Saturday, 6 May 2017

Pilning Station

Pilning Station looks to be dying not to put too fine a point on it.  It looks to be more a case of DNR than GWR. In 2016 Pilning was the third least visited station in Britain with just 46 passengers.  Then in October the footbridge was demolished as part of the grand electrification scheme and Platform 2 closed.  She is said to be too unwell to justify the million pounds for a new bridge.  She is just receiving palliative care from now on.  This year she is likely to become the second least used UK station or maybe even the first.  I thought it was time I visited in case she slips away soon. 

A rare sight - a train arrives at Pilning station

Pilning is just south of the Severn Estuary, the first station on the line after trains emerge from the Severn Tunnel.  Just two trains a week call at Pilning, both on a Saturday and both heading towards Taunton from Cardiff.  Miss the second train and you are there for a week.  The village does have a pub and an Indian restaurant but I'm thinking the balti menu may look somewhat less appetising  after a week.

The extensive timetable.  Note how they try to make it look bigger by mentioning the same train twice.

Pilning  rests quietly during the week reminiscing over the 130 years she has been open. She recalls excitement of the day in 1886 when the first steam trains past to enter the Severn Tunnel, John Hawkshaw's hard won achievement of what was to remain the longest underwater tunnel for a hundred years.  The age of steam lasted over eighty years till the diesel stalwarts of my youth like the Warships and the Westerns took over.  And now Pilning wonders if she will live to witness the first electric trains passing by.

Station Facilities

I caught the 8am from Cardiff. The inspector was quite shocked at seeing my ticket saying it was only the second time in 15 years he'll have got off at Pilning to check I alight safely.  We pass the new replacement bridges that span the line, recently installed as part of the electrification process.  Some stanchions are already up and others lie prone on the trackside waiting to be erected. Severn Tunnel Junction station is having money thrown at it  in the form of new infrastructure, which would have made her cousin Pilning, on the opposite bank, quite jealous in younger days.  

Electrification underway

We do indeed stop at Pilning. I was half expecting the driver to sail through forgetfully.  It may have been my eyesight but I'm sure I saw someone board the train as I got off.  The busiest station in Britain is Waterloo with 99 million passengers per year.  It has 22 platforms and listed facilities include shops, public houses, trolleys, ATMs and baby changing facilities - just in case you have grown tired of yours after a long journey.  One thing it doesn't have however is a waiting room.  Well, eat your heart out Waterloo, here in Pilning is a newly painted waiting room.  Well I say waiting room, it is actually an old bus shelter but it would do the job in a downpour. 

The Waiting Room

Most of the rest of the facilities are on the scare side.  It has a timetable board listing train times - both of them.  It rather amusingly has a bin with separate slots for recyclable and general waste which all feed into the same bag underneath.  It's completely empty, or was till I put my banana skin in there.  Could the next visitor check if it is still in there please.  

The bin

Pilning does have friends and family.  Someone has put some boards up on the now closed Platform 2 commemorating the day it opened and closed. There is a photograph of Jonathan King - Friend of Pilning Station who passed away in 2014 and was keen to keep the plight of Pilning station in the public eye.

One of the notice boards welcomes travelers to Pilning station before going on to list facilities it hasn't got.  It even has a Station Manage called Carol.  Having read this I was somewhat disappointed Carol wasn't here to meet me personally, after all there are only two trains a week. She could have made an effort.  I was half tempted to give Carol a call on the number provided to discuss her role.  Where did she see herself in five years time?  Did she have ambitions to move to another station, say Denton in Tameside with 74 passengers a year?  Is stress management one of the courses offered to her by her employees? Fairs fair though, Pilning doesn't look dilapidated.  There are no weeds nor litter so I concluded she's pretty good at what she does.

