Travelling beyond the city limits – 110 Brum to Tamworth

In my last blog for this site I talked about First’s 144 from Birmingham to Worcester. The 144 is a direct descendent of an old Midland Red route and I thought for this blog I’d go the opposite way out the city on a similarly historic route. Now the only direct bus route left between Birmingham and Tamworth, the 110 is run by Arriva’s Tamworth garage using their high spec Sapphire buses. I’ve ridden the 110 loads of times and very familiar with the entire route, but I’m not particularly sure I’ve ever done it all in one go – so with the offer of a free day ticket for users of their mobile ticket app I decided this last weekend to have a ride as part of a general day’s bashing the Arriva network in Staffordshire.

Historically, Tamworth had two Birmingham bus routes: this 110 via Sutton Coldfield (at one time even a through route from Nottingham!) and the 116 via Kingsbury. Given the corridor the 110 serves out of the city it’s easy to see why they eventually abandoned the 116 and ploughed all their efforts into this, it does provide serious competition along National Express’s Sutton Coldfield corridor and for a time even outdid their offering when the Sapphire brand was launched (4413 pictured in Tamworth after todays run – with USB charging points and free WiFi well before NX, only recently rebranding their routes as Platinum). I’ll be honest they’ve won me over, whenever I’m travelling up that way I tend to wait for the 110 instead.

So for about half of it’s length the 110 follows the NX Sutton corridor, with the same stopping pattern – ie a nice thrash along the Aston Expressway then every stop from there north. It’s probably a more familiar service to bus users than the 144, with the simple reason being that it’s much more accessible – a higher 15 minutes frequency on weekdays and, as opposed to First, Arriva accept the countywide nBus passes – and loadings reflect this, with peak services I note in the city centre quite full. In fact in direct contrast to the 144 it’s this section of the 110 within the city limits that’s busier than the stretch beyond the county boundary.

Today, though, is a Saturday, and although not as ridiculously early as some of my Saturday travels it is still 09:20 and heading against the main flow of traffic, so a relatively quiet journey lay ahead – only really stopping at a handful of stops before Sutton for the timetable to catch us up, with the next stop announcements reeling off stop after stop as we flew past them. That said, and even though there was an NX X4 behind us, we still picked up the majority of whatever passengers that were waiting, showing that people along this corridor generally catch whichever company’s bus comes first.

Leaving Sutton Coldfield it seems as if the direct Tamworth Road would have been the original line of the Midland Red route, and that the section via Good Hope Hospital and Whitehouse Common was a later addition. This turns out not necessarily to be the case, the oldest Midland Red timetable I have in my collection (1969) shows this same route, in fact generally over the years this out of county route has been the only local service along Whitehouse Common Road. Eventually turning onto the Tamworth Road itself, the 110 crosses the West Midlands county boundary and over the M6 Toll Road just before the notorious Bassetts Pole island. At off peak times, the nearby paintball fields provides a bit of custom for the route but nowhere near the passenger volume seen for a later attraction.

The stretch of national speed limit along the A453 here between the built up areas of Whitehouse Common and Mile Oak is another great opportunity for a bit of a thrash on any of Arriva’s buses, but especially if you’re lucky enough to be on the two “other” buses that Tamworth depot has for the route – namely the Sapphire spec single deck Mercedes Citaro and the recently refurbished Volvo B9 double deck (one of a batch of vehicles that plied the route previously), two vehicles that are used to supplement the fleet of Sapphire spec E400s now the weekday frequency has been increased from every 20 mins at launch to every 15 now.

Turning right at Mile Oak we travel along a stretch along the old Roman Watling Street, passing Tamworth’s Robert Peel Hospital before we reach the quiet Fazeley Square, where we are only 15 minutes walk from the popular Drayton Manor theme park. It has to be said that this proximity has gone some way to help to ensure the longevity of this route, in fact special bus and entry tickets have encouraged bus travel to the park (well, not today, it’s closed), I’m not sure the route would be so successful if Drayton Manor were not here. From here into Tamworth the route follows the wide River Tame and cuts through the Ventura retail park, another big source of custom, before crossing the floodplain to reach Tamworth town centre.

As I say, over the years I’ve travelled this route many times, and I’m always a little surprised how many people use it between Sutton and Tamworth – compared to other out of county routes – but for that exact reason I know full well it will continue to prosper and give enthusiasts like me a good starting point for a long distance wander (of which this was part of for me, and I’ll link to my blog of the whole trip soon)