Tuesday 9th July 2019
Welcome to a fourth day of travelling to tick off various ‘to do’ routes, destinations, new buses and trains which began with an early start from Llandrindod Wells on the first 06:18 journey which starts its journey at this lovely station and continues beyond Shrewsbury as a stopping train through to Crewe arriving at 08:50.
It’s quite a trek on a one coach Class 153 and I was expecting we’d get inundated with commuters heading into Shrewsbury and then Crewe for nine o’clock.It turned out to be a quiet journey. We’d only collected ten passengers by the time we reached the main line at Craven Arms and picked up just a few more both there and the next station, Church Stretton, before arriving in Shrewsbury for 07:57 so a bit early for commuters; but that’s all you get in the Heart of Wales Line’s limited timetable until a 10:14 arrival (and then 13:32) which is probably too late for being at work. One passenger, along with myself, went all the way from Llandrindod Wells to Crewe but otherwise everyone got off at Shrewsbury and we collected a new cohort from there and the next six stations heading to Crewe.
The Heart of Wales Line is a wonderful experience; I ranked it eleventh in my Hundred Best Train Journeys compiled at the end of last year, and it certainly deserves that placing offering spectacular views, lovely quirky well kept request stop stations, and, as I found yesterday, great bus routes which parallel part of it.
From Crewe I headed south easterly on the line via Stoke-on-Trent to Derby alighting at Uttoxeter as I wanted to travel on three Staffordshire bus routes on my ‘to do’ list: First Potteries route 32 from Uttoxeter back to Hanley bus station in the city of Stoke-on-Trent, followed by route 18 across to Leek, and finally a route operated by Aimée’s, the 109, up to Macclesfield.
This three and a half hour zig-zag trip worked well with good connections and offered interesting contrasts between bus companies, routes, scenery and bus stations.
Taking the latter first, Uttoxeter has a functional bus station with ample room for the four stands around a parking area for the principal departures operated by Midland Classic, D&G Bus, Trentbarton and First Potteries. But I couldn’t help noticing the bus parking area seemed to be commandeered by crews of refuse trucks meeting up for a chat and a break. First there was one, then two and then a third joined in.Hanley has a very impressive bus station with around twenty-five stands in a head-on semi-circular layout with some parking bays for buses laying over on the apron. It’s obvious much careful thought has gone into the architectural design of the structure, the practical bus manoeuvring area and the passenger circulating area which is an extremely pleasant space to wait. Toilets had changed to being on ‘free vend’ since my last visit and were clean and presentable. There’s a small convenience store/coffee shop, but I noticed a lack of timetables posted on the wall although each departure stand had a screen showing the next three departures, and there were lists posted showing which service departed from each bay in service number order.There’s a lovely large and airy unmarked travel office with two members of First Bus staff behind the counter and a display of timetable leaflets including both First Potteries and the D&G Bus booklet.There seems to be a good relationship between First and D&G Bus throughout the Potteries. Finally, Leek bus station; well, let’s correct that from the start, it’s not a bus station, more a collection of poorly marked bus stops or stands along a depressing looking side street (stands are numbered 1, 2, 3, 4, then a gap, and then 8).
Stands 5, 6 and 7 have disappeared as has the waiting room where they once stood outside; that’s been bricked up, but just to tantalise waiting passengers, the sign’s been left in place.
To finish off the poor image, the timetable displays in a poorly lit, dirty and almost unreadable case aren’t even posted straight. I haven’t seen such poor bus station presentation since, well, um, yesterday as it happens, in Merthyr Tydfil.
And some people clamour for more public authority control of public transport!
I didn’t get to Macclesfield bus station on this visit as I bailed out at the rail station noticing a late running Cross Country train for Manchester was just arriving, so managed to just catch it, but I’ve experienced the bus station on previous visits and I’d just say it’s a poor, a very poor, imitation of what Hanley has achieved – and much smaller at that too.
The 32, 18 and 109 bus routes are very pleasant ones to travel along with some great views across the Staffordshire countryside.The 32 wasn’t very busy out of Uttoxeter but we picked up a good load as we approached Hanley.
Cheadle, the halfway point, looked a very nice town to explore; I must return some time.
The 18 is one of First Potteries key inter-urban routes running every 20 minutes to Leek with single deck Scanias. Sadly the seats, bizarrely and for no discernible reason, are all branded ‘Scania’ (I can’t imagine any passengers thinking “you know what; I must go out and buy a Scania truck”) ….…. and must rank even more uncomfortable than the ironing boards in Thameslink trains, and that’s saying something.We had a reasonable load as we headed to Leek on the thirty-five minute journey, and although much of the route is built up, there were some great views to see as well.
Finally to route 109, Leek to Macclesfield.
Aimée’s had the makings of a friendly image when I first spotted a bus in the company’s two-tone pink/crimson livery ….… before spotting the nearside skirt panels.
Then I thought Leek had a variety of different small independent bus companies…
until I noticed all the legal lettering was for the same Aimée’s …… and most displaying the same advert for taxi drivers for an obviously associated company.As you can see Aimée’s timetables for the four routes it runs from Leek were posted behind the driver on the bus I travelled on …
… and it was a step back in time to see the ticket machine ….
…. and my driver proudly showed me his original cash bag too.
We left on time at 13:35 for the fifty minute run to Macclesfield with six on board, aside from me.
There’s a nice direct route north on the A523 between Leek and Macclesfield and I was a bit surprised to see it took fifty minutes for the thirteen miles. A poor average speed of 15 mph on a fast A road.
But to my consternation we headed south, rather than north, out of Leek. It turns out we do a twenty minute tour of the town’s residential areas before heading towards Macclesfield, but tellingly none of the six on board alighted, and we picked no one up except almost at the end of the circuit, within walking distance of the ‘bus station’, two passengers boarded – obviously sensibly avoiding the round-the-houses tour and walking the short distance from the town centre where we’d been twenty odd minutes previously!
This is just the kind of compromise local authorities have been forced to indulge in (mixing town routes with inter-urban routes) to try and save money in their plummeting tendered bus budgets but they end up pleasing no one and upsetting everyone – it just puts off longer distance passengers, and in this case, attracted no local passengers either. This coupled with the appalling bus station really makes all the positivity from well meaning groups such as the bus industry sponsored Greener Journeys and Catch The Bus Week wheezes ring hollow to me.
Shortly outside Leek we deviated on another dog leg to serve the village of Rudyard which cost us another five minutes, but at least two of our eight passengers alighted. Everyone else went to Macclesfield and no one else boarded.
But I enjoyed the journey and once again saw some lovely Staffordshire scenery.
From Macclesfield my late running Cross Country train (“20 minutes late due to a late running South Western Railway train in Bournemouth”!!) got me into Manchester Piccadilly just in time to catch one of Northern’s brand new Class 195 trains introduced into service only last week, but I’ll tell you about that tomorrow.