Before I knew it I was having to put on a spurt to return to Pilning station, just some five hours after I'd arrived, to ensure I didn't miss the 1.35 to  Filton Abbey Wood.  Passengers returning to Cardiff have to catch the train two stops in the wrong direction before getting off and changing platform to pick up a train to Cardiff.  You're not going to believe this but two other people arrived at Pilning station just after me to catch the 1.35 train.  Must be her busiest day of the year. 

Pilning Station in 1961
 (Photo by Ben Brooksbank, Creative Commons Attribution Share-alike license 2.0)
A full collection of photos from the day can be found here: Flickr Album

Monday, 16 May 2016

Sowe Valley footpath

A full collection of photos from this trip can be found in the  Sowe Valley footpath album

Walking the Sowe Valley around Coventry has been on my 'to do' list for quite some time.  With our move away from the city coming ever closer I thought it was about time I got on with exploring it. The final incentive came when I spotted a new geocache published half way along the 8.5 mile route.

I decided to start at the southern end.  That way I would finish at the Greyhound pub in Hawkesbury Junction.  Where better to be aiming for on a sunny Sunday afternoon.

The only information I could find on the Sowe Valley footpath was a 15 year old leaflet.  It sketches out the route along the winding River Sowe in the form of a picture map.  There's mention of the footpath at the southern end being extended to take in Stonebridge Meadows Nature Reserve but I couldn't find any confirmation that this had occurred.  I decided therefore to park in Whitley and try to see if it was possible to walk south to Stonebridge Meadows. It's not.  It's a building site for the extension of the Jaguar works.

Sowe Valley footpath route

The walk for proper therefore started back in the peaceful Whitley Grove woods.  Unusually for Coventry it has some quite undulating paths.  The leaflet describes how the stone used to construct the original Coventry Cathedral was quarried here.

I've been to many of the locations along the Sowe Valley previously but at the same time I was pleasantly surprised how many of the locations were new to me.  After crossing the London Road I was in Willenhall Brookstay which included lovely narrow paths and trees full of blossom to a playing field with a Sunday morning football match in full swing.

Trees in blossom in Willenhall,a sight replicated regularly along the footpath.
After going under the main London to Birmingham railway line the path briefly crosses Allard Way via a of subways to take in Lindfield Park.

Lindfield Park

The other thing that surprised me was the large amount of greenspace adjacent to this path.  I suppose in a way I should be reassured.  Rivers after all flood and therefore space has to be kept free to allow for these natural occurrences.  For much of the Sowe Valley footpath you almost forget you are walking through the heart of a city.

Stoke Floods Nature Reserve, apparently formed when the nearby Binley coal works caused the land to subside. Subsidence isn't always a bad thing. 

My big moan of the day concerns signage.  If I had had a decent map or an electronic route I could have downloaded to my GPS then signage wouldn't necessarily have been important. In some places the signage was reasonable, in other places it only pointed in one direction, the direction from which I had already walked.  In other places it pointed in three directions.  Ahhhhhh!  And yes I did choose the wrong direction and ended up in Aldermans Green at one stage before backtracking.

Confusing signage on the Sowe Valley footpath

One of the  highlights of the day for me were probably the two lakes, Stoke Floods and Wyken Slough.  Why is it named Wyken Slough when Wyken is a long way away?  The other highlight was the blossoms.  Oh how I love May.  I with the whole year was like May sometimes.

I do love May!
Coal mining is closely associated with Coventry though there is little sign of any remains of the industry now within the city.  A significant part of this footpath is based on old mine works, and offers a stark contrast to these past activities.

Wyken Slough, a reclaimed former coal mine.
After passing Wyken Slough the path loops around, goes under the M6 and then I am back on familiar territory i.e. a short section of the Oxford Canal up to Hawkesbury Junction and the Greyhound at Sutton Stop.  The excursion at the beginning to Stonebridge Meadows and a couple of navigational errors probably made it a ten mile walk in total.

All credit to Coventry Council, the Friends of Sowe Valley and Warwickshire Wildlife Trust Warwickshire Wildlife Trust for keeping this footpath and its surroundings well-maintained.  Thanks.

