L is for (Royal) Leamington Spa

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.

Leamington Spa is surrounded by Birmingham, Coventry, Daventry, Rugby and Stratford-upon-Avon

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.

Johnsons ‘excelbus’ has now been taken over by Rotala owned Diamond

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.

When I took this photo back in April A&M/Felexibus was operating a journey on route 77A

Stagecoach provides a network map on its website which was invaluable to help work out what goes where.

Stagecoach’s network route map

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.

Unfortunately the camera can’t capture each departure showing the next three route 11 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.

Roger French

Previous AtoZ blogs: Andover; Bracknell; Carlisle; Durham, Evesham, Folkestone, Grantham, Harrogate, Inverness, Jarrow, King’s Lynn.

Blogging timetable: 06:00 TThSSu

31 thoughts on “L is for (Royal) Leamington Spa

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  1. Thanks for this revealing blog. Re Passenger info at bus stops, it is depressing how often this seems to be neglected. Is the lesson that bus companies (or maybe just Stagecoach and Arriva?) really believe there is no point in trying to grow ridership? – not very ‘enterprising’ or ‘innovative’…

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  2. Thanks Roger. Happy memories of being met by Grandma at Leamington Spa station and catching buses for days out in Stratford or Warwick, and later catching buses to and from Cubbington. Also more recently taking a 68 to Hatton Park Village Hall for a family reunion which nowadays I’d need an IndieGo for

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  3. Interesting to read your thoughts on one of my local towns. The town and rural network is actually quite good and (from my observations) pretty well used. I’ve always thought Stagecoach actually do a pretty decent job there – although interesting that they never made the Banbury routes ‘work’ but Johnson’s then did. It will be interesting to see what happens under Diamond Bus.

    On the Warwick University corridor, pre-Covid there was more than enough students for both Stagecoach’s U1/2 and NatEx’s 11. Even back in my days there in the 1980s, a large percentage of the University’s students lived in Leamington. And the University has always been a difficult place to park a car, and has become even more so recently. A lot of staff and students did travel by bus. Lately, I’m less sure. In fact, on a couple of recent visits to the main campus, there seemed to be remarkably few students around.

    Needless to say, printed timetables are completely non-existent in the town. I believe Stagecoach has also closed its enquiry office in the town centre. The county council has given up on its previously excellent route map too..

    A couple of bloopers. It’s ‘Cubbington’ not ‘Cubblington’ (mis-spelled several times), and the lovely Jephson Gardens (from your photos you didn’t see them at anything like their best) sit alongside the River Leam, not the canal (farther south in the town).

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  4. The Leamington – Warwick University corridor still gets very busy at peak student travelling times, mainly on the Stagecoach services which are faster as they bypass Kenilworth. Loadings on the NX West Midlands 11 between the Uni and Leamington never seem heavy, but are probably just about worthwhile. It follows a different route through Kenilworth to Stagecoach’s X17.

    Diamond’s problems in the area seem to be primarily because rather fewer drivers transferred from Johnsons than anticipated. Diamond’s existing drivers at Redditch garage had to do alot of route learning in a short period of time over the far-flung network taken over from Johnsons.

    As you say, Roger, the bus network is good for a town of its size. I wait with some tredipation to see what happens when the current Government support ends.

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  5. Thanks Roger – great to see my birth town featured!

    Minor typo in that the 69 route serves Ryton and not Ruston.

    Interestingly, when I visited the town a couple of months ago, I was surprised how well the ‘U’ routes were being used, with almost full ‘deckers by the time the bus departed from the Upper Parade stop.

    The Johnson’s routes were quite complex in nature so I’m not surprised there are issues for Diamond. Their Redditch garage is some 16 miles from Stratford and 26 miles from Leamington so one does wonder if this may be a factor?Johnson’s used to be based only a few miles away from Stratford in Henley-in-Arden, of course. Poor not to have a full set of destinations programmed-in, though.

    Warwickshire County Council has recently placed an excellent set of town bus maps on its website after a fairly lengthy gap.

