For the first time in about a decade, yes it's really been that long since I last did a rail rover ticket, I treated myself to a 3-in-7 Heart of England Rover ticket, which costs £86.20. For the area covered, from Leicester and Nottingham in the East, to Northampton, Oxford, Gloucester and Hereford in the South, Shrewsbury and Chester in the East and Crewe and Derby in the North and points in between, £86.20 seems a pretty fair price, from my point of view with all the services that are available, the only restriction is that it is only valid from 9am onwards (any time on weekends or bank holidays).
Starting off at Nuneaton Railway Station, mainly due to the fact the car parking is better and there's more services available to use as well, my first train of the day was at 09:10, which was CrossCountry Trains 170107. The 3-car DMU was quite healthily loaded as we departed Nuneaton on time for Birmingham New Street, just a minute or so after leaving Nuneaton, we pass by Abbey Street Junction and Station, it's hard to believe that this was once a busy junction and sidings, where the former Nuneaton & Ashby Joint Railway branched off towards Stoke Golding, Market Bosworth and finally Coalville and Moira on the current freight-only line between Leicester and Burton On Trent. The N&AJR seen it's passenger services cease as far back as 1931, but goods trains continued to use the line for another 40 years, until British Rail closed the line in 1971, a small section has since reopened and operates under the auspices of The Battlefield Line Railway between Shenton and Shackerstone.
Part of the former Nuneaton Abbey Street Station can still be discerned through the overgrowth just the other side of the Midland Road overbridge, this was a victim of the infamous Beeching Axe, closing in March 1968.
Passing through the Arley Tunnel, we now head into rural Warwickshire and shortly pass the site of the now demolished Daw Mill Colliery, which closed in 2013 and demolished soon after.
Rounding the curve at Whitacre Junction, we arrive at one of two intermediate stations between Nuneaton and Birmingham of Coleshill Parkway, the second one, Water Orton is only a couple of minutes away, and having past under the M42 Motorway, we are soon passing the delapidated station that is Water Orton, the main railway line from Derby via Tamworth also converges here and it is more or less a straight run into Birmingham passing alongside the elevated M6 motorway as well as the remains of Washwood Heath Yard, this area of Birmingham is set to change within the next few years with the impending arrival of HS2. Just prior to arriving into Birmingham New Street, we pass under the WCML from London Euston via Coventry and also the former GWR route from Birmingham Moor Street, nowadays a popular service operated by Chiltern Railways.
Arriving into Birmingham New Street, I had about just under half an hour before my next journey, and as such I used the time to venture to different platforms to see what units were about and to see if there was any "cops" to be had, sure enough there was a couple I required.
Leg 2, was to take me from Birmingham New Street, to one of the Southernmost points that is covered by the Heart of England Rover;Oxford, CrossCountry Trains Class 221, 221134 was the unit, and the service was 1O10 Manchester Piccadilly - Bournemouth, with an on time departure from Birmingham New Street at 10:04, the route was taken via Birmingham International to Coventry, where then we would say goodbye to the West Coast Mainline and take the branch to Leamington Spa, a route which has seen a resurgence in passenger traffic in the last couple of months with the reopening of Kenilworth Station at the end of April, the station has enjoyed healthy usage since the town returned to the railway network after a hiatus of 53 years, Kenilworth's original station was closed in 1965 - a victim of the infamous Beeching Axe.
Somehow or other, we lost time between Birmingham International and Coventry, I expect as we were following a local service, we were more or less 5 minutes late from Coventry all the way to Oxford, not helped by the fact I was standing in a vestibule all the way due to the number of people on the train. Departing Leamington Spa, it was a fast run to Banbury and then Oxford. I must admit, I wasn't sorry to see the back of 221134, and a quick wonder round Oxford Station, scoring some more units (there was only 2 Chiltern ones awaiting the service to London Marylebone).
Leg 3 was a lot more pleasant trip, definitely the most pleasant of the day I must say, and was also the main reason of this trip anyway, a trip along the Cotswold and Malvern Line from Oxford all the way to Hereford, and the train for this was one of the iconic High Speed Train - or HST. Quite a lot of people disembarked at Oxford, more less leaving the train empty but a fair few also boarded, the traction was provided by GWR power cars 43015 at the front, and 43018 at the rear, working 1W01 London Paddington - Hereford. Make the most out of the High Speed Trains on the Great Western Railway network as they are slowly being phased out in favour of more modern IET (Intercity Express Train) Class 800 bi-mode units, which can operate by both diesel and overhead electrification.
