Cheltenham & Gloucester

No, not the building society of the same name. These two Gloucestershire towns were my twin destinations last weekend.

Once again I was allocated DEL893C (seems to be my regular bus) for the wedding duty which took me to Hucclecote Parish Church. Pickup time was 09:50 in Cheltenham which would have meant leaving the garage in Weston-super-Mare at about 07:15 so Mrs Busman John and I picked up the Hants & Dorset Bristol FLF on Friday evening so that I could set off for Cheltenham at a more reasonable hour!

I had decided to take the direct route through Bristol as I’d discovered that it would take 8 miles off the total distance, compared with going all round the city on the M5/M4. It was a pleasant drive at that time in the evening. Rush hour had been and gone, leaving the streets nice and empty for me and my lumbering leviathan! Passing along streets that used to see many Bristol FLFs in the 1960s and 70s brought an inner sense of satisfaction, particularly when I passed what used to be the bus depot in Staple Hill.

My pickup point the next morning was a hotel in Cheltenham, not far from the motorway. The drive up from Bristol, starting at a much more reasonable 08:15, was as uneventful as the terrain was flat. Gloucestershire is relatively FLF-friendly compared with Devon, which is positively mountainous in places! The FLF I had today is only powered by a Gardner 6LW which, when fully laden, feels quite underpowered if there are any gradients on the route. Thankfully there were none today and, once loaded at the hotel, I found I had seats to spare so we flew along the A40 to Gloucester at 50mph!

There was only one glitch today and that was self-inflicted. For the first time since I started driving professionally, I took a wrong turn. I left one roundabout in Gloucester too early and found myself doing a tour of a singularly unattractive industrial estate. Having looked at Google Maps very intently the day before, I was hoping that if I kept going, I would eventually come out onto the road which took me to the church. As my hunch turned out to be correct you would have heard an enormous sigh of relief, if it wasn’t for the engine noise in the cab!

Even with my unintentional ‘scenic diversion’ we had time to spare and the guests were inside the church checking their watches before the bride and her father arrived in an immaculate white vintage Riley.

True to form I had a number of interesting visitors while I waited for the service to finish. One passer by stepped aboard and drank in the workaday ambience inside the Bristol FLF. He had been a conductor (and later a driver too) for Eastern National, which of course had it’s own large fleet of FLFs years ago. Another chap stopped to tell me that, as a young man, he used to travel on the express route to Cheltenham on FLFs. ‘Express’ of course is a relative term as, even with the uprated 6LX engine, top speed would only have been a little over 50mph.

Soon we were on our way again, this time with the bride aboard too. In under half an hour we were outside the hotel in Cheltenham again where the obligatory photo session beside the bus took place. My duty done, I set off back to Bristol to collect Mrs Busman John. As it started to rain, I was glad to see that a new wiper blade had been fitted since my last outing. I also realised that I hadn’t had any accelerator pedal issues this trip. Defect Sheets are noted and actioned, thankfully!

I regretted taking the city centre route back to the A370 as it was far busier on Saturday afternoon than on Friday evening. I found myself in the thick of the city traffic having to avoid blocking busy junctions with 30 feet of Bristol Lodekka. “Never mind,” I said to my wife later on, “it’s all good practice!”

Eventually we arrived back at the garge in Weston, just in time to follow two Crosville Bristol Ls into the garage. They had been on a cross-country jaunt together to Frome, Somerset on another wedding job.

In other news, I’m helping to put together an illustrated book on AEC buses for the Westcountry Historic Omnibus & Transport Trust. ‘Makes a nice change from Bristols,’ I can hear you say. I will let you know when it has been published.

I have persuaded my bus boss to enter two vehicles in the Torbay Vintage Bus Running Day on September 2nd. I’m looking forward to driving one of our heritage buses in service on my home patch!

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