Friday, June 25

A Weekend in Weymouth > Part Three

DAY THREE: Sunday 20th June - it's rally time! An array of bygone buses await as we make our much anticipated visit to the Weymouth Vintage Bus Running Day held in the grounds of Weymouth College...

* Morning rolls around and (having survived a Routemaster t-shirt collision) its time for breakfast at the Fairhaven, Woody cheekily scrounging us an extra sausage as the new batch of residents seem to be of a similar vintage to the previous group.

* We then walk to the rally site, pausing for a while at the railway station to see if the 454 special circular route might turn up. It seemed to be avoiding us so we continue our stroll, enabling me to add to my local pubs archive with pictures of the Waterloo and the Park Inn as we half expected Roger to put in an appearance.

* The college grounds are already attracting flocks of fellow enthusiasts with the prospect of static displays, trade stalls, a burger bar and the all-important bus rides. Woody and I start by surveying the vehicles showing on the car park - these include some First breadvans that used to work the old Weymouth local network, a couple of Leyland Nationals and a Badgerline coach.

- Did Mr Wood drive this in his Stourbridge Garage days?? -

* First ride of the day is on the 22A service to Portland Bill, a fair old run up past Wyke Regis and across the bridge at Chesil Beach. Mark seems to take great delight in demonstrating his D9 repertoire as we climb the steep hills of Fortuneswell, Mr Lunn would have been proud. The bus terminates in the shadow of the famous lighthouse and we quickly reconvene for the return journey, with our resident driver-in-training being filmed negotiating the downward slopes. We also get into a conversation with a native Portlander about some of the local characters, very enlightening I'm sure.

* Back at the college and Woody spots a mark 2 National has pulled in to commence 454 duty. The bus seemed to be linked to Cheltenham judging by the blind display, and we enjoy a merry trundle along the Esplanade, around the harbour front and back via the railway station.

* After those two appetisers, the day gets into full swing with a couple of real treats. Firstly there's an open top ride on Admiral Blake to Bowleaze Cove and back - Woody's hair was again defeated by the wind and we caught sight of Clive scooting into Waterside Holiday Park on his 503 Solo - cracking stuff! Then its the 100 to Nothe Fort on an old Exeter breadvan, having to literally prise ourselves on board as it gets cramped with barely a handful of passengers. The route provides another tour of the harbour then takes in Hope Square (views of Brewers Quay and the Red Lion) followed by the Nothe Tavern. We have to alight outside the fort itself or else we would all be charged the full entrance fee, but the view of the bus re-emerging through the narrow archway is a classic moment to treasure regardless.

- Admiral Blake -

* To the college once more and a repeat visit to Portland Bill. This time we decide to stop off for a pint at the Pulpit, making it just in time before the pub closed (at 4pm??) to slake our thirst out on the terrace. A nippy single-deck Bristol gets us back just in time for a final flurry of shots as the rally winds down for another year. It has been a really successful event that was deservedly blessed by some glorious sunshine.

* The rally might be over but the day isn't yet. The evening sees Woody and I sampling some more of Weymouth's many inns, beginning with the Wellington where we watch some of the Brazil v Ivory Coast football. Next is the Boot, apparently the oldest pub in Weymouth and said to be haunted - we didn't see any ghosts but enjoyed the cracking atmosphere of a proper local. Its then on to the Sailors Return for some 'Acoustic Marmalade', followed by the Black Dog although we weren't overly impressed by the latter. To finish things off it seemed appropriate to crawl into the Gutter (sorry, the Cutter!) where we savour our closing pint and Woody even made a new friend...

* Monday morning and with much sadness its time to head home. I can't resist a final stroll around the harbour and Nothe Fort, then our parting breakfast comes complete with extra bacon and toast, important sustenance for the journey ahead. To the station where we wait for our 10:20 South West train to Southampton, arriving promptly and soon Weymouth is disappearing out of sight. I console myself with bonus rail shots at Bournemouth, Southampton Central and Reading, but all too quickly the West Midlands looms into view and a fantastic weekend is over. My thanks go to Mr Wood for his excellent company (if not his dubious D9 antics), and to the organisers of the bus rally for putting on such a splendid show - I very much hope we will be back again next year...

Wednesday, June 23

A Weekend in Weymouth > Part Two

DAY TWO: Saturday 19th June, an action-packed day as we explore the wider Dorset area including Swanage, Bournemouth and Poole. Here are some selected highlights...

