Yesterday dawned slowly. In other words, it was barely getting light at 7am when normally it would be bright enough to set the senses jingling at the prospect of a new day. It hadn’t improved much by the time I left home for what may possibly be my last conducting turn on the Service 400 ‘Exmoor Explorer’. Arriving at the Bishops Lydeard garage of Quantock Motor Services I was rather alarmed to see Bristol LDL6G VDV752 already out on the road and ready to go. Even more worryingly, there was already a conductor inside! However, it turned out a ‘clerical error’ had been made in the office and the aforementioned conductor left soon afterwards. Home to bed again, I was told.
We proceeded up to Porlock for breakfast, about an hour’s drive with an empty bus, through several showers of rain. On the way we passed through the appropriately named village of Washford (above). Today, I decided, it should be re-named ‘Awash-ford’. Arriving at Porlock’s Doverhay car park, I decided to delay wiping down the upper deck seats until AFTER we’d had breakfast at the Lorna Doone Hotel. I needn’t have worried. There weren’t any passengers to occupy them. We departed, still empty, for Minehead and parked at the seafront stop in a huge puddle of rainwater.
It continued to rain. Everything was grey and wet. Even the green hills of Wales would have been grey and wet, had we been able to see them. I sat in the lower saloon, alone, waiting for passengers.
None came. Departure time came so we left, empty. By now the upper deck floor was waterlogged and rainwater began dripping through the ceiling into the lower deck. Several seats became uninhabitable.
My driver and I had jokingly talked about packing up and driving straight back to the garage. I’m glad we didn’t because at Exford there was… A Passenger. She had set out from Minehead earlier in the day on the Service 300 ‘Coastal Explorer’ and ended up at Exford courtesy of a Ridlers service. We continued through the driving rain across Exmoor and our lone passenger alighted at Woodcombe, on the outskirts of Minehead. We stopped at the seafront, which was still grey and still deserted.
During our lunch break the weather brightened up a bit and there were even patches of blue sky peeping through. Several people joined us for the afternoon trip until we had about 17 aboard. My driver, watering can in hand, checked the radiator but found no need to use it. Usually it needs topping up after the gruelling climb up the Avill valley to Wheddon Cross but today, with an empty bus, our Lodekka barely broke into a sweat.
I gave my usual welcome and introduction to the top deck passengers and greeted the lower deck folk, then my final trip on the 400 was underway. Unfortunately the brighter weather didn’t last and, by the time we had climbed Edgcott Hill onto the moor it was raining again. Up ahead was a blanket of grey, promising heavier rain to come. As we passed the spot where some of Exmoor’s red deer can be seen, I couldn’t even see the hillside, let alone any wildlife that may have been there. Pretty soon all but three hardy souls had descended into the relative comfort of the lower saloon. I spoke to one gentleman, when I went upstairs to press the buzzer at the junction with the A39 road, who had taken refuge behind the front windscreen. He told me that he was used to foul weather as he was a motorbike enthusiast. Two more folk sitting right at the back were getting absolutely drenched but seemed determined to endure the weather, right to the bitter end.
As usual in weather like this, I had to apologise on the company’s behalf for the incontinent ceiling. Fortunately there were enough dry seats to accommodate the passengers. I kept the platform doors closed to stop the worst of the rain from blowing in but plenty more dripped down the bodywork from upstairs.
At this point I would like to pay tribute to my driver, Russell. Not only did he have to safely negotiate our tortuous route (a challenge at the best of times) but also had to contend with driving rain. The windscreen wiper provided on the Lodekka is rather small and only operates at one speed; slow. From time to time (mostly when going downhill) he also had water running down the inside of the glass! I really appreciate his driving style, unlike that of the driver on my previous trips this year. Despite only coming recently to heritage buses (and with very little instruction on the crash box technique), Russell has a real affinity with the old bus and gave us a smooth ride. All his gear changes were quiet and well timed.
And so, with a grand total of £35 to bank, plus a few concessions to reclaim, my 400 duty came to an end. I would have loved to have finished on a warm, sunny day with a full load but it wasn’t to be. I have many memories of conducting on the 400, many of which are recorded in this blog. Will there be more in 2012? Who knows. Everyone at QMS seems to think not but I will still submit my ideas for a well-publicised but less intensive season next year. I will let you know if there is any progress.
Next up on the conducting front will be a suck-it-and-see conducting turn for an operator in north Somerset. News of this in a couple of weeks. In the meantime, I may delve into my photo collection to find something of interest. Thank you for reading – please stick around!