Cruising the Cambrian Coast

Bristol style

Continuing the progress of the party which was following the Crosville D94 route through the middle of Wales on a particularly appropriate and authentic vehicle of the 1980s, we last looked at the little village of Llandderfel by the Dee. From there we headed for Dolgellau via Bala. Bala is a busy ribbon along the A494 and so is not a good place to stop when there is tourist traffic. A bus stopped on the carriageway can cause tailbacks and the resulting photos are correspondingly cluttered. On quiet days pleasant views can be had.

At Dolgellau we paused in Eldon Square where the main bus stop for the town can be found. On sunny days the square is unfavourably oriented and the sun will spoil your pictures… as it did on this particular day, so we took ERG280 on a lap of honour around the town’s little one-way system to catch the sun in the right direction. The day’s variable lighting is evident in this view of what English people call Smithfield Street. Looks like some sort of tragic incident occurred here the previous Christmas.

ERG280 in the spotlight entering Dolgellau along Ffos-y-Felin

After Dolgellau we made our way along the tricky narrow road on the north bank of the Mawddach estuary to the terminus of the D94 at Barmouth. Sadly, we found that the bus terminus has been moved from its traditional park along the wall of the Cambrian Coast railway line near to the level crossing [as featured in hundreds of photos down the years]. There is a replacement bus parking area but with a rather bland backdrop of seaside flats that I won’t bore you with. It was a useful lunch stop before we moved along gently via the coast road northwards towards Blaenau Ffestiniog.

In the 1980s Crosville’s YFM-L batch of REs, of which ERG280 is evidently one, became concentrated in West Wales. One or two could often be found operating out of Dolgellau and its outstations at Barmouth and Tywyn. There was a good chance of one on the R38 which operated between Barmouth and Maentwrog, a tiny village situated at an important confluence of strategic routes at the north end of Cardigan Bay. The bus interchange was at the top of the hill beyond the village of Maentwrog at Tan y Bwlch, outside the Oakeley Arms pub. Up on the hillside above is Tan y Bwlch station on the Ffestiniog Railway. I once had the idea of taking a bus up there [as Crosville used to in the 1970s with their Bristol SCs based at Blaenau] but when I wrote to the Ffestiniog Railway asking whether it was possible to turn a bus at the station in the 2000s, I received a rather stern reply warning me not to try.

So after a seaside lunch of fish and chips we were on our way north. Beyond Harlech it was too good a location not to pull over for a photo with the hilltop castle looming behind in peculiar light. The atmosphere provided some texture in the background too, which was nice.

Those poles should be edited out really

Looks like the D94 got a bit lost there but in truth we didn’t have a destination on the blind to use. We had more luck on arrival at Maentwrog.

Scene of many a Crosville photo, “Maentwrog Interchange”

ERG280, though strictly a Wrexham bus, looks at home here. Buses came from Pwllheli, Porthmadog, Dolgellau, Barmouth and Blaenau Ffestiniog and all those bases had members of this batch on allocation at one time or another. Many an MW, RE or LH came by, SCs too, though I never saw one in service in Wales through being too young and I haven’t seen one photographed here.

I have quite a few shots of venerable Crosville vehicles at Maentwrog but probably the most remarkable was Crewe’s SRG191 which went on holiday in West Wales in the summer of 1985 before going home to die. I rode it along the same route we followed in ERG280 but in July 1985 when it was operating out of Barmouth.

SRG191 at the Oakeley arms on 25th July 1985

SRG191 operated variously out of Dolgellau, Barmouth, Blaenau Ffestiniog, Pwllheli [and Porthmadog outstation] and Holyhead [at least] in 1985. I have a photo of it at Aberystwyth working in from Dolgellau. After gallivanting around Wales all summer it was back at Crewe by the winter. All the remaining Crewe dual door SRGs were withdrawn when the new EOGs entered service on the Coastliner service on the first Sunday of 1986. The ENLs displaced from the L1 were sent to Cheshire, mostly Crewe but also Northwich as I remember.

I will leave you with a link to flickr where a few photos of Maentwrog over the years are hosted, including one of sister ERG277.

Once is never enough

You may remember a short while ago my recent and very brief stop at Llandderfel in pursuit of a Lloyds of Machynlleth Scania…

Lloyds on Traws Cymru T3 at Llandderfel

…and how I had accumulated photos of Crosville REs at the same location over the years. I present this evening some photos taken when a small group of intrepid enthusiasts took a preserved Crosville RE along the old D94 route which is now the T3 on which Lloyds operate.