* After a comfortable night's sleep, I'm up quite early with the intention of seeing the quieter side of Weymouth. Its a beautiful, bright and sunny morning and the harbour views are stunning. I get a few pub photos of places such as the Kings Arms and the Sailors Return, and also watch the Town Bridge being raised and then lowered at 8am.

- Weymouth Harbour -

* Back to the hotel as Mark summons me for breakfast, a rare full English with fried bread, sausage, bacon, egg and beans. We get to meet some of the other residents and quickly feel a bit out of place amongst an army of pensioners, although they all seem friendly and the hotel has a nice atmosphere.

* We're well set up now for a good ride out. After saying hello to Clive, we board a packed X53 towards Poole calling at Wool (with its somewhat stark little station) and alighting at Wareham.

* We had planned to visit Wareham Station but it would've been quite tight for our Swanage connection. Instead we alight in the town centre where I go on the rampage with photos of the Red Lion, the Antelope, the Duke of Wellington and the Post Office.

* To Swanage then, courtesy of the Wilts & Dorset route 40 which seemed very popular to the extent that it was standing room only and the driver was contemplating turning passengers away. The bus takes us through the Corfe Castle and Langton Matravers as I take cover from some dodgy D9 manoeuvres.

* The terminus is Swanage Station with the 50 also in attendance for some forecourt photos. The station itself is part of the Swanage Railway heritage line and comes with all of the traditional fixtures and fittings I have come to expect from such organisations, hence a nice period atmosphere out on the platform.

* Swanage Town now beckoned, heading down to the Mowlem for a (soft) drink then grabbing photos of the White Swan and the Ship. Woody also pointed out Swanage Library after I'd inexplicably failed to spot it, the radar must've been on the blink.

* Back to the station and time for a treat - the No. 50 Purbeck Breezer service to Bournemouth operated by an open topper. This is surely one of the best bus rides in the country, trundling up through Studland and then across the Sandbanks Ferry. Rumour has it that Mr Wood's hair actually moved in the breeze, as you can see below...

* Bournemouth Centre and a mooch around Gervis Place where there are plenty of Yellow Buses to keep us occupied. Thoughts then turn towards beer (a swift pint in the Moon in the Square Wetherspoons) and chips.

* Bournemouth as a resort is impeccably clean and well-presented so I had high expectations when we caught the M1 Wilts & Dorset to the railway station interchange. Sadly the facility was a bit of a letdown, with rows of brown stands straight out of the 1970s. We were also expecting to see more in the way of bus activity but the place was surprisingly quiet - a handful of Yellow offerings make the visit worthwhile though, including route 4 with a blind for Bearwood.

* The 50 takes us back to Gervis Place which proves a much more fruitful photographic location. Here we catch the local 16 bus to Poole, touring Westbourne and Branksome and passing the Sea View and the Shah of Persia with no sign of Woody's brother.

- Route 40 at Gervis Place -

* Poole was a strange kettle of fish. I didn't like the bus station at all - dark and quite dated on the ugly side of the Dolphin Shopping Precinct. The railway station wasn't much more appealing, perhaps because we approached it beneath a looming flyover. The main station building was relatively modern but still interesting whilst the platforms were functional and bland, so there wasn't much in the way of history or character to admire.

* Things improved once we got to the High Street. The level crossing in the middle of the town is fascinatingly quirky, and a pint in the Lord Wimborne Wetherspoon's also improved my mood. A bizarre sequence of events saw Woody talking about Jack Sparrow only for us to find ourselves by besieged by swarms of pirates as we strolled to the quayside. Apparently there was an event on at the waterfront but I wasn't tempted to find myself a cutlass, beard or a parrot sidekick.

* With the Route One being diverted we have to walk it to the bus station for our X53 to Weymouth. The ride back gives Woody the chance to demonstrate his reversing prowess then 'Dave' gets a bit of an earbashing just before Wareham.

* Next its time to sample Weymouth on a Saturday evening. An excellent curry courtesy of Chillis is followed by a pint at the Kings Arms - the view overlooking the harbour as the bridge is raised was great, but the beer was a tad disappointing. We then investigate a pub we'd spotted this morning, the Cutter (which we'd mistakenly thought was the Gutter, a name that stuck for the rest of the weekend) - it turned out to be a decent little backstreet boozer.

* For some inexplicable reason we still have yet to identify, we thought it might be a good idea to sample the entertainment back at our hotel. What an experience that was! We were the youngest people there by at least 40 years and the barman was so stunned we'd attended that he virtually went on strike. We urgently needed a pint in the William Henry afterwards just to restore some semblance of credibility to proceedings.

