Saturday, 7 June 2014

With no Boating to Do the Sun Comes Out

It was time for me to leave "Sunshine" and return home to Lancaster. I had an unused uncollected train ticket from Wolverhampton and wasn't in any particular hurry, so I though I'd see if I could get at least part of the way by bus. Banbury is not exactly a centre of interurban bus travel, but I did find a 10.20 bus to Stratford-upon-Avon, from where I knew I could get another to Brum. 
All the signage in Banbury Bus Station is provided by Stagecoach and they do a good job of telling you which bus goes from which stand - as long as it's one of theirs! I had found a timetable for the Stratford bus, tucked away on a corner wall, but it gave no indication of where to wait. There was even a possibility that the service might depart from one of the stands outside the bus station so I hung around in the entrance to wait for the 269 to arrive, but sure enough it entered the station and pulled up on the stand where all the regulars were waiting, bang on time.
It was a very pleasant run to Stratford, through the Oxfordshire/Warwickshire counytryside including spectacular views from the escarpment at "Edge Hill" before the bus swooped down into the Avon valley.

I had half-an-hour in Stratford. Just time for a coffee, which I drank on a bench overlooking the canal basin to watch the comings and goings. (Comings = 0; Goings = 1). I then had ten minutes to walk across the town centre, buy a paper and find a toilet before the 75 minute run to Birmingham. WH Smith's couldn't provide the paper - the queue was too long, but Debenhams is always a good bet for a public loo as, unlike some department stores, they are well-signposted. (The seasoned bus traveller gets to know such things!). I had two minutes to spare when I arrived at the stop, but there was no sign of the X20 and I had just enough time to get my paper from a shop around the corner.
In the event the Birmingham bus was 10 minutes late, but it made up for that by being a double-decker and I was even able to bag "pole position" of the front seats upstairs.

The X20 follows a direct route along what used to be the A34 Southampton - Manchester trunk road. However, long distance traffic has been diverted away from this section and the "A34" no longer exists between Oxford and the M42 at Hockley Heath. (You can read more about this here). This means that the road hasn't been improved much in recent years and still has the look and feel of a 1960s trunk road. Long-distance road travel was much more interesting in pre-motorway days when it would have been along roads such as this, and long-distance bus travel can sometimes re-create the experience. In any case the A3400, as it is now known, was perfect for a bus driver trying to make up lost time and we sped along with very few stops. The road passes straight along the High Street in Henley-in-Arden and passes beneath the Stratford Canal at Wooton Wawen aqueduct - and over it at the Wharf Tavern in Hockley Heath. At Hockley Heath the journey becomes more suburban - and the roads busier - and there is a fascinating transition into inner-city Birmingham as the road - and the bus - reaches Sparkbrook and finally, the City Centre.

Birmingham doesn't have a central bus station, which can make changing buses there rather tricky. The X20 dropped me at the Bull Ring and as I knew that Wolverhampton could be reached by the 126 bus a quick Google of "126 Bus Birmingham" told me that it left from Upper Dean Street, which was nearby, and that they ran every 10 minutes.

My 126 was also a double-decker although a bit older, dirtier and even smellier than the nice, modern X20. It was also running late and continued to get later and later until the following bus on the service caught it up at Warley. This is the "prettier" of the two routes between Birmingham and Wolverhampton and runs through Dudley and the Wolverhampton New Road, built in the 1930s partly as an unemployment relief measure and therefore lined with 1930s semi's and other des res's. These don't produce a lot of bus traffic these days and it was only as we neared Wolverhampton that we started to pick up a decent load into town.  We arrived in Wolverhampton just in time for me to miss the 15.37 train to Lancaster. But never mind - there's always the 16.37 and after all, "anyone who's tired of Wolverhampton is tired of life" (as someone didn't say). A pint in the Lych Gate - Black County Ales' new pub in the city centre passed the time nicely and the 16.37 was bang on time and stayed that way all the way to Lancaster. The only problem being that yet again, no one checked the ticket, which has now made THREE northbound trips!

This is likely to be my last boating for a while, with no further trips in the offing, but I can keep in touch by reading the blogs and - of course - the Lancaster Canal is just down the road from here.

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