Wednesday 30 November 2011

Axe Valley to Axminster

Dateline : Monday 28th November

More Omnibological Exploration OR the Tale of the Eccles Cake!
Eccles cakes are named after the English town of Eccles. It is not known who invented the recipe, but James Birch is credited with being the first person to sell the cakes on a commercial basis, which he sold from his shop at the corner of Vicarage Road and St Mary’s Road (now known as Church Street) in the town centre of Eccles, in 1793

Todays "adventure" was to try out Auntie Frances Searle's other bus route, the Axe Valley 885 from Seaton to Axminster. This runs hourly on Monday to Friday, two hourly on Saturday, and provides excellent connections with the hourly train service at Axminster Station.

Like the 52B between Sidmouth and Honiton, this useful bus/rail interchange facility is not promoted in any way, surely a missed opportunity?
The trip started with a second run via Branscombe and Beer to Seaton (3 locals, 2 tourists, 1 dog - all old crusties; maybe not the dog). Then a change to the 885 ...
... seen here (photo taken a few years ago) outside Axminster Station. The route passes through Colyton with the magnificent lantern-tower of St Andrew's church.
In the summer, the 885 will drop you here ...
... for a short walk up Station Road to join the Seaton tramway at its Colyton terminus.

Then on to Whitford with yet another closed inn ...
... and on past Musbury; where the traditional old village store ...
... has been supplanted by a Spar shop at the garage (still to be up-graded to Spar branding in this shot).
And so to Axminster, surpisingly named after a Minster situated on the river Axe. Clever, eh? Bet you're glad fbb told you that, aren't you? The town is pleasant with its own (small) department store, oddly callled Trinity House.

Trinity House was acquired by the present owners in 1979, and was at that time a very old business operating from a historical building located in Trinity Square. The building was so called after a fire that destroyed most of the centre of Axminster on Trinity Sunday in 1834.
Just down the road from Axminster is/was River Cottage ...
... made famous from 1998 by Hugh Wibbley-Fittonstall,
food guru and recent convert to vegetarianism. Or is it? Or was it? For a bit more River Cottage honesty, see the P.S. below. He has recently opened a trendy shop in Axminster town centre ...
... where Mrs ffb and fbb refreshed themselves after the wearisome journey from Sidmouth.

The lovely Lancashire luxury, consumed with enthusiasm by fbb, was large and packed to bursting with "eccles" (currenty stuff), not like the usual offering with just a smear in a hollow pastry case; but one such delicacy cost £3.50!!!!!

You could have bought four and a half in the baker's round the corner for the same money. Such is the price of shopping chez trendy hairy foodies. Never mind, there were superb cheeses, some at a modest £2.57 for 100 grams (that's 4oz in old money). Maybe stick to supermarket "mousetrap"?

Back to the simple sanity of buses!
The prestigious 30/31 group of routes, run by First, operate hourly on Mondays to Saturdays between Taunton, Chard, Axminster, Lyme Regis, Bridport and Weymouth. 
Stagecoach's 380 runs every two hours via Honiton and Ottery St Mary to Exeter. And if you happen to be in Axminster on a Thursday, Sewards ...
... operate a really rural round-about run to Thorncombe and Hawkchurch at 0930 and 1300.

At least they DID. Although Seaward's services 684 and 688 are shown in the East Devon timetable book and remain on the county's "interactive" route map, they have disappeared from the timetable database and from Traveline. Devon cutbacks, we presume? fbb hopes there aren't too many folk clutching their still-current timetable booklet and turning up in Axminster to catch the 688.

A "River Cottage" P.S.

The original 'River Cottage' was a weekend retreat for Hugh Wibbley-Fittonstall which he shared with some friends during the 1990's.

It was here that he had the idea for a TV series on Channel 4. But he could only ever rent River Cottage, its location being a former game-keeper's lodge in the grounds of Slape Manor, Netherbury. Hugh moved on to purchase a smallholding to keep the River Cottage dream alive. This was a failing 44 acre dairy farm near Broadoak, about 2 miles north-west of Bridport, which became the new River Cottage HQ where cookery courses and events were held, together with gourmet evenings. However, the Eton educated hairy one eventually outgrew this venue and in November 2006 moved River Cottage HQ to Park Farm ...

... near Uplyme in East Devon, where he has found a more suitable (60 acre) location.
Park Farm (aka River Cottage estate) is, interestingly (?), only a few hundred yards from the subject of tomorrow's blog.

