Sunday 26th June 2022
Thanks to blog reader Barry who suggested L could be for Lancaster which would have been a good call for a visit but sadly this week’s rail disruption meant a long journey and overnight stay was impractical, so Leamington Spa it was, and on a glorious sunny day too.
This delightful town which gained its Royal title thanks to Queen Victoria in 1838 is a “semi-detached” kind of town being adjoined to next door neighbour Warwick.
This adjacent urban alignment impacts the bus network with four bus routes linking the two town centres each via a different route. The railway line also links both towns with a station close to each centre.
Both towns fall within Warwick District Council which in turn is within Warwickshire County Council with Leamington Spa being by far the larger partner with a population approaching 60,000 whereas Warwick, despite giving its name to both local authority administrations, is much smaller at 32,000.
I passed through the town with a brief stay a few weeks ago on my way home from exploring Coventry’s new rail station and it looked a lovely place to explore further so thanks to Chiltern Railway and Cross Country I arrived at 10:14 on Monday for a day’s visit and mooch round.
Interestingly, rail strike aside, emergency engineering work on the tracks between Dorridge and Birmingham Moor Street closed the line north of Dorridge with rail replacement buses all last week. I got a Chiltern train going only as far as Banbury and changed to Cross Country there.
Normally Leamington Spa enjoys at least one fast train an hour to and from Marylebone taking 76 minutes and some hours also a semi-fast (83 minutes) both continuing to and from Birmingham Moor Street with the semi-fast also serving Snow Hill. Every two-hours the fast connects with a shuttle to Stratford-upon-Avon and a stopper to Moor Street on the other two-hours. However no two hours seem to be the same on Chiltern when it comes to timetables so it’s difficult to do anything but generalise.
Indeed many trains stopping at Leamington Spa don’t stop at Warwick but call at Warwick Parkway instead.
More regular are West Midlands Trains which runs hourly from Leamington Spa to Nuneaton via Coventry and Cross Country currently running hourly southbound to and from Reading with two-hourly extensions to and from Bournemouth and hourly northbound to and from Coventry, Birmingham, Wolverhampton and Manchester as well as calling at other stations along the way.
Leamington Spa’s station building is a rather nice affair despite it being somewhat brutal in appearance. It’s currently undergoing upgrade work out the front with new blue badge bays, taxi rank and bus stop necessitating temporary arrangements for access.
On the platforms the buildings have rather delightful heritage features with traditional style waiting rooms and an old style buffet.
The platform floral displays are also very attractive and the signs are wonderfully restored (see photo at the top of the blog). The ticket office is a blend of modern and heritage.
It’s all makes for a very pleasant waiting and travelling experience.
The two main platforms (2 and 3) are supplemented by two ‘turn-back’ sidings/platforms (1 and 4) either side pf these pointing towards the north with platform 4 mainly used for the shuttles to Nuneaton and Stratford-upon-Avon.
The station is about a ten minute walk from the town centre and currently has less buses linking the two due to a road closure necessitating diversions.
The half-hourly Stagecoach X18 (Coventry-Leamington Spa-Warwick-Stratford-upon-Avon with a connection to Evesham) was still passing by and was timed conveniently for my arrival on Monday, so I gave it a try.
It would normally take just a couple of minutes to reach the town’s main commercial street known as Parade/Upper Parade but the diversion …
… which itself was bedevilled with three-way temporary lights due to separate roadworks at another junction, meant us taking eight minutes for the journey,
Luckily Stagecoach’s timetables on all the routes the company runs in the town seem to have a handy recovery allowance at the bus stops in Upper Parade which is effectively the town’s bus station.
Aside from Stagecoach which has a modern bus garage to the south of the town at Warwick Gate ….
…. other operators in the town are National Express West Midlands on its competitive route 11 between Coventry, Warwick University and Leamington Spa….
…. and Diamond Bus which has recently taken over Johnson’s routes 77 two-hourly to Stratford-upon-Avon via Gaydon and 77A two-hourly to Banbury.
A number of shopping journeys on certain days of the week are operated for the County Council by A&M Travel using Flexibus branding including route 69 to Ryton, Stoneleigh and Stretton on different weekdays each, a Wednesday only shopping journey to Claverdon on route 511, a Monday and Saturday route 514 to Solihull while National Express Accessible Transport run a Wednesday only route 538 to Princethorpe.
Stagecoach provides a network map on its website which was invaluable to help work out what goes where.
I took some rides on Stagecoach’s local routes to the east and south of the town – route 1 to South Farm (pink); route 67 to Sydenham and routes 67A/67B/67C to Cubbington (green) and the adjacent Lillington as well as a short journeys on route 15 (orange) and the U1A (purple).
Route 1 continues to Warwick via Percy Estate and Woodloes after Leamington Spa’s Upper Parade. It runs every 20 minutes which feels just right for the numbers I saw travelling – around a dozen to 15 on each journey and the area called Whitnash which the destination blinds call South Farm is certainly not agricultural as its name might imply but looks like a pleasant residential area.
This route was one of the very first to adopt the Stagecoach upgraded Gold branding (then known as Goldline) and was given the route number G1 to replace the former 66 and a fleet of branded new Optare Solos. Sir Brian Souter believed the area the route served had all the characteristics necessaary to attract a new breed of discerning passengers who’d leave their cars in the drive and would appreciate the enhanced interior comforts of a Goldline bus. That was then; and this is now. All traces of Gold have disappeared. And these days you have to really seek out route 1’s timetable on Stagecoach’s timetable look up website page …
… as it only appears if you click on “See more results” and then only at the end of a long list of route 1s. It’s not the high profile golden route it once was.
