Travelling beyond the city limits – X3 to Lichfield

On a well deserved break from the day job, and with an appetite for bus travel returning, following the restrictions of the last 18 months or so, I decided to enjoy an afternoon out on a service I’ve been meaning to sample for some time, as well as visit a place I’ve never been to before.

The X3 was extended by NX Bus to Lichfield in April 2019 following the curtailment of Midland Classic’s X12 service, which previously ran all the way from Burton-on-Trent to Sutton Coldfield, but now terminates at Lichfield.

Part of the ‘Sutton Lines’ group of services, it follows a familiar route from Birmingham city centre to Sutton Coldfield, with a nice little ‘sprint’ along the Aston Expressway which soon sees you arrive in Erdington in less than 15 minutes.

While I’ve often travelled on the Sutton Lines services when visiting Sutton Coldfield, remarkably this is probably the first time I’ve travelled on one beyond Sutton town centre.

So from that point onwards, the scenery was all ‘new’ to me. The likes of Four Oaks, Mere Green and Hill Hook look to be pleasant leafy suburbs of Sutton, Hill Hook is going to be worth a visit in the future so I can have a wander around the nature reserve there!

The journey from city centre had taken just under 50 minutes to get to Hill Hook. From that point though, the bus hits the ‘open road’ of the A5127, leaving the West Midlands behind to take in the breathtaking scenery of the Staffordshire countryside.

While there are stops dotted along Birmingham Road, no-one needed to board or get off, so the driver simply thundered past them, cruising at what must be top speed for these Platinum buses. (Anyone who thinks these buses are ‘slow’ or ‘sluggish’ needs to sample one on this route)

After passing the village of Shenstone, and crossing the M6 Toll Road, you can tell you are close to Lichfield, greeted by the site of two huge housing developments being constructed either side of the road.

Rather than continue along Birmingham Road into the city centre, the route deviates along Falkland Road and Sainte Foy Avenue, again more what look to be recently completed new build homes, but few intending passengers. Seems a strange route to follow, but it later became apparent that this is to avoid a low railway bridge, thus allowing the use of double-decks on this service.

Eventually we arrive at Lichfield Bus Station, a little over an hour since leaving Birmingham city centre.

I won’t bore you with the details of what I did while in LIchfield, but suffice it to say its a picturesque town with plenty to see, including of course the old cathedral, so I would say its well worth a visit, especially if you pick a day with beautiful weather, as today turned out to be. I will just add that this is the first time I have ever seen what looked like a group of Tibetan monks taking selfies!

I only ended up wandering about for an hour or so, before deciding to head back to Birmingham.

Let me warn you, you know you are definitely NOT in the West Midlands when it comes to Lichfield Bus Station! There aren’t any of the ‘luxuries’ such as real-time information displays that we have become accustomed to seeing. Granted NX West Midlands have gone to the trouble of applying ‘vinyls’ to their allocated stand, so you clearly know which one to use. The printed timetable within the shelter looked to be out-of-date, and was partially obscured by a stuck-on notice, advising on the forthcoming removal of their Sunday service (from August 29th).

Though the bus was visibly laying-over when I arrived at the bus station, annoyingly it actually ended up departing about ten minutes late. But this turned out to not be a problem in the end, there was only myself and about five other people waiting to board, and we did actually stop to pick up one or two passengers on Sainte Foy Avenue.

Otherwise it was once again a pretty much non-stop journey along Birmingham Road, through the Staffordshire countryside and into the Sutton suburbs. You know you’re getting closer when the tall imposing structure of the Sutton TV transmitter aerial becomes more prominent!

Despite leaving Lichfield ten minutes late, we must have been back on time on reaching Erdington, as the usual ‘sprint’ along Aston Expressway became a ‘leisurely saunter’, gently toddling along, while you could clearly see the traffic in the opposite direction slowing to a crawl.

Peering at the display on the totem on James Watt Queensway, we had actually arrived two minutes early.

I really enjoyed my afternoon out, and I would recommend the X3 service to anyone looking for an idea for a ‘day-out’ travelling outside the West Midlands. Or even just to sample such a scenic route travelling through the countryside.

The beauty of this also was that as I already pay for a monthly NX Bus regional faresaver pass (by direct debit), it didn’t cost me any more, as all NX Bus tickets/passes are valid for journeys on the X3 through to Lichfield. If you’re not a pass holder, you can of course buy a £4.00 Daysaver for a return journey, which must be great value for money, to travel all the way to Lichfield and back.

Oh well, its back to work again in the morning, but I’m already thinking about travels for my next day off, any suggestions?


About WMBU

Stu is the founder of this West Midlands Bus Users website.
He is not a bus enthusiast, but as a regular passenger takes an interest in public transport related matters, having relied on buses to get around for over twenty-five years now.

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