Same Shot, Different Day

Here we have a photo taken on the 19th of April 1985, a Friday, in Holmes Chapel. It was Easter time and I had a week off, armed with one of Crosville’s Weekly Wanderer tickets and ready to Explore.

I wanted a safari suit for days out with Crosville but my mum wouldn’t let me

Based as I was in Runcorn, an hour the wrong side of Chester for heading off into Wales [and without the benefit of the rail travel the Rideabout ticket offered – for a premium] I decided in view of the moderate daylight hours to spend a few days exploring previously uncharted former North Western territory not so far from home in Cheshire.

That’s me in the corner: none of the places visited in this account are shown on the map. We are in between Warrington, Northwich, Congleton and Macclesfield

It’s important to bear in mind that at this time nobody could imagine that one day North Western buses would once again ply the streets of Alty and the lanes of rural Cheshire. This was a year and a half before bus deregulation and, though there were murmurings in the world of public transport, few ordinary punters had any idea of what was in store…

Finding myself at Altrincham at lunchtime my next move was on a previously untried route, quite an obscure one and peculiar in being one of a few former North Western routes numbered in Crosville’s H series. H-routes were supposedly operated by the Merseyside depots Liverpool, Runcorn, and Warrington. I think that Warrington may have had some limited involvement in these Cheshire operations at times but the H39 service I took was operated by Congleton depot and went nowhere near Warrington. Was there a plan, I wonder, when carving up the old North Western operations, to have a Crosville outstation of Warrington at Altrincham to operate these routes?

The bus waiting for me at Altrincham was a disappointment. I was hoping that this irregular service would provide an enjoyable ramble on one of Congleton’s dual purpose RELL6Ls but it was not to be. Dual purpose Leyland National ENL829 was to be my ride and the driver hadn’t even been bothered to wind on the destination blind from the usual K of Congleton’s routes to the exceptional H for the H39 service. To make matters worse, the bus was missing the offside section of its bumper…

Though the bus was ultimately destined for Congleton I planned to abandon it at Holmes Chapel [as seen above]. After a short wait, I could connect with another journey operated by Congleton, only this time it was an odd Crosville-operated trip on a PMT service. This transfer of work between National Bus Company subsidiaries was after the MAP revisions of the early 1980s, where the survey must have indicated that Crosville could operate the run at less cost from Congleton than a PMT bus which would have been Burslem-based. By this time such services would not operate without substantial local authority support, so the authorities were starting to have a say in what economies could be made.

The 319 was a long established route serving the lanes around Goostrey and the notable Jodrell Bank radio telescope. I expect that the mid-afternoon trip would normally have been busy with schoolchildren but this was a school holiday. While waiting for it to arrive I changed the lens on my camera from standard 50mm to telephoto 135mm, making the perspective of the following photo very different even though the buses were parked in exactly the same place. This is sister bus ENL833 waiting time before my next trip.

These photos are the perfect illustration of the value of standing back and zooming in to photograph vehicles in a more natural proportion to the landscape around them. The standard 50mm camera lens and its wide view makes it necessary to stand too close to the vehicle just to make it big enough in the frame. This close-up wide-angle approach means that that the surroundings are diminished to the point almost of irrelevance. A more distant viewpoint, reduced field of view and slight magnification gives a more balanced perspective of a vehicle in the street or the landscape. Though I was standing further away, the buildings in the background figure far more importantly in the telephoto view. Also the bus looks more rectangular, like a bus does in the real world.

But just look at that destination display! The K is once again left untouched and the third number track is left in limbo between the 8 and the 9. No destination is shown [it should have read “319 Goostrey Circular”]. At least the bus is intact this time. But, really…

Many years later I was in Holmes Chapel enjoying an unhurried, meandering return to base with a preserved bus after its successful MOT test. I decided to pay tribute to the conscientious staff of Congleton depot by parking Crosville RELL6G SRG181 in the same place again and recreating the composition with the same destination display. Same shot, different day.

This is an excerpt from a longer account of the day in question which will be published in ebook PDF format with these and many more illustrations in full HD. This will be given away free, but only at the time of publication, to my e-mail subscribers. To ensure your copy you can sign up in the box on the right of any page on this site. The ebook will be published in the coming weeks: don’t miss out!

Serving the College by the Sea

Student days in Aberystwyth for many in the 1980s meant living by the sea [which was nice] and having to go to lectures on campus which was a mile away and 300ft above. A daunting feat for the unfit and quite a tiresome commute even for the most athletic.

To bring some solace to the life of the typical Aberystwyth town-dwelling student [quite a lot lived on campus, it must be said] the University College of Wales teamed up with Crosville to provide an hourly shuttle bus to and from the university campus and the town below. To complicate matters some lectures were held at the Old College by the pier and some students had ten minutes to get from one site to the other. So the lectures and buses were timed to facilitate transfers for the poor students concerned, as shown here:

“But it’s all in foreign” I hear from the back. Well, students had to pass a Welsh fluency test to get in in the first place, so it should be simple enough to read a bus timetable, eh?