Route 67 also runs every 20 minutes south of the town to Sydenham on a twisty route but caters well for the relatively new housing developments that have been built there over the last couple of decades. Similar numbers travelling were observed to route 1. It’s run with a mixture of single and double deck buses.
Buses on the route continue north after reaching Parade and turn into a 67A, 67B or 67C – hourly on each leg – serving the area towards Cubbington. One or two passengers travelled across Leamington to different stops on Upper or Lower Parade (there are four) but the timetable shows the routes as separate services rather than through journeys.
My journey to Cubbington (11:00 from Parade) took eight outbound with just three going all the way and brought nine back in.
Another route between Leamington and Warwick is the 15 which runs hourly leaving Leamington via a retail park…
…. and light industrial and trading estate which is well landscaped such you wouldn’t really know there were warehouse type outlets behind the trees.
I caught the 13:04 from Leamington as far as Warwick Gate but only six other passengers joined me and four of those got off after short journeys.
Stagecoach routes U1, U1A and U2 – all branded as Unibus – are by far the most frequent routes in the town with a combined frequency of every 7-8 minutes between Leamington Spa and the University of Warwick.
The U1/U1A and U2 follow different localised routes south of the town including the former serving a very new looking residential development at Warwick Gateway. I caught a bus around the southern circuit but was the only passenger.
NatEx’s competitive route 11 runs every 20 minutes (despite the buses proclaiming every 7 minutes) and terminate at the southern end of the town centre before returning to the University and Coventry.
From the numbers I saw travelling on both companies’ buses the combined frequency of 11 buses per hour looked very generous; and have to wonder why NatExWM continue with their offering.
Stagecoach’s two trunk inter-urban routes are the X17 and X18, both running half-hourly and linking Coventry with Leamington Spa and Warwick.
The X17 takes a more circuitous route via Kenilworth and Warwick Hospital with the X18 being the direct route between Leamington Spa and Warwick before continuing south to Stratford-upon-Avon from where alternate journeys used to continue hourly to Evesham but now This section operates as a separate route (still using the number X18)..
Hourly routes are also operated to Rugby (63) and Napton by two two-hourly different routes (664 and 665).
Leamington Spa therefore has a decent network of town routes, inter urban routes and train services.
It’s also a lovely town to visit with the superbly cared for Jephson Gardens located right in the town centre alongside the River Leam.
This wonderful atmosphere contrasts with the disappointment of the poor state of information displays at bus stops in the town centre which don’t look very cared for along with a few other anomalies.
Timetable cases in particular looked uncared for with the busiest stops in Upper Parade covered in graffiti and the remnants of fly-posted stickers.
On my visit in April I spotted one of the bus stops on the Parade still displaying a notice advising passengers it was closed from the first lockdown when social distancing on the pavement was a thing.
I tweeted this to Stagecoach and received an encouraging reply that it would be attended to, but it was still displaying the misleading erroneous information last week – the stop is open and being used by passengers who are wise enough to ignore what’s displayed.
In fact I noticed both stops in the main Parade road (War Memorial and Regent Street) were displaying this incorrect notice. Regular passengers have obviously learnt to ignore what’s displayed.
Elsewhere in the town some timetable cases were displaying notices telling you to “download the Stagecoach Bus app” rather than actually display the times ….
…. whereas elsewhere times were displayed.
But rather confusingly the software that produces them does so in a rather odd split presentational arrangement ….
…. as well as a rather useless “every 12-17 minutes” frequency reference.
Diamond Bus seem to be struggling with destination blinds. I saw one bus just displaying the number 77A and ….
…. another just showing Diamond Midlands ….
…. which isn’t particularly helpful in the early days after a route takeover from another operator and passengers might already be unsure which bus to catch. There also must be something wrong with the bus wash as one bus had a filthy rear….
…. while another journey I waited to observe – the 11:40 route 77 to Stratford-upon-Avon via Gaydon – didn’t appear although I gave up waiting at 11:55 and no bus was showing on the bustimes.org tracker. Hopefully it did appear and ran very late as a gap on a two-hourly service won’t do anything to encourage passengers.
Diamond’s tracker facility on its website doesn’t seem to include the 77, although the 77A to Banbury is shown.
It’s not easy taking over another company’s routes and Diamond are having a fair share of teething problems. The company’s quoted in a recent trade magazine explaining “we took on the Johnsons Excelbus contracts to ensure residents continued to receive the vital services they’ve been used to. Unfortunately, there have been a number of matters that required immediate and ongoing attention and we’d like to reassure residents and passengers that we will resolve these as quickly as possible”. Whatever the matters needing attention are/were it’s hoped they’ll soon be resolved.
Another issue is on Stagecoach’s website where the network route map is out of date, still showing route 16 whereas as reported in a previous blog this was replaced last month by the IndieGo Plus DRT scheme.
Another oddity was the real time signs in the Upper Parade shelters only display National Express West Midlands route 11 but other displays I saw at a few other stops showed Stagecoach departures.
In some ways these are minor niggles in what overall seemed to be a slick operation; but if you’re serious about growing the number of passengers travelling it’s attention to these sorts of details which are important.
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