 Next Blog : due Thursday December 1st 

Tuesday 29 November 2011

Simply Superb Seaton Schedule

Dateline Friday 25th November 2011
fbb and Mrs fbb are becoming creatures of habit; particularly on their sojourns in Sidmouth. Day 1 is always the same. A trip on Axe Velley Travel's sevice 899 from Sidmouth to Seaton.

Previous blogs:-
"Beer is Best" (read again)
"The Axe Man of Seaton" (read again)

Devon have not produced a winter timetable this year, so fbb was surprised to be given an amendment sheet for the 899 when he collected his timetable from Sidmouth Tourist Information Centre. Had Auntie Frances Searle (the boss) has a rush of blood to the head and changed things? 

NO, the amendment was exactly the same as before. Not sure why we were given one.

One possible change, at least according to a notice in the bus, is that Boris's Oyster Card has spread to East Devon. [not the vehicle pictured above.]
£50 fine for failing to produce the card. Although, at first glance, fbb couldn't see where to "touch in". Never mind; all 9 passengers (4 locals, 1 dog, 4 tourists) were "old crusties" and the driver took not a penny in cash fares.

Sidmouth is delightful 'cos it doesn't change.
Sidmouth Esplanade in 1937 looks very similar to Sidmouth Esplanade in 2011!
In fact the biggest change to the 899 was the headline news in this week's Sidmouth Herald that the delightful church at Branscombe is to get its first toilet since it was first built in 995! Yes, that IS 995, not a misprunt for 1995. Think of it; 1016 years of pious prayerful parishioners desperate for a ...
... short sermon! Thus we could enjoy a view of work in progress after the usual ride along roads about 3" narrower than the bus.
And so to Seaton for coffee and a bun, a look round the town and a £4.85 OAP Fish and Chip lunch complete with cup of tea in Frydays chippie and caff.

Seatons' big change is the controversial opening, on 23rd November, of a huge Tesco store.
Opinion is divided between those who welcome the "shopping opportunity" and those who see it as the final nail in the coffin for traditional retail traders in the town. Nevertheless, there is the quirky opportunity to travel from Colyton and Colyford on the "ancient" tram (summer only) and shop at the "modern" superstore.
Here we have a couple of trams on maintenance duties with the Costa Lot coffee shop at Tesco in the background.

And talking of coffee, one change in Sidmouth itself, a town which has largely resisted the onslaught of mediocre national chain brands in favour of local family run shops, is the arrival of its own Costa Lot coffee shop ...
... in the premises of the ancient "Old Ship" Inn, dating from 1350.

One public transport change that is particularly disappointing is a withdrawal of Devon's funding for the prestigious X53 on Sundays. So instead of offering the usual superb ride from Exeter all the way to Poole (as on Mondays to Saturdays) ...
... all you get is Lyme Regis to Weymouth. Thanks Dorset for at least keeping that going but no thanks to Devon as the long term future of the Sunday service must be questionable. See previous blog, "Good Value by Bus" (read again).

Just to show what Sunday travellers are missing as a result of this miserly decision, there is a very nice video to watch (here).

And, talking of the tramway, dig the dinky hydraulic thingey being towed by a tram.

Next blog : due Wednesday November 30th

Monday 28 November 2011

The Sidmouth Schedule [2]

Yippee for the 52B
click on the timetable for a larger view

fbb and Mrs fbb have travelled from the Isle of Wight to Honiton by ferry and train, See "The Sidmouth Schedule [1] (here), and are now on board the connecting service 52B bus for the last leg to Sidmouth. But, sadly, Sand is closed.
Sand is a "minor" stately home in private hands ...
... but only open on selected summer dates. So, to be fair to its owners, it is more closed than open! Neverthelss, it is still well worth a visit. Its web site is (here).

Sand is at Cotford, once a separate hamlet but now part of Sidbury. 

The Church of St Peter and St Giles has a Norman tower topped with a spire, a Saxon Crypt, a gunpowder storage room dating from the Napoleonic era and a 500-year-old font.
Sidbury in 2011 is little changed from Sidbury in 1906.
The 52B negiotiates its quaint and wiggly streets then sets off for Sidford, so called because it used to have a ford over the river, replaced by a packhorse bridge in the 12th Century. The much rebuilt bridge now carries the busy road from Lyme Regis to Exeter.
At Sidford, the 52B from Honiton joins the 52A from Seaton, the two services now providing a 30 minute frequency via Sidmouth and Newton Poppleford to Exeter.
The pub at Sidford crossroads is the Rising Sun.
Here fbb has previously blogged about the county's most ancient bus stop, served by journeys in the Honiton direction.

