It was one of those balmy autumn days when the sunshine still had enough warmth to qualify as an ‘Indian Summer’. I arrived at the Crosville depot in Weston-super-Mare to prepare my allocated bus, ex-Bath Services Bristol LD6G L8515 (969EHW). It was already sitting outside in the sun, along with ‘Bosworth’, the ex-Crosville Bedford OB. A driver colleague, who was on his first heritage private hire job, was already there completing his walk-round checks.
Our destination was Dillington House, a large country house near Ilminster, Somerset. As usual, I had researched my route and had written out some bullet-point directions to take with me in the cab just to remind me. I’m glad I printed off a second copy because my colleague, knowing that he would probably be following me, hadn’t checked his map very thoroughly! I gave him my second copy just in case we got separated.
Our route took us down the M5 as far as Taunton and then via the A358 towards Ilminster before striking out through the lanes to the venue.
We had arrived with time to spare (always a good plan!) so we wandered round a bit, admiring the extensive grounds and impressive frontage to the house. Dillington House has a converted stable block (pictured above) which has additional accommodation as well as function rooms.
When the wedding guests appeared I was told that the first bus was to take the groom, bridesmaids and ushers to the church first, before returning to collect any guests who hadn’t been able to be seated in the Bedford. So, very lightly loaded, I set off towards the church at Curry Rivel, where the wedding ceremony was to take place. Most of the route was along country lanes so there was much gearbox work to do as I negotiated bends in the road and oncoming traffic.
Returning to Dillington House I passed ‘Bosworth’, fully loaded, coming the other way. The driver and a front seat passenger who looked familiar were waving furiously! As I drove along the narrow, undulating drive to the house I opened all the cab windows as it was getting rather warm. The musical sound of a Bristol Lodekka in 2nd gear wafted through. I never tire of it!
Back at the house, only a handful of guests were waiting. One of them told me that a number of invited people either weren’t coming or were running late and going straight to the church by car. With only a light load again, I retraced my steps (or should that be tyre tracks?) to St Catherine’s Church, Drayton which is just outside Curry Rivel. The Bedford was already there, parked outside the village pub so, as soon as the bus was empty, my driver colleague helped me reverse into a parking spot down a nearby gravel lane.
We took a break and a nice lady, whose charming cottage was opposite where we had parked the Lodekka, made us both a lovely mug of hot tea. She had her daughter with her and the little girl was fascinated with the bus so we let her climb the stairs to look at the top deck. The same nice lady also agreed to take a photo of us standing by the platform. I had lent my son’s uniform to the other driver for the day so we looked quite authentic!
The lady’s husband had an old Dennis fire engine parked in the back garden and invited us to go and look at it. How could we refuse? Sadly it wasn’t a runner and obviously needed a lot of TLC to bring it back to life. In better health was the Rolls Royce car that had brought the bride. We spent a long time talking to its owner/driver and we told him about the heritage buses we are privileged to be able to drive.
The church bells rang out and soon the wedding party emerged into the sunshine for photos. A quaint village custom was also enacted, whereby the newlyweds were prevented from leaving the churchyard by children from the village, who held the gate shut with a piece of ribbon. Only when a few coins had been passed over the gate to the children was the ribbon cut and the happy couple permitted to proceed to their ‘carriage’!
The ‘mystery passenger’ from earlier was revealed – it was a former driver colleague! He and his wife were guests at the wedding and he insisted in sitting right at the front of the Bedford on the outward journey, much to the consternation of the driver, who was already nervous enough! As passengers boarded for the return journey, our former colleague decided to sample the delights of the Bristol Lodekka, having driven it himself before. Although he was sitting in the saloon behind me, I was still on edge. My skills with the Lodekka don’t usually let me down these days but it focusses your mind when you know that a much more experienced driver is sitting right behind you, listening for missed gears! Fortunately, I wasn’t able to provide him with any.
Back at the house, we took a rest period and chatted some more to our former colleague, for whom I used to conduct now and then when he and I worked for Quantock Motor Services on the Service 400 ‘Exmoor Explorer’.
The journey back to the depot was only notable for the fact that, while trundling up the M5, ‘Bosworth’ suddenly pulled out from behind me and overtook. The Bedford has a speed advantage of about 7 mph and my colleague took advantage of this. Apparently the oil temperature had been steadily climbing due to travelling in the slipstream of the Lodekka so the driver elected to forge on ahead for a better cooling effect. Back at the garage, we left the 2 old timers beside the fleet of modern buses for the cleaners to deal with.
Since doing this duty, I’ve had one other but I won’t be writing about it except to say that the day was fraught with frustrations. I’d had problems fuelling ‘Bosworth’, a last minute substitution for a Bristol L. This in turn led to lateness at the venue and a fear that I would run out of fuel before I could get to a filling station. All ended well, as it happened, but it’s a job I’d rather forget!