Yesterday saw me on duty with Southern Vectis 573 (Bristol FS6G YDL318) on a rare Crosville job that wasn’t a wedding. I joined forces with Driver Carpenter to provide free bus rides for passengers who had travelled on the West Somerset Railway (WSR).
Due to time constraints we drove our buses (the other was BOC LC8518, a 1959 LD6B) down to Minehead separately. I had no idea how long it would take to drive the 43-mile cross country route so I arrived early to prepare my bus. Being a Saturday, the Crosville depot was still quite full of green buses, some of them local service vehicles and some of them coaches.
My rostered Lodekka was in a line-up of heritage buses and hadn’t moved since I parked it there the previous week after a long haul up a very wet M5 to Gloucester. This photo shows the bus at Elmore Church on that occasion.
Fortunately the journey down the A38 to Bridgwater and thence via the A39 to Minehead was trouble free and, after 1.5 hours, I arrived at the WSR’s northern terminus with 15 minutes to spare. Despite a fair bit of hill climbing to pass over The Quantocks, the Gardner 6LW-powered bus breezed along in 4th gear. It was very strange to be driving the very familiar section from Williton to Minehead. I had travelled that route many times on a Lodekka but always as a conductor! This goes back to my days working on the Service 400 ‘Exmoor Explorer’ for the erstwhile Quantock Motor Services.
The photo at the top of this post shows Driver Carpenter, ably assisted by Conductor Grant on the platform, passing my parked-up FS on one of the afternoon journeys. Not only can you see two green Bristol Lodekkas, you can also see two green ‘Hall’ class steam locomotives! Stabled on one of the Minehead shed roads are GWR 4-6-0s no 4936 ‘Kinlet Hall’ and no 6960 ‘Raveningham Hall’.
Preparing to leave with the first up train of the day (GWR-speak for ‘up to Paddington’ if the train is travelling in that direction even if it doesn’t actually arrive there) was a pleasingly grubby GWR 2-8-0 heavy freight locomotive, no 3850. Two other steam locos were in use, 2-6-2T no 5542 and 4-6-0 no 7828 ‘Odney Manor’.
We used a designated drop-off point as our ‘bus stop’ and parked nearby was a 1958 Morris Minor. I later discovered that it belongs to a WSR Guard. Heavily into heritage then, just like me as I’m also a proud MM owner!
The free journeys themselves consisted, as originally planned, of a short triangular route through the town centre, past Blenheim Park to the promenade and back to the station. During the first journey I decided to lengthen it a bit as I was back to the station entrance in about 5 minutes! So, instead of turning in, I drove past and continued to the far end of the prom past Butlins before returning. This seemed better value for the railway, which has contracted Crosville to provide free bus rides as ‘added value’ for its passengers on certain occasions during 2015. The duty described here coincided with a visit to the WSR by popular children’s character Peppa Pig.
I was very pleased when lunchtime came because my arms were beginning to ache! It’s only the start of the season and my level of upper body fitness has dropped during the largely sedentary winter months! Also, frequent journeys with many corners at relatively slow speed means lots of hauling on the wheel. In all other respects the trips were a pleasure to drive. Fortunately I am so used to this ‘crash’ gearbox bus that delivering crunch-free rides was satisfyingly easy and, thanks to my earlier experiences with the ‘Exmoor Explorer’, I know my way around Minehead quite well.
Passenger loadings were slow to pick up, with only handfuls of people travelling at the beginning and end of the day. In the middle of the day though, with trains arriving and departing more frequently, we often departed with a full top deck.
With numbers dwindling, we decided to call it a day soon after 15:30. I headed back to the depot with the FS while my colleague waited for a final handful of passengers. The return journey took a little longer because I pulled into laybys and bus stops more frequently to let the considerable tailback of traffic pass. There are long stretches of winding single carriageway road and, without the earlier time contraints, I decided to show some consideration for the other road users.
I’m booked to do more Minehead turns on Wednesday April 29th and Saturday May 23rd so, if you live in the area (Mike…?) do come along and say hello.
Finally, I’m out with the Sightseeing Bus in Torquay tomorrow (Easter Monday) for my first tour of 2015. If the weather holds, we might do a few more days this week but our main season doesn’t start until May 1st.