The World’s Our Bus Stop: 2017 Edition
Some of the best laid plans are never planned at all. Some of them are made on the hoof, or they just fall into place. Serendipity and spontaneity can make for the greatest of journeys as we lose ourselves in another town, village, open space, or on a bus you never thought of catching.
My first circumnavigation of 2017 was a classic example. I left Chez Vall thinking “my first work day of 2017”. So I caught the 220 to Stalybridge bus station for the 0746 train to Salford Central.
220: Dukinfield [Albion Hotel] – Stalybridge [Bus Station]:
As bus routes go, Stagecoach Manchester’s 220 service is the bus equivalent of a parliamentary train. Though it has five times as many journeys per week as the Stockport to Stalybridge train, it too only goes in one direction: to Stalybridge. Leaving the Albion Hotel at about 0718, it is a positioning route for a peak hour 219 journey from Stalybridge bus station.
Before 2001, the 220 was a full time service from Manchester [Piccadilly Gardens] to Stalybridge bus station. There was extensions to Tameside Hospital. The first change towards its decline was affected the evening service, when it terminated at Dukinfield [Boyd’s Walk]. One fringe benefit was an hourly evening service (it was previously every 90 minutes up to Stalybridge).
By 2004, its daytime service became the 218 route, serving Droylsden and Clayton instead of Openshaw. Since then, the 220 only ran at peak hours and at evenings. By 2008, Sunday and Bank Holiday journeys – and their weekday equivalents – became part of an upgraded 217/218 service. Later changes saw cuts to peak hour 220s with the 221 becoming its main link with Manchester and Dukinfield (in the peaks). The evening service of the 220 route continued till April 2015.
The eastbound positioning journey is normally operated with an electric hybrid Enviro400H double decker bus. Fitting given its origin as SHMD’s 21/21A routes.
Train: Stalybridge to Salford Central
The 0746 journey is one of my usual trains to work. It usually has four carriages: two 2-car Class 150 Sprinter DMUs, sometimes a similar number of Class 142 Pacer units. That morning was the usual four-car 150 unit that I took to Salford Central.
Next stop, en route to my office, Sainsburys for goat milk and chocolate chip cookies, then a Grande English Breakfast tea at Starbucks Coffee (Centurion House, good natural light source from Deansgate).
Then to my office on John Dalton Street. Door locked. After a few minutes I checked my emails on my smartphone. Oh, shoot: denied myself an extra lie-in. 24 hours too early. Still, instead of going home and being a miserable get, I thought: ‘buses’. Posh purple buses. With guide wheels. Bus routes numbered after Nazi rockets. Posh leather seats.
With this mishap, I took ad-vantage [sic] of the fact I rose at stupid o’clock and didn’t want to waste a day at home watching Homes Under The Hammer. So, my next walk was to King Street for the…
V1: Manchester city centre [King Street] – Leigh [Bus Station]
Unlike my previous attempts at circumnavigating Greater Manchester by bus (in 1998, 1999, 2005, and 2009), I could plan my next move on the bus itself. In 1998, this would have meant a fistful of GMPTE Bus Guides. In 2017, the joys of free on-board WiFi. On a posh bus to Leigh.
Needless to say, aboard the Enviro400MMC double decker, I went upstairs on the 0922 journey. Straight for a table seat. The best part of the journey, without question was the Leigh Guided Busway from Boothstown to Leigh. At that point, I was considering a trip to Warrington, then Liverpool. Or Warrington then Altrincham, and doing a Cheshire based jolly.
At Leigh bus station, I found that I had a long wait for the Warrington bus. So I continued to Wigan after a trip to the Little Bus Geek’s Room (20p, no change given).
598: Leigh [Bus Station] – Wigan [Bus Station]
For some reason at Leigh bus station, my modus operandi tends to be ‘if in doubt, get a 598 to Wigan’. Stagecoach Wigan’s service is the one I tend to cop for (though the 600 via Ashton-in-Makerfield is a close second). The Enviro200 was an aesthetic improvement on the last bus I caught on that route, but it lacked charm. My last journey was on a rather tatty yet beefy double decker in FirstGroup livery. I, along with my Dad, were en route to Skelmersdale – to see Skem versus Sten in a friendly (yes, Skelmersdale United versus Stenhousemuir).
