Sunday, 22 October 2017

A Tortuous Trundle To Towcester (3)

Notes On The Cotes
We have been enjoying a bus ride between Northampton and Towcester, not using the traditional main road route (89) or the newer service via Swan Valley Industry and the later super-duper A34 (route 88); but on tendered service 87 operated by Country Lion.
We have already looped via Pattishall (last Friday) and Fosters Booth, but just before this wiggle, the map shows Eastcote; but just before that Cote is Dalscote ...
... a blink and you'll miss it community.
Wikipedia has very little to say ...

There is a car-body repair workshop there but no other amenities.

... so we move on to Eastcote.
In this part of the county, Northamptonshire's well-known golden sandstone gives way to a lighter limestone, equally pleasant to the eye. Just beyond Fosters Booth and across the A5 is Grimscote, but we turn left to Astcote, a mixture of old, renovated and (usually) tastefully designed modern property.
Our service 87 then wiggles out on to the A5. It is hard o countenance that this was once the main Roman Road to the north west and subsequently the main route for all vehicles to places as far away a Holyhead.
It was Thomas Telford ...
... who adapted most of the Roman route from London to Wroxeter (near Shrewsbury) and continued it via his Menai bridge and on to Holyhead. But, near Towcester, it is now relatively quiet, having been superseded by the dreaded M1.
We turn tight off the A5 to Duncote, just missing Caldecote between the A5 and Tiffield. Duncote is another "blink and you'll miss it" community with a gorgeous higgledy-piggledy collection of properties with different styles and ages from pre planning permission days.
And so to Greens Norton where much loved independent Basford had their depot. The shed is still there ...
... but the yard is now occupied by two "bijou" cottages.
And so, on to Towcester ...
... where the 87 loops via the outer "layer" of newer housing (Springfields and Highfields) ...
... before coming to rest back on our old friend the A5 in the centre of the town.
We have just missed Heathencote and Wood Burcote; but the stop shown above is not quite the end. Onward and Upward to Tesco!
Our 87 runs via the "old" A43 Northampton Road serving a newish chunk of housing between there and the new A43, where ...
... all the roads are named after racing car drivers! To add to the fun, if Streetview is to be believed, the bus stop is on the wrong side of the road.
At the top of the hill our "virtual" bus turns sharp left to find its way back to Tesco, also on the old A5 ...
... entrance seen here looking back to the A43 junction.

If we can persuade Country Lion to stop, we could walk a short way up the old Northampton Road ...
... and just before it comes to a sticky end, we have no choice but to turn right to Hulcote.
The "cote" ending to the village names is from "cott" as in cottage, but fbb has no idea why Towcester should have accumulated so many localities with names derived from just one such hereditament.

Perhaps they were the far flung residences of some snivelling minions in service to a Lord of the Manor, somewhere.
Whoops, fbb forgot Field Burcote. It is up a no through road from Duncote (see above) and its main claim to fame is a stud of Alpacas.
A joyous ride with plenty to experience, BUT, with Northamptonshire's decision to cut its remaining funding for bus services,
The budget savings due to be discussed by cabinet this week include a review of Northamptonshire libraries, changes to the highways maintenance programme, a reduction in funding for Trading Standards and Corby children’s centres, and the removal of bus subsidies.

County council leader Councillor Heather Smith (Con, Oundle) said: “There is no denying that there are difficult decisions to be made, and the proposals we have before us will undoubtedly have an impact on local communities.

Not so much Frayed Ends as a complete scalping! Northampton Correspondent Alan is on the case on behalf of the local us Users' Group but so far he has only received a clutch of "holding" e-mails. Presumably the Council has not even started to consider the detail.

Will the 87 survive the chop?

 Next Monday miscellany blog : Monday 23rd October 

Saturday, 21 October 2017

A Tortuous Trundle To Towcester (2)

It is painful to reminisce about tragedy on the railways but the accident at Hixon in January 1968 began a long running and controversial debate about the safety of automatic level crossings.
The haulage company Wynns were moving a huge transformer from Stafford for storage at the former Hixon airfield.
Hixon Station closed in 1947

The route was tortuous; north to Stone then back south on the A51. The long and heavy low loader with tractor units front and rear turned left off the A51 ...
... and very quickly found itself on the level crossing. The approaching train (from Manchester to London) triggered lights and barriers but the vehicle could not get out of the way in time.
The train, travelling at 95 mph, struck the rear of the unit and threw the transformer to one side ...
... leaving the loco and front carriages of the badly damaged. Eleven people lost their lives. It was clear that the drivers of the transporter and the escort police had not been adequately briefed about safety issues ...
... and did not warn "the signalman". Signs and procedures were improved, but still there is anxiety every time there is an accident at an automatic crossing.

