For the time being, as my back injury seems to be improving, I am continuing to drive the English Riviera Sightseeing Tours bus. This occupies me for a few days each week and has given me some interesting adventures over the months since I started.
The weather plays a big part in determining how many people travel as the vast majority of travellers make their decision on the day and pay on the bus. A handful buy their tickets from the Tourist Information Centre but they too are bought on the same day as travel. As you know, if you’re a UK resident, our weather is not always best suited for an open top bus ride so we’ve had some very poor days. If it’s very dull, cold and wet we are likely not to run the tour at all as so few people (if any) want to pay to travel in these conditions.
However, there have also been some superb days which means we’ve had some good loads as well. One day last week on the PD2 we had a full load on the top deck and a dozen downstairs as well and, as the school holidays are now upon us, this can only improve.
Although I drive the same tour route every day, there are still some interesting variations. These are mostly prompted by roadworks. For quite a while one of the roads near Babbacombe Downs was being dug up in several places which meant we could only just squeeze past the coned off bits. Add to that some contractors’ vehicles and oncoming traffic and progress was often slow. My spacial awareness skills went into overdrive! Only yesterday I was confronted by an unexpected set of roadworks in Wellswood. There’s a very tight, full-lock left turn at a junction near Kents Cavern and, to make it round in one go, I have to take it very wide, borrowing a bit of the opposite carriageway to give myself a chance.
But yesterday I found roadworks in the middle of the main road which only came into view after I’d started the turn. I hauled on the wheel faster still to make the turn as tight as possible and I began to think I’d have to reverse and give it another go. But I crept forward on full lefthand lock and, with the offside front tyre about an inch from the road cones, just made it round. On the afternoon tour there were parked cars which made it more difficult and I did have to do it in two bites. Grrrr.
Recently the exceptionally warm weather has brought good loadings and often we have departed the Strand with a full top deck on the PD2. This is harder to do when we have the Metrobus (‘Big Bertha’) which is a larger vehicle, seating 45 upstairs but doesn’t seem to have the same appeal as the old Leyland.
Big Bertha is easy to drive, having automatic transmission, airbakes and power-assisted steering. It sounds very much like a Bristol VR, except for the auto gears, as it is powered by a Gardner 6LXB. Very throaty! We used this bus to do a school prom the other day. The Year 6 leavers’ party took place at the Rugby Club just a stone’s throw from where the buses are stabled but we took them around most of our tour route to give them a decent ride. We occasionally use this bus for the sightseeing tour but we usually use the Leyland.
A few weeks ago I took the old PD2 over to Newton Abbot for one of its regular inspections. I was fascinated to see it up on the ramp while it was checked over and greased.
It’s a very well kept bus and is in great condition for its age. All that needed to be done was to check all the lights (they were fine), top up the gearbox and diff oil, adjust the brakes and grease the steering joints. There may have been other things but I did take a wander part way through waiting!
When everything had been done I took the bus back to its stabling point beside Torquay Railway Station. I felt quite reckless at one point, winding the old girl up to top speed. There’s a short stretch of dual carriageway where the speed limit is 40mph so, instead of pootling round the streets at about 20mph I whizzed along at 40 with the wind whistling past the window!
So there you are; a quick roundup of some recent outings with the tour bus. I wonder how the business will fare now that an almost identical PD2 has turned up in Torbay? There’s a whiff of competition about its appearance, just as the school holidays are starting, but I’ll post more about it another time.
Tomorrow I’m off up to Weston-super-Mare for the Crosville Bus Rally. If all goes to plan I will be driving a variety of heritage buses around a Town Circular route.