Relaxing outside the Greyhound with a pint of Tunnel IPA at the end of the walk.

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Riding Europe's longest Urban Bus route.

Launched in 2013, Coventry's number 360  circular bus route claims to be Europe's longest urban bus route at 31 miles.  Some may wonder if the route was deliberately devised just to topple Birmingham's number 11 from that position.

The single decker version of the 360.  The route operates with both singe and double decker buses.

The route of the 360 bus

Not only is it longer than Birmingham's route but it's quite different in character.  Whereas the Birmingham route takes in a variety of urban housing styles and different neighborhoods in terms of ethnicity and wealth, the Coventry route is striking in that its sameness.  Coventry like Birmingham has wonderfully ethnically diverse neighborhoods but the Coventry route all but mainly misses them out.  Instead the bus travels though numerous pre- and post-war housing developments.  Anyone with an interest in the history of city planning would have a field day on this bus.

I chose to start and end my journey in Greyswood Avenue.  At £3.80 for a day out it's not bad value for money.

As for the present, and an insight into the future, the route visits four key sites, Warwick University campus, the Jaguar-Land Rover Research Centre at Whitley, the University Hospital at Walsgrave and the Ricoh Arena. 

As for sites of historical significance then you have to have your wits about you to find them.  I am indebted to friend and local historian Dave Fry for drawing my attention to many of these.

My journey started in the Coundon area of the city by walking up the Holyhead Road, built by Thomas Telford to replace the Allesley Old Road that took traffic out of Coventry towards Birmingham.

The route goes through the suburbs of Eastern Green and Tile Hill where there is a station on the London to Birmingham West Coast Mainline for any bus devotees who want to arrive by train too ride this bus route.

I spotted the relief sculpture on St Christopher's school of St Christopher himself.  I was past it before I could photograph it so here's one I took earlier. 

The bell tower of St Oswald's Anglican church, one of a number of churches in the city designed by Basil Spence who also designed the new Coventry Cathedral.

It was striking that the only significant building development I saw on the trip was at Warwick University which seems to continue to grow year after year.  It only started life in the mid-1960s but now has over 25,000 students, a third of which come from overseas.  I wonder how many of them still expect Warwick University to be in Warwick rather than Coventry.

The 'Let's Not Be Stupid' sculpture by Richard Deacon at Warwick University

The Arts Centre at Warwick University - an asset to the whole city, not just the university.  Film, music and theatre buffs value this venue.
After the university the bus visits the Canley shopping centre picking up a significant number of passengers before heading along Kenpas Highway, part of Coventry's outer ring road with its innovative design idea's like broad cycle paths separated from the road, sadly not copied in other parts of the city (see, I told you that you had to be an urban planning devotee to fully appreciate this ride!)

Its then into the suburbs of Cheylesmore and into Jaguar at Whitley.  I alight here for the second time and head off to see a few sites of historic significance.

The JLR Whitley site site has a long engineering history starting life as an airfield before becoming a centre for military aircraft, missiles and then car manufacturing.

Another great asset for the city but one that seems to have become a victim of its own success.  Car parking here is obviously a huge issue and you see crammed car parks and streams of people walking down from Whitley.
The Whitley Abbey Bridge over the River Sherbourne is now closed to traffic and used to form part of the London to Coventry road, again before Thomas Telford kindly built a new one.
A commemorative stone and plaque in memory of the seven men of the Royal Engineers 9th Bomb Disposal Company who lost their lives when an unexploded German bomb removed from the city centre exploded whilst being unloaded near this spot.
From here you are treated to another dose of suburbia as you pass through Willenhall and Ernesford Grange with few signs of history unless you keep your eyes peeled for another Basil Spence church in Willenhall.