No, I jest. In Wales even in the 1980s the rule was that all official notices in public organisations should be bilingual to encourage the use of the native tongue. This was a significant about turn from the many years that the Welsh language was suppressed by the British government. At the university, this bilingualism was enforced and any society daring to put up a notice around the campus that didn’t have a Welsh translation would soon see it defaced with a huge CYMRAEG!!! slogan in marker pen or on a sticker. So the bus timetable also came in Saesneg.

The bus pass was £9 per term for unlimited use at the time, which worked out at 90p a week. Considering that the fare on public buses was about 30p to the university, this was great value. The first term I was there I put in for my pass right away.

They asked for my full name

Many a happy ride was had on whatever buses were available at the time. Aberystwyth was the engineering centre of the South Cambrian division and would service and repair buses allocated to depots at Machynlleth, Aberaeron and Newcastle Emlyn. So there was a fairly fluid exchange of buses around the area and I had such treats as Bristol LH SLL615 of Aberaeron depot, Plaxton-bodied RELH6L ERL302, HVG932 and 933… the latter pair were ex-Sheffield/South Yorkshire Bristol VRs with highbridge East Lancashire bodies rather like the later batch of VRs delivered to Merseyside PTE.

HVG932 was later allocated to Liverpool for ferry shuttle work and driver training duties and by great fortune I was allowed to “type train” in it when training to be a Crosville driver myself.

For the most part, Crosville’s regular allocation of vehicles would be scheduled to operate in between local trips around town. At the top of this page is this photo of DVG517, Aberystwyth’s first new double decker in many years when allocated in 1981. It is seen on the promenade, where there were many seafront halls of residence for the university.

Crosville’s Aberystwyth stalwart DVG517 loading for an early departure on the promenade

The route in town was a circular one, arriving via North Road, running along the prom to the pier, then Pier Street, Great Darkgate Street and North Parade. Services departing from town would commence at the top of the prom [as seen above] by what was then the police station, then follow the route to North Parade and onwards to the campus via Northgate Street and Penglais Road [or Penglais Hill as it is often called]. At the time service buses did not serve the promenade or Great Darkgate Street so a photo in those locations was a bit of variety. Since then local routes have been diverted to serve those roads.

DVG517 passing through Great Darkgate Street, used only by UCW services in 1985

Nowadays Crosville is no longer in existence to serve the students of Aberystwyth and there are no Bristol VRs for the poor dabs but the mantle has been admirably picked up by Mid Wales Travel who provide a student service and extend their student card’s validity to all their services in town. Moreover, they offer discounts on other routes, which the Crosville/UCW scheme did not. A Mars bar [the gold standard inflation index] in 1983 cost 16p and in 2019 was 74p, 4.6 times more expensive. The £98 price tag of a Mid Wales student pass in 2020 is only 3.6 times more expensive than my UCW pass for 1983. Kids these days don’t know how easy they have it.

Zigzag Wanderer

Some classic Crosville publicity here for you. Probably from 1984-85, the post-Wanderbus Crosville Wanderer ticket. In my younger days you could buy a Wanderbus which was valid all day on all National Bus Company stage carriage services south of the Mersey and the Humber. Except you could go to Widnes and Warrington and you couldn’t go to the Wirral. So read the small print.

The National Bus Company withdrew the Wanderbus ticket on the 30th of April 1983. Crosville immediately implemented their own replacement ticket charging the same price of £2.97. The price had remained unchanged for several years and I hear that some unscrupulous people reused tickets a year after they were bought because the Setright ticket couldn’t display the year. I seem to remember being told that drivers were supposed to set the stage number to the year to prevent this but in my experience you were lucky to find a driver who could remember how to issue a ticket at all. You were supposed to issue a sequence of three 99p tickets with the “SPECIAL” type applied.

So here we have the successor ticket to the Wanderbus, the Wanderer, which is Crosville only. Not valid on PMT or Trent services. But valid on South Wales Transport buses on a joint service all the same, and now, unlike the Wanderbus, across the boundary into and out of the PTE areas. The price has finally gone up to £3.30. Still great value to people like me who got up early to maximise the mileage.

That bloke would probably get reported now.

Step on, step off, stay awhile. The Weekly Wanderer was the successor to the Crosville Explorer weekly ticket which, unlike the Wanderbus, was valid on all Crosville bus services including those operating entirely in Merseyside, like the Prescot services from Liverpool and the services from Heswall and West Kirby into Birkenhead. I remember riding on ERG56 from Birkenhead to West Kirby on an Explorer week with a man behind me repeatedly whistling the same few bars of “Is This Love” by Bob Marley. It was intensely irritating at the time but now when I hear that song I’m back on ERG56 in 1978 in the sunshine.

This is my last ever Day Wanderer from a Setright machine.