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    1. The bus maps are in my view basic and need improving

      The map have little red circles on the roads. Presumably bus stops but there is no key to tell you that

      The route numbers are shown on the map with different coloured backgrounds. I am guessing this indicated different operators but there is no key to tell you this

      There is no table of route number and destinations nor an indication of frequency

      There is no date on the map so you have no idea as to how old it is

      A quick sanity check using Traveline Infor as the reference data indicated the map to be out of date

      I use traveline as the reference data as it is the nearest thing to accurate data although even traveling is far from a 100% accurate

      The other big problem is trying to find what journeys are not running. That’s a real detective job usually having to find the operator’s web site and if you are lucky it may telly you cancellation. Frequently made more difficult by inconsistent data on the web sites. You frequently find the web site and face book and twitter all showing different information

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  6. I can easily answer what the issues were about Diamond taking over Johnsons. We were all shocked at the state of the Excelbus fleet. Over a third of the fleet was taken out of service when they were bought by Rotala as not fit for purpose. It was staggering what Diamond had inherited bearing in mind the so called reputation Johnsons had. So many buses had to be drafted in from reserve at Tividale hence the lack of live destinations on the vehicles leading to just Diamond Bus being displayed. In addition the management of Johnsons went behind Rotalas back and offered many of the Excelbus drivers the chance to stay with the coach operation leading to a severe acute shortage of staff for the Excelbus services. Thankfully the management Rotala & all the staff at Redditch have coped with all this quite magnificently and Excelbus customers are now starting to benefit from the premium quality operation we are used to in the West Midlands from Diamond Bus which is laudable.

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  7. A fascinating post, shows the benefits of ‘attention to detail’ that are important to grow a business. I find the Stagecoach website much better than most, but considering how many ‘1’ journeys they mush have, surely using a device location must be able to filter the list better so a user can better find what they’re looking for.

    For U, can I suggest Urmston in Greater Manchester, south of the Trafford Centre, population nearly 42,000 with capped fare to be introduced in September and franchising from 2025 would be an interesting study

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    1. Many thanks Rob; and interestingly the list of route 1s was after I;d entered Leamington Spa as the location! Thanks also for the suggestion for “U” – I’ll add this to the list of possibilities.

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      1. R could be Rowley Regis which has one of the most comprehensive bus networks in Europe. Its served direct from London Marylebone by Chiltern Railways & it would be a delight to show Rodger how close you can get to being an almost perfect bus network operated by National Express PLC & Rotala PLC . A town on the Birmingham/ Black Country border that has an amazing bus every 3 minuets between Blackheath & West Bromwich, every 7 minutes between Halesowen & Walsall. Every 20 mins to Wolverhampton, Every 8 minutes to Merry Hill Centre, Every 10 minutes to Dudley & every 12 minutes to City Centre. With the town centre having full clear up to date timetables & maps from TfWM in every stand as well as a bus service that starts at 04:30 & continues to 00:10 Monday to Saturday & from 07:00 to 00:10 Sundays which can rival London & uses its own version of Oyster called Swift will All day tickets starting at £2.85.

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      2. I cannot compete with your excellent blogs on the places you visit however I would value your opinions on the bus provision where I live & I honestly think it would make an interesting piece for you looking at one of the most socially deprived areas in England where bus use outnumbers car use & is heavily supported by the local authority (WMCA) to compere it with the normal leafy middle class towns that you ususally visit. Compared to Evesham & Leamington Spa I think you would be surprised at our service provision & it would be quite a contrast to the usual woes found in towns where the bus is 2nd Class. I look forward to you visiting my home town Rodger

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    2. Filtering the timetables should not be difficult. I seems to show a lack of attention to usability

      The Web site will have a database behind it

      Probably filtering it by Stagecoach Company would be adequate

      Where it currently has select Timetable it could have another field with a dropdown list and you select the Stagecoach company you want. The timetable list will then just select timetables for that stagecoach company

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      1. Selecting the town on the Stagecoach web site does not actually filter the timetabe list. It seemd to filter for info on updates strange !

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  8. Those middle tracks at Leamington station actually had a passenger service over them which was the Wrexham and Shropshire which ran none stop from Banbury to Tame Bridge (yet another!) Parkway.These days I think it’s mainly Freightliner that use them.

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  9. The X18 no longer runs through from Coventry to Evesham on weekdays. The Stratford -Evesham section is a separate route, though confusingly still numbered X18, so through passengers have to change in Stratford.

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  10. I was musing over this issue which keeps cropping up. Why do similar areas seem to have excellent bus services, or it seems an impossible job.