A couple of old weavers cottages in St Jame's Lane, Willenhall, would have been a nicer photograph if it hadn't been bin day.
The next point I alight is the University Hospital, mainly because I have to.  The 360 bus stops here and the clockwise changes into the anticlockwise and visa-versa.  Why?  I've no idea.  I wondered whether it was to stop the drivers getting giddy.  A friend suggested it was to even out tyre wear on the buses.

Another place that seems to suffer from huge traffic problems.  You can't help but think that the design stage of this development didn't go quite right.
Time for a spot of lunch and I escape the bedlam of the hospital and the road construction going on there and head over to the tranquil setting of Caludon Castle. There's not much of it left and in fact the truth is that it wasn't a castle at all, not of a moated country mansion for the landowners.

Caludon Castle
I could have rejoined the 360 close to Caludon Park but thought I should make the effort to ride every last bit of it so walked back up to the hospital and caught it there.  This next section took me through Wyken, Courthouse Green and Little Heath or in my case Memory Lane.  I past a house I used to rent in Sewall Highway and then later the old Courtaulds factory site in Little Heath that used to manufacture cellulose acetate for cigarette tips where I worked for a while.

My fourth stop of the day was at the Ricoh Arena home of Coventry City football club and Wasps Rugby club.  The arena is now owned by Wasps but the football club have to rent it off them.  I walk back toward the bus stop passing the brand new train station that's about to open any day but even this is somewhat controversial as trains won't currently be running near to match times for safety reasons.  The was a hope that extra rolling stock could be secured but that's presently proving difficult.

Sky Blue's colours still very much in evidence inside the ground but I doubt it will be long before the gold and black of Wasps RFC appear here.  

A rather fine statue of Coventry City player and chairman Jimmy Hill stands outside the ground.  He is probably better known to many as the BBC Match of the Day anchorman for many years. 
And so I board the 360 for my final leg of this 31 mile circular tour of the city and travel through Holbrooks and Whitmore Park and call in at Cardinal Newman school as it disgorges it's pupils.  Our batch of kids are deposited at various stops throughout Coundon and by the time I get off, at my original starting point in Greyswood Avenue, the bus is all but empty.

So has the 360 attained the cult status of Birmingham's number 11 outer circle?  I don't think it has as yet but maybe one day it will. Until then it will be a functional bus for those shoppers, hospital patients, workers and pupils who live on its 31.5 mile route.

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Coventry Way

Having recently completed the Heart of England Way I thought about what other paths near home I could tackle.  The obvious one was the Coventry Way, a 40 mile waymarked track circling the city but never actually encroaching on the suburbs.  The path joins up many of the villages surrounding the city, a surprising number of which start with the letter B such as Bubbenhall, Brinklow, Bedworth, Barnacle, Berkswell, Burton Green..... 

The Oxford Canal at Ansty

I've walked the Coventry Way a couple of times previously, both in an anticlockwise direction.  Around ten years ago I followed the series of circular walks in the very fine Coventry Way guidebook that enables the individual to complete the Way over 20 individual trips out.  Then in 2008 I walked the Coventry Way in one go as part of the annual organised event in what was pretty poor walking conditions.  It's the longest walk I've ever done. Other events around the city were cancelled due to flooding but the event went ahead.  I'm not convinced I'll be tackling something that challenging again anytime soon.
Bedworth Water Tower
This time I chose to tackle the path clockwise over two longish stretches (Corley Moor to Brinklow and Brinklow to Kenilworth and a few shorter walks). The Coventry Way shares its route with the Heart of England Way for a shortish section in the Meriden area so I missed that bit out.

A frosty morning near Wolston

The path is well maintained and there's an active team of people who go out monthly to carry out repairs and replace stiles with kissing gates.  The only conurbation to speak of that the walker encounters is Bedworth where a bit of careful navigation though some modern estates is required with the water tower acting as a navigation aid.  Apart from that the only other sections of road walking to speak of are in the Stoneleigh area broken up by some fine meadows.

