Clifton Downs scenic tour

I was delighted to arrive at the Crosville depot last Saturday to find that I was rostered with my friend Paul to drive a two-bus wedding day trip to Clifton Downs, Bristol. Not only that, but we had two buses that I may have seen in my youth. Regular readers will know all about the ex-Hants & Dorset Bristol FLF which I seem to have driven more than any other bus this year (not that I’m complaining, of course). H&D buses often ran into Salisbury bus station on the Southampton service and I saw these many times during family holidays to Salisbury.

The other vehicle was LD6G 696EHW from Bath Services, a subsidiary of Bristol Omnibus. I used to see this bus (and others from the Bath Services fleet) pass my grandparents’ house in Wilton Road, Salisbury on its way in to the city’s bus station. So you can imagine it was rather special to have these two buses out on a private hire job together. They are pictured below parked up in Albert Road, Bristol awaiting the call to pick up wedding guests nearby.

As you can see, both vehicles are equipped with the Cave-Browne-Cave cooling system, the filling of which requires two people so Paul and I helped each other top up each other’s bus before we left the depot.

Both buses are fitted with 5-speed gearboxes so our progress up the A370 was fairly swift. We arrived near the pickup point with time to spare so we waited for a call from one of the ushers. The pickup point was on the busy A4 and we had arranged, with military precision, a pickup with minimal disruption to the traffic. The only flaw was that there were roadworks right outside the Arnos Vale Cemetary, where we were to pick up our passengers. As it happened there was a gap in the coned off areas just big enough for a bus to pull in. Paul pulled in with the Bath Services Lodekka while I waited further back up the road at a bus stop. The road was helpfully straight so I could see the bus being loaded. When Paul climbed into his cab I pulled out of the bus stop and stopped in the gap which he had just vacated and continued to load the remaining guests.

I was wearing my full winter uniform which delighted several of the older guests so I had to pose by the bus for photos before setting off for Clifton Downs. Our route took us through Bristol city centre, including Park Street. This long uphill haul often slows vintage buses down to a crawl as it did when BOC had Bristol K’s and Lodekkas in its fleet many years ago. But on this occasion I managed it in 2nd gear as my bus wasn’t quite full.

Taking the Circular Road around the Downs I parked near the other bus at a viewpoint where all the guests disembarked to mingle and take in the views of the Avon Gorge and the Clifton Suspension Bridge, along with champagne and nibbles.

With sightseeing over, we loaded up again. But not before Paul and I were greeted by the obligatory gentleman. You know, there’s always one who comes up and says “I went to school on one of these!” or “I passed my PSV test on one like this!”

We drove in convoy around the Downs and along Ladies Mile before dropping down Bridge Valley Road to follow the River Avon round to the city centre again. However, we were separated when someone on my bus rang the bell. I pulled over and opened the doors. One of the ushers jumped down and ran away down the street. This wasn’t planned and he didn’t give me any clue as to why we’d stopped. Was he feeling ill? Desperate for a leak? I knew there were public conveniences nearby. None of the above, actually. When he re-appeared, still running, I could see he was holding a packet of cigarettes. With a quick nod to me through the cab window behind me, he disappeared to deliver the emergency supplies to one of the other guests.

I had planned a route through the back streets of Bedminster to arrive at the venue on the correct side of the street but what Google Street View couldn’t show me was the excessive amount of camber on the road right where we wanted to drop off our passengers. There was a wooden telegraph pole near the edge of the pavement which I gingerly steered around, knowing that my bus was leaning heavily towards the pole. Paul, who had arrived ahead of me, waved me forward as he watched me clear the pole safely. Looking up at it as the passengers alighted, I could see that several previous encounters had left their mark!

The job done and everyone happy, Paul and I re-joined Coronation Road but both turned in different directions as I had to pick up Mrs Busmanjohn a little way into Bristol. After putting the bus to bed in the garage in Weston-super-Mare we drove across to the other side of Somerset to collect my latest purchase, a new car. Actually it’s not so new. It hit the roads just two years after the Bristol FLF I’d just been driving was delivered new to Hants & Dorset! Designed during World War 2, the prototype was named the Mosquito. Can you guess what it is yet? Answers on a postcard…  Readers who are also Facebook friends are not eligible – they have an unfair advantage!

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