I had designs on going to Preston or Southport but the 598’s arrival at 1057 denied me those luxuries. Instead, I boarded my first ever Sapphire branded bus, to Chorley.
362: Wigan [Bus Station] – Chorley [Interchange]
My last journey on this route was in 1999, in the opposite direction (en route to Warrington). It was operated by North Western (or one of its cousins of the reformed company – not to be confused with The Mighty NWRCC). Chorley bus station was an awful, dingy, cavernous building compared with the airy structure of today’s facility.
Leaving at 1110, the scenic part of the route was between Standish and Chorley. Winter Hill could be seen in the distance from the plush Sapphire bus windows. Apart from the joy of free WiFi, it wasn’t quite as plush as the Vantage buses on the V1 and V2 routes, but serviceable enough.
24: Chorley [Interchange] – Blackburn [Bus Station]
After a Bruce Lee, I decided against boarding the 125 to Preston. My thoughts at the time was ‘I’ll only end up in Blackpool [after catching a 68 via Lytham]’. Instead, I was seduced by the charms of a state-of-the-art blue bus operated by the delightfully named Blackburn Bus Company.
The 24 surprised me a little on its route to Blackburn. Its rural setting would have made for a good evening drive in the summer season. Especially through Heapey, Brinscall and Withnell. With its laminate flooring, plush seats, and free WiFi, I thought the BBC bus was a good second to the Vantage vehicle. Perhaps I should have wiped my feet on the wheelchair ramp prior to boarding.
By 1250, I was in Blackburn. With its indoor market being close to the bus station, this was a natural place for a lunch stop.
The last time I went to Blackburn was December 1999. Its bus station used to be outside the railway station. It has moved a few yards up Railway Road. Now, it is on the site of its old Market Hall which, from my first visit, was a magnificent late 1960s building.
Today’s market hall is inside The Mall shopping centre, taking a ground floor unit. It was busy, even with some of the stalls being closed (Christmas Day was just over a week before my visit). The Mall was formerly known as the Arndale Centre, constructed in stages from 1970 to 1978. The market hall, to the best of my knowledge, was formerly C&A. Escalators lead to The Mall properly, and to Primark, the centre’s anchor store.
Its food court was a joy to behold and a justifiable reason for future lunch time stops. My dinner time treat, a Chicken Biryani from TCK Deli. The curry wasn’t only at a low price (change from a fiver); it was of restaurant quality and a generous portion at that. If you’re in Blackburn, miss this place at your peril!
I had designs on catching the 152 to Burnley. This with the off chance of a trip to that town’s WHSmith shop (I know the Store Manager there: she likes her darts) then a Witch Way bus to Manchester. Instead, I saw another bus waiting in the wings. I thought ‘didn’t this used to be a Ribble route?’ when I saw 244 on the indicator.
244: Blackburn [Bus Station] – Rawtenstall [Bus Station]
Choosing the scenic route to Rawtenstall turned out to be the best move of the trip. After leaving the Royal Blackburn Training Hospital terminus, we saw the last of Blackburn City Limits at the delightfully named Guide. Our trusty steed was a Rosso Volvo B7RLE single decker.
Apart from being a stop on the M65 motorway, Guide is where Euro Garages’ headquarters are based. They run several petrol filling stations across the UK, many of which in the North West of England. They operate the Bolton West Motorway Service Area on the M61 (as seen in The Services, Peter Kay’s first mockumentary from 1998).
Once out of Guide, the scenery between the village and Haslingden was stupendous. Clough Head was by far the most scenic part with Calf Hey, Ogden and Holden Wood reservoirs in the distance. My journey on the 244 was one of the best 45 minutes I had spent on a bus.
Like many good scenic bus routes, the 244 is an elusive beast. Its service is hourly and it finishes too early. In days of old, it was originally a Ribble Motor Services route. It used to terminate at Rochdale when it was jointly run by Ribble and Scout. At one time, some journeys used to go to Blackpool.
