Tuesday 3rd May 2022
It’s a lovely train ride over to Gloucester particularly the scenic section through the Cotswolds between Swindon, Kemble, Stroud and Stonehouse.
Gloucester railway station is perhaps not quite so scenic but its renowned claim to fame is having Britain’s longest continuous unbroken platform measuring 659 yards – that’s over a third of a mile. I know Colchester’s is even longer but that’s not a continuous unbroken platform edge along which one train can stand; so it doesn’t count in the world of record breaking continuous unbroken platforms.
The elongated platform is called both platform 1 and 2 either side of the station’s pedestrian entrance/exit by the gate line and my Cheltenham bound train used the far eastern end (platform 1) while a London Paddington bound train was pulling away from the western end (platform 2) – both being five coach IETs.
To make matters worse, it’s very frustrating trains use the furthest extremities of the platform ends. It’s a very long walk indeed from the train to the gate line and very inconvenient for passengers with mobility issues.
It makes my whinge about LNER at Grantham look almost irrelevant. I’m sure there are perfectly valid reasons to do with signal positions and points but I note a similar shared long platform arrangement at Cambridge results in trains stopping much closer to the gate line; so it can be done.
Here’s a photo taken from the gate line looking the other way to show the extent of the 659 yards.
On the upside, Gloucester’s relatively new bus station (sorry, Transport Hub) is just a stone’s throw from the railway station – actually the bus bays are much closer to the station gate line than where trains stop on that platform in the station!
Here’s an annotated Google map to show the point I’m making.
It was my first visit since Gloucester’s Transport Hub opened in 2018.
First impressions are of a nice airy and clean waiting area with good signage (not quite real time, but almost) and plenty of seats.
I don’t recall seeing any static timetables displayed but I’m sure I must have just missed seeing them. Although studying the photos I took after returning home don’t seem to be showing any I can see, so it’s left me wondering. Perhaps a reader can clarify in the comments?
Amazingly an information point manned by Stagecoach staff is provided and unbelievably was actually open and is so six days a week between 09:00 and 17:00. How good is that?
I wonder if the corporate overlords at Group HQ are aware? It was well protected with a full glass panel and obviously it didn’t have any printed information, maps, timetables etc to hand out although there was a display of printed literature from more enlightened commercial businesses interested in attracting custom alongside in the bus sation.
I’d had to rely on Stagecoach’s website to plan my ride around. If you’re a stranger to an area the website is on a par with a chocolate teapot for usefulness. There was a ‘map’ (I use the word advisedly) comprising place names and straight lines between them – something you might draw up as part of a game of boxes to see who can make the most boxes after drawing one straight line each go.
However, when I came to look at the website again on Sunday to insert an image of said map here, I found it had disappeared – and been replaced by an even more unhelpful message….
As of Monday evening when I’m typing this, that’s still the same message – and replicated for a large part of Stagecoach’s areas too. It would seem maps are either no longer regarded as relevant for Stagecoach or there’s a technical glitch with the website.
Without knowing bus route numbers it’s a hopeless task to plan a day out since you need a route number to look up a timetable in the Stagecoach world of secret bus information. The only way is to guess route numbers like you’re trying to crack open a safe with a combination lock.
Luckily I recalled some route numbers from a previous jaunt to the Forest of Dean and together with some playing around with the Journey Planner I was able to get the timetables I needed, but it was a hugely frustrating process.
And it didn’t end there. Take a look at the coding along the top of an extract of the timetable for one route I picked to ride on….
… and then look at the explanation of the codes after scrolling through a few pages to find them….
Are they seriously suggesting this is a sensible way to present information for passengers – let alone encourage and sell the idea of bus travel to new passengers? It’s almost as though Stagecoach are competing with Arriva in a race to the bottom to see which company can win at this year’s UK Bus Awards for ‘The most useless online information Award’. Despite these obstacles I struggled on and planned a day out.
Tuesday evening (3rd May) update: It seems it was a glitch as the map is now back online, so here it is for your edification as to its usefulness or not…
And it’s good to see normal layout pdf versions of timetables are back too, although it’s a shame the combined frequency of routes 22 and 23 aren’t shown together…
My last visit to this area had included memorable bus rides right through the centre of the Forest so this time I decided to skirt around it by using the hourly route 23 from Gloucester to Lydney along the southern boundary of the Forest which then continues north to Coleford; then change to the two-hourly 35 which runs from Monmouth via Coleford to Ross on Wye via a circuitous route along the western edge and return to Gloucester on the northern side on route 33 which runs hourly from Hereford via Ross-on-Wye to Gloucester. It all made for a very pleasant five hour round trip with two 35/39 minute breaks in Coleford and Ross on Wye.
I’d planned to catch the 11:30 departure on route 23 from Gloucester – the route interworks with the hourly route 22 sharing a common route as far as Westbury-on-Severn before the latter takes a more central route to Coleford through Cinderford and the Forest of Dean itself. My bus was due in from its previous journey at 11:20, but 11:30 came and went with no sign of it. However I took heart from the fact a driver was waiting by Stand G where we were due to leave from and the real time sign above the door still showed the bus as “due” at 11:33.
