Last Saturday’s wedding duty was a real pleasure to perform and shows how laid back some country folk are! The sun shone and the clock virtually stood still as the bride and groom set the pace.
Bizarrely, the pickup point was only 2.5 miles from my in-laws’ house in Bristol so Mrs Busman John and I picked up Southern Vectis 573 (YDL318) from the Crosville Motor Services depot in Weston-super-Mare on Friday evening. This Lodekka is a real pleasure to drive and I enjoyed taking it through the street-lit city centre of Bristol.
This time I was joined by a conductor and we met up the next morning at the pickup point. Simon helped me reverse the bus down a narrow residential road to a space outside the bride’s house. Departure time came and went and eventually the bride, her family and her bridesmaids climbed aboard. Less than half full, we set off and headed through the morning traffic to the A38 via the Ring Road and Brislington.
In my safety speech I had warned my passengers that the journey would be a long one but assured them that my foot would be on the floor most of the way! After about an hour we joined the M5 and plodded south towards Taunton at a sedentary 30mph. Is that a safe speed for a vehicle on the motorway? I sometimes feel a bit vulnerable with traffic, including lorries, coming up fast behind me.
Skirting through the suburbs of Taunton, we were soon following signs for Corfe, a small village nestling in the Somerset countryside. As soon as we’d left that behind we started climbing Whitford Hill. It was marked on the map I’d studied a few days earlier but I hadn’t realised what a long haul it would be. Our Lodekka is relatively good at hill climbing, having a low ratio rear axle well suited to the hilly routes on its native Isle of Wight, but this hill was a bit of a challenge and I had to change down to 2nd gear for the last half mile or so. The engine was really hot by then – I could feel the heat building up beside my left leg – and, with little air passing through the radiator at such a slow speed, the coolant began to boil. I was very glad to reach the top and changed up as soon as I dared. Even so, the road speed dropped away so much that, by the time I let out the clutch in third gear, the engine was almost at stalling revs. However, the gutsy Gardner 6LW still delivered enough torque to keep us going.
As we approached the turning that would take us towards the church, somebody knocked on the window behind me. I glanced around to see Simon the conductor pointing straight ahead. I guessed that there had been a change of plan so I carried on towards the village of Churchingford. As soon as the village pub came into view Simon dinged the bell so I pulled up outside. Led by the bride, who had gathered up the voluminous folds of her wedding dress to enable a quick exit, the entire bridal party disappeared into The York Inn for a comfort break, a drink or a smoke. In some cases, all three. I presumed that someone had been in contact with those waiting at the church as we were now more than 30 minutes late…
We hurried everyone aboard, reversed the bus and retraced our steps (should that be tyremarks?) back up the hill, down the lanes to the ancient parish church at Churchstanton, a community that’s mentioned in the Domesday Book. There were cars parked all over the place and I had to get Simon to come forward and watch my clearance as I inched my way between the cars. A slightly nervous moment, especially as we were within sight of the church and various guests were pointing their cameras at us! Safely through, we parked outside the church and the bridal party went into the church as the bells began to ring.
A very welcome break followed. I was glad to dispense with my dust jacket as the sunshine was by now making the cab very warm. We turned the bus at a nearby junction and waited for the ceremony to finish. We prepared ourselves for a full bus for the final trip to the reception venue.
The 8-note peal of bells rang out again from the tower and the churchyard soon filled with guests. A photographer, who seemed content to just snap some candid shots instead of the usual formal poses, followed the bridal couple around as they chatted and slowly made their way towards the bus. Surprisingly, only the bride and groom boarded the bus, went upstairs and started canoodling in the front seats. Everyone else piled into cars or onto a community minibus that had just arrived. I was wondering what our next move would be or indeed whether we were needed at all. My Work Ticket stated that we were to convey the wedding party to the reception but there didn’t appear to be anyone left to take! I was reluctant to disturb the happy couple in their private moment but in the end, after the vicar and bellringers had left, I climbed the stairs shouting “I’m coming up!” as a warning. The bride shouted back “It’s OK, we’re fully clothed!” so I continued up. Apparently they wanted to wait until all the guests had left and then, to allow them time to get parked and seated, wanted to trundle round the lanes for a bit before arriving at the venue. I was happy with that but asked that one of them should direct me as I didn’t know the locality at all. So it was back to The York first. I was amazed at their laid-back attitude to time but I guessed that they just wanted to enjoy being alone for a while before an afternoon/evening of jollity began. They disappeared inside the pub and reappeared a little later with a Guinness and a lager in hand.
The community minibus came by and the driver confirmed that everyone had been safely delivered so the bride and groom climbed aboard and we set off down the narrow lanes for Stapley Farm, which was owned and run by the groom, who had a large dairy herd. I dreaded meeting any other traffic because there didn’t seem to be many passing places but the locality seemed to be strangely devoid of traffic. I found out why when we arrived at the farm. It was set beside the road which runs through the hamlet of Stapley, which consisted of a motley collection of houses, cottages and a telephone box. The groom and his family had set up a large marquee inside one of his barns and proudly offered to show it to us.
I said that was very kind of him but that I couldn’t leave the bus in the middle of the road unattended. He insisted, saying that nobody would be coming up the lane anyway, because everyone in the area was inside the marquee! I shrugged and said “OK, thanks!” The bus was parked on a hill so I rolled forward a little, turned the wheels towards the verge, stopped the engine, pulled the handbrake on hard and left the bus in 1st gear. Simon and I made our way up into the farmyard and into the huge barn, which had been transformed into a well decorated reception venue. It was humming with broad Somerset chatter so we left them to it and made our way back to the bus. We passed a very salubrious mobile toilet, ‘The Silver Street Loos’ which even had its own piped music. I paid a visit and had to chuckle at the rather cheeky farming songs that played discreetly inside!
Sure enough there were no cars waiting to pass the bus so we bade farewell and, watching for low branches, continued down the lane in search of somewhere to turn the bus. I missed a turn going back so we didn’t return via Corfe but carried on through Blagdon Hill before we reached Taunton. Not part of my plan but very pleasant all the same. The trees were finally bursting forth with late spring greenery and the sunshine continued to light up the beautiful scenery. I drove through Taunton, a town I hadn’t visited since I finished working for Quantock Motor Services a few years ago.
As we toiled up the M5 towards the depot I glanced back and saw my conductor was asleep, slumped in one of the front seats. Lucky fellow! Back at the garage there was a line of service buses awaiting their turn to be cleaned so I parked alongside another Lodekka and did my paperwork. The other bus in the photo is a City of Exeter Guy Arab IV, which is on loan from the West of England Transport Collection at Winkleigh. I hope to be allocated this bus for one of my forthcoming duties.