All Line Rover trip Day 3: West Midlands & Merseyside

n September 2022, I travelled around Britain for a week and a half using an All Line Rover train ticket. This is the fourth of eleven special posts giving a day-by-day narration of my trip. I also wrote an introduction to the trip, discussing my plans and goals, before I left; and will follow up my day-by-day narration with standard posts about the nineteen individual map areas I visited on the trip which are new to the blog. [1]

Interactive map

Here’s an interactive map of my All Line Rover trip! By default, all 11 days of my trip are shown: press the icon in the top left to see the route for individual days of the trip only.

Key to colours: Purple = train, dark blue = metro/underground, pink = tram, green = bus, orange = walking, medium blue = ferry

Day 3: West Midlands & Merseyside

I had an early start at my B&B in the Dorset village of Yetminster, coming down at 6:30am for the breakfast my hosts had very kindly agreed to give me, even though it’s earlier than they usually offer. The reason for this was that the Heart of Wessex Line has only two-hourly trains, so I wanted to aim for the 0720 up to Bristol, as I had a long day of travelling planned that would go rather later into the evening than I wanted if I left it another two hours.

Sunrise on my way to Thornford station

Leaving the B&B, I saw a lovely sunrise over the Dorset countryside during the ten-minute walk to the station – while I’d arrived into Yetminster station the night before, I’d decided to head off from Thornford one stop up the line, as it was pretty much equally close.

Thornford is a tiny station, used by about 10 people a day on average, and quite pretty, with the continuing sunrise visible under the stone road bridge. Like Yetminster, it’s a request stop, and so I got to enjoy my first ever experience of flagging down a train! I’m glad to report that the train stopped as intended.

My original plan for this day, one of the longest of the trip, was as follows:

  • From Thornford, I’d travel to Bristol Parkway, then change for Cardiff, there to get a train up one of the Valley Lines, probably to Ebbw Vale Town, as I’ve never been to the South Wales Valleys before.
  • After a little exploring, I’d then get the #78 bus east to Abergavenny, and then a train up to Wrexham, possibly changing in Shrewsbury.
  • From Wrexham, I could get the Borderlands line up to Bidston on the Wirral, and then take Merseyrail into central Liverpool.
  • Finally, I’d get a train over to Manchester, where I’d end my day.

However, my plans were just there to be a default option; I was varying from them as much as I liked, and in the end I decided to do something different: I’d travel from Bristol to Wrexham not via the Valleys, but via Birmingham. That way, I’d get to make a trip on the West Midlands “Metro”, Birmingham’s tram system, as one idea I had for the trip was to go on every British tram or metro.

Victoria Square, Birmingham. I enjoyed the tree sculptures!

I therefore changed at Bristol Temple Meads onto a CrossCountry service to Birmingham. Things were a little chaotic at Bristol that morning: it was the day of the old Queen’s funeral, when naturally a lot of people would be wanting to go into London, but unfortunately the lines into London Paddington were completely blocked that morning due to an issue with the overhead wires. A chap got on my train bound for Luton Airport, having no better option than going via Birmingham, adding several hours to his trip.

From central Birmingham, the tram line runs out westwards to Wolverhampton, conveniently paralleling the railway line I’d need to take to head on towards Wrexham. My plan was therefore to get on the tram, and join a Wrexham train a little further out of the city centre.

Library of Birmingham, Centenary Square

Now, Birmingham is not that far away from my childhood home in Northamptonshire, and I’ve been there fairly often for functional reasons. Father Dearest used to work there, pl usMy family are of Punjabi origin and Birmingham has a big Punjabi community, so sometimes my parents would go there to go to restaurants, buy clothes for weddings, things like that. However, I’ve not really ever looked around the city centre before. I wanted to get on with my day’s travel, so I didn’t take the time for a thorough explore of the city – which I’d very much like to do at some point – , but I did decide that, raathr than immediately getting on the tram outside New Street station, I’d walk just a couple of stops along the line first, to Centenary Square.

The area I was walking through was very much the “museums and civic buildings” part of town, and was pretty impressive. I enjoyed the slightly odd giant tree sculptures that were up in front of the Birmingham Museum in Victoria Square. Unfortunately, just after this, there was an onslaught of sudden heavy rain – I got out my raincoat and put it on but still got rather soaked from the waist down. [2]

The Queen’s funeral showing in Centenary Square

When I arrived in Centenary Square, I found that there was a big screen up on the side of the very impressive Library of Birmingham, showing a live feed of the Queen’s funeral in progress in London, with a crowd braving the rain to watch in the square. I’d missed a fair bit of it, but I joined the crowd for the forty minutes or so that remained. At one point, a load of police vans pulled up behind the crowd and fifteen or so police piled out, which was momentarily alarming, but then it turned out they were just there to observe the one minute’s silence as part of the funeral.

This bull automaton was from the Commonwealth Games, where I learned he walked menacingly around the arena as part of the opening ceremony, but was now sitting static in Centenary Square.

I’d heard good things about the Library of Birmingham, so tried to have a look after the service finished, but unfortunately it was closed, so oh well. Following that, I walked to the tram stop at the other side of the square, and got on my tram!

A Birmingham tram at Kenrick Park, where I got off

As mentioned, the tram route parallels the railway line from Birmingham to Wolverhampton. I could’ve stayed on the tram all the way to Wolves, but to save a little time rode only around a third of that distance, getting off after around four miles at Kenrick Park, from where I then had a 15-minute walk over to Smethwick Galton Bridge station.

