Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Brackley's Baffling Bus Business (2)

Brackley was, in ancient times, served by an infrequent bus route from Northampton running on to Bicester and Oxford. The 338 offered four buses a day.
The label "fast" was a tad on the optimistic side.

Then about a decade ago the successor to those four journeys, the X6, was integrated into the 88. This 1940s map shows the old A43 in red.
The 88 provided a hourly frequency along the old A43 between Northampton, Towcester and Silverstone with an integrated hourly 89 route to Towcester and Milton Keynes. The still infrequent Brackley and Oxford journeys were labelled X88 ...
... with the whole lot half-heartedly marketed as "gold" hence the dramatic logo on the front of the bus above and the rear end map below!
This integration failed to save the Oxford trips from extinction and Stagecoach fizzled out at Silverstone where a "connection" was available with a tendered X88 ...
... completely ignored by the Northamptonshire publicity "machine". (of course, it was tendered by *xf*rdsh*r*!)

There were substantial protests and a strong local campaign and, much to everyone's shock and pleasure a brand "new" service was introduced every hour through to Silverstone as before, but extended every two hours to Brackley and on to Bicester where, of course, frequent buses ran on to Oxford.

But it didn't last. Tender money was, again, withdrawn, and Stagecoach retreated again to Silverstone with the odd peak journey pushed through to Brackley on Mondays to Fridays.
The most recent change has been to take the 88s away from their "traditional" villages along the old A43 (leaving the hourly 89) and run it via Northampton Station (good), Swan Valley and the new super A43 by-passing all the intervening localities.
Many readers may not be quite au fait with a Northampton district of Swan Valley.

The 88 runs via Sixfields ...
... serving a chunk of empty space and the Cobblers footy ground; then via Upton Way calling at more empty space.
Finally it does the rounds of more empty space plus loadsa warehouses at the Swan Valley industrial area ...
... before joining the "new"A43 and zooming almost non-stop into Towcester. In passing, note the brown smear towards to upper part of the aerial view.
Now that smear is Dragonfly Meadow (yes, really?) ...
... part of Pineham Grove. Coming soon:- Butterfly Gardens ...
... Pineham Lock (that's part of Hunsbury Meadows, of course) and Pineham North; not to mention Pineham Barns.
fbb only assume that Stagecoach have availed themselves of a nice bulging bag of "Section 106" money to encourage them to take service 88 away from places with people and into a series of blasted heaths. This is a scheme whereby developers get planning permission if they agree to pay for bus services to their development. The money runs out (as, often, does the bus service) when all the people have moved in.

Amusing snippet. The Pineham development is on the south west fringes of Northampton, near the M1 services on the map below, bottom left.
Pineham Avenue is, confusingly, to the north of the town in greater Kingsthorpe and by that radio mast, top centre.
That is going to create some fun and frustration as folk search for their destination in the wrong place! Well done Northampton Borough Council road naming team!

But we digress. Tomorrow, eventually, we tackle the next stage in the Frayed Ends at Brackley.
Another Snippet
No 3 son, who is working in Swtizerland for a few months, sent his old man a picture of this bus.
Could it be a possible reference to fbb and the vehicle's destination? Surely not!
 Next Brackley blog - Thursday 19th October 

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Brackley's Baffling Bus Business (1)

Brackley is in Northamptonshire (just!) ...
... and lies very roughly half way between its County Town and Oxford. Once on the A43, the town is now by-passed taking the heavy traffic between the M1, M40 and the lower reaches of the A43 away from its historic and attractive town centre.

Brackley then

Brackley now
Brackley was, for many years, a convenient convenience stop for the fbbs as they drove from Sheffield and/or Northampton to the Isle of Wight. These facilities used to be down a narrow spooky lane, very uninviting in hours of darkness. Their replacements are adjacent to the main bus stops.
Once upon a time Brackley had two railway stations. Brackley Central, furthest from the town centre but named after the Great Central Railway rather than geographically, was to the north.
The station building was on the A43 ...
... and is now, cruelly, a supplier of tyres for motor vehicles.
The much changed rear view ...
... still shows the little gable (upper right) which led to the footbridge.
The station closed in September 1966.

This former "Great" main line is almost invisible from ground level, but from above it forms a tree-lined gash across the fields. At one point the bridge over Brackley's other line still stands.
The L N W R station (just called "Brackley") was just to the south of the town centre near the site of the Castle.

