Last Saturday’s wedding hire job to Corsham, Wiltshire was possibly my longest duty yet. But, despite driving many empty miles there and back from Weston, it was by far the most enjoyable driving job so far.
Two other Bristol Lodekkas were being prepared for another wedding duty as I checked over my FLF at the Crosville Motor Services depot early in the morning. I had a long drive ahead of me and the route I had chosen brought mixed blessings. Although more direct, the A368 towards Bath was slow and twisty, despite it being an ‘A’ road. This required lots of hauling on the large steering wheel and plenty of gearchange practice! The most pleasant aspect was that, being the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee weekend, all the little villages were decked out with flags and bunting. People were out and about in their gardens, already in festive mood, waving to me as I passed by.
I kept checking my 1950’s wristwatch (I only wear it when I’m ‘on the buses’) as the long journey progressed, unsure whether I would make it in time for the first pickup. Following the main road through Bath was relatively painless and, after climbing through the village of Box (famous for the elaborate GWR tunnel portals nearby) I arrived at the Guyers House Hotel with half an hour to spare.
The bride’s father, the groom and four immaculately dressed ushers boarded the bus and I took them into Corsham for lunch. I drove empty to the Rudloe Hall Hotel (pictured above) where I took my lunch break while waiting for some of the guests to board. As on previous occasions, I had checked out the access to this venue on Google Street View and the main entrance seemed to be obscured by low hanging branches. During the previous week I had emailed the hotel to ask if there was another, more suitable entrance. Fortunately there was, the reply told me, completed after the Street View images were taken.
The short drive back into Corsham village took only 5 minutes or so and the guests walked the short distance down a lane to St Bartholomew’s Church, where the wedding was to take place. Although I hadn’t ever been to Corsham before, I was becoming familiar with its main roads as I left the village once more and drove the 8ft-wide FLF up the narrow driveway to the Guyers House Hotel again. This time the bus filled to capacity as yet more guests poured out of the courtyard and into the car park where I waited. This was obviously a large and opulent affair, with no expense spared. Steering, acceleration (if you can call it that) and braking were noticeably different with a full load and I was glad I didn’t to have to negotiate any steep gradients! There were yet more guests to transfer to the church so it was a case of ‘pedal to the metal’ back to the hotel for another load.
In the nick of time, they were delivered to the church. I drove round the town and found a quiet street to park up and kill some time. Returning to the High Street, I parked near the church and waited for the guests to re-appear.
While I waited a young boy and his grandfather appeared from one of the nearby houses and started looking around the bus. “Can I go on it, Grandpa?” the boy asked. “No, it’s all locked up,” replied Grandpa. Taking pity, I asked the boy “Do you want to see inside? What do you think will happen if I pressed this little button?” His eyes lit up as I opened the doors. Grandpa took him aboard and the little chap explored upstairs and down. Several times. A little voice clamoured from the open window of one of the houses, “Mummy, I want to go on too!”. So Mum and daughter joined the party too. In conversation I learned that the old gentleman used to be the Curator at the historic Corsham Court, which was just around the corner.
Not long afterwards one of the ushers appeared and shouted my name up the deserted main street. “I reckon you could get down this lane, you know!” Having told him earlier that it was too narrow with nowhere to turn, I went to have a second look. I was prepared to do my best to be helpful so, with his assistance, I reversed down the lane and found myself in the church car park where the newlyweds had gathered for photographs. I chatted to the driver of the wedding car, a vintage MG, who told me the peculiar story behind the makeshift stone wall with windows and a chimney stack that had been erected by one of the earlier owners of Corsham Court to prevent nosy neighbours watching him eat his breakfast!
The first load of guests boarded the bus for the short trip back to the reception venue, Guyers House Hotel. One of the guests was obviously a military man, dressed up in regimental finery complete with spurs. Those left behind withdrew to a nearby pub, giving me instructions to blow my horn when I returned later!
On returning with the second load, the FLF decided to throw me a curve ball. Pulling up the slight gradient out of the village, my foot was on the floor. As I lifted my foot to change up into 3rd gear the accelerator pedal decided to stay where it was, the engine continuing to bellow at full revs. This was not what I’d planned. I had to dab at the pedal with my foot to make it close, finally allowing me to change gear. Coping with this stickiness on Corsham’s easy gradients wasn’t too much of a problem but it proved to be a real pain the next day!
With all guests delivered, I took a well-earned rest. Many of them had thanked me as they alighted, which was very gratifying. It was hot in the cab and, as the bus stood and sizzled quietly, I quenched my thirst with some (relatively) cold water. By now it was 5.30 and I was psyching myself up for the long drive home when the photographer appeared with the bride and groom in tow. There followed a photo session with the couple on the platform and inside the bus.
Finally, I was thanked profusely and dismissed! I climbed wearily into the cab and started the long drive back through Bath and out to the north coast of Somerset to put the bus to bed. I chose a different route back but I don’t think it was any quicker in the end! The FLF had once again been a pleasure to drive (apart from the accelerator pedal issue) and I hoped I would gain enough strength to face another day’s driving the following day.