I popped briefly into the park itself, which seemed pretty unremarkable, after which I passed through a mostly industrial area before crossing the rather impressive Galton Bridge itself. The nearly 200-year-old iron bridge passes very high over the canal below, and is quite pretty to look at from below, but the top of the bridge, now part of a little-lo bridge deck, now used only as part of a cycle path, is rather unloved.

Arriving at Smethwick Galton Bridge station, I had a little time before my train and was in need of lunch. The only shop I could find nearby was a huge Indian supermarket, where I’d happily spend twenty minutes browsing through their selection of spices, sweets, snacks and the like, but where the ready-to-eat food options were sadly limited. I therefore ended up sitting on the platform eating a rather floppy cheese-and-red-onion sandwich and a tin of peas!

My uninspiring lunch

My uninspiring lunch aside, I really liked Smethwick Galton Bridge station: it’s an interchange station, sitting where the lines out of Birmingham New Street to Wolverhampton cross those running from Birmingham Snow Hill down to Worcester. The former runs parallel to the canal, while the latter crosses it at right angles, with the platforms actually on a bridge over the canal. It’s therefore an intereting split-level station: from street level, you enter higher than either set of platforms, then have to go down one level for the Worcester line, or two for the Wolverhampton!

I was soon whisked off by a Transport for Wales train, which took an hour and a half to get me to Wrexham, thus starting the hour or so of the trip that I’d spend in Wales! I was having a bit of a tired spell in the latter half of this journey, so arriving into Wrexham General, instead of walking into town to have a brief look around before catching my Borderlands Line train up to the Wirral from the start of the route at Wrexham Central, I decided to just have a rest in the Wrexham General station café for an hour or so, and get on my next train here, one stop up the line.

The café in Wrexham station

The café had some great squishy sofa and provided me with a very pleasant chai, so I was happy with that decision!

The Borderlands Line runs through the north-east corner of Wales, from Wrexham up to Bidston on the Wirral Peninsula and in the Liverpool/Birkenhead conurbation. I wanted to get in a bit of a walk at some point today, and considered a few options – perhaps getting off in the Welsh countryside at Caergwrle or Hope for a walk in the direction of Hope Mountain / Waun-y-Llyn, or to one of the nice heathy green spaces that seem to be plentiful along the western side of the Wirral, such as Heswall Dales or Thurstaston Common. However, the Hope Mountain option was rather too long, and the Wirral green spaces would all have required a lot of walking and bus use to get to and from, which wasn’t very convenient on this bank holiday with its reduced bus frequencies.

I therefore instead got off the train just one stop early, at Upton, for a forty-or-so-minute walk over to Birkenhead North station, which would take me through the green space on Bidston Hill. The walk was pretty nice! There was a nice open heathy space on top of the hill, with an old windmill at the centre. Most notably, there were long views out both westwards over the Irish Sea, where I could see countless wind turbines disappearaing into the distance, and eastwards to central Liverpool.

Ships, wind turbines and some kind of oil-rig-like thing seen out at sea from Bidston Hill

I made a stop at an Asda, which was surprisingly open though most supermarkets had closed for the funeral day, before entering Birkenhead North station – via its truly giant car park – for a Merseyrail train into central Liverpool. Merseyrail is formally a train operator like any other, operating on the ordinary national rail network, but in practice it’s much more like a metro in central Liverpool, with its frequent service and underground stations running separately from the regional and inter-city trains that stop at the surface stations. Merseyrail is getting shiny new trains, which would’ve been in operation already but whose introuction was, alas, delayed until early 2023, meaning I was on a rather tired, though perfectly functionl (and nearly empty) forty-year old train.

Evening was approaching and I was getting tired after my long day’s travelling, so after I got off at Liverpool James Street I decided on just a short walk through the docks and city centre, rather than exploring any more deeply. What I did see of the city seemed very pleasant, so I’d like to come back and explore more thoroughly sometime!

I did, though, go over for a look at the Church of St Luke, which was bombed in the war, and has been left as a roofless shell as a memorial. Unfortunately it was locked, so I couldn’t go inside, but it was still interesting to look at – I could see it for a long wasy as I approached across the city, and since its tower and walls are complete, it’s not at all obvious it’s a ruin, until you get close enough to see that the windows have no glass in, and you can see open sky through them instead of a roof. It also just looked very pretty in the evening sun!

I got some lunch from a fun little food court just across from the church, before heading back to Lime Street station for my final train of the day, to Manchester. I’d be staying in central Manchester for the next two nights, and after my long day’s travelling was looking forward to having a more relaxed time the next day!


[1] The individual map area posts will duplicate the contents of the special trip posts, but unlike the latter they won’t form a continuous narrative, since they’ll skip things I did in map areas I’ve already posted about. They will, though, newly contain narration of anything I did on previous visits there – since some of these are areas which are new to the blog, but which I visited before starting my blog in 2017.

[2] I still haven’t found a satisfactory solution for my long-standing desire for a high-performing raincoat – lightweight, windproof and waterproof to a high standard – that is also long enough to prevent a wet bum, as I really dislike sitting down in trousers that are wet above the mid-thigh. There are long men’s raincoats, but they tend to be some combination of formal, insulated and hoodless. Men’s mountain-wear rain shells always seem to be waist- or at best hip-length only. I’ve talked before on this blog about my next-best solution, namely wearing a separate hood with a longer, more formal raincoat, but that’s rather heavy so I didn’t bring it on this trip. Fortunately on this occasion the rain let up fairly soon and I was able to dry off!

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