Its single track line ran from Banbury via Brackey and Buckingham, then made its lonely way to Bletchley via Verney Junction where it touches coupling rods with the furthest outpost of London's Metropolitan Railway From the road (track?) called Goose Green you can see the overgrown remnants of the cutting ...
... which took the line under the A43 to the station.
All is obliterated now but the line of the former trackbed can just be spotted as it crosses the new A43.
The line closed to passenger trains in January 1961.

But our specific interest is in the buses and Wikipedia gives a good (?) summary of recent events.
The town has numerous bus services and is connected to major towns and cities including Banbury (499, 500), Bicester, Buckingham, Towcester, Oxford and Northampton.

Replace "is" with "was"! Of these "links" only the 500 remains as a proper all-day service. Wikipedia continues with a lengthy piece giving a partial taster of the bus service along the A43 from Northampton via Brackley to Oxford..

In 2003 the X38 Oxford-Northampton express service became the X6 ...
... with the introduction of the 88 to serve villages en route to Northampton. In September 2007, Stagecoach Midlands' Oxford-Brackley-Towcester-Northampton services were reduced with the merging of the 88 and X6 as route X88.

By 2010 (?) the 88 was cut back to Silverstone with a limited tendered service offering onward travel to Brackley and Oxford on a very poor-frequency connecting service.

In September 2011 the 88 service covering the Northampton to Oxford route, was replaced by the 8. The route of which starts at Northampton and now terminated at Bicester. After 2016, the 8 was renumbered once again to 88 with timetable changes. A few months later, the 88 was further reduced only running between Northampton and Silverstone, with one off-peak journey numbered X88 and terminating at Brackley Tesco.

This is not quite the whole story; but fbb will attempt a clarification tomorrow aiming to show how poor Brackley has repeatedly been beset by the Curse of the Frayed End.
On the Bristol to London route the new class 800 rains supreme!
 Next Brackley blog : Wednesday 18th October 

Monday, 16 October 2017

Bothy Bog-up Blog

But Not Brackley
We were due to go to Brackley today to explore a little more about bus routes with frayed ends, but a delightful story found space on the BBC News web site over the weekend. fbb has been able to expand and embellish the story with more local information.

The item concerned the Cluitt family, mum, dad and four children aged 6, 8, 10 and 12.

They were enjoying a "get away from it all" (and how!) holiday in Scotland, here on the shores of Loch Eilt.
Notice first the A830 road, the loch and then the railway line to Mallaig (off the map extract, left) with Glenfinnan and Lochailort stations. Also notice the barely existing settlement of Ranochan.
From the evidence of field boundaries and the remnants of buildings there was once a bit more to Ranochan!

The family were occupying the Essan bothy (lower left).
There is no road nearby, so access is not easy!
Thus the family parked at Ranochan from where you may be able to make out the luxurious residence across the water.
Railway bridge lower left, bothy the grey blob at the foot of the wooded glen on the right.

They set off by canoe ...
... paddling under the railway bridge ...
... and parking the boat just outside the back door. (Bothy bottom left with trees, bridge upper right)
Mt Cluitt takes up the story.
There was no safe route out for young children so it was necessary to phone Police and/or Mountain Rescue. (Thankfully the family had a signal; fbb guesses the bothy did not have a land line!)

Showing heaps of initiative the boys-in-blue solved the crisis in a neat and joyous way. Thy arranged for a train to stop. 

But not any train.
It was the Jacobite steam excursion train that gave them a lift!
They were conveyed in glorious luxury all the way (!) to the small but beautifully formed Lochailort Station ...
... where they alighted all smiles and gratitude ...
... and dispatched dad to hitch a lift back to Ranochan to collect the car.

All ended happily every after; but with two questions.

1. Has anyone found the Cluitt's canoe?

2. Will it be Butlins next year?

The Jacobite train runs between Fort William and Mallaig ...
... and is steam-hauled.
One of the scenic highlights is, of course, superb views of the Essan bothy!
... although, strangely, the official blurb fails to mention this.

Described as the greatest railway journey in the world, this 84 mile round trip takes you past a list of impressive extremes. Starting near the highest mountain in Britain, Ben Nevis, it visits Britain’s most westerly mainland railway station, Arisaig; passes close by the deepest freshwater loch in Britain, Loch Morar and the shortest river in Britain, River Morar, finally arriving next to the deepest seawater loch in Europe, Loch Nevis!

Herewith, however, a picture of the Jacobite on the celebrated Glenfinnan viaduct with Loch Eilt in the background.
Apparently Professor Albus Dumbledore is buried on an Island in Loch Eilt.
Back to schedule tomorrow.

 Next Brackley blog : Tuesday 17th October