Crosville dual purpose Bristol RELL6G ERG280 is a familiar sight on the road at transport events and has been used for a few private outings over the years. In its day it was allocated to Wrexham depot and, though not a regular performer on the D94 in my experience, I am sure that it must have operated the service many times during its long life at Wrexham. In September 2008 we followed the D94 route to the sea at Barmouth from Wrexham railway station, which was the official starting point of many journeys back in the day. The service was joined up from several shorter routes to replace the Ruabon to Barmouth railway service in the 1960s after the infamous Beeching cuts.

I read recently that the route was 67 miles from end to end and would be a full day’s work when a driver did a round trip.

In my other piece on this part of the world I mentioned that I used to ask the driver to allow me to leave the bus at the war memorial while the bus ran to the village and back, when I would get a picture of the approaching bus and get back on. On the occasion of the 2008 visit, there was no need for that because we were in control of events… so to cover the route in full I guided the bus into the village.

Llandderfel village square is no longer the official stop!

Back in the 1980s the bus would turn round in the square and, on reversing, would be unfavourably oriented for photography, with the sun behind. As can be seen here, I have done my best with strong sunlight coming from the left but the shadows spoil the shot somewhat. There was another problem… unknown to the party on the bus, the bus stop in Llandderfel had been moved away from the village to the road behind, with a turning circle provided up the hill beyond. This meant that motorists had no need to keep the square clear for buses every day and we had parked cars to contend with.

Ultimately, the blue car seen here belonged to hill walkers who were out and about, making it impossible for the bus to turn right when reversed. The shrubbery seen to the left of the frame is adjacent to a wall on the bank of the River Dee which was closer to the bus than it may appear here. There was nothing else but to edge forward and then reverse out of the village the way we came in, to the bewilderment of the few souls milling around.

ERG280 returning from the turning point now provided at Llandderfel

After making use of the new turning circle we were free to head back to the war memorial.

ERG280 on its return to Llandderfel war memorial

Though the sun is more favourable here, there are still strong shadows in summer to contend with. We got the shot anyway.

Corwen depot’s regular performer in 1985, ERG276

ERG280 went all the way to Barmouth that morning calling at Dolgellau along the way. There is more to relate but a break is compulsory at Barmouth [unless operating out of Dolgellau or Corwen] so this will be in another episode. If you have any photos or memories of the D94 or its successor services, feel free to add comments or links below.

As seen in 1969

This beauty has been the talk of the Bristol fan groups over the last week or two after participating in a Royal Blue commemorative road run along the south coast of England.

Its frequent appearances in the forums had me reminiscing about my now very distant childhood, rather more than 50 years ago when the same bus looked very much like this: not, as now, because of a painstaking restoration but because it was still fresh out of Lowestoft. It was the first bus I became familiar with because of its special colour scheme and luxury seating and it made a big impression on me at a tender age.

As far as I can make out I started school in October 1968, at the start of the half term before my 5th birthday. At the time I lived 500 yards from my school and would be collected at lunchtime and taken home to be fed. This was after an incident with school dinner prunes I had better not go into in case any of you were thinking of eating soon. The walk home was all downhill but sometimes if we were a bit late I would be taken back to school on the bus… ERG53, mostly.

At the time it was the newest single door vehicle on allocation at Crosville’s Runcorn depot. New in June, it spent a short time at Heswall before settling at Runcorn. It was usually selected to operate the 144 service [joint with North Western, hence the unCrosville-like route number] to Northwich.

The 144 times as they were in 1968

It so happened that the 1307 departure from Runcorn coincided with my need to climb Bridge Street to Delph Bridge which was just by my school. So I remember the excitement of seeing it coming along and how I sat on the side-facing fuzzy green seats with their swirly pattern. It was all shiny and very modern-looking!

All my earliest memories are of bus rides. The Widnes Corporation PD2s to Hough Green on Thursdays to visit my grandmother; a Bristol K to Weston Point to accompany my father as he went to collect his pay packet from Castner’s gates. The dual purpose Bristol MW in a similar livery to ERG53 here that was waiting to take us back. They all made their mark.

The Runcorn bus network in 1967, before the new town was built

In 1969 we moved to a larger house away from the town centre which was good because it meant more bus rides! Our local routes in that year were operated mainly by elderly LD6Bs which were soon replaced by brand new one-man RELLs with centre exits. My bus to school, though, was a schoolday extra, the J16, which could turn up any old bus. The demoted LDs would still come along on this trip, and some elderly MWs, with stitched leather seats rather than Rexine, were regularly used.

Coaches also appeared relatively often and the most memorable event was the appearance [I can still visualise it in slow motion] of brand new RELH6L CRL261 [TFM261K] in the summer term of 1972 when I was 8. I boarded at the stop across the road and my mother was on the doorstep waving me off. She was amused at how astonished I was. The TFM-K batch was the last to be delivered in Crosville’s classic cream and black livery, in fact only the first arrivals were so painted, the latter examples arriving in National Express white. The ones that were cream were quickly repainted so that by the autumn the whole batch was white. Any photo or sighting of them is to be cherished!

