Sunday, August 16

Warwickshire with Woody

My August explorations have thus far involved some far-flung affairs taking in the likes of Chester, Rhyl, Nottingham and Worcester, and the theme continued yesterday as I joined Mr Wood for a throughly enjoyable tour of Warwickshire.
  • Start at Wolverhampton Station, catching the 9.45 Euston train. Woody joins me at New Street and we alight at Coventry, with the internal train doors trying their best to slice Woody in half!
  • From Coventry Station we sample the 585 de Courcey route over to Pool Meadow, with Mark having a further mishap by almost falling over as the bus pulls into its stand. He recovers by taking photos of a route 13 Gemini, and we add further shots on Trinity Street (20, 21 Bendibus and the Matrx route) and sneak a quick look at the Cathedral.
  • Now it's over to the 86, where the driver has trouble tracking down the setting for our DayRider Gold tickets. The route takes us to Binley Woods via Gosford Park and Binley Morrisons - we alight on Heather Road and are pleased that the driver has now located the button for our ticket. Fair play to him, he kept perservering until he'd found it!
  • Heather Road was one of the filming locations for the BBC comedy series Keeping Up Appearances. We find the bungalow that served as the Bucket residence (sorry, Bouquet residence) and note the house next door where Elizabeth and Emmett lived - both were nice discoveries, although I didn't enjoy getting stung by some mysterious creature as we headed back to the bus stop!
  • The 86 again, this time the full route into Rugby via pretty Wolston village. The route seemed quite different from how I'd remembered it, so perhaps its changed a bit since early 2007. It certainly enters Rugby in a new direction and terminated on the opposite side of Clifton Road.
  • Lunch time, and its off to the Rupert Brooke Wetherspoon's for a chicken tikka washed down with a pint of Carling for Woody and a pint of Wychert real ale for me, all good stuff. Our Rugby explorations then take us down Railway Terrace for a look at the Stagecoach bus depot followed by a wander around Rugby Railway Station. I thought the station was quite impressive actually, a nice modern frontage, clean interior and a hint of traditional heritage provided by the older platform buildings.
  • Next up is the bladder bus (also known as the 63) for the ride down to Leamington Spa. Without Rog or Andy, the bladders were very well behaved and we enjoyed an angst-free tour of Dunchurch and Southam before alighting on Upper Parade.
  • Leamington was its usual elegant self, with the charming streetscapes providing a great backdrop to our bus photos. We also called in at the Tavistock Inn for a quick drink and an update on the Chelsea v Hull game.
  • The X17 soon whisks us off to Warwick via Warwick Hospital and Cape Road. The old Market Street bus stops have been replaced by a new bus interchange which looks very smart and proves to be another useful photo location. We have a stroll up to the market square and call into the local museum. Whilst exploring the local and natural history exhibits, Woody finds a proper bear to pose with - I always wondered what happened to Bungle when Rainbow finished!
  • It's time for another pint, so we seek out the Tilted Wig in the marketplace. Mark sticks to the Carling, whilst I can't resist trying out a pint of Tilted Pig, an ale brewed with a nod to the pub's name by the local Slaughterhouse Brewery. Like the Wychert earlier, it was a very nice pint, although rather soured by the news Wolves were losing 1-0 to West Ham at Molineux.
  • Back to the bus station we wait for the 18 to Stratford, with temporary traffic lights causing a fair bit of congestion. The 18 arrives nearly 15 minutes late but does offer a nice double decker ride through countryside and villages such as Wellesbourne.
  • Stratford was our final call for the day, a fact we marked with a visit to the Golden Bee Wetherspoon's to partake of a Beer and Burger meal. We also found more bears courtesy of the local teddy musuem - Bruce will be jealous! A gentle stroll takes us up to the railway station for the ride back to Birmingham, whereby we kept a weather eye on the state of some of the request stop stations and Woody was suitably horrified by the prospect of Bordesley.
  • Back at Snow Hill, we catch the local Stourbridge service and I take my leave at Galton Bridge as another excellent day out draws to a close. Its been an eventful month, and today's outing certainly maintained the recent high standards with Woody's plan once again providing a great foundation for getting out and about when further afield. We did Warwickshire justice, and I look forward to seeing where we pitch up next.