* And with that final drink, a fascinating and eventful day was over - but more was to come as tomorrow would bring the main event, the Vintage Bus rally...

Tuesday, June 22

A Weekend in Weymouth > Part One

The old D9 was fired up and ready for action as Woody and I descended upon Dorset for a cracking weekend of adventures. The centrepiece of our stay would be the Weymouth Vintage Bus Running Day, one of the highlights of the enthusiast's calendar, but there would also be plenty of opportunities for wider exploring along with the usual beer and banter.

DAY ONE: Friday 18th June, comprising the journey down to Weymouth and a local trip around Dorchester and Bridport...

* I meet Woody at New Street ready for the 10:03 Cross Country service. With time to spare, we hope for a pint in the Shakespeare on the station only to be told the bar doesn't have a licence that early in the morning - oops!! A Burger King breakfast is consolation instead.

* Onto our train then, bound for Bournemouth but we're only going to Southampton Central. Decent ride actually, taking about 2 and a half hours via Oxford, Reading and Winchester.

* At Southampton we have a ten minute wait before changing trains - just long enough to hunt down an Eccles cake and to decide that I don't particularly like Southampton Central Station that much.

* The local South West Trains run to Weymouth is another good journey, calling at some intriguing stations such as Bournemouth, Poole, Hamworthy and Wareham.

* Weymouth Station is our seaside terminus and the place immediately appeals to me with the cry of the seagulls and a train posing obediently at each of the three bay platforms - its nice to have a welcoming committee!!

* The walk to the hotel allows us to get acquainted with Weymouth, a fascinating coastal resort with a pretty harbour and stretches of golden sand - I feel right at home already. The Kings Statue is an interesting landmark that serves as a hub for the local bus network, mainly operated by First Dorset.

* Its a relief to drop our bags off at the hotel and get settled, then its on with the adventures. Woody has planned an afternoon out, but first its the small matter of a couple of pints at the William Henry, which quickly established itself amongst my favourites of the Wetherspoon's we've visited.

* Our first sample of the local network sees us catch the 10 for a ride out to Dorchester, battling school rush traffic and glimpsing construction of the new Weymouth Relief Road.

* Dorchester is a charming county town I was eager to investigate. The bus drops us off on Trinity Street just as a bit of drizzle set in. We take cover in the Old Ship, a Marston's inn where Woody almost gets swallowed whole by a greedy sofa. When he resurfaces we can enjoy our pints and watch some World Cup football as USA fight back for a 2-2 draw against Slovenia.

* Some welcome chips and its onto the delayed 31 which takes us to Bridport - the route in full links Weymouth and Axminster via Lyme Regis. Poundbury looks very grand and then I have to take evasive action as Woody gets the D9 dangerously into gear around Winterbourne Abbas, watch out for rogue elbows!

* I like Bridport, another traditional market town with a bit of personality. We alight at the basic interchange next to a small First outstation, not particularly glamorous I must admit but still a good spot for a photo or two - the bright yellow cafe across the road also caught my eye.

- Tanners at Bridport -

* Having worked up a thirst, a visit to Tanner's Sports Bar is deemed necessary. England World Cup preparations are in full swing here with a multitude of flags to welcome us inside. I try a half of the local Palmer's Bitter although I'm not sure the plastic glasses were entirely necessary.

* The homeward run sees us sample the X53 service back to Weymouth. Its a smashing ride enjoying some beautiful coastal scenery, whilst villages like West Bay, Burton Bradstock and Abbotsbury are each worth a closer look too.

* Arrive at the Kings Statue and its time for the footie, heading into the William Henry with not a moment to spare. The England vs Algeria match is already underway but we haven't missed anything. I thoroughly enjoy my Early Mist beer and gourmet burger, but the same cannot be said of the sporting action - a drab 0-0 draw that left everybody feeling deflated and me punching the table at times in pure frustration.

* The day closes back at our hotel, where we eventually track down the first floor bar for our final pint. The bar is eerily quiet and more akin to a retirement home, especially given the barman wanted to close up just after we'd got there. All the same, we could reflect on a good start to the weekend and look forward with anticipation to a full day of Dorset exploring tomorrow...

Saturday, June 12

A Stourbridge Sweep

Friday 11th June: Returning to the West Midlands with a circular tour around Stourbridge, making some great new discoveries and catching up with some of my favourite Rog and Woody haunts...

