Saturday, 28 October 2017

The Bolton Wanderer

For my first trip report write-up we go back two weeks to 14 October, a day on which I was travelling to Bolton, via Manchester, to watch my beloved Sheffield Wednesday hopefully clinch a convincing victory against bottom-of-the-league Bolton Wanderers.

The day started as it always does, the Purple route Supertram from my local Leighton Road tram stop; on this occasion, the 09:28 departure towards Cathedral in the city centre. Sadly my chariot wasn't one of the brand new sparkly tram-trains which I had grown used to on the line over the previous couple of weeks since their introduction, but it was at least my favourite of the old guard - 117.

I left the tram fifteen minutes later after a comfortable and relaxing ride into the city centre, alighting at Sheffield station. The tickets were collected, mandatory coffee purchased and off I went to platform 6 to board the 10:11 TransPennine Express service to Manchester Airport.

Sadly what turned up was a single three-car class 185 unit, and it was already full and standing. Combined with a platform full of eager like-minded Wednesday fans who had decided to make an early trip to Bolton (in their case probably to go visiting the pubs rather than bus stations), it was never likely that I would make it on board.

Instead I made my way over to platform 8 to catch the 10:49 East Midlands Trains service to Liverpool South Parkway (ongoing engineering works meant Liverpool Lime Street was out of bounds). East Midlands seemed a little more prepared for the influx of football supporters, managing the crowd on the platform and delivering a four-car train (as normally allocated, to be fair) consisting of 158864 on the front and 156414 on the rear. A kind member of EMT staff ensured passengers who had missed the 10:11 train were allowed to board this service first, but I was still standing all the way across the Hope Valley.

I arrived at Manchester Piccadilly at 11:51 - the service delayed by fifteen minutes due to an emergency brake application by an over-excited football fan outside Stockport - and made the long trek from platform 14, which may as well be its own station, down to the Metroshuttle bus stops outside the front of the station. My intention - to camp out there until First Greater Manchester's Volvo 7900E electric trial bus turned up.

I didn't have to wait long, as the 7900E turned up within around ten minutes of me arriving. Time constraints meant that I couldn't do a full loop on Metroshuttle service 2 for which the vehicle is branded, so instead I did the 12-minute hop across the city centre to Manchester Victoria station. The ride was more than enough to be very impressed by the performance of the 7900E. They say electric is the future, and from that ride, I'm not too worried about that. An all-round excellent city bus from Volvo, but who would expect any less?

Woosh... it's the future, and it's here! LF67EVV (69900), First Greater Manchester's Volvo 7900E electric trial bus. Watch out for the Harrogate Bus Company's examples entering service soon - pleased by my experience in Manchester, I'll definitely be heading over to sample those!

I alighted at Victoria with the intention of going to the McDonald's in the foyer between the station and the adjacent Arena. However, heightened security following May's tragic terrorist attack meant that I wasn't allowed onto the footbridge leading up to the foyer with my backpack full of travel items - I understand the sentiment, but isn't that a little overkill?

One of the last few First Greater Manchester Volvo B5LH/Wright Eclipse Gemini 2 hybrids still in the old silver and pink 'Dynamo' hybrid livery, BN61MWG (39209), seen outside Victoria. The skyscraper under construction in the background is I believe the Angel Gardens Tower, which will eventually rise to 110 metres in height, dramatically transforming this view of the city.

Instead I went to the tram platforms and awaited a Metrolink service to Piccadilly Gardens, hopeful of finding food there, as well as a large variety of buses to drool over while I killed some time. After taking a few photos, my ticket was bought from the machine on the platform, and I turned around to find a tram with its doors open and "Piccadilly" on the front - good timing! On I got, and less than five minutes later I alighted in the Gardens, checking the identity of the tram as I alighted (tram 3010).

Manchester has a very smart and effective modern light rail system, the Metrolink, first opened over 25 years ago and still expanding today. Tram 3028 approaches the recently-modernised Victoria station with a service to Bury.

Such a huge volume of cross-city services pass through Piccadilly Gardens' maze of bus stops that there is too much to photograph at times, and it's almost impossible to catch everything that passes through in the less than an hour I had. Still, I made the best of it, wandering to and fro across the square to try and make the most of everything.

I'm a huge fan of the latest livery incarnation of Stagecoach Manchester's long-running Magic Bus operation, now utilising their older integral ADL Enviro400s. MX08GNK (19252) passes through Piccadilly Gardens with a 143 to West Didsbury.

A nice touch by Stagecoach Manchester since May's tragic terrorist attack at Manchester Arena has been to have the destination blinds of their vehicles intermittently flash up to a "WE ♥ MCR" message while not in service. Note also the worker bee sticker on the front of the vehicle, applied to the majority of the Stagecoach Manchester fleet. The worker bee has become a symbol of the city in the aftermath of the attack. Showing off both of these here is an example of their newest batch of ADL Enviro400H hybrids, SL63GDE (12254). Hats off to Stagecoach Manchester on this occasion.