    Even in my local area established routes serving former Council estates, well served in the 1950s and 1960s, are still well served, and used, today. In other similar areas, nothing works. History matters. People, like the plants in my garden, take time to get used to their environment.

    We are so impatient. Funding commitments seem to last for 2 years, like I give my plants two growing seasons. It’s not long enough. Maybe it takes 5, or even ten years. Perhaps we need a rethink. If we can’t stay the course, it’s hardly worth trying at all.

    That’s not to say all our ideas are irrelevant. They’re not. They matter. But most of the time we are just talking among ourselves.

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  11. I spent a gloriously sunny day back in April 2018 on a Stagecoach Day ticket, making a round trip to/from Rugby visiting Leamington Spa, Warwick, Stratford, Warwick University and Coventry. What I almost missed was the stupendous view of Warwick Castle from the X18 as the bus turned at the junction to gain entry to the town centre. I made sure on the return journey from Stratford that I was upstairs, at the rear off-side and facing backwards to get a perfect shot of the castle and river. A rare example of a “touristy” picture in my collection, without a bus in sight!

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  12. The travails that Diamond are having show what can happen when a respected local operator is replaced by a larger operator with more distant management. Johnson’s fleet was always well presented, which appears not a priority for Diamond.

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    1. According to my source at Midland Red (South) Ltd all of the former Johnsons tenders will be passing to them in August leaving Diamond Bus to concentrate on its excellent premium network in the West Midlands County. In addition it is proposed that most services in Kidderminster & Redditch will also be deregistered commercially

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    2. The simple fact that a large proportion of the Johnsons fleet were rendered VOR immediately Rotala took control belies any truth that thier vehicles were very tidy & had to be replaced by members of the reserve fleet at Tividale which when I got the Diamond 22 yesterday is a mere 9 miles from the historic Warwickshire border hardly distant in anyone’s eyes.

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    3. To anyone who was claiming that Johnsons were a well respected company with a well maintained fleet the THIRD 10 plate vehicle has just left Redditch from the Excelbus fleet acquired by Rotala for the scrap yard after being deemed VOR upon takeover and classified by Diamond Bus as beyond economic repair………..

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  13. In addition Diamond Bus have confirmed that all the former Johnsons Excelbus services that operated wholly in Warwickshire will be withdrawn from 28th July 2022

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    1. Rotala have issued the following statement today in regard to the former Johnsons Excelbus services:

      In Warwickshire specifically, operational issues have occurred as a result of our need to quickly build knowledge around a complex set of routes and timetables following the Johnsons Excelbus acquisition. Over the last three weeks of operation reliability on our Stratford bus services has significantly improved.

      After identifying the latest issues we have now put resources in place to increase supervision and making Peak-Time adjustments to put additional running time in. We are continuing to review our changes to see what is workable, both for the company and passengers

      Although unfortunately delays have been experienced on some services, over the whole Diamond network we can assure residents that we are not suffering high levels of lost mileage, and that our services are running.

      If customers are experiencing problems with their service we always request that they let us know. The details they provide helps us to focus our attention and to analyse the impact of the changes we have made. We would encourage customers to get in touch with us directly .

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  14. Unfortunately late with this as I have lived in both of the well-designed towns for some years (having started off in Winchmore Hill!)

    Until recently, I have been impressed with the local Stagecoach operation, as they steadily improved services and their frequencies; notable was the new service down the dual-carriageway from Leamington to Coventry on the X18, which is still half-hourly, and well-used, and the Goldline G1, formerly 66, now plain 1, as you mention.

    A few years ago they sold the old garage immediately north of the station, doubtless at great profit, and opened a new one on the industrial estate. Since then (coincidence?) things slipped and then Covid came, and the 1 went from x10 to x20, the X17 from x15 to x30 (to be fair, I suspect they are short of drivers), and NX 11, for years x30 and for a short while x15 is now x20. The 11 is increasingly busy with non-student fare payers, as they are cheaper than Stagecoach. Students get (got?) a cheap deal with Stagecoach. Re the real-time displays at stops, NX displays are actually real-time, but Stagecoach times are from the timetable, disappearing before the bus comes if it is late

    The Stagecoach office is indeed closed. Timetable displays are not only messy but inaccurate – your photos suggest that the 1 may be every 20 or every 12-17 mins.I

    We all await October with trepidation …

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