Into the Dragon’s Den with a Bristol Lodekka

On Saturday my conductor and I were given the honour of conveying a bus load of Dragons and other well-heeled celebrities to the Axentis Michael Memorial Ball. Yes, dear reader, the Dragons from the TV show.

But first, let me tell you about another outing earlier in the day. This was a wedding which required the use of a heritage single decker due to a low bridge en-route to the church. I was given a 1950 Bristol L5G, ex-Crosville. This is very similar to the Crosville Bristol L that I drove to Shepton Mallet earlier in the year.

The one I had last weekend is in immaculate condition, having undergone a very thorough and costly from-the-wheels-up restoration in recent years. It has been lovingly cared for ever since and looks as good as the day it was delivered to Chester depot when new.

Several months have passed since I drove the other Bristol L so I needed the empty journey to Cadbury House Hotel to familiarise myself with the vehicle. It was broadly similar to driving a Lodekka except that the gearbox layout is slightly different. The positions of the 4 forward gears are subtly different – 2nd and 4th being slightly closer to neutral than 1st and 3rd. Or is it the other way around? Well, I did say it was subtle…

The other difference to note is that the 5-cylinder Gardner diesel engine, once warmed up, takes a LONG time to spool down when changing up a gear. The gear ratios seem to be more spaced out than on a Lodekka as well, meaning that I had to use most of the rev range to achieve a satisfactory up-change otherwise I found that the engine was almost at stalling speed when the next gear was engaged. But my biggest impression was that everything was beautifully adjusted and tight. There were virtually no rattles in the cab, unlike a certain Bristol FLF I could mention.

I arrived at the hotel, owned and run by the Hilton Group, in plenty of time. Departure time came and so too did the passengers, thankfully. We made leisurely progress along the A370, turning off to pass under the railway bridge at Nailsea and Backwell station. The Parish Church at Wraxall isn’t far beyond the town of Nailsea so it wasn’t long before I pulled into a convenient bus layby just past the church. While waiting for the ceremony to finish I chatted with the owner/driver of a superb Austin Six which had conveyed the bride to the church. The driver and I had met before at a Wedding Fayre last year.

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Exeter Twilight Run: back to the platform

It was a good opportunity to dust off my Setright Speed ticket machine and reacquaint myself with the duties of a bus conductor. Yes, dear reader, I was relegated to the back end of a bus last weekend. I’d had my name down to take part in the Exeter Twilight Running Day for some time, expecting to drive one of the Exeter Corporation Leylands. The bus in question, a PD2 of 1956 vintage, has been undergoing some restoration work and a repaint this year and wasn’t ready in time.

My friends at Crosville Motor Services brought Hants & Dorset Bristol FLF 1220 (DEL893C) down from Weston-super-Mare for the event and I offered to be conductor for them. The driver was my old colleague from Quantock days, Stuart Andrews. He and I worked together on the Service 400 ‘Exmoor Explorer’ and I was happy to note that he remains one of the most skilful heritage bus drivers I ever had the privilege to ride with.

This event now runs in the afternoon as well as after dark so the first free service departed from Exeter’s Bus Station at 15:15. For the rest of the afternoon and evening there was a constant stream of heritage buses coming into and out of the bus station. This shot shows a City of Exeter Guy Arab V, a Bristol LL6B coach and the H&D Bristol FLF mentioned earlier.

I think there were about 10 different vehicles operating the various routes and destinations included Redhills, Pennsylvania, Broadclyst, Crossmead and the Quay. Our first duty was the 15:40 to Crossmead, which took us along Exeter’s High Street, over the River Exe and up Dunsford Hill to a turning point near the Crossmead estate. Unfortunately a couple of cars had parked in the turning circle so Stuart had to reverse into a nearby side turning before returning to the bus station.

Also present were these two historic Leylands. The yellow Bournemouth Corporation bus carries the same MCW bodywork as some of the many trolleybuses for which Bournemouth was famous. Many ex-Bournemouth buses and trolleybuses have taken refuge at the West of England Transport Collection at Winkleigh, following the dispersal of a private collection in Bournemouth.

The green-liveried 1947 Exeter Corporation Leyland Titan PD2 has returned to service after many years off the road and is looking superb. As you can imagine, it was very popular!

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Return to Priston-Mill-in-the-Mud

We’ve been having a lot of weather lately, in case you hadn’t noticed. Vast amounts of the wet stuff have been falling from the sky and this has led to very muddy conditions in the country lanes.

On Saturday I took Hants & Dorset 1220 on a Private Hire job to Priston Mill, near Bath. The bus was ready and waiting for me when I arrived (thanks Andrew!) so all I had to do was complete my walk round checks and jump in! The A370 was fairly busy so it was quite easy for the FLF to keep pace with the traffic. I’d forgotten about the diversion at Long Ashton, due to roadworks on the overbridge but fortunately the traffic kept moving and we rejoined the main road just before the Cumberland Basin. Annoyingly, I took the Bedminster exit instead of carrying on over the Avon and on towards Clifton. This resulted in a rather roundabout route through the city. However, all was not lost as I had plenty of time in hand. In fact, I had too much. The first pick up was at a bus stop near Clifton Downs but I was about 20 minutes early to I parked up in a handy layby, especially provided for buses on layover!

I had the benefit of a run-up to Park Street. In other words, I could attack the steep hill at 30mph without being hindered by the pedestrian crossing at the bottom. However, even with an empty bus, I was down to 2nd gear by about halfway up and I chuckled to myself as the noise of the Lodekka climbing the hill in time-honoured fashion turned many heads!

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