A ride around the Forest of Dean

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.

Halfway there!

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.

Roger French

Blog timetable: 06:00 TThS.

36 thoughts on “A ride around the Forest of Dean

Add yours

  1. Presumably Stagecoach are back into their default ‘cut costs – especially staff costs’ mode. The price of everything and the value of nothing…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for another lovely travelogue. The Forest is a superb place to explore and, in fairness to Stagecoach and despite numerous changes over recent years, they do provide a good service in what can be difficult territory to serve.

    One little correction – I suspect you meant Stonehouse rather than Stonehaven in the Cotswolds!

    The office in Ross was a true survivor. In truth, it was the admin/canteen for drivers but with the ability to walk in and get a leaflet, back in the day. With the closure of Ross depot in favour of relocating routes to either the Milkwall outstation or main Gloucester depot, it finally went.

    However, my main comment was to tap into something else and I don’t know if this was conscious on your part. There does seem to be a decline in Stagecoach. The website is appalling and has been for years but standards are slipping and new vehicle investment falling. With new private equity owners, one wonders how things may continue to progress? From a period when First’s travails masked a similar decline in Arriva, could we see the attention of an ailing Arriva distract from Stagecoach slippage? I hope not as Stagecoach have been a true innovator over the years but service delivery and marketing is not what it was.

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  3. Yes, thank you again, for another interesting account of your journeying, once you’d managed to discover where the buses actually go!

    A method I’ve sometimes had to use is to survey the area on google maps, and click on the little bus-stop symbols to reveal the route numbers serving that stop, and cross-reference those with the company’s timetables, to eventually work out just where the bus goes.

    Fine if you’ve always fancied being Hercule Poirot, but so much easier when clear maps are provided.

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  4. I have a very vague memory of this service running through to Newport and being jointly operated with Stagecoach South Wales. I think some buses run to Hereford and some to Gloucester

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    1. Bob – the 23 from Gloucester to Lydney was part of the 73 (X73) that operated from Gloucester via Chepstow to Newport. It was operated by Red and White (later Stagecoach South Wales) from Chepstow depot. However, west of Lydney, it serves a stretch of nothingness on the A48 so over time, the service was chopped and the Gloucester to Lydney portion linked to the former Dukes Travel 721 Lydney to Coleford route.

      The 35 to Ross has been through a few hands over time but came with the Dukes business to Stagecoach. The 33 from Ross to Gloucester starts from Hereford and historically was the 538 operated jointly by Red & White (Ross) and Bristol Omnibus (Gloucester).

      Stagecoach have done a lot of good work over the years with the Forest routes though I forget how many changes have been made, though GCC tendering is also a factor.

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      1. Cinderford was also heavily involved in the running of route 73, with driver changovers sometimes taking place at Elton Corner

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      2. The 73 had many operational changes; Cinderford depot’s involvement escaped me. I guess that was after Lydney depot closed in the late 70s? The 73 historically ran to Cardiff and, at one time, was extended to Cheltenham by Stagecoach.

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  5. I have never come across a timetable so complex and confusing. What an earth does Day ! Day Pattern is Different to timetable mean ?. Is there some secret timetable they do not publish

    Was is timetable produced by someone whose first language is not English. I think I have worked out what they actually mean with this timetable but I would not be certain I have. Imagine as well trying to read that timetable at a bus stop in the dark

    It is common with timetables to finds * and note numbers which they never tell you what they mean but that timetable takes to a whole new level. I suspect as well if you contacted Stagecoach to clarify it they would be just as confused
    Stagecoach used to be the best of a bad bunch of the large operators but they have now got a lot worse. Non of the large operators have good Web sites.

    Another cause of confusion is buses that only operate on School days or non schooldays. They assume to think you know what schooldays are

    It can be even more confusing where buses go across counties as each county can often have different school holidays

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    1. Bob,
      Unless you’re fortunate to find one of the few PDFs on the Stagecoach website which is in the printed-leaflet style, all their timetables UK-wide are in that ridiculous format and they all have the weird Day! code for every journey and the Period1/Period 2 rubbish.

      If train companies produced timetables like that it’d be national news with complaints in The Times and so on, but nobody notices when it’s buses.

      😦

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  6. The Stagecoach website is challenging, as I first realised pre-pandemic when the weird journey notes began to appear. The timetable I was then interested in was the very large one for the Manchester 192 route, which strangely had a section for Monday to Friday and Sunday, with a separate one for Saturday. Thus all the Sunday buses were mixed in with Monday to Friday and identified only by the notes at the top of each journey, rather than shown in a separate Sunday section as common sense dictates.