With time running out before I would have to leave for Bolton, I headed to the McDonald's I'd sighted in the far corner of the Gardens from the tram stop. I went to the self-service ordering machine - which I have to say I am much a fan of (yay! no human interaction! social anxiety cured!) - and put in my full order (large box of Chicken McNuggets, fries and a Pepsi (no ice), of course), before reaching into my bag and realising I'd left my debit card at home. And you can't pay with cash on those machines. Damn! Time to head to the till after all, then.

Food in bag and a last few frantic photos snapped, I speedwalked it over to the tram stop and jumped onto the awaiting tram 3046 for the less-than-a-minute one-stop-hop to Piccadilly station. From there it was another trek back up to platform 14 for the 13:48 Northern service to Horwich Parkway.

Is it a Megabus? Well, not quite... Stagecoach Manchester ADL Enviro400H hybrid MX62GAO (12180) carries a three-quarters vinyl wrap advertising Stagecoach's Megabus coach business. The vehicle is seen operating on route 192 to Hazel Grove, via Stockport, which Stagecoach Manchester claim is the busiest bus route in the country, carrying in excess of nine million passengers annually. Branding for service 192 can be seen on the upper deck windscreen.

Northern had been kind enough to provide a four-car train (consisting of 156422 leading 156440), but it was still the busiest train I'd ever been on in my entire life. There's full and standing, and then there's full and crushed up against the wall. The 35 minute journey was hot and uncomfortable, but at least the train was full of fellow Wednesdayites who seemed to be in good spirits. At last, we arrived.

From Horwich Parkway station, Bolton Wanderers' Macron Stadium is within view immediately as you step onto the platform, and it's only a five-minute walk to the away supporters section of the stadium. The train had been so full that I'd still not had a chance to eat my McNuggets, so with half an hour to kill until kick-off, I sat on a wall and did so.

Entry into the stadium was quick and hassle-free (even with problematic footbridge-barring backpack), and we were on the upper tier, so we had a fantastic view of the action. Sadly, by the end of the 90 minutes, I'd rather wished I'd had a seat with a view of, perhaps, a brick wall. Or the interior of a Volvo 7900E, that'd've been good. The result ended in a 2–1 victory for Bolton Wanderers, who prior to this game had only won one game all season - in the Carabao Cup, against, um, Sheffield Wednesday.

The fantastic view of the action that I wish I didn't have.

I couldn't face getting another rammed train back into Manchester, so I made the 15 minute walk up de Havilland Way (named after a famous former aircraft manufacturer, perhaps?) into Horwich village itself. I was immediately presented with the Beehive pub in front of me. Well, you generally can't go wrong with Fayre & Square chain pubs in my experience, so in I went for a bite to eat.

By the time I'd done and made the leisurely walk back to Horwich Parkway, there was nobody about - even the Sheffield Wednesday team coach (a smart Ellisons Neoplan Skyliner) had, annoyingly, departed, as I'd hoped to get a better photo of it with nobody around. The train back to Manchester, the 18:50 Northern service formed of 156475 leading 156486, actually had empty seats available, for the first time since my tram journey down to Sheffield station what seemed a lifetime ago earlier that morning.

I alighted half an hour later back at Manchester Victoria, and hopped on tram 3016 for the short hop across to Piccadilly for my train home. I was thankful to find it would be departing from platform 6, actually inside the station building for once. It was the 20:20 TransPennine Express service terminating at Sheffield (and calling, irregularly, at Dore & Totley in the south of the city), and again it was a three-car train, 185104 doing the honours all alone. It was a lot quieter by now however, with many Wednesday fans evidently having returned home immediately (or maybe they were still drowning their sorrows in the pubs of Manchester?) - either way, once again, miraculously, I had a seat for the journey home.

Back in my home town, Supertram 115 departs Sheffield station with a Blue route service to Halfway park and ride in the city's southern suburbs. Trams are almost buses, right...? Either way prepare for tram-spam from time-to-time, since they are my favourite and most frequent mode of transport ;)

I arrived back into Sheffield at 21:20 and decided to wait around for a while up at the tram stop to do some night-time Supertram photography, for the first time since the new tram-trains had entered service. Eventually I boarded the 21:54 Purple route service to Herdings Park, formed of shiny new tram-train 399206, and alighted 15 minutes later one stop before the terminus at my local Leighton Road.

Home at last! Thankyou, 399206, and the ever reliable Supertram

Overall, a productive and enjoyable day out, despite being let down yet again by my beloved club. Including the subsequent away day at Derby County (write up for that coming tomorrow!), I've now been to four away games all season, and they're the only four we've lost. Perhaps I should take the hint and stop going?!

I hope you enjoy reading this post as much as I have enjoyed writing it! It's not gonna be perfect since it's my first proper blog post, but hopefully I'll get there eventually. See you all tomorrow.

I leave you with a National Express coach in Piccadilly Gardens, since Chloe (the better half) will shout at me if I photograph a NatEx and then don't include it in the blog. It's FJ60HYB (7115), a Volvo B9R/Caetano Levante belonging to Go North East, in this image eventually headed for London I suspect.

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