So I finally made it to the Warminster Vintage Bus Running Day! It was a long but satisfying day as I drove a shiny Bristol L bus around the country lanes in the county of my birth and also carried a Very Discerning Passenger.
I’ve known about this high profile event for some time but have not managed to attend until this year. As some of you will know, on most Sundays you will find me in church but I like to make one or two exceptions during the year and this time it was Warminster’s turn to make it onto the calendar! I didn’t manage to take many photographs (too busy driving) but the best of the bunch are here, starting with this peaceful scene outside the Parish Church at Sutton Veny.
My day started early, arriving at the Crosville depot at 08:15 to prepare Crosville KG131, a 1950 Bristol L5G. The management had very kindly agreed to let me take this fine looking bus to Warminster. They had cleaned and polished it especially – even the tyres were shiny! Paul, a fellow driver with whom I’ve been teamed up before, was already busy preparing Southern National 2700, an early Bristol RELL. He too was going to Warminster but left ahead of me (as did a Bath Services KSW6B in the hands of a former owner) as his first duty on the extensive programme of free services was earlier than mine.
Everything on the bus was ticketty-boo so, after topping up the fuel tank, I set off. My route took me through Cheddar, Wells, Shepton Mallet and Frome, and the long journey provided a useful opportunity to brush up my driving technique. These events are fun but I do find them a bit daunting because of the high percentage of enthusiast and bus-owning fratenity that they attract. These guys flock to the older vehicles to ‘sample the ride’ but really they’re dying to see the driver make a pig’s ear of the constant-mesh gearbox! But having driven this particular gem several times this year on private hire duties for Crosville I was quite confident I could give my passengers a good ride.
With at least 40 vehicles attending, including this charming 1930 Albion lorry, the small-ish car park which served as the centre of operations was run with military precision. Full marks to the organisers and marshals, who knew just where every bus (each one carried a running number) was supposed to be, just by checking it on a list.
I was directed to a parking space near the exit, which gave me a chance to freshen up and meet up with my conductor. He’d been for a ride on a Silver Star Atlantean and got to our bus in the nick of time! Fortunately I’d sent him all the route and timetable details previously so our briefing was, well… brief! I noticed another Bristol L lurking in the car park with the same destination and route number as ours and discovered that we were to run together. Just as well, because the queue at the departure stand was huge!
The two green Bristol Ls departed on Service 26 with me in the lead. I gave 100% of my concentration to the dual tasks of driving smoothly and not getting lost. Sadly I was not entirely successful! Our first stop was outside the Parish Church at Sutton Veny, as seen in the photo at the top of this post. Then it was onwards to Codford through the lanes. While passing through a particularly narrow part Bristol SUL4A 270KTA in Western National DP livery hove into view. There was a moment’s stand-off as we both considered our options. I had another bus and a car following me but the SUL was alone so its driver reversed to allow me to use a field gateway to inch past him.
Approaching Codford I made my only navigational mistake of the day. There are two turnings off the main A36 road for Codford and I took the wrong one. I instantly knew what I’d done because the road layout didn’t resemble what I’d seen on Google Maps at all! Thankfully my ever-alert conductor buzzed me to stop and ran round to the cab to tell me, in the nicest possible way, where to go. Soon we joined the other Bristol L and a Southdown Atlantean in a large layby in Codford where passengers took more photos and changed buses.
On departure the other Bristol L led the way towards Chitterne but stopped to let me past at a junction he was not sure of. At the church hall car park there was a Wilts & Dorset Bristol VRT waiting to connect and, after a brief wait for more photos, we were off again on the return journey. This included a very narrow bridge over the River Wylye with only inches to spare either side. The event organisers were very pleased when I entered our bus, which is 7′ 6″ wide. Apparently the rural routes make narrow single deckers essential!
On our way through Sutton Veny we again met the Bristol SUL4A (it might have been its twin – 275KTA was there too) coming the other way in the narrowest part of the village street!
Back at Warminster we unloaded our passengers and parked the bus for our lunch break. If I hadn’t needed to feed my face I would have taken a ride on the freshly restored Wilts & Dorset Bristol KSW5G which was just departing. This bus, now fitted with a Gardner 6LW, sounded gorgeous and looked in mint condition as it exited the car park. I remember seeing this bus in Salisbury when I was a boy (it’s underlined in my Ian Allan book!) so a ride on this bus is now on my to-do list.
Our next trip with the Bristol L was a solo run on Service 258, a circular route out to Longbridge Deverill. People started joining us even before we’d moved to the departure stand! Among them was a Very Discerning Passenger; none other than Crosville’s MD, the owner of the bus. No pressure for the driver, then. And guess where he chose to sit? Right at the front with a good view of the road ahead and of yours truly at the wheel of his pride and joy. He’s the one who ushered me into crewing on heritage buses when he gave me a job as conductor with Quantock Motor Services. He watched and encouraged me through the trauma of my PCV training and test. Such was his faith in me that he gave me my first driving duty on a Bristol FLF just a week after I’d passed!
With a full load we departed, following part of the route to Sutton Veny before rumbling along the lanes to Longbridge Deverill. There we paused for a photostop before heading back to Warminster on the A350. This photo was taken by Richard, my conductor. If I gave 100% of my concentration on the previous trip, I gave 120% on this one, due to the VDP in the front seat. Fortunately everything went perfectly. Well, I thought so anyway and a huge sigh of relief would have been heard in the cab on our return. Once accustomed to the technique, this bus is a delight to drive and, despite its age, has no wear-related issues which could make life difficult for the driver.
We only had a few minutes’ respite before departing on Service 26 again, this time to Codford only. Here we met with Wilts & Dorset Bristol RELL MMW354G (one of 10 REs to attend) which was waiting with the direct service back to Warminster.
On our return I took a break and then left for Weston, this time acting as a return feeder service carrying three passengers for Weston-super-Mare who had earlier travelled on Southern National 2700. Darkness fell during the long journey back, which made the tortuous route through Easton, Westbury-sub-Mendip and Draycott rather interesting!
So there you have it. Congratulations for reading through this marathon post. I hope it was worth it. I want to congratulate Dave, Phil and the Warminster team for organising such a well run event. Their very professional timetable booklet gets top marks from me too! As you would expect, I thoroughly enjoyed myself and felt privileged to have been able to take such a superb vehicle to Warminster. I even allowed myself to think that this bus and I fit together like a hand in a glove but I mustn’t become complacent. Mistakes can still be made and accidents can still happen so I will continue to give my best efforts to driving these wonderful old machines.