    Lately I’ve found Stuart’s hint about Google Maps quite useful when planning trips in an unfamiliar place, together with judicious use of busmaps.org especially careful scrutiny of the operator route listings. But beware of the commonplace “Bus Station to Bus Station” route, as well as the internal company politics (eg Arriva Merseyside appears separately from Arriva Northwest).

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  7. Why oh why do companies like Stagecoach, clearly now floundering after the Souters have handed over the keys, spend £millions on technology, needless re-branding of vehicles (since when was the 10 a long-distance route one might ask in passing?), spout platitudes about “diversity and inclusivity” targets in the workforce, yet cannot operate a decent website or produce a simple route map?

    As a result, which Stagecoach Cheltenham and Gloucester areas once did well at with regularly updated pocket-size versions, to plan a simple journey as described above is a job only the very dedicated and determined bus users would even contemplate! And, you would need to have some decent clues about the network to even begin. So, clearly the mindset of those responsible is only managing decline and making no attempt whatsoever to attract and retain new custom. A clue to this business suicide may be found in recent comments from the managing Director saying she “was appalled by all the amount of paper used in the firm and determined to reduce it”.

    Bus Times and the national Traveline are exceedingly more helpful than virtually all bus companies websites, but without a map to plan, where do you start?

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    1. Stagecoach West appear to be using the yellow “long distance” school-bus-alike livery as a direct replacement for the Gold brand, and the 10 used to be a Gold route.

      Stagecoach East Midlands, on the other hand, isn’t using the yellow livery at all, with buses being repainted into standard white fleet livery. Stagecoach East seems to be using yellow for buses on what used to be their coach routes (X5/905 and 99).

      I wonder if Stagecoach CNL is being pressured into repainting buses from their Lakes livery into the standard fleet or yellow liveries? And how the other bits of Stagecoach are handling their Gold fleets.

      And is any bit of Stagecoach using the green “special services” livery at all?

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      1. Funnily enough, Stagecoach West use the green version for special services on their various contract workings in Bristol.

        As for Gold vehicles elsewhere, I think that most are simply repainting into standard local colours such as in Folkestone. However, South West has followed West in using the Yellow so you can have a yellow vehicle on the GOLD service from Plymouth!

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  8. Unusual it said Stagecoach West on it as they appear to have been trying to join Arriva in removing any regional identification but, First: Transforming Travel are bringing it back with First:Leeds,Buses of Somerset and so on.

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    1. Kevan,

      Stagecoach have very much kept their regional identifiers (which are actually the brand-names for the individual companies) but have deleted almost all their local branding.

      First have boomeranged from the “Transforming Travel” era of corporate blandness, but who knows how long for?
      And nobody knows what Arriva’s corporate policy is on such matters, assuming they even have one.

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  9. The website is now fixed, with the maps back and paper pdf timetables to download. It’s just a shame the Stagecoach IT work office hours so any issues at weekends just go unfixed. Isn’t public transport a 24/7 business?

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I assume the dominance (?) of the yellow ‘long distance’ livery is due to the fact, I think, the buses now on the 10 in Gloucester, which sometime stray onto the 94, were the few new buses delivered last year to Stagecoach UK wide. Presumably, as they were new, they *had* to embrace the new livery…..

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    1. Not quite – as another poster has said, the 10 was a Gold service and Stagecoach West has replaced Gold with Yellow. They could have been delivered in the new local livery and arguably, that would have made more sense.

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  11. Re the trains running right to the end of platforms, it seems to be a class 800 thing. The 5-car trains running from Hull to London – both LNER and HT – stop right at the far end of the platform at Selby, out beyond the canopy and the area where everybody waits, and again at Doncaster they go right past the “5-car class 180 STOP” marker and up to the end of the platform. I don’t know why the IETs have to go further along than other trains of the same size!

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    1. I don’t know if it’s still the case, but in the early days of City Thameslink station the trains all stopped at the Blackfriars end of the platform, the “wrong” end for the entrances which were at Holborn Viaduct. That may have had something to do with the gradient changes in the station.

      I wonder if all this has something to do with track circuits?

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      1. It still is, but not always. You have to guess whether any particular train will stop by the footbridge or at the far end of the platform. Sometimes there is an announcement when it’s going to the far end but not always.

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  12. I always advise passengers (I don’t call them “customers”) to use bustimes.org in conjunction with the ukbusatlas. I get a lot of comments that this is much better than the company website.

