Tuesday, 31 May 2011

What the Heck!

From 1st June, fbb reverts to blogging regularly three times a week, on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays with occasional extras on other days.

Back to today's blog

Impractical Information Interlude
Sadly, the village of Great Heck will long be remembered as the site of a tragic rail accident which happened on 28th February 2001 at approx 0615.  A Land Rover plunged down an embankment, was struck by a train which was, in turn, struck by a second train.  10 people lost their lives. Otherwise, the village is not memorable, except, of course, to those who dwell there.  Its limited bus service is provided under the auspices of  North Yorkshire County Council [NYCC] ... 
... two Monday and Friday trips to Selby, service 486 ...
... and a Wednesday journey to Goole, service 488 ...
... both operated by the inaptly named Utopia Travel! Of course, you would expect to find full details in NYCC's Tadcaster and Selby travel guide; in case you wanted to travel, ahem, in the Tadcaster and Selby area.  Tough!   There is a map:-
But the rest of the leaflet is filled with huge amounts of empty space and, in typical modern, helpful style, nothing much that helps. There is a "frequency guide".  Now you know that because it lists bus frequencies; and, in case you have left your brain in Selby, there is a huge "Frequency Guide" label.  Thanks for that.
Here is a really helpful guide to one particular route:- 
So that's crystal clear, then.

Of course, this is similarly and parlously not pertinent to Great Heck. Five round trips a week could hardly be described as a "frequency" and you desperately need a "timetable" to make use of them.  Fear not; after six menu clicks, three aspirins and a mild attack of the habdabs, you can find them on-line. 

That is, assuming that your georgraphical knowledge overrides the lack of a complete route number index on the site.  You have to know that Greak Heck is in the Selby district in order to find it!  fbb just hopes you've got your Wifi enabled laptop (or equivalent) stuffed in your back pocket as you saunter towards the stop.
The operator of each service is shown.  But, despite huge amounts of space in the column, you have to go to another list to interpret the code.  [UT = Utopia Travel]
Perhaps this is another Utopia Travel.  This one is based in Essex and runs posh holidays.  To Great Heck?

And a couple of further grumps at the boundlless (bounded?) efforts of North Yorkshire.
Illegible route numbers?  The pale numbers actually signify services with low floor buses, not, as you might think, infrequent routes.   And, talking of "frequency".
What is a "regular" bus?  If you use the English language properly, one bus a year is regular.  Indeed, every timetabled bus is "regular", by definition.  NYCC's guardians of good grammar (?) probably meant to imply "frequent"; although very few bus services in the County could realistically be so described.

Conclusion : This sort of leaflet (map excluded) is really no use whatsoever.  If NYCC wants to promote bus travel, then a timetable book is essential.  Anything less is not worth the paper it is printed on, particularly in rural areas where services are sparse. Now, once upon a time, NYCC produced excellent area timetable booklets.   But why bother now?  It's all on line and takes just a minute to download (a minute, fat chance!). That's what the residents of Great Heck are doing, tirelessly, day by day; albeit fruitlessly on Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday when they have the bounteous benefit of buslessness.
Personal note :  fbb's two cats are named after the community on the left side of the map (village illustrated above).  They are called Cridling and Stubbs. Here is Stubbs, helping with a blog!

Thanks to James, a loyal blog reader, for supplying leaflet and suggestion!

Next blog : due Wednesday June 1st

Monday, 30 May 2011

Terrific Top Timetable?

Nice to be Nice for a Change!

fbb has, previously, expressed enthusiasm for the excellence of at least one bus publicity leaflet (read again) and the same company attracts his eagle eye again.
The May 2011 timetable is, indeed, a fine example to all bus operators.  Initially, please note, it is a timetable book, not a "frequency guide" or a heap of leaflets. The booklet contains a simplified network diagram ...

... a list of services, colour-coded to match timetables and maps ...
... and an alphabetical list of destinations.  The inexperienced bus passengers will find it relatively easy to get started with this publication and they may enjoy musing over Bournemouth's local versions of Alderney, St Ives, St Leonards and Redhill.
There are some interesting and innovative fares offers ...
but, sadly as usual, nothing much about simple single fare options for the occasional user.  As is becoming increasingly common, Wilts and Dorset fares are on the high side, but with some very attractive weekly ticket prices, bringing fares down to about £2 a day.
As well as the network map, there is a series of local, more detailed maps showing all stops and even indicating which are "timing points" shown in the individual timetables.  Plenty of "other" road names are included and only routes overlaid on a full street map could better what is provided here.  No doubt the cost of copyright constrains such an aspiration.
There are helpful enlargements of Bournemouth and Poole centres, thus ensuring that it is easy-peasy to find the right stop.  Some of W&D's seasonal services have different frequencies at certain times of the year; and, instead of an unattractive list of dates, the book includes a coloured calendar.
In this case, lilac, pink and orange link with the appropriate frequency block.  A similar diagram for school term dates even distinguishes between Hampshire and Dorset schedules.  It wouldn't do to work together, would it?