464: Rawtenstall [Bus Station] – Bacup – Rochdale [Interchange]
With 16 minutes to kill, I had a little walk around Rawtenstall, with a view to calling in the Temperance Bar. That I didn’t do, choosing to see what became of its nondescript 1970s shopping precinct. Still, it got me back to the stand for a 464 to Rochdale. Another Rosso bus, and another Volvo B7RLE for this leg.
Of Rossendale Borough Transport’s routes, I have caught the 464 the most often. On one trip, I did the whole route from Accrington to Rochdale. My cargo was a pizza cutter from Pound Spinner, three jars from Argos (in the Accrington Arndale Centre), and in vinyl, Supertramp’s Paris, a live double LP. Leaving Rawtenstall at 1436, I was in Rochdale for 1520.
During the late 1980s, the 464 was shared between GM Buses and Rossendale Borough Transport. It was branded as the Whitworth Valley Way with rather wibbly wobbly route branding between decks. With Rossendale, this meant East Lancashire bodied Leyland Atlanteans and some other interesting additions to their fleet. By 2015, the 464 lost its late evening journeys, making a trip to the Royal Court Theatre almost impossible by night.
409: Rochdale [Interchange] – Oldham [Bus Station]
In 2009, I caught one of the later – now withdrawn – journeys from the Royal Court in Bacup. My father and I went to see Foden’s Band in concert. Playing a supporting role (alongside the last 41 to Duki) was the infamous ‘9 bus. Back in 2009, transferring from a 464 to a 409 was a finicky affair. The 1978 version of Rochdale bus station meant darting across two carriageways to get to the opposite platform for the 409 stand.
This time, in the swish Rochdale Interchange, my transfer from Rosso to First Greater Manchester took seconds. The stands were a few short strides apart. As if by magic, I was ready to board the 409. Waiting in the wings was the usual Enviro400. It left the stand two minutes late. Even without St. Cuthberts and Our Ladys, it still got bogged down in traffic. Unsurprisingly, it arrived at Oldham bus station eight minutes late, at 1602.
I could have stayed on the bus till Ashton-under-Lyne and caught the 1628 346 home (or MCT Travel’s 41 at a pinch). But, this would have meant yours truly being home too soon. Plus I needed the loo (I was at the post-Thunderball point of Alan Partridge’s Bondathon), so Spindles Shopping Centre it was.
Then, the triggering of Operation Helliwell… Article 1650.
343: Oldham [Bus Station] – Dukinfield [Boyd’s Walk]
As with the 2005 circumnavigation, this meant taking the longest way home. In other words, one of my favourite bus routes. In 2005, First Greater Manchester operated the 343 service in its entirety and the journey I boarded was the 1620 one. This time, the 1650 journey is the one I chose. The 2005 route was shorter: Roaches Lock and Hey Farm weren’t served till 2009.
Nowadays, the Monday to Saturday daytime service is operated by Stott’s Tours, Oldham. Like the 464, it has also been shorn of its late evening journeys. The remaining post 7pm journeys now operated by First Greater Manchester. As for Sundays and Bank Holidays, operated by Stagecoach Manchester with no evening journeys.
As ever, the Stott’s Tours Optare Solo bus left Oldham bus station in good time. Once again, the views of the Pennine foothills never failed to impress. Even with dusk on reaching Carrbrook. My mission on being home in time for Eggheads was accomplished. Not that it bothered me in the slightest.
Will I do another circumnavigation? Who knows.
- 220: (0715) Dukinfield – Stalybridge (Stagecoach Manchester);
- Train: (0746) Stalybridge – Salford Central (Northern);
- V1: (0922) Manchester city centre [King Street] – Leigh (First Greater Manchester);
- 598: (1005) Leigh – Wigan (Stagecoach Wigan);
- 362: (1110) Wigan – Chorley (Arriva North West);
- 24: (1200) Chorley – Blackburn (Blackburn Bus Company);
- 244: (1339) Blackburn – Rawtenstall (Rosso);
- 464: (1436) Rawtenstall – Rochdale (Rosso);
- 409: (1523) Rochdale – Oldham (First Greater Manchester);
- 343: (1650) Oldham – Dukinfield (Stott’s Tours).
S.V., 12 May 2017.