Welcome return for Hants & Dorset Bristol FLF

You’ve no doubt heard the old phrase “You wait ages for a bus and then two come along together” (or similar). Well, in an odd way, the same has happened with my most recent Crosville duties. I’ve now had two consecutive wedding jobs when I’ve been allocated a bus fresh from restoration/refurbishment.

Atworth-1

After nearly a year off the road, Hants & Dorset 1220 has made a very welcome return to service. I almost regarded this 1965-built Bristol FLF6G as my regular bus in 2012, my first season with Crosville. There were times when I was rostered with it so often that I used to envy some of the other drivers when they were allocated different buses. Just a minute, how blasé can you get? We’re talking about 50-year-old buses here – I’m lucky to be driving one at all!

While filling in the vehicle’s running sheet on Saturday morning, I discovered that I was the last driver to use this FLF on a job before it was taken out of service. Since then it has had all its seats re-trimmed, ceiling painted and the interior generally tidied up. You may have read in some of my posts last year that the interior of this bus was looking very tired, with many of its leather seats showing plenty of wear and tear, so this refurbishment makes the FLF very presentable again.

FLF-top-interiorBut, appearance aside, the biggest benefit for me is the FLF’s top speed. I had a reasonably long empty journey to make so it was very pleasing to be bowling along the motorway at 50mph!

My destination, for an 11:15 pickup, was the Guyers House Hotel in Corsham, Wiltshire. This was my third visit to this venue so the only route research I needed to do was the bit from the hotel to the church in Atworth.

It didn’t take me long to become re-acquainted with driving the FLF, it really is easy compared to the Bristol L I had last time. However, the 30ft length caught me out as a turned into Guyer’s Lane on the approach to the hotel. I didn’t make a wide enough sweep and couldn’t quite make the turn. Fortunately the following traffic had seen me shaping up for the turn and had slowed to a virtual halt so there was room behind me for a quick shunt to get me round. How embarrassing!

The wedding party was late to board but eventually I had a load of 60+ ready to leave. One of the ushers warned me that one of the cottages along the narrow lane on the approach to the village church had scaffolding around it. I was glad of the warning and assured him that I would get the bus as close to the church as I could. The journey only took about 20 minutes but involved a steady climb to a summit about half way along. With nearly a full load, progress was sometimes painfully slow! The FLF might be great at speed on the open road but, being high geared, was a bit reluctant on hills!

I’m always a bit cautious with a full load of passengers, not wanting them to witness any noisy gear changes or late reactions to road conditions. On this occasions the crash box (or possibly the chap in the driving seat) delivered a smooth ride. I had forgotten how much of a ‘driver’s bus’ this FLF is. So rewarding!

The scaffolding, when we reached it, didn’t extend into the road space much at all and it was parked cars a little further on that gave me more concerns but I’ve been in tighter spots before! Once the passengers had alighted I had a wander round the bus to look at my next challenge; turning round. The aerial view of the location gave the impression that there might be just enough room to do a reversing turn in the junction beside the church but scale can be deceptive and parked cars can play havoc too. I did make one attempt to turn but it was quickly obvious that I needed a Plan B. I walked up the lane beside the church, which led to a farm. I was hoping that there might be a spacious farmyard in which I could turn.

Atworth-2As I approached the farmhouse at Church Farm, the owner came out and shouted “I think I know what you’re looking for!” He had seen the bus attempting to turn at the end of the lane from his kitchen window. “Yes, I need to turn the bus – can I use your farmyard please?” He readily agreed and I brought the FLF down to the farm, turned it and parked up while the wedding ceremony took place.

FLF-&-milk-lorry

While I waited, a milk tanker arrived the driver of which, after I had shunted the bus further back, connected a large hose to the farm’s milk collecting tank. While pumping, he and I chatted about large vehicles and narrow lanes, something we were both qualified to talk about!

Later, sitting on the top deck with a view of the path from the church, I heard bells tolling and soon the guests started milling about in the damp afternoon air.

Atworth-santa-hatAs I came down the stairs a lady photographer ran down the lane to tell me that they were ready for the bus. I changed my headgear to something more seasonal, started up the Gardner 6LW and drove the short distance to the church gate.

The guests were far from ready. In fact it was a further 15 minutes before everybody was aboard so, rather than pollute the proceedings with exhaust fumes, I stopped the engine and watched while photographs were taken and confetti was thrown. Inevitably, one of the guests started chatting to me about the bus. I didn’t mind – I always relish the chance to show my passion for the old girl and the pleasure I get from driving her. For his part, he took the opportunity to reminisce about the green Western National buses that dominated his part of Cornwall. Until he visited London one day, he thought that all buses were green!

Atworth-confettiAt last I was given the right-away by one of the ushers so I turned all the lights on, closed the electric platform doors with a button in the cab and moved off. After briefly reaching a respectable pace we met the gradient again and speed fell away until we were down to 2nd gear with a growing tailback of traffic behind us. Once over the summit we soon re-entered Corsham, crossed the A4 Bath-Chippenham road and returned to the hotel. I was directed to the front of the building where several photographers were ready to capture our arrival. Once again I was persuaded to pose on the platform for photos. I think it may have had something to do with the Santa hat…

Grateful that another wedding duty had passed off without a hitch, I returned to base via the A4, A46, M4 and M5, a journey of about 1.5 hours. Back at the depot my final task was to reverse the FLF back into the deepest recesses of the newly-extended garage.

Now I’m looking forward to my date with a Wilts & Dorset Lodekka at Salisbury Bus Station. Happy New Year, everyone!

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