We've got our eyes on ewe - near Bubbenhall.
An old railway line, now converted into the Kenilworth Greenway, gives the walker a break from the need to navigate.  The Greenway has been extended at the eastern end in recent years and the Coventry Way diverted to take this in and avid a section of read walking.  The HS2 development however hangs over the area.  There's also a section of canal towpath walking in the north east near Brinklow which also has the main train line running alongside.  The hedged-in bridleway between Brinklow and Bretford is a favourite of mine.

Some admirable grafitti in Bedworth

The rest of the Coventry Way is mainly through open fields, mainly arable, some with sheep or horses.  I don't think I encountered any cattle but then again its winter so maybe they are all indoors by now.  It's a pretty flat path, only sometimes climbing and giving you a view distant view.    

Square Lane Fishing Pool near Corley Ash

The path is well served by public transport with regular services connecting Coventry to Bedworth, Brinklow, Kenilworth and Meriden and no doubt a few more places en-route.  I only used a bus once myself back from Brinklow which worked out just fine.  The cafe lover however is going to be disappointed.  I think a coffer in the sweet shop in Ryton is all I managed all the way round.  There are however plenty of pubs to choose from.

One of the steepest slopes you'll see!
For the history lover the path takes you through the remains of Brinklow Castle and quite a few old church years such as Meriden and Bubbenhall.  Throw in some old stone bridges and ponds and you've a fine series of walks indeed.  Thanks to all those who work hard to maintain this route.
Bridge over Smite Brook north of Brinklow
Stone bridge near Stoneleigh
Sign in Bedworth.  We didn't see any but that may have been becasue of the weather...

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Heart of England Way - Part 7 - Chipping Campden to Bourton on the Water

A cold, frosty, bright and still day.  A perfect day for walking.  An early start too as daylight is short at this time of year.  Well done to Chipping Campden for still allowing street parking.  I made a stuttering start, having to return to the car to get my gaiters and then missing the path.  Over some horsey fields and I was soon at Broad Campden though I'm still confused as to why there was no HoEW waymarking on this first stretch.

Some frosty topiary in Broad Campden
The HoEW gets more undulating at this southern end of the path and there's no doubt I am entering the Cotswolds.  The sandy coloured building are everywhere.  It was very different walking to last weeks mud.  A drier week and a hard frost made for easy walking,  Gone are the leather boots and I'm back in lightweight walking shoes.

The frost is hanging around well into the morning
I wonder if they realised this would make a good picture when they put the bike there?
On arriving in Blockley I spied a village coffee shop.  Who'd have expected a coffee shop in a small village in mid-winter to be packed but packed it was.  I think they've found a winning formula. 

I can heartily recommend the caramel slices
  Between Blockley and Bourton-on-the-Hill there were indeed a few hills to climb, a few geocaches to find and even a hunt out with the hounds.  After a short road section in Bourton the path turns due south and passes through the Sezincote Estate with its Indian style manor house.

Sezincote House

The last section of the Heart of England Way passes through a series of typical Cotswold villages, straight off the front of a chocolate box.

Long afternoon shadows and Lower Slaughter church
End of the Way at Bourton on the Water
I had miscalculated the distance today and had set off very early thinking it was a twenty mile stretch but it turned out to be only fifteen miles so I arrived earlier than expected. I had a hunt around to see if there was anything to signify it was the end/start of the HoEW but never found anything.  

My mind went back to my childhood when we used to come here occasionally to see my grandparents who came here on holidays each year.  I remember one year they said I could have a present from the shops.  I saw a flower press and asked for that but it never materialised. 

After a very quick look around the town I jumped on a bus that took me to Morton in Marsh and then another back to Chipping Campden arriving just as the sun was setting.

Walking the Heart of England Way has been a very enjoyable experience.  I've been lucky with a string of fine weather days on weekends.  I used OS Explorer maps and also had the route downloaded onto my GPS.  I found the HoEW guide by Stephen Cross a useful resource.  Although I didn't carry it with me I found the background information on the places I passed through most interesting.  The information it contained on transport links was also most helpful.