The 256 provides my traditional starting point, arriving at Stourbridge Bus Station for my usual flurry of photos. The station is due to be redeveloped soon and I doubt the new facility will serve me as well photograph-wise as the current one has over the years. It seems the Bus Stop Cafe has shut down in preparation and I also lament the closure of the Rock Station, a place where I've enjoyed several end of outing drinks whilst Blade was on the prowl - you can read Woody's tribute here.

Into the town centre and the snaps continue with views of the Duke William (now a real ale pub) and the Mitre. I call in at Stourbridge Library to see whats in stock, then add further shots of the Bell and the Red Lion. The outing was already becoming a photographic pubcrawl and this theme was confirmed with a walk up the Enville Street run to survey the fine selection of inns and taverns into Wollaston. I noted that the Somerset House appears to be up for sale and that the old Waterloo is gradually becoming a Bangladeshi restaurant.

I was familiar with much of the run but the top two pubs had hitherto remained something of a mystery. The Plough is quite a grand terracotta type building that reminds me of some impressive backstreet Birmingham examples, whilst the Foresters is a charming cottagey place with a leafy backdrop nestled right on the Staffordshire border. With those two added to my archive, I wander around High Park estate past the Crematorium and down South Road into Norton.

- Norton Covert -

Yes Norton, a nice estate based around The Broadway and Shenstone Avenue. Picture targets here start with the Gigmill followed by the New Inn on Cherry Street, and I also find the local community centre off Heath Farm Road. The local shops are familiar from trips gone by, as is the Broadway pub (part of which now seems to be a cafe). After a spot of lunch I head out by Norton Covert, a secluded woodland reserve, and cross the Staffs border to investigate the Crown at Iverley (seemed to have gastropub aspirations). An about turn brings me to the Greyhound, and I stick with the main road to pass Mary Stevens Park, the Plough & Harrow and the Waggon & Horses.

Back at the bus station, I sneak a shot of the 297 then set about the route on foot. Junction Road leads me past the Redhill School to Hungary Hill for views of the local post office and the Station Inn (the pub name referring to the old site of Stourbridge Junction railway station). I tackle the New Farm estate then emerge by the Hadcroft so I can explore the back end of Lye. Top of my hitlist here was the Shovel, a real ale favourite with a cracking old-fashioned frontage, I'm determined to try a pint here one day. The Bulls Head is virtually next door but looks depressing in comparison, whilst my efforts to hike it here are further rewarded with shots of two backstreet pubs I'd never heard of before - the Fox on Green Lane and the Hollybush on Cemetery Road. All in all, I think Lye is definitely a prospect for a proper pubcrawl in future, especially with the option of a call at the Windsor Castle too.

- The Hadcroft -

Its getting well into the afternoon now as my ramble draws to a close. I make my way over to the Bird in Hand (now converted into a fast food takeaway) and begin the climb up Bagleys Road, weary legs beginning to take their toll. I perk myself up with views of the Raven as World Cup preparations are very much in evidence on Mousehall Farm Road. The final slog sees me head Delphwards as the Birch Tree and the Roebuck slot in neatly along Amblecote Road. The 297 comes to my rescue for a gentle ride back to Stourbridge - this could be one of several routes set to change soon as part of a further shakeup of the Dudley bus network - and the 256 is waiting on hand to complete my ride home.

A busy day with pubs very much to the fore, an array of England flags, posters and displays of national pride being a constant theme of the day. It was great to add to my memories of Wollaston and Norton, filling in a few gaps in my knowledge and even making some new discoveries over in Lye. All that remains is for me to wish England a successful World Cup campaign - lets hope for an epic adventure we can all celebrate...

Sunday, June 6

A Sheffield Scorcher

Saturday 5th June: With rib protection at the ready, it was time to fire up the old D9 again during a trip to South Yorkshire with Messrs Wood and Lunn. Sheffield and Rotherham awaited us on a glorious sunny day, but what would the outing have in store?

The local train to New Street gets me started, with Woody joining me at Galton Bridge. Andy arrives in Brum to complete the party and we board the 9:30 Cross Country train to Newcastle.

The journey to Sheffield wasn't as long as I'd anticipated, lasting about an hour and a quarter by whizzing up through Burton, Derby and Chesterfield. Its long enough for Andy to turn me into a nervous wreck with his latest driving re-enactment, not to mention his threats of doing the Full Monty.

Alight at Sheffield for my first ever look at the station, and it certainly makes a good impression. Everything was clean, bright and well presented, a proper railway hub with plenty of platforms to explore branching off the central footbridge corridor. The station feels modern but has retained a nice old frontage with little arches looking out over a landscaped square with a long silvery water feature. As an approach to the city this works for me, something for Wolverhampton to aspire to I hope!

