Saturday, 5 June 2010

Heading for the Hills


I didn't have very far to go today so, as I was in Manchester, I thought I'd take the opportunity to renew my acquaintance with the Manchester Museum of Transport.

I remembered how big this museum is (really quite big) and I remembered it was housed in one end of an existing bus depot, although independent of the working part of the building. But I had completely forgotten just how big the whole thing was, depot and museum together.

I was reflecting on this mild mental failure as I slogged my way up Boyle Street along the huge, huge brick side wall of the depot which just seems to go on and on and on. It really is an astonishingly big structure - I don't know how many buses the operational bit can hold but it must be several hundred.

This used to be a Manchester Corporation bus depot, of course, from the days when almost everyone went by bus or tram and the local transport fleet was so numerous it needed an undercover garage of truly heroic proportions. It now provides workshop and storage facilities for bus operator First, who run a lot of the services in the city and who clearly must have an awful lot of vehicles.

I've been here before, of course, but this a transport museum I never tire of. There are dozens of buses and coaches to look at and the extensive collection also includes trams, trolleybuses and recovery vehicles. The museum's volunteers have also cleverly recreated some of the back offices of a transport company, and there are loads of other transport-related items too numerous to mention. Their cafe has a highly authentic 'works canteen' feel, too, and they make a cracking cup of tea. And there's a well-stocked shop, too.

As ever, it is the volunteers who are the backbone of the organisation and, in common with their counterparts in other transport museums, they are friendly, extremely knowledgeable and more than happy to answer questions.

I short, this is a great place to visit and it was hard work dragging myself away. But the call of the road was sounding in my ears, so it was back onto Cheetham Hill Road for the bendy bus into the city centre.

London's Mayor is famous for his unreasoning and unreasonable hatred for these prodigious machines – he has pledged to outlaw them in London and is commissioning a Routemaster for the 21st Century to replace them with. Personally, I rather like them, not least for the fact that they carry their engine in the trailer. I mean, how does that work? I just can't get my head around it. It's like building a car to tow a caravan and then putting the engine in the caravan! Now that's clever...

I then transferred onto a swish new Stagecoach double decker – it feels like months since I last rode on one of these – for the short journey to Hyde. I was slightly surprised to find that our driver was Polish, but even more surprised to see him using his mobile phone whilst driving. And at one point he even got out of his driving seat to take a photograph out of the door of a passing canal boat (though admittedly the bus was stationary at the time!) All very bizarre and not the kind of behaviour I have ever witnessed on any of my travels. I shall be speaking to Stagecoach...

At Hyde I changed for a service run by a local bus company, Speedwellbus. This was the 397 which was to take me on the final part of today's journey from Hyde to Glossop. I was enthralled to find that the route took us through some lovely North Country-sounding place names like Hattersley and Broadbottom (an affliction I personally expect to suffer from by the end of my journey).

It was amazed at how quickly we seemed to be surrounded by hill and moor. They seemed to appear out of nowhere – one minute we were pootling along quite merrily through Manchester's suburbs, and the next we seemed to in the middle of a TV production of Wuthering Heights.

I hadn't realised just how much I'd missed the hills after all the miles of travelling though the Cheshire Plain and through West Lancashire. Now they were rising up all around me and I was as happy as if I had a glass of beer in my hand (which I was making plans to have a little later on). It was an exhilarating ride, with the road running steeply down into a dale one minute, then steeply up the other side a minute later, then down again, then up once more, and so on.

At one point, I could swear that I recognised the village we were passing through, although I knew I had never been there before. But the sense of recognition persisted and it was all very odd. Then it came to me – I had seen it before! It looked just like the village in the TV comedy series 'The League of Gentlemen'. And then we passed a statue on a corner and it dawned on me that this village (called Hadfield) was in fact the very village where they did all the filming.

Fortunately, nobody asked me if I was local...

And so we arrived in Glossop, down a hill and past a sign next to a duck pond which said 'Glossop Swimming Pool'. Well, it was a pool, I suppose, of sorts, and the ducks were definitely swimming on it. Maybe this Royston Vasey thing is spreading...

I have a big day tomorrow, so I'm treating myself to an early night. Tomorrow I cross the Peak District by taking a bus up the mighty Snake Pass, before going on to Sheffield, Holmfirth (more TV comedy associations there), Huddersfield and eventually Bradford.

Hmm. I suppose I might have a curry tomorrow night...

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