Routes extending far out from the West Midlands – 144 Birmingham to Worcester
As a new contributor I should probably explain my background: I like buses (and trains, and trams, and the Tube etc…) but specifically I like travelling around, exploring places and routes, and may or may not have ticked off most routes in the West Midlands. I have my own personal blog (blatant plug, clicky) where I go into over the top detail of some of my long distance days out, and will probably post some local versions of those on here as well, but for this page I’ve decided to start a specific series of simpler blogs focusing on some individual routes that venture across the county boundary and head far out of the West Midlands.
Regular travellers on the Bristol Road will have seen – and no doubt routinely let go past – the First buses on the 144, but it’s likely many of you would be unaware of the route’s history. I won’t go too much into detail, the fantastic MidlandRed.net website does that more than adequately with a whole section here, but suffice to say it is over 100 years old! In 2014 First’s Worcester depot celebrated the route’s centenary by repainting two buses into versions of the Midland Red livery.
Throughout my life I’ve travelled various sections of this route, but it gets less and less familiar the further south I go, so with a plan to go to Worcester’s Christmas Markets this weekend I decided to go by bus and do the entire 1hr45 journey in one fell swoop. By sheer happenchance the bus that turned up in Birmingham City Centre as my steed for this Saturday morning journey was one of those heritage liveried vehicles – 33404, seen in the main blog photo waiting time en route at Bromsgrove bus station. During my journey today I passed a number of the “old guard”, more of these Dennis Tridents and single deck Alexander Dennis E300s – the other staple along the route including the other heritage liveried bus 67664. But I also saw some of the future in the shape of recently transferred Volvo B7RLE single deckers from Leicester, refurbished with the modern standard of WiFi and USB sockets and out-shopped in a new green livery stating “I’m only half-dressed – the full look coming soon” alluding to a new identity for this historic route.
The Bristol Road these days has an express route, the X61 – but the 144 stops even less and, given it’s a different operator that doesn’t even accept nBus passes, most people don’t catch it anyway, so without much traffic heading out of town this time of day that meant for a rather quick run out through Selly Oak, Northfield and Longbridge to the city limits. Rubery, technically in Worcestershire, has always struck me as a bit strange given the lack of physical separation from the surrounding Birmingham suburbs, but what is perhaps stranger is that the Network West Midlands area has elsewhere been extended to cover similar areas in other neighbouring counties (including Wythall, also in Worcestershire), but not here. With suddenly very different looking bus shelters here the bus picked up it’s first decent load of passengers, before rejoining the dual carriageway A38 for a chance to get up to speed.
Obviously, over time, areas change and historic bus routes have had to be amended to better serve new housing or other important local centres. Strangely in this case though, aside from the small deviation here at Lydiate Ash where the A38 meets the M5, the only real instance of this on the entire route is turning right just after this to serve the Catshill area of Bromsgrove, from where another 2 buses per hour pick up service to create an impressive overall 15 minute frequency all the way to Worcester.
Bromsgrove bus station, where I took the main photo of 33404 for this blog, is somewhere I’ve been countless times on days out – take this personal blog as an example from 3 years ago, in fact that was the only time I’ve ventured south from here on a bus, ironically on sister vehicle 33403 getting off in Droitwich. The route from Bromsgrove all the way to Worcester is largely back along the route of the original service, so a nice fast main road run, although the importance of the A38 obviously means the road has substantially changed since 1914.
From Droitwich this is now effectively a local service into Worcester, and although the Christmas markets three this weekend may have been a contributing factor this showed with an ever increasing fill of passengers, arriving into the city centre to deposit most of it’s standing load under the rather gorgeous Foregate Street railway bridge. It would have been a shame to make it this far and not do the full route so I stayed on board for the small stretch into Crowngate bus station and hung around generally being bus veg for a bit.
The 144 is a fantastic route, might be much slower than the train but the fact that to this day it’s still relatively direct makes it well worth it. A single for the full journey is only £4.50 but for the adventurer I’d recommend a few extra quid for a dayticket, so you can travel further on other First routes to either Malvern or Evesham – something that surprisingly enough I haven’t done myself yet but really want to now.