.

He knew from the phone call that there were over a dozen passengers on the train (there turned out to be nearly 20) as opposed to five or six wanting the bus connection, so we waited.  In the event, some spirited driving meant we made the first connection at Hawes, although the hikers for Keld found that they would have an extra few miles to do to complete their walk that day.

After picking up more passengers in Hawes we now had a full seated load of 41, plus a few standing, to take over the Buttertubs Pass. Once into Swaledale we dropped passengers at various villages to begin their walks. Not everyone on the bus was there for the walking:; other passengers were heading for a day out shopping  in Richmond or Leyburn and at least a couple of likely lads from Preston who didn't seem to fit either category.
Setting down hikers in the Swaledale village of Muker.

Because of waiting for the train we were half-an-hour late at Richmond to begin our next journey to Leyburn and just in time to rescue a passenger from having to pay £20 for a taxi to the town.  He'd come up from London on the train to Darlington and then made his way by bus to Richmond and was heading for the steam railway at Leyburn where there the preserved Southern Railway locomotive "British India Line" was paying a special visit in connection with the town's 1940s weekend. He told me that in London there would have been real time information at the bus stop so that he would have known we were running late. I told him that most of the villages we'd come through didn't even have bus stops, let alone real-time ones and the driver pointed out that to make real-time information work you need high-speed internet connections, but most of the villages on the route are still waiting for mains gas!

I had thought that the 1940s weekend would keep me amused during the two-hour stopover at Leyburn, but the sight of middle-aged men dressed up as squaddies and RAF pilots and endless renditions of the Dambusters March on the PA system in the market placed were a little waring, especially in a Brexit context, so I escaped to "The Shawl" a limestone scar on the edge of town with views over the valley to Whernside until it was time to start the return trip.
Calling at Richmond on the way home
We picked up the shoppers in Richmond, although some of them had to be dragged out of the Golden Lion and it became clear that the Preston likely lads had also been visiting quite a few of the town's other hostelries.  The walkers rejoined us at various points along the valley, also usually where there was a pub to wait in!  At Reeth we paused to wait for the bus coming in the opposite direction that had brought passengers from Middlesbrough that morning and would now be taking them home. The buses are timed to cross at Reeth because the roads in Swaledale are narrow and tortuous, with very few places where two buses can actually pass.

The bus to Middlesbrough (left) passing the Preston bus at Reeth at exactly 17.15hrs.
The scheduling, however, was all in vain as outside Muker we met an oncoming coach! A stand-off ensued until two passengers volunteered to assist the coach driver (and several cars) to reverse round a blind bend and into a pull-in to allow us past.  

We weren't quite as full going back over the Buttertubs. This always seems to happen on services like this, where you never seem to bring quite as many back as you take out. I've always wondered why.  The returning train passengers were dropped off at Ribblehead, although neither we nor they could know whether their return train would be on time and the driver dropped me off at my local bus stop back in Lancaster at about 7.45pm

I used to organise surveys - and services - like this when I was at work so it was just like old times really for me.  The people behind Dales Bus do an excellent job in keeping the services running and I was pleased to be able to get involved and assist.

Friday, 20 July 2018

Granby Swing Bridge

Granby swing bridge is at Riddlesden, near Keighley on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal. I had previously passed through it almost exactly five years ago on what turned out to be the last long-distance trip I made on Starcross before selling her the following year.

Yesterday I was back. Not by boat this time - but by bus.  Having crossed the bridge unexpectedly whilst taking a ride on one of the Keighley Bus Company's new minibuses to Riddlesden with my mate Bob we alighted there on the way back.  Neither of us could think of many examples of service buses crossing canals on swing bridges so we wanted a photo.  We had to wait a bit for the next one to come along, but that didn't matter as the adjacent canal side pub, The Marquis of Granby, sells as excellent pint of Timothy Taylor's Golden Best mild ale.