Obviously it would be really, really good if the book also included RATP Yellow Buses as well.  [RATP; the Paris transport operator!] But as some W&D services are in direct competition with the former Bournemouth corporation network, I suppose that would be too much to ask.  Maybe one day the "entente cordiale" will extend to public transport?

There remains one mystery. Look at W&D's quoted phone number.  That number rings in the Southern Vectis offices in Newport, Isle of Wight. Are they the best people to advise on what is happening in Poole?
Meanwhile, if you want Southern Vectis information, you DON'T ring the number above; you are guided (oh dear, oh dear) to Traveline. Now that used to be in Pymouth!  And Southern Vectis is part of the same group as W&D.  No, fbb doesn't understand.

We must have a picture of a bus.
Which is a reminder that W&D have quietly dropped their special "more" branding from the Canford Heath services 5 and 6; but kept it for the frequent and prestigious "main line" between Poole, Bournemouth and beyond.
Is this to strengthen the identity of the continuing more1 and more2 routes, or the beginnings of a bye-bye branding volte-face?  We shall see.

If only you could pick up timetable books like this everywhere.  And it's FREE!

Next blog : due Tuesday May 31st  

Sunday, 29 May 2011

The Riddle of Ravenstone Wood

The Blogging Bug Bites!

Sometimes the blogitis disease spreads virulently, almost out of control.   In this case it began with a picture of Stoke Bruern station, without the concluding "e", in a book "Last Days of Steam in Northamptonshire"
The station, on part of what became the Stratford-upon-Avon and Midland Junction Railway [SMJ], opened in 1892 (the line was completed in 1891).  This and Salcey Forest, the other station east of Towcester, promptly closed to passengers in May 1893.    Poor old Stoke Bruerne, with or without its "e", seems fated to lose public transport services. [See earlier bus based blog (read again).]   The pic above was taken in 1955, just three years after the last goods train trundled through.   fbb wondered whether the buildings still existed and, thanks to a virtual drive c/o Google Streetview ...
... confirms that they now form an attractive private dwelling, in use, in good condition 118 years after the last few lonely passengers used the line.  The tracks continued eastwards to join the railway from Northampton to Bedford at the ghostly and isolated Ravenstone Wood Junction.
Many, many years ago fbb and his parents were at Horton Gates on the pre-motorway road from Northampton to London and, much to nervous mummy-of-fbb's concern, decided to explore, in their motor car, a "Bridleway to Ravenstone" ...

... which became rougher and rougher and eventually fizzled out at locked gates adjactent to Ravenstone Wood Junction signal box.  A picture from about the same date shows the line to Stoke Bruern(e) and Towcester bearing off left; straight on is the route to Northampton and the locked gates were just past the signal immediately beyond the 'box.
Young fbb visited again a week or so later with a chum on a bike ride and reached the same impasse. Bravely the two intrepid explorers climbed the gates, crossed the lines and entered the dark, dank and dismal wood.  [atmospheric, eh?]

And there, mysteriously, were several massive concrete bunkers, shaped like giant teacups about 20 feet high [3 metres] and protected by high fences with the late 1950s equivalent of razor wire.   The boys left in a hurry!  The Riddle of Ravenstone Wood, indeed!

Later discussion revealed the local rumours that this was where the government hid and tested bombs.   The rumours were steadily embellished until the lads enjoyed transitory fame at school, having visited an atom bomb store! Sadly a recent aerial view of the area shows no sign of the supposed top secret establishment ...
... but, to the right of the highlighted junction site and across a parallel track, there are signs of more recent tree planting and an overgrown access track.   Everything else, including the former railway, has all-but disappeared.
So what was in those concrete bunkers?   What was the solution to the Riddle of  Ravenstone Wood? Maybe fbb will never know. The internet has, so far, brought no investigative joy. Perhaps one of the readers of this blog could tell? But they might have to be executed if they ever did reveal the secret.

Incidentally, some of the pictures used here have been collected by the SMJ Society; whose eclectic aim is to collect and record everything to do with that rather obscure set of long-closed lines.
Their site (see here) has an amazing collection of 1769 photographs; now that is super-keenness for you!

Meanwhile, the pedantically observant amongst our readers will search in vain for Salcey Forest station on the map above.   That is because the map dates from 1913 by which time Salcey Forest station was but a lonely memory; just a hut used by the farmer remained in 1955.   It was located on the blue line just above the first "n" of Ravenstone; and, from a potential passenger point of view, was in the middle of nowhere.
Stoke Bruern survived cartographically because of its goods siding.