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  13. Aren’t all bus opcos just managing decline in various ad hoc ways (with may be a few notable exceptions of those benefitting from an untapped tourist or contract market)? Accepted that the enthusiasts wish it were otherwise. But what difference does that make? There just aren’t enough of us practising what we preach.

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    1. It is so disappointing using public transport at the moment. Trains and buses are unreliable and the companies seem to offer the minimum required.

      After many years trying to persuade people to use public transport, I have given up. Experience suggests that people will be let down.

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      1. I don’t know. Isn’t it the nature of the animal?

        My experience of public transport goes back to the 1960s. Throughout that time I’d put the chances of being disappointed or frustrated at 50:50 consistently. It hasn’t changed. Nor has the same variation in attitudes. We might strike it lucky. Or not. Public transport is an afterthought, if at all.

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      2. My local experience is still that Stagecoach are the most patient to support services and allow passenger traffic time to build, First are much more hard line traditional “use it or lose it”, with Arriva (and Go-Ahead?) somewhere in the middle, but sometimes, even surprisingly, patient.
        I suspect very much it reflects corporate necessity, at the national level.
        What is experience elsewhere?

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  14. Re using Google Maps, I have noticed that if you click on a stop using the mobile phone app then all the roads served by the various routes show up (up to a certain distance), whereas the desktop browser doesn’t offer that feature.

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  15. As a Stagecoach user yourself, why do no Stagecoach vehicles have some form of route/next stop indicator? On some of their country routes you have no idea where you are with no information visible. Can you imagine tourists travelling on London buses with no information visible!

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  16. Roger, that was a case for me of nostalgia coupled with extreme change. Going back to the just post-war period of 1946-50, the services were provided by Red & White, with garages in Lydney, Cinderford, Monmouth and Ross, and Bristol Tramways with garages in Gloucester and Coleford, with an outstation in Cinderford. Then at the end of 1950 there was an exchange between Bristol’s garage in Coleford and Red & White’s in Stroud, when most of the single deckers in Stroud came to Coleford and vice versa. There were 5 at Cinderford which were transfered to Red & White, all bar one soon returning to Bristol. The exception was an AEC Coach which became C136 in the renumbered Red & White Fleet.

    The pattern of services was completely different. Red & White ran from Gloucester to Cardiff, via Lydney, following your route, and also Coleford to Gloucester, via Five Acres, Cinderford, Mitcheldean, Huntley and thence to Gloucester. The other route from Cinderford to Gloucester was operated by Bristol, via Littledean, Westbury on Severn, Minsterworth, and joining the Red & White route at Highnam Corner. Red & White also ran from Lydney Junction to Hereford, via Parkend, Broadwell, Coleford, Mile End, Christchurch, Crossways, Monmouth, St Weonards and thence to Hereford. Between Lydney and Monmouth they interworked with Bristol, whose routes were radically different. They ran to Parkend, then to Bream, then either via Clements End or via Bream Avenue and Clearwell to Lambsquay, Milkwall and Coleford. Your bus used a section of road which did not then exist. The route from Coleford to Monmouth was then via Broadwell, Christchurch, Berry Hill Pike and then direct to Staunton, omitting Crossways. Bristol also ran to Monmouth as part of their Chepstow-Coleford-Monmouth service, which left Coleford via Lords Hill to Coalway, then Milkwall, Lambsquay, Clearwell, Newland, Redbrook and Monmouth. Circuitous routes were nothing new, as the main objective was to serve the “Lane Ends”. Bristol’s other group of services, which had its own set of destination blinds, was Coleford to Ross, either via English Bicknor or Brierley, meeting in Lydbrook. A circuit of the Lane Ends was obligatory, although some buses via English Bicknor ran direct between there and Coleford.

    After 1950 there was a change to the Coleford-Gloucester routes, in that all services ran via Westbury on Severn, although they alternated in travelling via Brierley and Speech House. The Cinderford-Mitcheldean-Gloucester service was now separate, but between Mitcheldean and Gloucester it was parallel to Cottrell’s Coaches service.

    I’m glad that you enjoyed your visit to my old part of the world. I should add that services to Gloucester then terminated in Lower Westgate Street, before the bus station in Kings Square became operational, although one bus on a Sunday ran to the GWR station. The LMS station was still operational at that time.

    Thank you for that contribution.

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    1. Maybe Midland Red got down that way too?I seem to recall, circa about 1987,a Worcester to Gloucester service run jointly between Midland Red (West) and Cheltenham and Gloucester but I don’t know what way it went?It wasn’t very frequent I think every 2 hours.

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