Departing the university city, we followed the route North for a short distance before taking the Cotswold Line at Wolvercote Junction, calling at many small stations en-route, so much so, an announcement was made prior to each call of where to alight the train as some coaches wouldn't be on the platform, it is also pleasing to see the vast infrastructure improvements over the last few years to increase capacity along the line between Worcester and Oxford, the most common one being the re-doubling of many parts between Charlbury and Evesham, and even the station of Honeybourne has some improvements to the station, mainly for a time in the future to allow the preservation movement of the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway to run their trains into Honeybourne. After leaving the last station on the Cotswold Line at Pershore, it is a short distance before we cross the Midland Railway route from Birmingham to Bristol, of note you can see construction of the new Worcester Parkway Station on the mainline.
Worcester Shrub Hill is soon reached, with it's signal boxes and semaphore signals, and literally a couple of minutes away is Worcester Foregate Street - which is more centrally located for the City of Worcester. Leaving Worcester over an impressive viaduct that takes us above street level and the River Severn, the route somewhat reminds me of leaving Nottingham Arkwright Street heading South over the River Trent on the former Great Central Mainline after I had seen a video on YouTube of the aforementioned route before British Rail axed the spur in the 1970's. Perhaps if politics had have been different maybe we would have seen HST services running up and down the Great Central Mainline today??.
Another 2 small stations in quick succession are 6 miles away at Malvern Link and Great Malvern, at this point the Malvern Hills are clearly seen, leaving Great Malvern, we pass under the Hills in a single bore tunnel before emerging into daylight at Colwall, and shortly after we arrive at Ledbury where there is a passing loop; the track between Malvern Wells Junction and Shelwick Junction is predominantly single track with the exception of Ledbury, where, as mentioned previously, there is a passing loop, although looking at Ledbury viaduct with it's wide formation, this suggests that the line may have been double track in the distant past. Passing through glorious Herefordshire countryside, we soon join up with the Welsh Marches Line at Shelwick Junction and we're once again on double track to Hereford.
Leaving the HST at Hereford, it was over to Platform 3, and the start of Leg 4. There was only a very short wait, 7 minutes to be precise, before my next train, Arriva Trains Wales 175109 arrived, which was working 1W60 Carmarthen - Manchester Piccadilly service. This was quite a busy train but luckily I managed to obtain a seat, this part of the journey would take me just under an hour up the line to Shrewsbury, calling at Leominster, Ludlow, Craven Arms (where the Heart of Wales line branches off), Church Stretton and finally Shrewsbury, with it's iconic 180-lever manually controlled signalbox and with Network Rail suggesting that replacing the semaphore signals in favour of colour lights could make Shrewsbury complicated to marshal trains, the semaphores and associated signal boxes look set to remain for the foreseeable future.
At Shrewsbury however, the plan began to go awry, originally I had planned to catch the next service at 15:29 to Chester, then jump on the Virgin Trains service to Crewe and then sample East Midlands Trains over the North Staffs line to Derby, before going to Nottingham, Leicester and back home, however, it was announced that the 15:29 would be 10 minutes late, we eventually got away at 15:44, and a further 8 minute delay ensued at Gobowen, stopping at Gobowen, Chirk, Ruabon and Wrexham General, before arriving into Chester 22 minutes late. Only option available was the 16:55 Chester - Crewe bouncer, which on this occasion was 150258, and as such this was Leg 6.
Arriving at Crewe after a fantastic trip from Chester, and seriously I liked it as I have a thing for Class 150's as they are nippy little units, I decided to weigh up all my fast-diminshing options. The next departure to Derby was 18:07, in theory this would still give me time to get to Derby, over to Nottingham, back to Leicester and than a fast service from Leicester to Nuneaton, but then the plan was finally scuppered as the inbound unit from Derby was delayed between Longton and Stoke On Trent. The only feasible service open was the service to London Euston.
Leg 7, and the final leg was London & NorthWestern Railway's 350114 working 1U42 18:02 Crewe - London Euston semi-fast, which would call at Alsager, Kidsgrove, Stoke On Trent, Stone, Stafford, Rugeley Trent Valley, Lichfield Trent Valley, Tamworth, Atherstone and Nuneaton. These semi-fast services are going to change as the eventual plan is to run them via the mainline to Stafford in the next 18 months or so.
10½ hours after leaving Nuneaton, I arrived at Platform 4, however the day wasn't quite done, as there was a few freight services that was imminent, so I hung about for those before finally calling it a day and heading home.
HULL is an acronym for Haulage, Units & Loco Log :)