But my abiding memories of ERG53 are its regular appearances in my street from 1969-71, early in the morning on a works service that started its daily diagram. I had the bedroom overlooking the street and would go to the window to watch the buses go by. As I grew up I could predict when favourite buses would return as I got to understand the trip lengths, frequencies and interworking with other routes. But I would be up and out of bed before anyone else to watch ERG53 glide down the road. I think my last ride on it in Runcorn was in 1971 or 1972 on the J17 service. I still remember standing watching as it drove away up Heath Road until it disappeared beyond the traffic lights and into the distance, the three rear windows in the cream upper half of the livery that marked it out as a special bus. As 53 left Runcorn to work on the Cymru Coastliner service, brand new Seddons arrived, painted in the same livery [with a bigger, brighter, more modern-looking fleetname] because of their dual purpose seating. I liked them too but 53 remained in my memory as an absent friend.

Later, in 1977, I would finally be reunited with her in the PMT depot at Biddulph. The depot was shared with Crosville who assumed the North Western operations around the town when that company was fragmented in 1972. ERG53 later moved with her Crosville stable mates from Biddulph to an outstation on the site of Congleton’s cattle market until withdrawal in 1981 as I remember it.

After service with Crosville, ERG53 spent time with Liverpool Community Transport doing hires for community groups and schools, which saved it from being scrapped as most of the batch were [although sister ERG52 also survives at Birkenhead]. But it was to be a long time between rides on the old girl.

August 2012 and I attended the Bristol bus rally for only the second time and found ERG53 also attending. Having caught a Bristol MW to the Avon Valley Railway on the shuttle service, I was waiting for a suitable vehicle to take me back to the rally site when what should appear? I was able to take a photo on its approach using a telephoto from a bridge over the road. Looking back at the photo now I am struck by the unusual view of the cream roof and rooflights from my elevated vantage point… just like watching from my bedroom back in 1969.

To make an enjoyable weekend complete I was then able to travel back to Bristol on 53, my first ride on her in 40 years.

Then and now [2]

As a sequel to the previous post, the same day I took the photo of Lloyds newfangled Optare whatsit on the X28 at Comins Coch I had earlier driven from Corwen to Dolgellau along the former Crosville D94 route. This now calls itself Traws Cymru T3.

Having scoped out the current timetable for the T3 service in advance, travelling from Cheshire via Llandegla and arriving just ahead of a departure from Corwen for Dolgellau, I set off in the direction of Llandrillo to lie in wait and snap it entering the village.

A surprise was in store when it arrived for, as well as arriving very promptly, it was a double decker. I have had the pleasure of a round trip to Aberystwyth on Crosville Wales Bristol VRs via this route back in the 1990s but haven’t been along by service bus since so it was pleasing to see another decker in use after all this time. This is a former Go-Ahead Scania Omnidekka now with Lloyds Coaches. It is seen cresting the bridge over the River Ceidiog which comes down from the Berwyns [over there to our right] to join the River Dee over to the left a bit.

The driver seemed in a bit of a hurry so I dashed back to the car in the little car park across the road to give chase. Expecting to pass the bus waiting time in Llandrillo village, I found myself instead in pursuit of a bus that was well on its way.

Knowing the route well enough I realised that the service would then involve a double run to Llandderfel allowing me to snap it as it came back to the war memorial overlooking the River Dee. I have taken a few photos in this location in bygone days when I used to travel between Aberystwyth and the family home by Crosville bus. Though a fair bit slower than going by train it was much cheaper on a £3.15 Day Wanderer ticket. Moreover, there was a good chance of a long and enjoyable ride on one of Corwen depot’s Bristol RELL dual purpose saloons into the bargain.

A recurrent theme of these pages, on the subject of travelling with Crosville in Wales, will be the kindly co-operative drivers who would pull over to allow me to photograph the bus somewhere interesting. In the case of Llandderfel, the village square where the bus turned was poorly oriented for photography, the sun being behind the bus as it reversed, so I used to ask the driver if I could jump out at the war memorial, leave the bus to go to the village and back, then get the picture of it on its return to the junction and jump back on. I was never refused.

ERG276 operating out of Crosville’s Corwen depot, seen at Llandderfel on the 9th of January 1985

Here are two similar black and white views of Corwen’s ERG276 operating the D94 weeks apart in 1985. The first one was in snow with harsh, low sun on my return to Aberystwyth after the Christmas holidays in January 1985. The second was after a weekend visit home on the 14th of March in rather duller weather.

