This afternoon I had a surprise conducting turn to Canonteign Estate, Devon. Fortunately I didn’t have to drive all the way up to Somerset first, I’d arranged to meet my driver at Exeter Services. In fact we arrived at almost the same moment! As I drew up to the lights beside the motorway, so did 2 double deck buses from Quantock Motor Services.
The job was to pick up a large wedding party (hence the two vehicles) from St David’s Church, Exeter and take them to Canonteign Estate, a splendid Georgian mansion deep in the stunningly beautiful Teign Valley near Chudleigh. My driver was also the boss and we had an ex-Ipswich Corporation AEC Regent V. The other bus was an ex-Stockport Corporation Leyland PD3. Strangely enough they both had the same bodywork – by Neepsend (East Lancs) so, apart from the liveries and engines, they looked quite similar.
We drove in convoy through the centre of Exeter, drawing glances from the Saturday shoppers, in plenty of time to meet the wedding party. Almost as soon as we arrived the church bells began to ring. Were they for us or the happy couple?!
Two ushers hurried out of the church, both bearing large metal vases containing spectacular flower arrangements. Worryingly, they headed towards the buses. Apparently the flowers needed to accompany the guests to the reception venue but the only place on the bus they could travel was on the platform! The other conductor and I both agreed to prop up the flowers on the journey, lest they topple over. Which was a pity because I was then unable to issue any souvenir tickets after we set off!
The journey was pleasant, the weather was warm and the scenery was lovely. The only boring bit was climbing Haldon Hill on the A38 towards Chudleigh. Both buses were in low gear, toiling up the hill for what seemed like ages. I glanced back at the other bus which was following closely behind. Some of the passengers were gesticulating at me as I turned around as if to say “can’t your bus go any faster?” So I put my hands on the window beside the gangway and started trudging on the spot, as if pushing the bus up the hill!
Canonteign is only a short distance up the Teign Valley from Chudleigh and the entrance to the mansion is through a pair of wrought iron gates. It was a tight fit, with only a couple of inches to spare.
Our wedding guests departed for champagne and canapés on the terrace, leaving behind empty water bottles and party bags. One lady came back, looking for something that had been left behind, only it wasn’t there. She’d forgotten her handbag “…it’s not important, there’s nothing in it…” but we couldn’t find it. We assured her that one of the other guests must have spotted it and picked it up for her.
After the drivers’ mandatory break, we turned the buses on the gravel drive and headed back towards Exeter. We hadn’t gone very far down the lane when my driver stopped the bus in a layby and, turning around in his seat, made sign language for “do you want to drive?” How could I say no?!
So we swapped places and I drove back to Exeter Services. The Ipswich AEC Regent has a semi-automatic gearbox so there’s no clutch. I’ve driven a similarly-equipped Bristol VRT before so it didn’t take me too long to get the hang of it. This particular bus has a habit of hanging on to the previous gear when you move the little gear selector into neutral so I decided to move the stick just before I took my foot off the throttle. It was happy then and all further changes were nice and smooth.
Once , when looking back before changing lanes at a tricky junction on the motorway, I saw that the lower saloon was empty. Had my driver fallen off the platform? Had I taken one of those country corners a bit fast? It turned out that he was enjoying the journey from upstairs!