WHOTT Running Day 2015, Dorchester

Sunday August 16th was the date of the Westcountry Historic Omnibus & Transport Trust (WHOTT) Running Day. Set in the ancient market town of Dorchester, this new format proved to be much more successful than the traditional static bus rallies of previous years.

Dorchester-Lewis-OBs

Although I’d had the date in my diary for some time, no particular task had been assigned to me so I was pretty much free to help out on the day whenever the need arose. As it turned out, I ended up with a couple of very interesting driving turns.

The venue was the Top o’ Town car park in Dorchester, chosen because the erstwhile Dorset bus and coach operator Bere Regis Motor Services once had its offices on the site. The day also saw the launch of a new book by Stuart Shelton, a comprehensive fleet history documenting every vehicle that Bere Regis ever owned. The book runs to 96 pages and I had the privilege of preparing the artwork for this WHOTT publication. This complements a similar book on the history of the company by Andrew Waller.

Dorchester-CLJ413Y

My first task was to help move some vehicles which had been stabled overnight in the Damory yard just round the corner from the event venue. I elected to drive Bristol LHS coach CLJ413Y, which is the sole surviving ex-Bere Regis coach still wearing its original livery. It also happens to be the very last LH chassis built by Bristol Commercial Vehicles. As some of you might know, the Bristol LH is not my favourite vehicle of all time but I was happy to drive this particularly historic coach the short distance to the static display area.

I pottered about after that, watching other vehicles arriving and society stalls being laid out. Of particular interest was a scale model of a Harrington-bodied Commer Avenger coach. This had for many years been on display above the doorway of the old Bere Regis offices that used to stand just a few yards away. In the static display area was an immaculate pair of Bedford OBs in the livery of Lewis Coaches, as seen in the photo at the top of this post.

Continue reading

Crosville Bristol L5G at Grange Hotel, Winterbourne

About a week ago I took a wedding party to The Grange Hotel, Winterbourne in a 1950 Bristol L5G where another ‘bus’ was involved; a VW Campervan.

KFM893-with-VW-camper-Portishead

My allocated bus, ex-Crosville KG131 (KFM893), was in the middle of a line of other heritage buses but I had to move another Bristol L out of the way first. This is another acquisition by Crosville, an ex-Bristol Tramways bus. Delivered to Bristol Tramways (the forerunner of Bristol Omnibus Company) in 1949, this Bristol L5G ran as fleet no C2736, including a spell based in Weston-super-Mare running on the Sand Bay service. LHY976 carries a dual door 33-seat ECW body, a feature that is believed to be unique to Bristol Tramways.

KG131 can manage 42mph with its overdrive Bristol gearbox so it wasn’t long before I arrived in Portishead, via the M5. I arrived before everyone was ready so I was invited into the bride’s house by her father and was offered a welcome cup of tea. While inside, the bride’s ‘limousine’ arrived, an early VW camper van. Both the bus and the VW were a surprise for the bride. While we waited I chatted to the camper van’s driver who told me that he had spent £40,000 on the vehicle and its restoration. The quality of the workmanship (the owner also works in the motor trade) is evident in the immaculate finish on the classic vehicle.

The VW driver wasn’t sure of the route through Bristol, so we agreed that he could follow me. We had been requested not to use the M5, although it would have been quicker, but to travel through the city to reach Winterbourne. I had visited the wedding venue, The Grange Hotel, on my very first heritage duty with Crosville – just one week after passing my PCV test.

With a relatively light load (only about 8 passengers on board) we set off from Portishead, crossed over the M5 and continued past Leigh Woods on the A369 to Bristol. The traffic through the city wasn’t too heavy (it was before midday) although I did have to wait for the VW camper van once after a set of traffic lights changed just as we passed through. A short blast up the M32 took us up to the ring road and thence through Hambrook towards Winterbourne.

KFM893-with-VW-camper-Grange-Hotel

Parking up outside the hotel, we waited while the wedding ceremony took place. The Bristol L seemed to dwarf the VW, especially as the camper van’s suspension had been lowered!

We had been asked to remain in place while photographs were taken so, after the ceremony, the bridal party and guests emerged into the warm summer sunshine and the interminable process of taking group photos began. It took ages! In fact we were there for an hour and a half while photographs were taken, some of which included both vehicles.

KFM893-Grange-Winterbourne-confettiFinally, confetti was thrown and the last photos were taken. At last we were dismissed by the father of the bride who, to be fair, was very appreciative.

Continue reading