The 9th of December 1985, issued on SNL807 on the T10 service as I made my last trip from Runcorn to Aberystwyth to arrange to move my belongings back to Runcorn where I was to become a trainee bus driver a week later.

Looking at my notes I made a special trip on CTL50 on the new X5 to Liverpool [on which I would have paid extra] before catching MPTE Atlantean 1745 to the Pier Head, then a ferry to Birkenhead for a C1 to Chester, which was operated by Chester’s DOG154.

From Chester I took SNG371 on the D25 to Wrexham. In my notes [and I remember this] it says that DVG482 reversed into the side of the SNG in Chester bus station. The VR veered over into the same lane as the SNG and stopped just as it made contact with the National ahead of the rear axle. I was sitting as usual on the offside seat after the step and I saw the side of the National flex slightly in front of me on the impact. The VR driver realised at the last second and just drove off. Not a mark on the National.

This put me on a later working on the D94 than I usually took. The 1105 from Wrexham which I usually used was a Corwen working and was almost always one of their ERGs 271 or 276. The following working was around 1300 and operated by Dolgellau and this day it was the now preserved SNL588 but unfortunately back then it was before it was fitted with its Gardner engine.

This left me with a long wait at Dolgellau for a bus to Aberystwyth so I took a ride to Blaenau Ffestiniog on SNL575. I knew that this would be my bus back to Aberystwyth because it was on a diagram unusually operated by three depots: It would set off from Aberystwyth in the early afternoon around 1 p.m. and meet a southbound bus from Dolgellau outside Machynlleth depot. The drivers would change buses then return to their own depot. The Dolgellau bus then did a school bus in Aberystwyth and a Penparcau circular before heading north back to Dolgellau, again swapping drivers with a southbound service only this time at Esgaergeiliog, between Machynlleth and Corris, basically on a straight stretch of the A487 in the middle of nowhere.

In the meantime the Aber bus went beyond Dolgellau on a trip to Blaenau [the one I caught] this time meeting a Blaenau Ffestiniog bus at Trawsfynydd for another driver swap. The Aberystwyth bus would spend a short time at Blaenau before returning to Dolgellau, swapping crews again halfway, before undertaking the return trip to Aberystwyth with another driver swap at Esgaergeiliog as above.

What this meant was I had a terrible day with no VRs and no REs, instead spending most of the day on four Nationals and an Olympian.

My return to Runcorn later that week was I think by British Rail, laden with luggage. A large and very heavy trunk full of books was carried by the Crosville parcels service to Runcorn depot at no charge after I explained my circumstances to the staff at Aberystwyth depot. I can imagine the language used by those involved in loading and unloading it at Aberystwyth, Dolgellau, Wrexham, Chester and Runcorn. Thanks guys.

The following week I was given a staff pass and never had to buy a Wanderer ticket again. As a driver I don’t think I ever issued a Day Wanderer for Crosville but I remember the evening Wanderer being popular for trips to Liverpool, Frodsham and Chester.

This is the back of the Setright ticket. I was never taught what the numbers on the back of the ticket signified. It looks like you could build the date using the elements [i.e. a number between 1 and 31]. But I am guessing. You were supposed to punch them for transfers I think. Any suggestions leading to enlightenment would be welcomed.

Rambling around the Red Rose County

A few posts back I tossed out a couple of photographs from a day riding the buses of Lancashire. Catching the North Western “Timesaver” service 761 from Liverpool to Preston was a free ride with my Crosville staff pass but once there it would not be recognised by any of the local bus companies at the time so a “piece” would be required: a pass for the day to travel wherever the fancy took me.

Happily, in those days there was a County Council initiative where all the bus operators were expected to accept scratchcard tickets sold at bus stations and council offices. The ticket was known as the Red Rose Rambler and was valid for a whole day. The leaflet I have is undated and has the adult day ticket priced at £3.00. I had a few of these over the years but in my box of tickets I don’t appear to have saved the one I must have used in January 1989.

Here’s one from a few years earlier… how ironic that the scratchcard started life in a humble way, offering cheap day tickets on public transport in urban areas and is now sold in millions to poor souls desperate for a big win. Bus tickets, of course, have gone high tech with the ITSO scheme. I don’t know to what extent the Red Rose scheme was taken up by the public but certainly in Merseyside the Saveaway ticket was hugely popular but subject to significant amounts of fraudulent use.

Never used a scratchcard?

I have quite a few scratchcard travel tickets of different types and will present the others along the way. There is a promotional leaflet in the collection too so here goes:

Leaflet cover. No date on the leaflet

Some suggestions for destinations are offered

…and a map showing the limits of validity

Sadly it seems the Red Rose Rambler is no more. Searching for it returns only a few remarks regretting the ticket’s demise. There is a suggestion that it was a “victim of deregulation” but if I had one in 1989 that must have been a delayed effect. The suggestion was made that Ribble withdrew, without whose participation I imagine there would be nothing to join everything up with Ribble providing most of the interurban routes.

There you have it… do you have any memories of the Red Rose Rambler to share?