Next blog : due Monday May 30th  

Saturday, 28 May 2011

High Five for Five Hythes

Five Hythes all with a railway connection?
fbb's tenuous transport trivia ...

... and the most tenuous is Hythe in Somerset, a mile south of Cheddar, of cheese and caves fame.   The best we can do here is the former Bristol and Exeter Railway line between Clevedon Road and Wells.   Here the Yeo river and railway were bridged by the A371.
A better railway "connection" is at Hythe, Colchester.   This former harbour area of the Essex town is close to the main railway to Clacton where the current "commuter" station is located.
Hythe Surrey is thought of as part of Egham.   The railway via Virginia Water crosses Hythe's Thorpe Road at this level crossing, usually much, much busier than shown here:-
None of these three is stunningly fascinating, but things get better at Hythe Kent ...
... where we find at station on the narrow gauge Romney Hythe and Dymchurch Railway.   Opened in 1927 and the brain-child of Captain Jack Howey the line has had a chequered history.   It nearly failed completely in the early 60s, suffering from poor maintenance and a desperate need for new investment.   One of the more eclectic bits of RHDR history is the military armoured train, built to repel invaders during World War II.
The line survived after two changes of ownership and nowadays is a hugely successful tourist line with a limited service running throughout the year.

Which brings us to the final Hythe, located on Southampton Water  
and linked to the City by a 30 minute frequency ferry.
There are also the Bluestar 8 and 9 bus routes from Southampton and Wilts & Dorset's 112 from Lymington

But fbb referred to a railway connection, and this one still runs! Surely, the railway historians will cry, the railway at Hythe Hants closed in 1966 ...
... and, indeed it did. It was the intermediate station on the branch from Totton to Fawley. But there is another, still working but little known, railway which runs from the main square of the town along a lengthy pier to meet the ferries.
It looks somewhat "amateur" (the "engine", with its minuscule cab, propels the three carriages down the pier) but works reliably summer and winter. It is by far the most interesting piece of railway trivia at any of the five Hythes.  fbb highly recommends a visit to Hythe number five.

Next blog : due Sunday May 29th  

Friday, 27 May 2011

Come Friendly Bombs!

Fare Comment.
John Betjeman didn't like what modernity had done to the little settlement of Slough.   From unobtrusive market town in the 1950s ... 
  ... to its concrete jungle expansion and oft reviled bus station.
fbb was there a year or so ago, and gave it 7 out of 10.   There was/is a very nice "caff" through the subway in the Queensmere shopping centre; where fbb enjoyed an all day breakfast and a superb "mugga". But the bus station is replaced by something in the popular "slimy grey monster" style, due to open this weekend, ...
... (see also Newport railway station and the Jubilee line extension, etc.) and the town is much improved since the good Sir John's cynical diatribe.

But how much is a bus ride?  Back in the good old days, most of us bought a single or a return.  Some lucky urban areas offered a 12 ride ticket (we worked six days a week, then.) for the price of 10, some places had "seasons" and there were a few "rover" type deals. 

But today, in First's  Berkshire (etc.) area, this is what you are offered:-
And to understand it you need a map of the various zones:-
For those who are not fitted with a prosthetic microscope, a full PDF version is available here.

And there's more!   If you wanted to take the prestigious 702 to London,
you have "rainbow" times ...
.. and, of course, "rainbow" fares to go with them. 
Then again, the rail-air link from Reading to Heathrow offers two sets of fares, sold for real money,
and discounted for on-line buyers.
Contrast this with fares on the "ordinary" buses from Slough to Heathrow; which is tricky as First do not publish prices individual single journeys.  And, this time, NO on-line offers.   And as for interavailability in the Reading area ...
... it is all very clear and concise. fbb supposes someone must sit down and write this stuff. Does that someone ever travel by bus; or is he (or she) a "mélange" of lawyer and accountant?

Bus travel is very strange; it must be one of the few products where the price for a "one-off" purchase is kept secret until you have bought it, i.e. got on the bus. Try that policy at Tesco. "Every little helps, but we won't tell you how until you get to the checkout!"

It would be unwise of you author to offer an ignorant opinion on First Berkshire's financial management, but, hey ho, he's going to anyway!

Instead of about 50 assorted fares in Berkshire, why not provide just one (each) day, week and month price for the Windsor, Slough and Bracknell areas with a flat rate add-on for 702 service journeys to the Big Smoke?  OK, the company might lose a few sales in the smaller Windsor area (see zone map) but, at least, potential customers elsewhere would not need a multiple degree in philosophy and mathematics to calculate their best travel option.   They might even choose to travel by bus rather than take the car!

Fare comment? 

Next blog : due Saturday May 28th