Thursday, August 13


Wednesday 12th August saw Stephen, Nick and I venture into Robin Hood territory with a visit to Nottingham. We were there primarily to see Warwickshire play Nottinghamshire at Trent Bridge, although the outing also offered up some fascinating East Midlands exploration...
  • Meeting at Wolverhampton Station, the omens don't look great as its bucketing down with rain already. Nick maintains an air of cheery optimism as our train connections take us first to Birmingham and then on to Derby, although the precipitation seems to be following us along.
  • At Derby we change onto the local Nottingham service coming through from Matlock. It was interesting to note the ongoing development of Derby Station, the place is really starting to look quite smart as the blue hoardings are gradually disappearing to reveal upgraded platforms.
  • We arrive at Nottingham just before 11am, and I'm immediately impressed by the traditional feel of the station. I get a few platform views (including some ornate staircases) before we follow the central footbridge and exit via the car park.
  • We quickly make a beeline for Trent Bridge to see what prospects there might be for play. As its fairly damp, we're not too hopeful and its certainly no surprise that there's a delayed start. With a bit of free time on our hands, we do a perimeter tour of the ground before investigating the City Ground, home to Nottingham Forest FC.
  • Next, we decide to investigate Nottingham City Centre, strolling up London Road before navigating our way through an indoor shopping precinct that was rather reminiscent of Merry Hell. Back outdoors, the city streets were busy with shoppers, and we spotted a tram whilst trying to track down the castle and a pub Nick had told us about.
  • The pub in question is Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem, reputedly the oldest pub in the country with connections to the Crusades undertaken by Richard the Lionheart. A fascinating discovery, the building has a real quirkiness nestled into the rock beneath the castle. Nick and I eagerly sampled a pint of Olde Trip each - both the pub and the ale proved a real highlight of the day.
  • The weather had taken a turn for the better, and whilst in the pub we received the excellent news that play was due to commence at 1.30pm. We had about half an hour to make our way back to the ground, just enough time to explore a stretch of the Nottingham and Beeston Canal. Like so many cities nowadays, the waterfront here had been the focus for some high quality urban regeneration and made for a pleasant stroll.
  • Back at Trent Bridge, the action was indeed underway and we find a lofty vantage point in the Radcliffe Road Stand from which to watch events unfold. Unfortunately, we had timed our arrival to coincide with a Warwickshire batting collapse - 35 for no wicket rapidly turning into 66 for 6 with Stephen regularly holding his head in his hands.
  • When Chris Woakes was inexplicably bowled for 22, Warwickshire were 94 for 7 and we feared the worst. Thankfully, Rikki Clarke led a useful fightback assisted by Tahir and Sreesanth, although Stephen was soon wincing again when Clarke criminally ran himself out on 67. The follow-on was now looking a remote possibility, although there was some entertainment to be had when Sreesanth hit a couple of fine sixes, one of which made its brutal way into the pavillion.
  • Just after 6pm, cloud set in and the light was deemed too poor to play (although we felt the decision to suspend play was somewhat debateable). Whilst this was a little disappointing, we'd actually seen more cricket than had earlier looked likely given the morning rain. We thus trooped back off to the station, failing by seconds to catch the 18.37 Brum connection so we waited instead for the 19.08 to Cardiff Central. The extra half an hour provided me with some bonus photos of the station frontage (very reminiscent of Leicester) and of the Express Transit tram awaiting departure for Phoenix Park.
  • The ride back home was a reflective one, and I think we were all in agreement that it had been another excellent day of cricket-based adventure. I would certainly visit Nottingham again, and was very impressed with Trent Bridge as a sporting arena. Hopefully Warwickshire can secure top flight Championship status, thereby allowing us to plan a return visit some time next year...

Monday, August 10

Cricket Capers

The crossover from July to August proved a busy time of exploration, with a couple of visits to the cricket neatly bookending my outing to Chester and Rhyl. The cricket destination was New Road Worcester, where I joined Stephen, Nick and Ken in witnessing Warwickshire secure their first County Championship victory of the season...

The game began on Friday 31st July, and our intrepid group met at Wolverhampton before changing onto the Worcester train at Smethwick Galton Bridge. We arrived in plenty of time, only to encounter a queue outside the turnstiles - Stephen informs me that such instances are most rare indeed, although it was quite encouraging to see lots of other spectators. We didn't miss much, and soon settled in to watch Warwickshire's first innings.

With Ian Bell on England duty, Neil Carter was in the team and opening the batting, although he didn't last long. Neither Westwood nor Troughton hung around either, but Tony Frost did at least play some eyecatching strokes in his entertaining 37 as he finally rediscovered some form. Jonathon Trott once again delivered with a 67, although the situation was still quite precarious when he was out. At this point, Ambrose and Clarke built a century stand and we were all feeling fairly confident come tea. Unfortunately, a final session collapse saw Warwickshire all out for 309, a score that looked satisfactory on a pitch that offered something for the bowlers. Worcestershire had just started their reply when the rain set in, and were 2 for no wicket at the close. Not a bad day's action all told, made all the more enjoyable by the relaxed setting and some fine weather. A mint choc chip ice cream and a pint in the Cricketers pub also contributed to a most enjoyable experience.

