Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Three Options for a Funeral [2]

Episode 2 : "A bus, a bus, we're searching for a bus"

... the on going challenge of getting from Groby to a funeral in Maidstone.
Fortunately, Traveline has a timetable index which is unavailable on Transport Defunct or Google Transit, so we can start by seeing what buses serve "Vinters Park Maidstone Crematorium (stop)".
There are four.
Or we can look at buses that go to "Vinter's Park, Vinters Park Crematorium (poi)".

As a performance art, poi involves swinging tethered weights through a variety of rhythmical and geometric patterns. Poi artists may also sing or dance while swinging their poi. Poi can be made from various materials with different handles, weights, and effects (such as fire).

Does it mean "place of interest" in this context?
Now there are a few more buses to choose from.
Or we can look at buses to "Weavering, Vinters Park Crematorium, Bearsted Road (ME14 5LG)" ...
... where the list is strangely familiar.
We won't bother with the list for just plain Vinters Park, because that gives us even more options, namely 20 route numbers to consider. What Traveline does not make quite as clear as it could is that the first list, the shortest, shows buses that stop AT the Crem whereas the others show buses which go NEAR the Crem. And near, for Traveline, is a whopping "within 20 minutes walk".

Far too energetic for fbb but possible for chum David who, although older, is wiry and less encumbered by bulk. 
So the next line of approach is to go to Google Maps, enlarge the bit near the Crem and click on the little blue stop icons.
On the westbound side of the road we are offered ...
.. whist the eastbound stop ...
... makes some changes and doesn't offer any times.
... no 88 but an added 9. Checking the timetables we discover that the 335 only runs on Sundays but does call at the stops indicated. The 784 is a Monday to Friday Commuter service to London which MIGHT stop there but probably needs pre-booking.
The 9 is a schooldays bus running in one direction only, whilst the 88 offers peak hour journeys in each direction which, again, MIGHT stop there.

Realistically there are no suitable buses to Vinters Park Crematorium for a funeral due to start as 1230!

We could, of course, continue this process with all the routes nearby (?) but fortunately the journey planners can do some of the leg-work for us.

Some of our readers will now be screaming, "Why didn't the idiot use a journey planner in the first place?" The answer is simple; journey planners cannot be trusted without a measure of corroboration. Remember that Traveline delivers the answers that the programers think are best, not necessarily the options that fbb or chum David might choose.

Because our research is based on arriving by rail, we search for Maidstone Stations to Vinters Park Crematorium. In this case fbb used Google Transit which is just Traveline and Transport Direct in a thin disguise.

Two options are offered. From Maidstone West station via bus 6A to the bus station.
Then 334 to Vinters Park. Sounds OK and looks reasonable. This Vinters Park is the housing estate, but he Crem is just round the corner.
Wast the journey planner does NOT tell you is something you really do need to know. Firstly, there are loadsa buses from the station stop (Rocky Hill) to the bus station, you don't have to wait patiently for a 6A.
What fbb does not know is whether this useful stop is prominently promoted in the station with a sign pointing to "frequent buses to Chequers bus station." The stop is well hidden from the station on a one way loop of road. Take the "right hand lane" and you will be guided to the station.
It is unfortunate that the "official" network rail map does not use the "official" name of the stop!
What the planners also fails to tell you is that the 334 with its bedfellow 333 is every 30 minutes. But it is a viable option.
A seemingly better alternative is to catch the 506 (Park % Ride) from Maidstone East.
Again, the stop is not physically visible from the station, but an intelligent traveller will cope.
fbb wonders why bus stops are often badly signed from stations. The answer, of course, is that "it's nothing to do with us, guv" for the railways. And even if the bus companies wanted to encourage you to travel on their services, the complexity of railway legislation would mean that something as simple as putting up a sign would take three years or more of contractual and litigious wrangling. Potty!
The Park and Ride site is a short walk from the Crematorium ...
... and the bus runs every "10 to 13" minutes.
It is technologically interesting to see that Google Transit can show the walking bit as following the actual roads (although there are no signs to help you) whereas the 506 bus smashes through buildings to get to its terminus.

Of course, we may be frightened by the concept of Park and Ride. Do we pay for the bus or the parking? Is it a combined ticket? Will we be able to travel "back" to the car park site if we haven't travelled into town? Is our old crusties free travel pass valid or not? In Exeter, for example, you have to park to use the ride. Again, thanks to the wonders of the interwebnet, we can glean the answers for the 506:-

Return Tickets can be purchased from town centre bus stops

Good

The National Bus Pass is currently accepted on these services.

Even better

Off-Peak Day Return    £1.60

Superb

So, all we have to do now is to find a train that gets chum David from Leicester to Maidstone East station. Should be a doddle. Oh yes, David is prudent with his pennies and would be looking for the cheapest rail ticket!

Should be a doddle - again!

 Next bus/rail blog : Wednesday 3rd September 

Monday, 1 September 2014

Three Options for a Funeral [1]

Episode 1 : The Challenge

Leicester chum David lives at Groby near Leicester (hence his title "Leicester Chum"!)
He is invited to a funeral here ...
... at Vinters Park Crematorium which, as we all know, is at Maidstone. So the first task is to find out where in Maidstone this sombre structure is situated. It is run by Maidstone Borough Council whose web site gives an address ...
...  and a Google Maps extract.
This shows the M20 and three station logos which leads David to two main option choices. Car is easy (in theory) with M1, M25 and M20 running almost door to door. There is the possible complication of "baked meats" afterwards ...
... and a number of problems to overcome if public transport is chosen.

Maidstone is a problem.