Although the message about short notice cancellations below it wasn’t very reassuring.
Neither was the Stagecoach App, which we’re always being encouraged to use. It showed the next departure as the 12:00 route 22 indicating the 23 had been cancelled.
Luckily at 11:35 the bus appeared and the process of disembarking the passengers and drivers switching over began. The former was swiftly over but the latter took a whole five minutes.
The next worrying thing was the driver about to come off changed the blind to “Not In Service” indicating that perhaps the App was correct after all. On the other hand the new driver positioned himself ready to board, so perhaps all was not lost.
Our refreshed driver boarded and seemed to take for ever to sort himself out – he even closed the bus doors to make sure we all got the message to stay away – even though there was an undercurrent of frustration among all of us waiting as understandably there’d been much tutting about the non appearance of the bus.
I’d previously spent the waiting time studying all the notices posted on the door and glass panels.
Among the instructions these included fifteen months out dated Covid information dated January 2021 …
…. as well as information about service changes over two months ago (well, I assume it’s February 2022 and not February 2021, but who knows?).
Oh how I wish bus companies were as keen to take out of date notices down as they are to put up notices telling us what we can and can’t do.
By 11:40 our driver was ready for us to board and the doors opened.
It took another five minutes to get everyone on board as quite a crowd had built up due to the delay.
The boarding process wasn’t helped by the “real” time sign displaying us as the next route 22, but of course we were the previous route 23 as our driver had to explain to a few boarders.
We finally left at 11:45, fifteen minutes late. It’s a lovely journey down the A48 to Lydney before turning northwards to Coleford.
As you can see from the route map above part of the route runs alongside the River Severn which soon widens as its meanderings end and it heads towards the Bristol Channel.
Lydney bus station is past its sell-by date with part of the parking area now fenced off to provide a secure area for Forest Community Bus to park their vehicles.
After Lydney and heading towards Coleford the bus passes through some serious forest scenery….
…. as well as passing over the Dean Forest Railway which runs from Lydney Junction to Park End.
The only other excitement on the journey was as we headed towards Coleford our driver forgot to turn off on the road to serve Milkwall He realised too late so attempted to turn into a farm track to turn around …
…. which involved quite a bit of shunting to and fro to complete the turn ….
….. and then return to the junction and try again on the correct route.
After all that we arrived in Coleford just eleven minutes down at 13:01 but by the time the bus left for the journey back to Gloucester as a route 22 at 13:05, it was fifteen minutes late again.
My next journey on route 35 to Ross-on-Wye at 13:15 was another scenic delight, even though it was a single decker.
The route takes a rather circuitous trajectory and we followed all points of the compass at different times on the journey – heading south, when Ross-on-Wye is due north of Coleford.
We left spot on time with eleven passengers on board, and as we left Coleford soon pulled up at what is obviously a Stagecoach outstation located in the yard of a small independent operator, Crystal Travel, to change drivers.
We passed through delightfully named villages and hamlets such as English Bicknor and Lower Lydbrook and by Upper Lydbrook all but two of the other passengers had alighted leaving just the three of us for the rest of the journey via Joy’s Green and alongside the River Wye to Ross-on-Wye.
It’s a lovely journey with some magnificent views especailly the section of route through Lydbrook, Ruaradean and up to Walford (no, not that one).
…. as well as the charm of passing through flocks of sheep having their luncheon on the grass verges.
We arrived into the lovely Ross-on-Wye on time at 14:11 and I had time to take a look around this lovely town before catching my third and final bus of the tour on route 33 back to Gloucester.
Sadly I was just a couple of months too late to savour Stagecoach’s travel shop in Ross-on-Wye….
…. and frankly, I’m surprised it lasted until February 2022.
The ride back to Gloucester on route 33 was uneventful with few passengers and I arrived back into the city’s bus station on time at 15:35.
After a look around the city and a marvel at the wonderful cathedral it was soon time to head back to the station and catch the 16:16 train back to Paddington …. except it was showing as cancelled, so that gave me another hour to take in the delights of Gloucester including the historic old dock area.
… and take a look at the bus scene including Clarence Street, very close to the bus station, and from where local city buses depart ….
…. as well as Station Road from where the high profile fifteen-minute frequency from Cheltenham route 10 departs for its southern terminus at Lower Tuffley.
It looked to me that Stagecoach West have enthusiastically embraced the new corproate livery makeover as there were plenty of buses in the new all-over yellow colour… perhaps one or two too many.
But at least route 94 (also between Gloucester and Cheltenham) still retains an impressive livery ….
….. except you can’t find a timetable for it on the Stagecoach website.
Despite these frustrations I throughly enjoyed my ride around the Forest of Dean and as a bonus will be able to pick up a GWR Delay Repay meaning the day out only cost me half the super-off-peak return fare I’d envisaged.
Blog timetable: 06:00 TThS.