There was a possibility that the stop was out of use, but since the pic above was taken  (and since fbb's last visit) the pole has gained a swish green litter bin and a metal plate with details of access to information by mobile phone. So fbb guesses that the stop (with no pavement and on a lethal blind corner) can still be used by the suicidally brave.
Other stops for buses to Honiton are available nearby like the one here, just out of shot on the right. It has pavement and shelter!

From Sidford it is just a short journey (straight on as in pic above) to Sidmouth itself and the main stop at The Triangle. fbb and Mrs fbb have arrived (at last) at their November holiday destination.
A short walk via Old Fore Street and the travelling twosome were at their base for the week, namely Lennards Court, entrance just past Clark's shop as below.
Except that Clark's is now a health food shop with a special offer on Rabenhorst organic beetroot juice ...
... we kid you not.

Information on the benefits of Beetroot Juice, c/o the "Daily Mail":-

Once inside the body the chemicals in the juice get to work widening the blood vessels, speeding oxygen flow to the muscles (including the brain) and allowing them make the most of the oxygen breathed in. In the latest study, the Exeter University team asked nine men who cycle competitively to compete in time trials over 2.5 miles and 10 miles. Before setting off, they drank just under a pint of beetroot juice. When the cyclists drank the nitrite-rich beetroot juice they were 11 seconds quicker over the shorter distance and 45 seconds quicker over the longer route.

"Daily Mail" advice, so best ignored!

Perhaps it will help with stamina for complex journeys by public transport?

Next blog : due Tuesday November 29th

Sunday 27 November 2011

The Sidmouth Schedule [1]

Dateline Thursday 24th November 2011

                          0925  Home (lift from chum)
                    0935  Ryde Pier Head
No discount fares but still good value with a Senior Railcard
                    0947  Ryde Pier Head : Wightlink Catamaran
                    1003  Portsmouth Harbour  
As is becoming usual, one of the Wightlink boats was busted; fortunately not ours!
                    1023  Portsmouth Harbour : First Great Western
                    1144  Salisbury
Four minutes late and a quick dash via the subway
                    1147  Salisbury : Southwest Trains
                    1313  Honiton
Honiton Station. This grand and once-busy station ...

... has recovered from its near obliteration under Dr Beeching's proposals. The line was reprieved but single-tracked in 1967. Passsenger numbers were buoyant and services have been progressively improved until a new loop at Axminster has allowed Southwest Trains to provide the best ever service on the line, namely every hour between London Waterloo and Exeter and half-hourly between Waterloo and Salisbury:-
In 2011 the rebuilt station was re-rebuilt. Here the various rail staff and local dignitaries stand admiringly in front of the small but well appointed structure.
The No 52B bus to Sidmouth actually pulls in to the Station forecourt and with a deft reverse stops at the far side of the station building. [O.K. this one isn't at 52B, but you get the idea.]
Disappointingly, although Devon County have provided a frame with timetable near the Shelter for the 52B and for the odd 367 journeys that serve the forecourt, there is no other bus information at all, even for those routes which stop on Church Hill, just outside the station car park. [e.g. the rest of the 367, a useful link from the station to Honiton's housing estates.]
journeys coded X stop on Church Hill just outside the station

Stagecoach runs the trains and most of the local buses, but there are no bus timetables in the racks at the ticket office.

Oh, and the poster showing station facilities gives misleading information about bus stops. Presumably young Gerald, on a job creation programme, merely printed out an old plan.

fbb and Mrs fbb join the bus, spot on time, and off they go to Sidmouth. The 52B runs in a loop via Honiton town centre, the station and the hospital.
It provides excellent connections with the train service from and to London; BUT, the easiness of the integration is not promoted; either by Southwest Trains or by Stagecoach Devon or even by Devon county.

Why not?

The bus starts climbing, past Tesco, past a settlement with the delightful dentistry designation of "Gobsore Farm"**, and up onto one of the many Devon ridges to a summit at ...
... Putts Corner or the Hare and Hounds ...
... as used as a time point in the 52B. The road then starts descending with superb views down into the valley of the river Sid on your right. Soon you get your first panoramic view of Sidbury, Sidford, Sidnouth and the sea ...
...but much more spectacular from the top deck.
Sadly, Sand always seems to be closed!

fbb wll reveal where and what "Sand" is; and complete the journey to Super Sidmouth, in tomorrow's blog.

** Gobsore sounds like a joke; but this is a pic of Gobsore Copse on the slopes of Gittisham Hill ...
... and this is the gate of Gobsore Farm:-

Next blog : due Monday November 28th