Crosville heritage drivers are becoming experts at taking double deck buses down country lanes. Not only that, but squeezing them through the narrowest of gaps in tiny village streets. All without touching the sides!
My latest foray into the Somerset countryside took me to Goathurst, near Bridgwater. Southern Vectis 573 (YDL318) has made this journey at least twice before but I hadn’t so I sought advice from a fellow driver (and blog reader) who had done the trip before. I had an inkling of what lay ahead when he said “breathe in!”
As is my custom, I researched the route I would take (following advice from my mate Dave) and did a ‘dry run’ with Google Street View. This time, just for fun, I tried out the Sat Nav function on my smartphone.
It wasn’t very successful. Although it showed the route that I had saved the day before, it kept trying to turn me around and go the other way. I think I must have set the route in the opposite direction when I saved it. I tried it again coming back from the destination later in the day and, while the screen showed me all the right data, I couldn’t get any voice directions through my bluetooth earpiece. I know it works because I’d tried it out one day on my way into work. Oh well, I’d better stick to memorising the route the old fashioned way!
My bus was already outside in the sunshine, fuelled up and ready to go when I arrived to pick it up. So, having checked the fluid levels and done my walkaround checks, I managed to set off earlier than I’d planned. As it turned out, that was very fortuitous.
Leaving on the A371 via Bleadon, I joined the A38 near Brent Knoll and immediately met a huge traffic jam. I had no option but to mingle with the nose to tail holiday traffic. After about 20 minutes spent crawling along at walking pace I discovered the reason for the tailback. A car had broken down right at the entry to the roundabout which serves the M5 junction. Once past it, I was able to proceed at my normal rate.
Following the A38 through Highbridge and Bridgwater, I turned off the main road and headed into the countryside. The roads turned into lanes, barely wide enough to let my bus pass through unscathed. I met a few cars coming the other way but they helpfully pulled into passing places.
After threading my way through the tiny village of Goathurst, I found Huntstile Organic Farm where the wedding guests had gathered. A helpful usher opened the farm gate and watched as I reversed down to the farm to load up. We were almost full as I set off in 1st gear up the farm track to the lane and back through the village to the church where the wedding ceremony was to take place. It seemed rather farcical to have driven all the way down from Weston-super-Mare just to transport a bus load of people less than a mile to the church! It didn’t matter to me, most wedding duties involve an empty journey that is far longer than the actual loaded mileage. That’s just a factor of having a popular fleet of heritage buses serving a large geographical area.
We passed, for the second time that day, a cottage garden with a high hedge. There was obviously a dog within and it barked furiously at the top of our big green monstrosity as it loomed over the top of the hedge. As I squeezed between the parked cars in the village I was reminded of the ficticious village of Greendale in the Postman Pat stories. Goathurst was just like that; colourful, picture-perfect cottages set either side of an impossibly narrow village street.
I stopped the bus opposite the lych gate of the parish church, completely blocking the road, of course. With an hour or so to wait before returning, I drove back along the lanes as far as the suburbs of Bridgwater to turn the bus, there being nowhere else suitable in the village. On the way I spotted a useful looking passing place that could easily double as a bus-shaped layby so, on my return, parked there out of the way to take a break and eat some lunch.
The solitude of the open country was a breath of fresh air, literally. There was hardly a sound, just the song of blackbirds in the hedgerows and the sound of larks patrolling invisibly in the blue sky to delight the ear. Occasionally there was the muted rattle of a tractor working in a distant field. Eventually, across the fields, I heard the faint sound of bells ringing but, not wanting to block the road for too long, I waited until just before the appointed time before setting off for the church again. As it was, the bride and groom were still having photographs taken as they made their way through the churchyard towards their car.
Once more my manoevering skills were tested as I had to inch my way past a large car, decorated with ribbons, to reach the lych gate where the passengers were beginning to congregate for the return journey. So tight was the space that I had to leave the cab twice to check my clearance. There were a few extra passengers this time so every seat was taken for the short trip back to Huntstile.
Shortly after we had arrived a beautiful vintage Rolls-Royce motor car drew up behind the bus and the bride and groom emerged for more photos. The driver left the engine ticking over as he had to depart for another wedding. The quiet, refined sound of the idling engine reminded me of a clip of film dramatising the early history of Rolls-Royce where engineering genius Mr Henry Rolls struggles with the starting handle to get the engine of his new motor car running. Mr Royce, standing nearby and yet to be convinced of the wisdom of joining Mr Rolls in business, folds his arms and taunts Mr Rolls. “Ha ha!” he chuckles, as Mr Rolls stands up straight after swinging the handle one last time, “can’t you get the thing running?” With a smug grin, Mr Rolls looks Mr Royce in the eye and says quietly, “My dear Mr Royce, it IS running!”. A wonderful moment of one-upmanship that I’ve never forgotten!
The black and cream Rolls departed with the sound of tyres on gravel, nothing more. I did much the same, but accompanied by the unmistakeable sound of a 6-cylinder Gardner diesel! My return journey was punctuated by numerous visits to bus stops and laybys to let the traffic tailback go by. Other than that, it was uneventful. I used the trip back up the A38 to hone my skills at changing gear as smoothly as possible. While perfectly adequate, it’s still a work in progress. I don’t suppose I will ever be completely satisfied with my technique because there are so many variables that need to be factored in while driving.
Back at the garage I photographed our Crosville open top Lodekka, part way through an engine stripdown. Last week it suffered a broken piston ring but it’s not clear how much damage it caused when it went AWOL.
To the right of it is NFM67, a Crosville Bristol KSW which needs major surgery to its Bristol AVW engine. Does anyone have an AVW that needs a good home? On the subject of spare parts, someone has contacted me from the USA looking for parts for his BVW-powered Bristol FLF. He needs the front section of the 2-part folding door and a radiator core for rebuilding (or a complete good one). If you can help, please leave a comment. Thanks.