A few days ago I took a bus load of very special people on a day trip to Lacock Abbey, Wiltshire.
They were special because they were my family! Mrs Busman John’s Mum is 80 this year and we’d decided to take her and all the family out for the day so we hired YDL318, a Southern Vectis FS6G from Crosville Motor Services.
The weather promised to be fine and in fact it turned out to be a scorcher. My wife and I arrived at the depot early in the morning to find that our bus was hidden behind a Bristol VR, which was kindly moved by a colleague while I started up the Lodekka’s Gardner 6LW engine and built up air. While I did my checks my wife got busy with the ribbons, balloons and bunting. There was a definite red, white and blue theme not only in honour of the Queen’s recent Diamond Jubilee but also because we had relatives visiting from the USA. They’re still very proud of being British so I made sure they were able ride in a proper British bus with the engine at the front and the platform at the back!
After fuelling up at Morrisons we headed up the A370 to Bristol and threaded our way through the city traffic which, thankfully, was light. As we arrived to pick up the family party, most of them were already outside with tables, chairs, boxes of food, drinks and even a fridge!
My youngest son Peter did a great job on the platform and eagerly issued souvenir tickets to all his relatives once we were under way.
As always, I had researched my route thoroughly and had decided not to bother with Tog Hill, even though it lay on the most direct route. Our bus only had a top speed of 30mph and a long drag up through Wick would add further time to the journey. So I stuck to the A4 Keynsham Bypass and on through Bath.
Apart from our slow progress only two things marred the outward journey. The first was evident almost as soon as we’d left. Taking pride of place at the front upstairs was my nearly-3-year-old grandson. He was very excited to be riding in Grandad’s Bus but nearly gave me a headache by jumping up and down on the floor just above my head! The other thing was the heat. Not only was the sun shining but also there was hot air blasting out of the heater under one of the seats upstairs. Mrs Busman John banged on the glass behind me and held up a handwritten note: “Turn the heater off please!” I pulled over into a layby and found the heater fan switch and turned it off.
Leaving Bath behind, we carried on along the A4, passing through Box. The road climbs steadily after this up Box Hill to Corsham. I had expected our speed to fall away to snail’s pace but the low geared Lodekka ploughed on in top gear. Ok, so the engine revs dropped quite a bit but the sturdy Gardner diesel develops torque until it’s almost at stalling speed.
Having been to Corsham before with an FLF I knew my way round the town so we stopped for a ‘comfort break’ at the town centre bus stops. Our shiny green machine drew plenty of admiring glances and out came several cameras.
The pretty village of Lacock is only about 5 miles further on so we took the cross-country B-road route. Our American nephews and niece were shocked that I was taking them down such a narrow lane. “We don’t have such tiny roads as this in America!”
We pulled up outside Lacock Abbey to allow everyone to disembark and carry all the lunchtime goodies across the road to the grassy picnic area. Peter and I parked the bus in the National Trust’s coach park. I had contacted the Abbey earlier to arrange our visit and the staff had helpfully coned off an area away from the trees for us.
The afternoon passed very pleasantly. After a sumptous al-fresco lunch, some of us visited the Abbey, some wandered around the village and some just lazed in the sunshine! Wine was drunk (not by me, I hasten to add), football was played and photos were taken. Soon it was time to pack up and go home. We retrieved the bus from the now-empty coach park, loaded everyone on and set off back the way we’d come. Although hot and tired, I was enjoying the journey immensely. I had planned this trip a long time ago and had been looking forward to it. Although I felt the added responsibility of carrying several generations of the family, I felt confident enough in my driving to be able to give them a smooth, professional drive.
There was only one moment when I made a mess of the gears. At the bottom of Newbridge Hill on the road out of Bath towards Bitton there’s a set of traffic lights. I had hoped to sail through these in 3rd gear or possibly 2nd. But it was not to be. The lights were at red and stayed that way until I had dropped through 3rd gear, then 2nd and finally 1st. I didn’t actually stop because the lights changed as I drew level. Perhaps rashly, I decided to attempt a snatch change from 1st to 2nd. I was feeling a bit miffed that the lights had deliberately dashed my plan to forge up the hill in 3rd. The engine revs had begun to rise in 1st as I pulled away and I snatched the gear lever back. Maybe I wasn’t quick enough, but the ‘box made an awful din as I finally found 2nd and let the clutch out with a judder. Must do more practise.
We stopped in Oldland Common for Fish & Chips and drove on as far as Mangotsfield Common where we spread ourselves out on the grass to eat our very British take-away in the fading light of a beautiful sunset. There followed a photo session centred on the Lodekka’s cab. A very special moment came when my grandson was lifted onto my seat to be photographed. I couldn’t help recalling the day when my Dad lifted me into the cab of a Wilts & Dorset Lodekka when I was a toddler like my grandson. I’ve posted the resulting picture before so here’s the 2012 version!
Just around the corner was journey’s end for the passengers. Happy, grateful and full of chips, they emptied the bus of the remnants of lunch and assorted belongings.
All that remained was for Mrs Busman John and me to return the bus to the depot. But even that was tinged with frustration. As we joined the A370 at Cumberland Basin we hit a massive traffic jam as thousands of people streamed away from the Bristol Balloon Fiesta. We spent nearly 30 minutes in that queue! However, as soon as we’d edged forward as far as the junction for Ashton Gate the traffic suddenly eased and the rest of the journey, now in darkness, was plain sailing.
My grateful thanks to my son Matthew for the use of the photos in this post.
Next weekend is the Weston-super-Mare Running Day so I might meet up with some of you there!