…and again on the 14th of March 1985

Back to the 21st Century and I am in pursuit of the Lloyds Scania… at the last minute, approaching the war memorial in my car, it seemed there would be nowhere to park in the narrow lanes… but fortunately there was a gate to a field with a little recess in front. Climbing out of the car, the approaching bus could be seen over the stone walls….

Luckily the driver spotted me as I dashed over the road to get the shot and stopped abruptly so I could get the picture. I would later catch up with the bus again but that’s for another day.

So there you have it, two Lloyds buses snapped on the same day in exactly the same place as their Crosville forebears, 36 years previously, on the same routes [albeit now renumbered]. The other post showing the Lloyds X28 and Crosville S14 is linked on this page below and to the side.

There are more of these contemporary takes on 1980s photos to come as well as a host of other photos and facsimiles of transport publicity material and tickets. Sign up alongside to be notified of each post and benefit from forthcoming extra HD e-publications with full-screen photos. These presentation files will not be shown on this site but distributed to subscribers only.

Not all it seems…

Ribble 800 at Burnley on 30th January 1989

I’m standing well back here and zooming in with my 135mm lens. Probably trespassing on the tarmac at Burnley bus station. The boarding passengers give me dark stares.

Telephoto compression adds to the illusion. This B-series Leyland National is 11.3m long, which of course wasn’t an option for the mark 1 National. Because this is not a mark 1 National, it is Ribble 800, the prototype mark 2 National as exhibited at the 1978 Motor Show at the NEC near Birmingham. It was fitted with a radiator and fan at the rear, like the mark 1 model, but production models had the radiator at the front to give the trademark bulge, a more curved and inclined windscreen and an extra 0.3m in length.

Built in 1978, it was given over to Ribble to be tested in service in February 1979 and operated out of Burnley depot. In 1980 its O.690 engine [a modified engine based on the O.680 I believe] was replaced with an L11 engine. The only National I drove with an L11 [or perhaps a TL11] was North Western 310 [LFR869X] and that was more powerful than most Nationals I drove but had the advantage of being a metre shorter than most Nationals. I think that, despite the L11 option, most Mark 2s ended up with O.680 engines until Leyland succumbed to pressure to offer the National with a Gardner engine.

The advertising livery it wore was bright yellow. If you like pretty colour pictures, I found one here.

By the time I caught this bus and rode on it to Blackburn it was over ten years old and hundreds of production models were in service. At the time, North Western were running much older ex-Ribble RESLs on town services in Blackburn in competition with the municipal bus company. This was the era of the Bus Wars where companies would register routes in competitors’ territory in an attempt to cause them financial ruin. Sometimes it led to their own.

In January 1989 we were two years into the deregulated era and it was hard to keep up with changes in the industry, they were coming so thick and fast. But word got around and no doubt I was tipped off that there were some Bristol rides to be had so an investigation on a rest day was arranged.

It was evident that Blackburn were under pressure with the town full of buses in different colours. Some, as you would expect, were from Hyndburn who had always shared the route from Accrington. But the 46 route between the two towns had a new competitor in the form of Battrick and Brown, trading as M&E Coaches, who were running ex-United Counties Bristol REs in competition on the main arterial route. The option of an RE ride was usually the best on offer and my notes tell me I rode on SBD219M, a Plaxton coach, and flat-screen ECW bus URP343H that day as well as a RESL new to Ribble in North Western colours.

M&E Coaches’ former UCOC RELH SBD219M with typical mismatched number blinds and paper sign in the windscreen for destination display

In the illustration above, North Western RESL6L no. 395, on which I had just made a scenic circuit around Shadsworth housing estate, sits behind the RELH which then carried me to Accrington.

I suspect this day was facilitated by a Red Rose Rambler ticket, a ticket which I think was co-ordinated by Lancashire County Council and permitted a day’s freedom within the county boundaries on all operators. The moves into and out of Lancashire were provided by North Western’s 761 Liverpool-Blackpool service on which my Crosville staff pass was valid. If I turn up the ticket or a promotional leaflet as I rifle through my boxes I will add it here.

Blackburn Borough Transport saw off the competition but sold out to Transdev Blazefield in 2007 who rebranded the buses “Lancashire United” before later backtracking and branding buses operating in the town “The Blackburn Bus Company”. All the M&E REs were sold by June 1990. I don’t know whether operations continued beyond that time.

Timetable design

As I have mentioned before, one of the things I like most about old publicity is the graphic design. In the late 1960s Crosville ran a splendid pictorial map on the front of their timetables and I have a few in my collection, including this one from Wrexham and district in 1969:

Crosville’s delightful 1960s timetable cover illustration.

You may have noticed the similarity in the typography here on this site. It is no accident! My favourite detail in the illustration is the alpine man in Snowdonia. And the Bristol RE in Crosville’s “dual purpose” colour scheme of a few years before, of course.