It was not until 2002 that the Hixon Crossing was replaced by a bridge. From the west the old piece of road is now a farm track ...
... and the site of the crossing can be glimpsed from the diverted road.
Where once there were gates controlled by a signal box, and later the ill-fated barriers, there is just a very strong grey fence.
But when Streetview nipped down the cu-de-sac from the east, the old road markings were still present.
The problem at Banbury Lane (south of Rothersthorpe on bus service 87 between Northampton and Towcester) was more likely to be sheep rather than huge low loaders.
Getting a herd of recalcitrant ovine beasties over a level crossing will also involve a call to the signalman and, fbb guesses, strong pressure to choose a time when the busy main line is quieter than usual.

And might that be a Basfords of Greens Norton bus on the far side of the crossing?

But here, too, the crossing has been replaced by a bridge. Here is the working crossing with its barriers and flashing lights viewed from the hump backed bridge over the canal.
Here is the closed and fenced-off crossing still working!
And a view from the new bridge back towards the "white cottage".
Turning to the right, the graceful, nay picturesque, new bridges over canal and railway can be seen.
A map extract explains all. 
But there is an oddity here. Why is there single lane and apparently permanent traffic light control over the two new bridges?
Are they falling down already?

There is debate on this matter on-line (here)

We will complete our bus ride tomorrow.

 Next Towcester Trundle blog : Sunday 22nd October 

Friday, 20 October 2017

A Tortuous Trundle To Towcester (1)

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But first, from our own correspondent.

From Steve Burd, Stagecoach boss at Northampton.

Further to my recent correspondence I am now writing to confirm that following further discussion with Northamptonshire County Council it has been agreed that the proposed new service 98 between Brackley-South Towcester-Milton Keynes is numbered service X91.

From Alan in response to the possible delay of bus servie improvement between Towcester and Brackley. See yesterday's blog)

Is the 98 receiving subsidy from N.C.C. as well as a bag of gold from the developer?  If so has the current proposal to withdraw all bus subsidy from 1st April 2018 put a fly in the ointment / cat among the pigeons / caused delay or worse? I don't know.

From Stagecoach boss at Oxford

Apologies for lengthy period of silence from me on the subject of the S5 extension to Brackley.  We are still working on it.  I am  sorry to say that trying to sort out what is happening in Oxford City Centre with the opening of the new Westgate Centre and the pedestrianisation or not of Queen Street has been all consuming in terms of time over the past few months.  I hope to have some news soon.
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The news that Northamptonshire council is seeking to cut its budget dramatically by reducing everything it can (and some things it definitely shouldn't) will ring danger bells for tendered bus routes. For a dedicated bus-watcher like fbb, these services are much more interesting than the frequent well publicised main road routes.

One such is service 87 which takes the "back lanes" route between Northampton and Towcester.
Once served in part by the local independent Basford of Greens Norton ...
... the modern tendered version was run by Stagecoach who lost out to long-standing Northampton firm, Country Lion.
Back in the days of fbb's long lost youth, buses would leave town via the Towcester Road ...
... turn right at the superb bus shelter, climb Rothersthorpe Road for a few hundred yards ...
... go over the railway that carried your blogger south to London town and then find itself in open country. The bridge is still there ...
... but the open country is not!
Draw a mental line from top right (railway over-bridge) to bottom left (footbridge under main road) and that is where Rothersthope Road was.

The under-bridge is roughly on the site of the level crossing on the Northampton to Blisworth branch line ...
... seen here with a D200 growling over.
The path under Upton Way is much less interesting!
The old road, now called Banbury Lane, is rejoined on the other side of this footway and takes its rural traffic through, but separated from, the Swan Valley industrial area ...
 ... then over the M1 where we can glimpse the Services area.
Now called "Northampton Services" ...
... it used to be named after the nearby village.
Rothersthorpe does remain a village despite the proximity of Swan Valley just across the M1. It is also home to a magnificent stairway of locks on the Northampton Arm of the Grand Union Canal.
There are 17 in all! Ironically the lock ladder lies next to the new A43 and passes under the M1 Junction - the oldest bulk transport system next to the newest.

After Rothersthorpe, we come to picturesque Pattishall, a delightful village, relatively unspoilt in the area round the church.
Newer housing joins this village to Fosters Booth (historically Forresters Booth) ...
... where the restaurant (here on the right) was once the "booth" where the Forresters would take their refreshment from the rigours of slaughtering small furry animals and podgy game birds. In ancient times a "forest" was a hunting ground, not necessarily with added trees (hence New Forest in Hampshire).

We have exuded nostalgia over two railway crossings, the extant electrified line via Northampton and the very defunct branch from the town to Blisworth. One piece of the Blizzy branch's infrastructure remains. The bridge which carried the line under the M1 is still there in all its glory.
It is now used for part of the complex intersection at the A43/M1 junction which also gives access to Rothersthorpe Services.
But there is one railway line's intersection that we have, so far overlooked.

Tomorrow it will be revealed - plus sheep!

 Next Towcester Trundle blog : Friday 21st October