A few photos later and its off down a covered walkway to Sheffield Interchange bus station. Again this is a nice welcoming facility although I'm not sure how much scope there might be for photos. We call in at the travel centre where I raid the timetables and we purchase our South Yorkshire DayTrippers - excellent value at £5.80 and a blast from the past scratchcard type ticket.

Mr Wood now leads on to the Crucible Theatre via Arundel Gate Interchange. It was great to see the home of the World Snooker Championships for myself, a visit made all the more worthwhile when we sampled our first pint of the day. Luckily it was Andy's round but at a somewhat extortionate £9.60 I still don't think he's forgiven us. The surroundings for the drink are hard to beat though, admiring landmarks like the Lyceum and the Winter Gardens.

Rotherham is now beckoning, and after a little confusion we find ourselves on the 69 bus. For me this was a great ride giving me a glimpse of the wider locality with places like Attercliffe and Tinsley catching the eye. We also passed the Don Valley Stadium and the Meadowhall Shopping Centre, whilst Andy got worryingly excited about some brothel he recognised off a dodgy-sounding Cable channel.

Arrival in Rotherham on schedule at about ten past twelve, and we have another interchange to digest. The bus station here is again well-appointed but there was limited scope for photography, the central passenger hub not really offering any views of the vehicles.

Time for some lunch and its over to Wetherspoons, in this case curiously named The Rhinoceros. Our recent experiences of the chain have been distinctly average so it was encouraging to be greeted by friendly service that was later backed up by good food and beer - the gourmet burger being my customary choice washed down here with some Roaring Meg and then a Maid Marian. News from the test match confirms Ian Bell has completed a century but he then gets rudely interrupted by an interview with Graham Taylor.

Dessert comes in the form of Rotherham Central Station where I get a few photos of the ongoing redevelopment and also note the Bridge pub on the corner across the road.

To the interchange once more and onto the X78, providing a quick link to Meadowhall - the full route is operated by First between Sheffield and Doncaster. I spotted the Wilton pub somewhere but was too busy concentrating on learning the D9 ropes from willing trainer Mr Lunn (and less than willing victim Mr Wood of course).

Meadowhall, hmm, the less said the better. This *could* be a great place for taking photos as it offers bus, train and tram opportunities. Unfortunately the staff here seemed to take exception to Woody having a camera even though he wasn't actually using it. I did investigate the railway platforms and the tram terminus but we didn't want to stay long after being rudely reprimanded for no apparent reason. Sadly it seems a general trend that bus or rail enthusiasts are being viewed with suspicion and treated like criminals just for enjoying what is essentially a harmless hobby!

Making a sharp exit, we hop on the Supertram Yellow Line for a ride cross city to Hillsborough. The trams are reminiscent of our own Midland Metro but probably better. There is a lot of onstreet running through the City Centre which seems to work very well, and the fact there are three lines means there is a network rather than one solitary route stuck on a limb endlessly awaiting the fading prospect of extensions.

I rather liked Hillsborough. We alight outside Wetherspoons and investigate the little bus station next to Hillsborough Barracks (a former military base thats been converted into a Morrisons supermarket). Andy finally gets his teeth into a Full Monty location as we track down Burton Street School, then its a well earned pint in the Rawson Spring.

Next we sample a local Stagecoach route, the 52 back into Sheffield Centre. This was another intriguing ride passing through Walkley and Crookes - there was also a big hill where Andy went into D9 overdrive although Woody escaped his usual buffeting by filming the demonstration for future posterity.

Back in Sheffield and its teatime courtesy of the Banker's Draft in Castle Square (after we'd escaped from the Roger lookalike). We enjoy a bite to eat and a further pint, mine being Stumbling Badger from Sadler's of Lye, nice to see a Black Country brew on tour.

Straight outside and its onto the Supertram Blue Line for the short hop to Sheffield Station, arriving at the back entrance. Our train wasn't due until 17:23 so I had plenty of time for a final photographic flurry that featured trains to Leeds, Retford and Cleethorpes. The Cross Country to Reading arrived promptly and provided a swift journey home, Woody seeming very jumpy any time Andy threatened another driving demo. I have been in training ready for our forthcoming visit to Weymouth so you have been warned!!

Back in the West Midlands again and another fine trip is over. I would definitely return to Sheffield again, its a great city and makes for a good base when exploring the rest of South Yorkshire. Thanks as always go to Woody and Andy for providing much entertainment and hilarity during the day - I think it was our best trip so far...