There are three stations:-
Maidstone East is pretty near north of the town centre. Maidstone West is more southwest ...
... and Maidstone Barracks is due west from Maidstone East ...
...  but closer than Maidstone West. Local maps are not very good at identifiying the bus station ...
... which isn't close to any of them. Google shows all three stations ...
... but no Chequers. This one, from a non transport web site, shows only two stations and no buses.
The map from a Park and Ride site is similar ...
... and is too small to read anyway! For once we might be half-heartedly thankful to network rail, although fbb found it by searching for Maidstone maps.
It shows all three stations and "Chequers Shopping Centre". It is possible that Chequers Bus Station might be somewhere near the identically named shopping "mall". Except it isn't. The shopping mall been re-branded ...
... and now trades as "The Mall" (see also the Arndale Centre in Luton).
This might explain the absence of any reference to Chequers on most maps, although that name, until recently at least, does still appear on the wall outside!

So the four possible public transport "nodes" are at four corners of a slightly deformed rectangle with the Chequers bus station beside the Mall shopping centre being, arguably, the most central.

So which station is best for a bus to Vinters Park Crematorium? Indeed IS there a bus to Vinters Park Crematorium; and is Vinters Park a park? Back to the confuser.

It used to be a private house in substantial grounds in 1890.
It now has a nature reserve ...
... and an Indian Tandoori Restaurant.
It also has a Business Park, home to an independent television studio company ...
... which fbb thinks was a TVS base, once the home of childrens' Saturday morning TV show "No. 73" later "7T3" which introduced an unsuspecting world to Sandi Toksvig and The Sandwich Quiz!
Vinters Park also appears to be a housing estate.
So our next task is to find bus timetables and see which route to the Crem passes which station and, Robert is your father's brother!

If only it were so easy.

 Next bus/rail blog : Tuesday 2nd September 

Sunday, 31 August 2014

It's Not Dull, We Went To Cully [2]

Visiting churches is a passion for many explorers but not usually for fbb. So often these once-thriving beacons of community life are promoted as museum pieces. Frankly that's what the fbb's expected at Cullompton. But they were wrong.
Oh, there was History; a gorgeous carved ceiling ...
... a magnificent painted rood screen ("rood", an old word for The Cross) ...
... and an extremely rare "golgotha".
No, neither had fbb!

Cullompton Church is unique throughout England, and possibly throughout Christendom, in possessing to the present day the original carved wooden base of the medieval rood screen. It is sometimes called the "Golgotha" because it is carved with skulls and rocks and crossbones. During the Middle Ages, it was a common practice to erect a carved representation of the crucifixion scene at Golgotha above the stone or wooden screen, which divided the chancel from the nave in most ancient churches. As the congregation passed through the screen to take communion, this visual aid would remind then of the sacrificial death of Jesus, a life offered to the forgiveness of their sins and commemorated in the bread and wine.

 But st Andrews is thriving with three services on Sundays.
It all looked like a wonderful and heartening mix of "ancient and modern"!
But back to the earthly from the spiritual. Stagecoach buses trundled by every 20 minutes in each direction ...
... with a mixture of newer and older deckers.
Devon County's bus stop infromation was in the form of proper timetable extracts, not the more usual and less useful departure lists.
It would have been even more useful to have a route map, especially in view of the multiple northbound destinations. Also passing by was the town service, operated on Devon County tender by Dartline.
This service 350 offers seven journeys Monday to Friday and three on Saturday mornings ...
... linking most of the town with the inevitable Tesco store (red dot, centre right).
The journeys fbb observed did not seem to be replete with eager shoppers!
Redwoods in 1952
"History" from their web site (here)

Redwoods Travel runs a wiggly round-the villages Thursdays only bus into Exeter (675) and Dartline (again) provide the Honiton circular (694). This is a delightful tour of picturesque and quaint Devon communities with one trip each way round the "circle" Mondays to Saturdays.
Cullompton even has a National Express service! The 0505 from Totnes via Torbay and Exeter creeps off the M5 at 0650 seven days a week, calling at The Weary Traveller (pick up ONLY) ...
... near the site of the former railway station, before nipping back smartly on to the M5 to serve Heathrow (1000) and London (1030). The return journey deposits you likewise at 2240 (set down ONLY).

On the whole a good selection of public transport, by today's declining standards, for a town with a population of  a little over 8,500.
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The Battle for Tavistock
Hard Times All-round?
First Bus, successors to Western National, have run the bus service between Plymouth and Tavistock with only a brief spurt of cpmpetition in the late 80s. Then along comes a more aggressive (more go-ahead?) Plymouth Citybus and starts Blue Flash 12 in direct competition.
First has responded in various ways, but, until today, both companies were offering a 30 minute frequency. You must assume that neither company was making any money; as the old adage goes, "there's a living for one and a loss for two."

So from today the Blue Flash gets a bit less flashy. The Tavistock service is merged with the existing route 42 between Plymouth, Derriford Hospital and Tamerton Foliat ...
... and theres a goodly bit of renumbering to confuse the passengers!

The 12 Blue Flash becomes 42 Blue Flash
The 42A becomes 42A Blue Flash
The 42 becomes 42B Blue Flash
The Tavistock journeys on Mondays to Fridays are thus extensions of the buses that formed the short workings to the Hospital. A map might make it clearer ...
... or it might not.

The remaining Tamerton Foliat journeys are to be operated by up-fettled older single deck Blue Flash liveried buses; thus further diluting the "luxury double deck" brand.

Diverted and slower buses, complex route numbers and different shaped buses? A good idea? Not really. An attempt to save a bit of cash on a route that's losing money? That's more like it!

Is Plymouth City Bus struggling? Yes. Is First Bus struggling? Yes, again. Is competition a good thing for the industry.

No prizes for fbb's opinion.

Fellow blogger "Plymothian Transit" has published piccies of the Flashy single deckers. (here) is a link
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 Next bus/rail blog Monday 1st September