Saturday's play was washed out, making me very glad I was in Wales and not in Worcester. We returned to the action on Sunday morning (not much of a queue this time), hoping the Warwickshire bowlers could make some inroads into a Worcestershire batting line up that was having a tough season. What transpired exceeded even our most hopeful expectations, as a procession of wickets fell in the morning session - Woakes and Carter at their devastating best to reduce the home side to a scarcely believable 88 for 8, Stephen was literally stunned speechless.

The demolition job was completed after lunch, Davies only just seeing Worcs beyond the 100. They made a better fist of the follow-on as Solanki and Moore crafted a fine partnership, only for another collapse to put Warwickshire well within sight of victory. Moeen and Kervezee somehow managed to survive until 6pm, when we reluctantly left the ground as our train would soon be due. Once again the weather had been excellent and the setting delightful, with the Ladies Pavillion at New Road serving a scrumptious afternoon tea, the home-made caramel slice was divine and cracking value for money to boot. Warwickshire duly completed victory on the Monday morning to take a big step towards survival in the top division of the Championship, and I'm already looking forward to the rematch at Edgbaston...

Sunday, August 2

Chester and Rhyl

Saturday 1st August, and the new month begins in style as I join Woody and Andy for a Welsh adventure. Our initial destination was Chester, from where we continued out to Rhyl, Prestatyn and Holywell - an excellent day making the most of some fine weather, here's what we got up to...
  • 9:20am sees us meet at Wolverhampton before catching the 9:37 train to Crewe, a quick ride running non-stop through Penkridge and Stafford that gives us chance to speculate on the possibilities for the day and to consider future trips to Warwickshire and Worcestershire.
  • Alight at Crewe where I have time to get a few Arriva Trains Wales shots before hopping on the shuttle service to Chester. Andy and Woody brave the scene of their previous 'Toiletgate' horrors, thankfully they report that the facilities were spotless this time around, thus ensuring there are no worrying noises echoing along the platforms.
  • Chester then, beginning with some quick photos of the station frontage and the Town Crier. One of the Rail Link shuttle buses drove off without us so we had to wait for the next one along, but we still have plenty of time to get pictures at the Bus Exchange. I'm pleased to say that the exchange is still a great photo location where we got no hassle whatsoever, and I went into photo overdrive sampling the First and Arriva vehicles on offer.
  • Come 11:30, our bus has arrived. The X11 runs from Chester to Holywell and then becomes the 11 through to Rhyl. The prospect of a two hour ride filled me with some trepidation (especially as I wasn't sure how Andy's bladder would behave) but it actually proved a fascinating journey. Amongst the sights on the way were the Airbus factory near Broughton, a peek at Queensferry Town Centre and Connahs Quay, glimpses of railway stations at Shotton and Flint, and an intriguing final leg through Talacre and Prestatyn.
  • I was pleased to discover my legs hadn't totally seized up by Rhyl, and was even more delighted to get a few shots of the bus interchange outside an impressive looking railway station. Lunch was beckoning, and Woody successfully navigated his way to The Sussex Wetherspoon's where we tucked in to the traditional Beer and Burger meal - and very nice it was too, with me noting that the Chester Chip Shortage had not struck again!
  • Hunger satisfied, we head to the seafront to find the Open Top service Route 101 to Talacre. There was a moment of panic when the bus nearly drove off without me, but I managed to flag the driver down and join Messrs Wood and Lunn on the top deck. The ride was a great experience taking in a short stretch of seafront followed by a look at Lyons' Robin Hood holiday camp, and I can bear witness to the fact that Mr Wood's hair barely moved an inch!
  • We alight at Prestatyn for a bonus look at the bus station whilst Andy took care of the bladder situation. The town and its railway station offer some intriguing potential for future investigation. The 11 is soon on the scene to whisk us off to Holywell, we're certainly getting good mileage from our £5.50 day tickets.
  • Holywell provided a very welcome break on the journey back, although I was surprised that the pretty High Street was practically deserted and most of the shops seemed closed. The Red Lion was open however, cue for a nice pint of Tetleys as we sampled the atmosphere of a Welsh local pub.
  • From Holywell's little bus station its onto the X11 for the leg back to Chester, Andy's bladder holding up well although he did have some phone calls to contend with instead. The journey definitely seemed quicker coming back, and I was glad we split the return leg in half as I wouldn't have fancied doing another two hours solid with no legroom.
  • Chester sees me add further shots to my Bus Exchange collection, then we squeeze onto the packed Rail Link back to the station. After tracking down some shots of a Liverpool-bound Merseyrail set, we find our Virgin train to Crewe and drop lucky with an earlier connection back to Wolverhampton to conclude a very fine outing.
What a trip, we didn't half cover some distance interspersed with fascinating bits of exploration. It was great to see the sun shining whilst sampling the seaside, this is just what summer is all about - an excellent day all round...