A Bristol Lodekka is nominally eight feet wide but what really matters is, can you successfully judge whether your bus will fit through a given gap? That was the dilemma I found myself in a couple of days ago in Bristol.
The duty started at the Crosville depot in Weston-super-Mare, where my rostered bus had been parked outside in the sunshine with several others which were also due out on weddings. Since my last heritage duty Crosville has expanded into the entire building they occupy, which was once part of the Westland helicopter building complex. I had wondered, as I drove to Weston, whether I would have to pick my bus out from a long line of about 15 green Bristol buses which are now parked against the side wall!
As I did my walkaround checks, the Hants & Dorset FLF emerged from the dark depths of the garage, followed shortly afterwards by a pall of blue smoke from the cold Gardner engine. It was one of four Lodekkas out on wedding jobs that day. My bus, the Southern Vectis Bristol FS6G, only has a top speed of 30mph so I left the depot with plenty of time in hand in case of delays, especially as I had to cross the centre of the city to reach my first pickup point.
There was plenty of traffic in the city but it was all moving freely and I made good time. I had to smile as I waited at some traffic lights on the approach to St James Barton roundabout. There in front of me was a hoarding which proclaimed “Homage to the Bristol Scroll” and featured a large version of the elegant logo which adorned the front of the bus I was driving. Apparently some local artists have been showcasing their work, based on the logo, in The Bearpit which sits in the centre of the roundabout.
While waiting outside the Gloucester Arms pub, in which most of the male members of the wedding party were propping up the bar, I was approached by the customary passer-by. There’s always one, keen to talk about about old buses. This one was from Dublin, judging from his accent, and had obviously had a few bevvies at the aforementioned bar. Despite him being rather tipsy, we still managed to have a good chat about the good old days!
Eventually the groom, ushers and guests emerged from the pub and started to board the bus. It was well after the advertised departure time but nobody seemed that bothered. After a short trip around the block I stopped at a bus stop on Filton Avenue where most of the female members of the wedding party, including the bridesmaids, were waiting. By now almost every seat on the bus was occupied so I prepared to double my efforts at the wheel to deal with the full load. Annoyingly, somebody rang the bell soon after we had moved off. I glanced behind me but couldn’t tell if that ‘somebody’ had actually signalled me to stop or whether it was just somebody messing around. Anyway, I carried on driving but the bell (actually a buzzer on this bus) went several more times. I had to stop in case it was for real. I ran round to the back and asked if someone had pressed the bell for me to stop. One of the ushers shouted down from the top deck that it was one of the guests fooling around so I replied that I would carry on, ignoring any further buzzes.
Progress down the busy Gloucester Road was slow, with numerous sets of traffic lights to pass through. It was here that I found myself in a tight spot. Going round a bend in the road, with parked cars on my left, I met another bus coming the other way. The other driver stopped his vehicle, leaving me to make a judgement as to whether or not to proceed. I didn’t really have much option as I had traffic behind me and couldn’t reverse out of the predicament. I inched forward, sizing up the gap in front of me. It was going to be extremely tricky but I reckoned I could get through. My offside rearview mirror was the part most likely to strike an obstruction so I watched it like a hawk as we drew level with the First single decker. The design of the Lodekka is very helpful in that the nearside front wing is visible from the cab and is slab-sided. No other part of the bus (at car wing mirror height anyway) is wider. This means that it is relatively easy to see whether or not you have enough clearance. Aware that there were two bus-loads of passengers watching progress, I carefully navigated through the gap with what seemed to be less than an inch of clearance on either side!
By comparison, the rest of the journey to the Registry Office was a doddle. As I passed through the Centre, I noticed one of the other Crosville Lodekkas (an ex-BOC LD6B), parked up close to the fountains. After dropping the guests nearby, I parked up in a layby designated for buses near Temple Meads station, set the tacho to ‘rest’ and ate a leisurely lunch on the top deck.
The fully loaded trip up the Gloucester Road on the way back (mostly uphill) required the use of 1st gear quite often, with a snatch change into 2nd once moving. In this FS I was able to do this quite smoothly. Other buses have not always been so obliging! There could have been a dodgy moment as we neared the destination, had I not been watching my mirrors. While stopped at lights near the original pickup point, half a dozen passengers started leaving the bus! Nobody had told me about this plan and the lights had been green for a while before I was able to move off again.
Journey’s end was the Filton Leisure Centre, where the reception was being held. Job done, I turned the bus in the car park and headed back to Weston via Muller Road, avoiding the busy city centre. It was dark by the time I got back and the local service buses were being fuelled and cleaned but I jumped the queue and parked the FS at the end of the long line of other heritage buses in the dark depths of the garage. My next heritage outing is this Saturday, again to Bristol but this time with an FLF.